The Outsider Inside
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The Outsider Inside book
After a successful summer campaign in 355 in the southern Alamannic canton of the Lentienses, Constantius II returned in triumph to headquarters in Milan (Amm. Marc. 15.4.13). But joy was misplaced, implies Ammianus, in the light of what was to follow. The historian’s next section opens with a typically extravagant flourish: ‘there arose a whirlwind of new disasters threatening similar ills for the provinces, which would have destroyed everything at once, had not Fortune, which governs the fate of men, brought a rapid end to a very fearful enterprise (motum)’ (15.5.1). The ‘new disasters’ and the ‘fearful enterprise’ are subsequently revealed to be the events surrounding the short-lived rebellion of Constantius’ magister peditum in Gaul, Silvanus, and its dramatic suppression by the cloak-and-dagger intervention of another of Constantius’ senior generals, the magister equitum Ursicinus, supported in his task by a small troop of loyal officers of whom Ammianus himself was one. Those familiar with this famous episode from the History will recognize that the narrative which unfolds is far from the uncomplicated triumph of good over ill, of the legitimate order over the forces of disaffection, which the opening sentence might lead us to expect. On the contrary, a close examination of Ammianus’ text will, I believe, entitle us to read a measure of ambiguity into the phrase ‘calamitatum turbo novarum’: Was Silvanus villain or victim? Who had most cause to fear? Were the ‘disasters’ provoked by an illicit seizure of power in the provinces, or by the actions of an imperial government so riddled with suspicion and terror that it drove Silvanus into a desperate act of self-preservation?