Dubito utrum exitium narrare debeam annon. Vereor ne scientia bonos adducat, stulte corporibus militum piorum obsequias idoneas tribuere petentes, aut malos cupidentes thesauros expeditionis. Neque furibus quidem horrores huius loci optem. Attamen si quis hoc oppidum terribile invenerit, ferme eum hae litterae monebunt. Fuge, quam celeriter fuge, tibi hortor, ne malum antiquissimum te quoque devoret. Potentes etsi sint dei romani vel graeci, vel daemones cuiuscumque gentis ex quo natus est legionarius quivis, nihilominus hic numina malevola pedibus caecis terram pulsant ; hic locus eorum, quae omnes mortales invident oderint detestant. Fuge ne te videant, fuge ne videas ipse. Mens humana non debet talia mysteria animadvertere, quae cor glaciant animamque perdant.
Hocine prooemium perlegisti ? Dicamne te fortem an stultum ? Perge, si intendis, tamen disce monitu. Periculum quippe imminet atrocissimum. Sat dubitationis : ad rem.
Carthagine iterum condita barbaris cum nationibus semper bellum gerebat Roma. In collibus incolant, aut per vastitatem errant isti latrones miseri. Incursiones in vicos faciunt, vel viatores singulos insidiantur ; quoniam a pugnis cum legionibus abhorrent -- et sapienter. Ferae hae nationes, sed et calliditate ferorum pugnant. In campo plano proelium committere recusant. Itaque legiones eas venari debent, omni cum astutia venatorum.
Ego sum -- immo fui -- Sex. Vipsanius Afer, legatus Legionis XXXI Augusta. Quod natio quaedam mercatores agricolas vicos Carthagine propinquos vexabant, proconsul exercitum misit ut isti barbari poenas darent. Adeo necesse putabat proconsul expeditionem esse ut excidium augurato etiam ab urbe copias ducerem ; videlicet hominibus malum omen non fessus sum. Ego igitur solus damnationem memoriae mereor -- in vitio meo obscoenissimo inferi di me plectant.
Triginta dies per colles lapidosos vallesque barbaros secuti sumus. Ferociter hic illic oppugnabant, attamen plerumque sagittis telisque crassis nos agitabant. E veris proeliis -- erunt ferme IV -- semper ecfugerunt. Iuvenes nostros propter fortitudines et virtutem laudo. Nego autem proelia describere ; nulla gloria huic stragi inest.
Ab urbe profundam in vastitatem iter fecimus. Non multos iuvenes pugnando perdidimus. Facilis enim victoria militum animum incitabat, meamque stultitiam. Vastam in solitudinem copias duxi. Temere, ominum incautus praedam secutus sum donec, nolens fateri barbaros nos ad exitium adlexisse, ab omnibus terris humanis abalienati sumus. Consectatio non desii. Vestigia sat relinquebant ut crederem nos mox vicum ducis eorum inventuros. Insidiis sat nos lacessebant ut crederem proelium magnum venturum. Res frumentaria extenuabatur, auxiliarii nonnulli deficiebant, militum animi iacebant. Atque plane magnitudine terrae ignotae interieramus.
Decem dies nullum hostium vestigium invenimus. Dein spes -- ut tum putavimus fallaces -- statim apparuit. Exploratores aquilam conspexerunt, cuius volatum secuti sunt ad oppidum barbarorum. Castris motis horarum duarum iter ad oppidum fecimus. Exercitu appropinquante explorator mihi laete aquilam, quae oppidum indicaverat, magno in saxo prope tramitem sedentem ostendit. Eheu mox cognovi eam non aquilam, sed vulturem esse. Metus causa iussi exploratorem tacere, causa irae sagittarium diram avem occidere.
Novos speculatores misi qui oppidum explorarent. Celeriter revenerunt nuntiantes oppidum funditus desertum, attamen haud ruinosum. Insidias barbarorum metuens manus expeditorum undique in colles misi. Nec ullum hominem, hostem annon, conspexerunt. Deinde cohortibus III et X tribunum praefeci et in oppidum ipsum misi qui specularentur. Aedificiis perscrutatis post horam revenerunt. Dum tribunus mihi nuntiabat oppidum desertum, rumor per castra volabat iuvenum animos incitans : superstitiones ad pavorem, rapaces ad direptionem.
