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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., the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
One of the finds from Ai Khanum. Musée Guimet, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Cybele dish from Ai Khanum

1.11: Digression on the Mother of the gods

As we have discovered by research, the Romans are devoted to this goddess for the following reason - a reason which it seems worth while to relate here, since it is unknown to some of the Greeks. They say that this statue of the goddess fell from the sky; the exact material of the statue is not known, nor the identity of the artists who made it; in fact, it is not certain that the statue was the work of human hands. Long ago it fell from the sky in Phrygia (the name of the region where it fell is Pessinus, which received its name from the fall of the heavenly statue [1]); the statue was discovered there.

As we learn from other sources, a battle is said to have taken place there between Ilus the Phrygian and Tantalus the Lydian. Some say it was a boundary dispute; others, that it was concerned with Ganymede's kidnapping. The battle continued for a long time on even terms, and a large number of men fell on both sides; this disaster gave the region its name. It was there, so the story goes, that Ganymede was spirited away and disappeared from mortals' view when his brother and lover tore him limb from limb. After the youth's body vanished, his sufferings made him immortal when Zeus spirited him away to heaven. The Phrygians of old staged their revels in Pessinus, on the banks of the river Gallus, from which the eunuch priests of Cybele derive their name.[2]

When Roman affairs prospered, they say that an oracle prophesied that the empire would endure and soar to greater heights if the goddess were brought from Pessinus to Rome.[3] The Romans therefore sent an embassy to Phrygia and asked for the statue; they easily got it by reminding the Phrygians of their kinship and by recalling to them that Aeneas the Phrygian was the ancestor of the Romans. The statue was carried aboard ship, but when the vessel arrived at the mouth of the Tiber (the Romans use this as their harbor) it came to a halt, stopped by divine power.

For a long time the Romans tried in every way to dislodge the ship, which was held fast as if by a sand bar, but it refused to move until one of the Vestal Virgins, who was charged with breaking her oath of chastity, was led forward. The priestess, who was about to be put to death, begged the people to submit her case to the goddess from Pessinus. She unfastened the sash at her waist and attached it to the prow of the ship, praying that if she were still virgin and pure the ship would follow her.[4]

The ship, secured to her sash, followed her readily. The Romans were struck with awe both by the manifestation of the goddess and by the piety of the maiden. Let this suffice as an inquiry into the history of the goddess from Pessinus, but it will prove a not unwelcome digression to those unfamiliar with Roman affairs. After escaping Maternus' plot, Commodus strengthened his personal bodyguard and seldom appeared in public. He spent most of his time at his suburban estate and at the imperial estates far from Rome, having given up his judicial and administrative duties.

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Note 1:
"Place of the fall".

Note 2:
This section of Herodian's retelling of the myth is not found in other sources..

Note 3:
This happened in 204, during the war against Hannibal.

Note 4:
The Virgin's name was Claudia.
Online 2007
Revision: 27 June 2007
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