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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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Publius Helvius Pertinax. Bust at the Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden (Holland). Photo Jona Lendering.
Publius Helvius Pertinax (Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden)

2.2: Pertinax and the army

[1 January 193] They decided that as the first step Pertinax should go to the praetorian camp to learn the attitude of the soldiers of the guard. Laetus undertook to secure the support of the praetorians, since they owed him, as their commanding officer, a measure of respect.

Accompanied by all those present, they set out for the praetorian camp. The night had almost passed, and the festival was about to begin; so everything had to be done before daybreak. A number of trusted men were sent out to spread the news that Commodus was dead and that Pertinax was on his way to the praetorian camp to take command of the empire.

When these events became known, the people milled about in a frenzy of joy, like men possessed, and everyone took delight in telling the news to his neighbors, especially if they happened to be men of wealth and position, for Commodus was particularly dangerous to such men. Rushing to the temples and altars, the people united in giving thanks to the gods, shouting all sorts of things: "The tyrant is dead!" "The gladiator is slain!" and other blasphemies more scurrilous.

All the insults which had hitherto been left unsaid through fear were now voiced openly, with freedom and safety restored. Most of the people ran swiftly to the praetorian camp, because they feared that the praetorians would be reluctant to accept Pertinax as emperor.

Indeed, they suspected that in the future these soldiers would show little moderation; they were conditioned to blind obedience to a tyrant and were masters in the use of violence. All the people therefore went out to the camp to force the praetorians to submit. They were in the camp when Laetus and Eclectus arrived, bringing Pertinax with them. Laetus then ordered the praetorians to assemble and addressed them as follows:

"Commodus, your emperor, is dead of apoplexy. In a case of this kind, the blame can be put on no one else. The emperor was responsible for his own death. He paid no attention when we urged him time and again to adopt a safer and saner course. You know the way he lived his life. Now he lies dead, choked by his own gluttony. The death he was destined for has overtaken him at last. As you are aware, the cause of death is not one and the same for all men. The most diverse causes bring us to life's inevitable outcome.

In place of Commodus we bring to you, and the whole Roman people bring to you, a man respected for his years, temperate in his way of life, and renowned for his courageous exploits. You old soldiers have taken part in his military campaigns, and the rest of you always held him in high honor and esteem during his years of service as prefect of the city.

Now Fortune is giving you an emperor who is also a kindly father to you. His reign will please not only you praetorian soldiers on duty here in Rome but also the soldiers stationed on the banks of the far-off rivers and the borders of the Roman empire, men who are familiar with his exploits from their own recollections of them. No longer will we pacify the barbarians with money. They will obey us because they fear us, mindful of what they suffered at this man's hands when he campaigned against them."

After this speech of Laetus, the people restrained themselves no longer. While the praetorians were still hesitating, undecided, the people proclaimed Pertinax emperor, calling him father and shouting his praises to all. At this the soldiers, not because they were equally enthusiastic but because they were compelled by the great number of people present (they were surrounded by the mob and were themselves few in number and unarmed, as was customary during the festival), at last added their voices to the others and proclaimed Pertinax emperor.

After they had sworn the usual oaths in his name and had performed the sacrifices, all the people, together with the praetorians, took up laurel branches and escorted Pertinax to the imperial palace just before daylight.

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Online 2007
Revision: 28 June 2007
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