-- In medio oppido, ait tribunus, templum clausum stat. Praeter eius ianuam omnia aedificorum limina patent. Nihil ullius pretii in domibus tabernisque manet.
-- Quid, inquam, de incolis ?
Horruit tribunus his verbis.
-- Ubique eorum ossa vidimus... diffracta. Nil inest oppido nisi mors. Non debemus manere.
Tribunos et pilos priores convocavi ut habitum iuvenum probarem. Fatigati etsi erant, cupido praedae etiam huius oppidi insoliti ac illorum desertorum et inhospitorum tescorum metum superabat. Ferme in templo clauso, ut dicebant multi, barbari suum thesaurum reliquerant. Constitui ita templum investigari. Castra primum extra muros locavi, tabernacula auxiliarum cohortisque decimae in contrariam oppidi partem ordinavi ne noctu furtive hostium exercitus oppugnare conarentur. Manum duodecim militum ipse eligi quam ad illud templum ipse duxi.
Stat templum in oppidi centro. Immane est, lapidibus cyclopeis aedificatum. Nulla fenestra, nulla rima in moeniis intus ostendet. Ingentes ahenei ianuae resticula argentea clausae sunt, de qua signum cerae characteribus signatae pependit. Centurio fortis -- sed non sat fortis ut deos romanos tutamen precari neglegaret -- signo fracto resticulam cepit. Resticula remota statim stridore acerbo ianuae hiscebant. Ut praedam centurioni resticulam argenteam tribui ; eheu, humanius fuisset tum eum trucidari. Tamen gratias egit, et face accensa in tenebras progressus est. Gladiis strictis secuti sumus.
Extus sol aestivus etiam fulgebat, lux ab ostio recidere videbatur ut sola centurionis face adytum nobis patescebat. Puteus magnus in medio situs est, quattuor aris circumdatus. Ara quaeque ad puteum proclinat, verisimiliter, ut putamus, ut sacerdotes olim sacrificia in puteum inicerent. Nulla inest imago dei, nulla pictura, nullum signum. Neque pulverem vidimus ; pulvis et harena etsi oppidum tegebant, in adyto omnia videbantur ut mane antequam advenimus purgata fuisse. Ne maculam quidem sanguinis in aris invenimus. Lux facis ad imum puteum non attigit. Nummum inieci, sed nullum sonum produxit. Fortasse, quidam inquit, in imo puteo est arena. Facem inicere negavimus, ne luce egentes exire nequeremus.
Sole occidente ad castra confestim revenimus. Ignota metuens numerum vigiliarum duplicavi. Hac nocte venti intempestivi ululabant, harenis ferociter castra verberabant. Somnia incerti exitii me sollicitabant. Mane maxima militum pars de somniis terribilibus conquerebantur. Iussi castra moveri, nuntium circum oppidum misi qui castra auxiliorum doceret exercitum iter Carthaginem rursus facturum.
Unum enim tabernaculum conspexi, quod nullus miles movet. Irascens ipse intravi paratus ad desedes milites flagellandos. Ira in horrorem statimque mutata'st ; totum contubernium inveni necatum, corpora discerpta sicut a beluis saevissimis. In medio cruore resticulam argenteam conspexi. Nauseabundus e strage fugi. Tabernaculum iussi sepeliri totum. Volui quam celere abire. Nuntius autem tum a castris secundis revenit expavidus, imbecillus, horrore infans. Mero eum refovimus ut incredibilem caedem nuntiaret : tota castra secunda -- quisque homo, quodque animal -- noctu necata sunt. Corpora disiecta in stagno sanguinis iacent. Iussi fossores tabernaculum derelinquere ut signa statim convelleremus.
In vastitatem loco excessimus, paene confugimus. Diem magnum iter feci. Solum vespere castra posuimus. Speculatores misi qui colles breviter explorarent. Mox tristi cum nuntio revenerunt : erravimus, ut oppidum haud procul staret. Tempestas insolite ventosa cum tenebris venit. In caelo nubecula procellosa lunam saepe celaverunt. Vigilias hac nocte agi triplices iussi, heu frustra. Hic illic per castra cadavera cruenta, noctu caecis ab hostibus disiecta, mane invenimus.
