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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.
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Statue of Commodus as Hercules Romanus. Musei Capitolini, Roma (Italy). Photo Marco Prins.
Commodus as Hercules
(Musei Capitolini, Roma)

1.13: Fall of Cleander

[190] Even though a civil war was raging, no one was willing to report to Commodus what was happening, for fear of Cleander. Finally the emperor's eldest sister (her name was Fadilla) rushed into the palace (as his sister, she had free and easy access to the emperor), and, loosing her hair, threw herself down and cried out in anguish:

"Here you are, emperor, taking your leisure, ignorant of what is happening, when you are actually in the gravest danger. And we, your own flesh and blood, are at this very moment threatened with murder. Already the Roman people and most of the army are lost to you. What we would not think of enduring at the hands of barbarians, our own people are doing to us. And those people whom you have treated with special consideration, you now find to be your enemies.

Cleander has armed the people and the soldiers against you. Those who hate him because they hold differing opinions, the mob, and the entire imperial cavalry, who support him, are up in arms, killing each other and choking the city with blood. The fury of both factions will fall upon us unless you immediately hand over to them for execution this scoundrelly servant of yours, who already has been the cause of so much destruction for the people and who threatens to be the cause of so much destruction for us." 

After she had made these statements,[1] tearing her clothes in grief, others who were present (for they became bolder at the words of the emperor's sister) urged Commodus to take action. He was terrified by this pressing danger, which did not merely threaten but was already upon him. In his panic he sent for Cleander, who knew nothing of what had been reported to the emperor, but had his suspicions. When the prefect appeared, Commodus ordered him seized and beheaded, and, impaling his head on a long spear, sent it out to the mob, to whom it was a welcome and long-desired sight. 

In this way he terminated the danger, and both sides stopped fighting: the soldiers, because they saw that the man for whom they had been fighting had been killed and also because they feared the wrath of the emperor (for they realized that he had been deceived and that Cleander had done everything without imperial approval); the people, because their desire for vengeance was satisfied by the arrest of the man responsible for the appalling crimes.

They put Cleander's children to death (for he had two sons), and killed all his known friends. They dragged their bodies through the streets, subjecting them to every indignity, and finally brought the mutilated corpses to the sewer and threw them in. Such was the fate of Cleander and his associates; it was as if Nature had undertaken to demonstrate that a small and unexpected twist of fate can raise a man from the lowest depths to the greatest heights and then plunge the man so exalted down to the depths again.

Although he feared a popular uprising and a new attempt upon his life, Commodus nevertheless, at the urging of his advisers, entered the city. Received there with great enthusiasm, he went to the imperial palace, escorted by the people. After undergoing such risks, the emperor trusted no one; he killed now without warning, listening to all accusations without question and paying no heed to those worthy of a hearing. He no longer had any regard for the "good life"; night and day, without interruption, licentious pleasures of the flesh made him a slave, body and soul.

Men of intelligence and those who had even a smattering of learning were driven from the palace as conspirators, but the emperor gave enthralled attention to the filthy skits of comedians and actors. He took lessons in driving the chariot and trained to take part in the wild-animal fights; his flatterers praised these activities as proof of his manliness, but he indulged in them more often than befitted an intelligent emperor.



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Note 1:
According to Cassius Dio, the warner was Commodus' mistress Marcia (Roman History, 73=72.13.5).
Online 2007
Revision: 2 Jan. 2009
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