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Herodian's Roman History


Marcus Aurelius. Equestrian statue on the Capitol, Rome. Photo Marco Prins.
Herodian (late second, first half third century): Greek historian, author of a History of the Roman Empire since the Death of Marcus Aurelius (table of contents) in which he describes the reign of Commodus (180-192), the Year of the Five Emperors (193), the age of the Severan dynasty (211-235), and the Year of the Six Emperors (238).

The translation was made by Edward C. Echols (Herodian of Antioch's History of the Roman Empire, 1961 Berkeley and Los Angeles) and was put online for the first time by Roger Pearse (Tertullian.Org). The version offered on these pages is hyperlinked and contains notes by Jona Lendering.
Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Statue of Commodus as Hercules Romanus. Musei Capitolini, Roma (Italy). Photo Marco Prins.
Commodus as Hercules
(Musei Capitolini, Roma)

1.6: Commodus breaks off the northern war

[March 180] Then, for a short time, the emperor did everything as the advisers appointed by his father suggested. They were with him every day, giving him wise counsel; they allowed him only as much leisure as they thought necessary for the sensible care of his body. But some of his court companions interfered and tried to corrupt the character of the naive emperor. All the sycophants at his table, men who gauge their pleasure by their bellies and something a little lower, kept reminding him of the gay life at Rome, describing the delightful spectacles and musical shows and cataloging the abundance of luxuries available there. They complained about wasting their time on the banks of the Danube, pointing out that the region was not productive in summer and that the fog and cold were unending.

"Master," they said again and again, "when will you stop drinking this icy liquid mud? In the meantime, others will be enjoying warm streams and cool streams, mists and fine air too, all of which only Italy possesses in abundance." By merely suggesting such delights to the youth, they whetted his appetite for a taste of pleasures.

And so he immediately summoned his advisers and informed them that he longed to see his native land. But, ashamed to admit the real reason for his sudden interest in returning, he pretended to be fearful that one of the wealthy aristocrats in Rome would seize the empire and, after raising an army and a rampart, take control of the empire, as if from an impregnable fortress. For the Roman populace was sufficiently large to supply numerous picked young men for such an army.

While the youth was alleging such specious excuses, the rest, sick at heart, kept their eyes fixed on the ground in dismay. But Pompeianus, the oldest of his advisers and a relation of the emperor by marriage (his wife [Lucilla] was Commodus' oldest sister), said to him: "Child and master too, it is entirely reasonable for you to long to see your native land; we too are gripped by hunger to see those we left at home. 

But more important and more urgent matters here put a curb on that yearning. For the rest of your life you will have the enjoyment of things at home; and for that matter, where the emperor is, Rome is. But to leave this war unfinished is both disgraceful and dangerous. That course would increase the barbarians' boldness; they will not believe that we long to return to our home, but will rather accuse us of a cowardly retreat.

After you have conquered all these barbarians and extended the boundaries of the empire to the northern seas, it will be glorious for you to return home to celebrate your triumph, leading as fettered captives barbarian kings and governors. The Romans who preceded you became famous and gained renown in this way. There is no reason to fear that someone at home may seize control. The most distinguished senators are right here with you; the imperial troops are here to protect you; all the funds from the imperial depositories are here; and finally, the memory of your father has won for you the eternal loyalty and good will of your subjects."

Eager to improve the situation, Pompeianus, by his exhortations, restrained the youth for a short time. Commodus, shamed by his words and unable to make a suitable reply, dismissed the group, saying that he would consider personally and at greater length what he should do.

Then, yielding to his companions, he no longer consulted his advisers about anything. He sent off letters and, after assigning command of the Danube to men whom he considered capable, ordering them to block the barbarians' attacks, he announced his departure for Rome. Those left behind carried out their assignments; soon they subdued most of the barbarians by force of arms, and easily won the friendship of the rest by substantial bribes.

The barbarians are by nature fond of money; contemptuous of danger, they obtain the necessities of life either by pillaging and plundering or by selling peace at a huge price. Commodus was aware of this practice; since he had plenty of money, he bargained for release from care and gave them everything they demanded.



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Note 1:

Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus was Marcus Aurelius' chief-staff.
Online 2007
Revision: 27 June 2007
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