Diu iterum ab oppido fugimus. Magnum post iter iterum speculatores nuntiaverunt nos ad oppidum revenisse. Procellosa nocte luna terram non inluminavit, neque astra in caelo vidimus. In tenebris errabat invisitata mors. Tertio die item. Et peius. Quot insepultos reliquimus !
Vespere diei quarti nuntio invito auscultato scivi nos oppidum evitare nequere. Castrorum igitur munitionem animadverti. Iussi milites arma suorum commilitionum occisorum colligere ut castra vallo et fossa cingeremus. Ignes vigiliasque ubique posui ut hostes deprehenderemus. Sopor eheu itineri magno auctus multos vigiles superabat, memet quoque. Qui noctu obdormivit, mane experrectens memoria somniorum tremebundorum vexabatur. Multi quidem erant qui non experrecti sunt. Nemo eorum occisores conspexerat.
Medicus quidam, libertus unius tribuni, erat tyrus atque etiam dicitur fatidicus. Hunc ad me vocavit ut consulerem. Metam, inquit, in harenis iacentem conspexi in quo scriptura vetus sub nomine poenico hoc oppidum Aglaeae sermone graeco nuncupat. Has Aglaeas ignorabam, tamen centurio quidam putabat bello punico secundo Sciponem illum oppidum populasse. Forsitan barbari nos adhuc adducerent ut lemures ab imo Tartaro in terram egressos romanos pro exitio Carthaginis ulciscerentur.
Manum fortissimorum e numero militum convocavi, ut cum medico tyro templum iterum indagaremus. Singuli faces ferentes adytum tenebrosum perscrutabamus. Flammae umbras fugabant, sed in caligone credebam formas incertas moveri, nosque intueri. Centurio facem in puteum iecit. Dumtaxat ducentum pedes cecidit donec extincta'st. Nihil audivimus, ut nesciremus utrum imum puteum attigerit annon.
Subito clamor oritur, cum gladius humum cadit. Manus humana etiam gladium tenebat ; pes in calceatu, auris, trunca quaedam haud procul sita sunt. Reliqua membra in puteum ungulae umbrosae rapuerunt. Celeriter vivi ecfugimus.
Hostes isti, ut vidi, repente oppugnant necantque, sed lux eos arcet. Milites igitur in oppidum misi qui lignum pannos quodcunque comburi potest collegerent. Ignes ubique per castra incendimus sicut bellum contra noctem ipsam gerebamus. In castris enim lux adeo fulget ut diem numquam evanisse putemus, nisi extus tenebrae fortius minantur. Quam crepitum flammarum, quam calorem ! tamenetsi nemo e numero nostro est quin ex imo pectore horrescat. Magis castra inluminamus, magis quoque exiguas vires nobis ostendimus.
Itaque fallaci die vigilias triplices ordino, ne nox castra invadat. Die vero si quis possit horam somni furatur. Vix diu dormimus. Fortasse omnes tenebras timemus ; si quis somno oculos claudit ista nox atra etiam animum opprimit. Adveniunt nobis et in somniis horrores quos usque adhuc tuti evitabamus -- immo tuti corpore nec anima. Aut fortasse lucem diei spectare malumus, etsi sol aegre radios per nubila mittit. Volumus pro certo cognoscere diem etiam noctem horriferam vincere. Porro quis nunc dormire possit ? Vivo saltem et vigilans exopto ne inscite necer. Vere miles tantopere mortem timeam, sed -- si mors mihi inciderit ei strictu gladio obveniam. Insepultus si moriar, non curo ! dummodo ne iudices inferorum me ignavum et imbellem arcessant.
Ventum quemque nunc audio, motus quicumque oculos sanguinolentos vertit, omni crepitu ignoto horresco. Nusquam eo nisi manus gladium contingit. Metus ubique in cordibus habitat, et crescit. Magis hi cacodaemones nos trucidant, magis lucem tolerant.
