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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)

2.4: Pertinax' policy

[January 193] When Pertinax' speech to the Senate and his letters to the people were made public, all the Romans gave thanks, hoping that he would be for them not so much an emperor as a mild and pious ruler and father. He ordered the praetorians to curb their arrogant treatment of the people; he forbade them to carry axes or strike anyone they chanced to meet. He tried to manage everything with decency and discipline, and in his judicial duties he was mild and moderate.

By his consistent and deliberate imitation of Marcus' reign, he delighted the older people, and won the good will of the others without difficulty, released as they were from savage and oppressive tyranny to lead a well-ordered life, free from care. When the mildness of his rule became known everywhere, all nations subject to Roman rule or friendly to the Romans, and all the armies in the field as well, came to regard his reign as that of a god.

And indeed, the barbarians who were formerly restless and rebellious, mindful of his brilliant achievements in his previous campaigns, feared him and willingly submitted to him. They put their trust in his reputation for never purposely doing an injustice and always treating every man according to his deserts; improper conduct and savage violence were completely foreign to his nature. Embassies from all countries came to him, and everyone delighted in the rule of the Romans under Pertinax.

All, both publicly and privately, were pleased by the order and the moderation of his reign. But what pleased all the rest only galled the soldiers of the imperial bodyguard stationed in Rome. Now forbidden to loot and act with insolence, the praetorians were directed to return to an orderly and disciplined way of life. Since they considered the mild and moderate rule of Pertinax an insult and disgrace to them, as well as a diminution of their unlimited power, they refused to tolerate his well-ordered reign any longer.

At the beginning, they had obeyed his orders reluctantly and mutinously. But after he had been emperor for less than two months, during which he had put into effect in a short time many moderate and practical measures, and his subjects were just beginning to entertain high hopes for the future, a wretched turn of fortune upset the situation and ruined everything, preventing a number of excellent projects useful to his subjects from being carried to completion.

To begin with, Pertinax assigned all the land in Italy and the rest of the provinces not under cultivation to anyone willing to care for it and farm it, to be his own private property; he gave to each man as much land as he wished and was able to manage, even if the land were imperial property.[1] To these farmers he granted exemption from all taxes for ten years and freedom from government duties as well.

He refused to allow his name to be stamped on imperial property, stating that these effects were not the emperor's personal property but the common and public possessions of the Roman empire. Finally, he removed the tolls previously levied during the tyranny as an easy method of raising revenue, the fees collected at the banks of rivers, the harbors of cities, and the crossroads, restoring to all these their ancient freedom.

It is obvious that he would have done even more to benefit his subjects, as his general policy makes plain, for he banished informers from the city and ordered them to be persecuted elsewhere; he took precautions to prevent anyone from being threatened by informers or being embroiled in their false charges. Then the Senate particularly, but all other men too, seemed to be living in a blessed state of security.

Pertinax was so modest and unassuming that he did not bring his own son, then a young man, into the imperial palace. The youth remained in his father's house and continued to attend his regular school and gymnasium; in his education, as in all his activities, he was an ordinary Roman citizen, and displayed none of the imperial pomp and arrogance.

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Note 1:
Agrarian bills like these had been both the solution and the cause of many problems, and there is no evidence to support Herodian's remarkable statement claim. On the other hand, there had been a severe epidemic during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, and it is indeed possible that even after a generation, there were large tracts of unused land.
Online 2007
Revision: 28 June 2007
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