O utinam quis loqueretur. Veremur viventes nominare, ne fascini causa mors ista invisa eos persequatur. Neque de mortuis sermocinari audemus ne nos ad eos adducant. Interdum centurio imperat. Nova cadavera inventa semper susurru gratias deis ago, quod non ego interfectus sum. Credo sodales item. Iuvenes a me consilium petunt ; non debeo me ostendere quam eis perterritum, ego legionis legatus. Miles quidam me rogat num dei romani nos dereliquerint. Ferme, ei aio, ab eis abalienamur ; ita deos huius loci expiabo.
Vix sexcenti nostrum manemus. Equos habemus viginti bonos. Tyrum ad me iterum vocavi. Constitui equos deis punicis, aut quibuscumque istum templum sacratum'st, sacrificare. Egomet, utpote cum sacerdotem legionis agam, cultrum ipse tenere debeo.
Cum auxilio et monitu tyri equos purgavimus, signis et auro et quoquo pretii habebamus ornavimus. Omnibus paratis lente pompa progressa'st. Facibus accensis dein in adytum. Equum quemque induxerunt IV taediferi. Collum bestiae in aram posuerunt ut gladio iugularem. Deos umbraticos veniam orabam, tyrus mea verba poenice duplicabat. Quinquies singulis in aris sic sacrificavimus. Victimarum sanguis in puteum fluitabat. Corpora earum, gratia validorum centurionum IV, sanguinem secuta sunt. Ultimis precibus pronuntiatis solemniter ianuas clausimus, silenter in castra revenimus.
Scilicet hac nocte ignes iterum accendimus, etsi speravimus sacrificia deos placuisse. Tamen inexpiabilis mors per castra iterum volavit. Tyrus fatidicus subito furiabat, vaticinabatur. Voce stridenti clamavit : carnem equorum non indigent, caro pretiosior quaerenda ! Tremebundus centurionibus verba praedictionis terribilis nuntiavi. Omnes autem consensimus ; numina putei victimas humanas poposcisse.
Sortito igitur eligimus. Ollam denariis complevimus, inter quos IV insidiabantur aurei letales. Ut virtutem iuvenum confirmarem, ego sortem primam duxi, dein centuriones, dein praefectus castrorum et tribuni.
Pompa quasi funebris ad templum iit. Victimas fortiter in aris recubuerunt. Ego sacerdos tristis hos optumos romanos macto, dum tyrus barbaros preces cantabat.
O fatum inridens ! sacrificia aut displicent aut non iam satisfaciunt. Noctu ex umbris etiam oppugnant, necant, discerpunt. Paene videbantur lumen non iam ea numina caeca fugare. Iuvenes coram me cadebant, attamen occisores numquam vidi. Horrore superatus animo liqui.
Mane resipui. In lacu cruoris iaciebam, foedus sed incolumis. Clamavi, nullum responsum. Neminem in castris vivum inveni. Ignes exusti sunt, non manet lignum ad alios facendos. Non possum fugere, non possum pugnare, nec volo. Hoc volumen ad templum feram, ut monitus viatoribus futuris. Solus in tenebras ibo.
Si quis de sorte nostro roget, dic : Erras, O amice -- umquam nulla erat legio XXXI augusta, nullus erat Sex. Vipsanius Afer, nullum erat oppidum Aglaeae.
I am uncertain if I should narrate the events of our destruction or not. I fear it, lest the knowledge attract good men, seeking foolishly to provide proper burial for the bodies of loyal soldiers, or bad men desirous of the expedition’s treasures. I would not even wish the horrors of this place upon thieves. Yet should someone find this dreadful town, perhaps this letter will warn him. Flee, flee as quickly as you can, I urge you, before the ancient evil can devour you. Though the gods of Rome or Greece, or of whatever people from which a legionary might hail, nevertheless here malevolent spirits tread the earth with unseen steps. This is their place, who despise, who hate, who loathe all mortals. Flee, lest they see you. Flee, lest you yourself see them! The mind of man should not look upon such mysteries, which chill the heart and wreck the mind.
So you have read through this prologue? Should I adjudge you brave or foolhardy? Continue, if you so intend, but learn by this warning; the most horrible danger is imminent. But enough with the hesitation: to the matter at hand.
Carthage having been founded anew, Rome has been ever waging war against tribes of barbarians. These wretched bandits inhabit the hills, or wander through the wastes. They raid villages, or ambush solitary travellers, for they recoil from battles with the legions – and wisely so! These are feral tribes, and they fight with feral cunning. They refuse to fight a battle in a level field. And so the legions must hunt them, with all the craft of the hunter.
I am – or rather was – Sextus Vipsanius Afer, commander of the Legion XXXI Augusta. Because a certain tribe was harassing merchants, farmers, and villages near Carthage, the Proconsul sent out the army to make these barbarians pay. So greatly did the Proconsul think the expedition necessary that despite auguries of doom I led the army out of the city; of course I did not reveal the bad omen to the troops. Therefore I alone deserve the condemnation of history – may the infernal gods punish me for my abhorrent crime.
For thirty days we followed the barbarians through stony hills and vales. Here and there they attached ferociously, but for the most part they just harassed us with arrows and crude missiles. There were only about four true battles, and they always fled from them. I praise our men for their deeds and valour. I will not, however, describe the battles; there is no glory in slaughter.
We marched away from the city into the deep desert. We did not lose many in battle. Indeed, easy victories roused the soldiers’ spirits, and provoked my own foolishness. I led the army deep into the desert. Recklessly, heedless of the omens, I followed our prey until, unwilling to admit the barbarians had led us to our ruin; we were cut off from all civilised lands. But I did not give up the pursuit. They left enough tracks that I believed we would soon come upon the village of their chief, and they harassed us with enough ambushes that I believed a great battle was soon to come. Our provisions were becoming scant, several of the auxiliaries deserted, the men’s spirits waned. And we were clearly lost in the vastness of some unknown land.
For ten days we saw not a trace of the enemy. Then hope – as we then falsely thought it to be – suddenly appeared. Scouts caught sight of an eagle, whose flight they had followed to a barbarian town. Breaking camp, we marched for two hours to the town. As the army approached, a scout joyously pointed out the eagle which had led them to the town, as it sat on a rock beside the path. Alas, I soon realised it was no eagle, but a vulture. Out of fear I bade the scout be silent about it, out of anger I had an archer kill the dire bird.
I sent out new scouts to explore the town. They returned swiftly, reporting that the town was completely deserted, but not at all in ruins. Fearing a barbarian ambush, I sent bands of soldiers into the hills in every direction. Not a soul did they see, enemy or otherwise. Next, I gave a tribune command of the third and tenth cohorts, and sent them into the town itself to reconnoitre. They returned after an hour, having searched through the buildings. Whilst the tribune was reporting to me that the town was deserted, rumours were flying through the camp, piquing the men’s interest; the superstitious were moved towards fear, the rapacious towards plunder.
‘In the middle of the town,’ said the tribune, ‘stands a shut-up temple. Other than that, every other doorway stands open. Nothing of any value remains in the houses and shops.’
‘And what,’ I asked, ‘of the inhabitants?’
At these words he shuddered.
‘We saw bones everywhere. Shattered. There’s nothing in the town but death. We shouldn’t stay here.’
I summoned the tribunes and the cohort commanders in order to gauge the men’s morale. Tired as they were, yet was the desire for spoils greater than the fear of this strange town and the inhospitable wastes. Perhaps in the sealed temple, as many were saying, the barbarians had left behind their treasures. Thus I decided to investigate the temple. First, I pitched our camp outside the town walls, and ordered the tents of the auxiliaries and the tenth cohort to be pitched on the opposite side of the town, lest an enemy army try to secretly attack by night. I selected a band of twelve soldiers myself and led them to the temple, which stands in the centre of the town.
It is enormous, built of cyclopean stones. No window, no hole in the walls shews its interior. Its gigantic doors of bronze were closed with a thin silver cord, from which hung a waxen seal engraved with strange sigils. A brave centurion – but not so brave that he neglected a prayer to the gods of Rome that they might protect him – broke the seal and took the cord. At this the doors immediately opened up, and with a harsh, grating sound. I bestowed the silver cord upon the centurion as spoils of war; alas! it had been better if I had slain him on the spot. But he thanked me, and lighting a torch stepped into the darkness. We drew our swords and followed him in.
Outside, thought, the summer sun still blazed, the light seemed to recede from the threshold so that only by the light of the centurion's torch was the shrine revealed to us. A great well is situated in its centre, ringed by four altars. Each altar is inclined towards the well, probably, we thought, so that the priests could cast the sacrifices down into the well. There were no statues of gods, no images, no sigils. We did not even see any dust; even though sand and dust covered the rest of the town, in the temple everything seemed as if that morning before we arrived it had all been swept clean. Not even a bloodstain was to be found on the altars. The light of the torch did not reach the bottom of the well. I threw in a coin, but it produced no sound. Perhaps, said someone, there is sand at the bottom. We declined to throw in the torch, lest without light we lose track of the exit.
At sunset we speedily returned to camp. Fearing the unknown, I doubled the watch. That night unseasonable winds howled, ferociously pummelling the camp with sand. Obscure dreams of ruination disquieted me. In the morning, most of the soldiers complained of terrible nightmares. I gave the order to strike camp, and sent a messenger around to the other side of the town to inform the auxiliaries' camp that the army was to march back to Carthage.
I espied one tent which no soldiers were taking down. Angrily, I entered the tent myself, prepared to castigate these lazy soldiers. But anger turned swiftly into horror; I found the entire unit slain, their dismembered bodies dismembered as if by the most savage of beasts. I saw the silver cord in the middle of the gore. Sickened, I fled from the carnage. I ordered the tent buried whole. I wanted us to depart with all due haste. Just then the messenger returned from the other camp, terrified, weak, speechless with horror. We revived him with unmixed wine, and he told us of unbelievable bloodshed: the entire second camp -- every man, every animal -- had been slain in the night. Bodies torn apart lay in a lake of blood. I ordered the diggers to abandon the tent and immediately gave the order to decamp.
We departed that place and went, almost fled, into the desert. We made a forced march for a day. Only in the evening did we make camp. I sent out scouts to briefly reconnoitre the hills. Soon they returned with sad news: we had gone astray, and the town stood not far distant. Unusually windy weather came with the darkness. Stormy clouds in the sky nearly hid the moon. That night I tripled the watch, alas in vain. The next morning, here and there throughout the camp we discovered gory cadavers, torn apart in the night by invisible foes.
By day we again fled from the town. After another forced march our scouts once again announced that we had returned to the town. It was a stormy night; the moon lit not the earth, nor were stars seen in the sky. In the darkness wandered an unseen death. Likewise on the third day. And worse. How many men did we leave unburied!
In the evening of the fourth day, having heard again the scouts' unwelcome report, I knew we could not escape the town. So I set my mind to fortifying the camp. I ordered the soldiers to collect the arms of their fallen comrades and to ring the camp with ditch and palisade. I posted watch fires and sentinels everywhere that they might catch our enemy. Alas sleep, aided by the forced march, overcame many guards, me included. Whosoever fell asleep at night, upon waking was vexed with the memory of awful dreams. Many who fell asleep were never to wake. No one saw their killers.
A certain chirurgeon, a freedman of one of the tribunes, was from Tyre and was also said to have the gift of prophecy. I summoned him to hear his counsel. ‘I saw,‘ said he, ‘a boundary-stone lying on the sand, upon which an old inscription, below the Punic name of the town, gave its Greek name as Aglaeae. ‘ I do not know of any Aglaeae, but a centurion said he thought it was a town laid waste by the famous Scipio during the second Punic war. Perhaps the barbarians have led us here so the angry ghosts rising up from the lowest depths of Tartarus might take revenge on the Romans for the destruction of Carthage.
I called together a band of the bravest soldiers, so that we might investigate the temple with the Tyrian chirurgeon. Each of us bore a torch to search through the lightless shrine. The flames put the shadows to flight, but I fancied that I could see vague shapes moving in the darkness, and watching us. A centurion threw his torch into the well. It fell as far as two hundred feet before it was extinguished. We heard nothing, so that we didn't know if it had hit the bottom or not.
Suddenly there arose a clamour, as a sword fell to the ground. A human hand still held it; a sandaled foot, an ear, various severed parts were lying nearby. The rest of the members were snatched into the well by shadowy claws. We who yet lived quickly fled.
These enemies, as I have seen, attack and kill in an instant, but light repels them. And so I sent soldiers into the town to gather wood, rags, whatever can be burnt. We lit watch fires all throughout the camp as though we were waging war on the night herself. In the camp the light blazes so you might think the day had never vanished, if not that outside the darkness loomed greater. What a crackling of flames, what heat! And yet there was not one of us but that shivered deep in their very bosom. The more we lit up the camp, the more we displayed our own diminished strength.
And so in this false day I order the watch tripled, lest the night invade our camp. During the actual day, whoever is able steals an hour of sleep. We hardly sleep for very long. Perhaps we fear every darkness; if one's eyes are closed in sleep that sombre night oppresses the spirit. In dreams the horrors come to us which in waking we have escaped safe and sound -- sound, that is, in body if not in mind. Or perhaps we just want to see the light of the day, though the sun barely send his rays through the clouds. We want to know for certain that the sun can still vanquish the terrible night. And who is it now that can sleep? I am alive, at least, and waking I desire eagerly not to be killed unawares. Truly as a soldier should I fear death so, but -- if death shall fall upon me I shall rush to meet her with drawn sword. Let me die unburied, I don't care! Just so long as the judges of the dead do not accuse me of being cowardly and unprepared.
Now I hear every wind, my bloodshot eyes turn to every movement, I shudder at every unknown noise. I go nowhere without my sword held tightly. Fear resides in every heart, and is growing. The more these demons slaughter us, the more they tolerate the light.
If only someone would speak. We are afraid to call the living by name, lest thus by some witchery that unseen death pursue them. Nor do we speak of the dead, lest they summon us to themselves. Now and then some centurion gives an order. Upon finding a new corpse, I always whisper thanks to the gods that it wasn't me who was slain. I think my comrades do the same. The men look to me for counsel. I cannot show myself to be as affrighted as they, I, the legionary commander. A soldier asked me if the gods of Rome had abandoned us. I told him that perhaps we were cut off from them; and so I will propitiate the gods of this place.
Scarcely six hundred of us are left. We still have twenty good horses. I called the Tyrian before me again. I have decided to sacrifice the horses to the Punic gods, or to whatever gods they are to whom the temple is sacred. Insofar as I may act as priest for the legion, I myself should hold the knife.
With the Tyrian's help and advice we purified the horses, and bedecked them with tokens and gold and whatsoever we had of value. Once everything was prepared we set off in a slow procession. We lit our torches, then went into the temple. Each horse was led in by four torch-bearers. The beast's neck was placed on the altar so I could cut its throat with my sword. I prayed for pardon from the shadowy gods, and the Tyrian echoed my words in the Phoenician tongue. Five times at each altar we performed the sacrifice. The victim's blood flowed into the well. Thanks to four strong centurions, the bodies followed the blood. Having pronounced the final prayers we solemnly closed the doors, and silently returned to camp.
Of course, that night we lit the fires again, even as we hoped the sacrifices would please the gods. Yet inexpiable death again flew through the camp. The mantic Tyrian suddenly raged, prophesied. In a shrieking voice he cried out: 'they do not desire the flesh of horses, a dearer flesh is required! I fearfully reported the words of this terrible prediction to the centurions. But we were all in agreement; the gods demanded human victims.
We chose them by lot. We filled a pot with denarii, amongst which lurked four fatal golden coins. To strengthen the men's resolve, I drew the first lot, followed by the centurions, then the camp prefect and tribunes.
An almost funereal procession made its way to the temple. The victims bravely reclined upon the altars. I, a sorrowful priest, offered up these most excellent Romans, whilst the Tyrian chanted barbarous prayers.
O mocking fate! The sacrifices either were displeasing or insufficient. At night they still attacked out of the shadows, killed, dismembered. It almost seemed as if the light no longer put these invisible demons to flight. The men fell before me, and yet I never saw their killers. Overcome by horror, I lost consciousness.
I came to in the morning. I was lying in a pool of gore, befouled yet uninjured. I cried out, no response. I found no one alive in the camp. The fires were burnt out, there is no wood left to light new ones. I cannot flee, I cannot fight, I don't even want to. I will take this scroll to the temple, as a warning for future travellers. I will go alone into the darkness.
If anyone ever asks you about our fate, say to him: 'O friend, you are in error -- there never was a Legion XXXI Augusta, there never was a Sextus Vipsanius Afer, there never was a town called Aglaeae.'