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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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Coin of Didius Julianus. Limesmuseum, Aalen (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Didius Julianus (Limesmuseum, Aalen)

2.7: Julianus runs into financial troubles

[30 March 193] When he entered into the office of emperor, Julianus immediately devoted himself to drinking and debauchery. He regarded his duties to the state as of no consequence and occupied his time in luxurious living and profligate practices. It was quickly discovered, however, that he had lied to the praetorians and deceived them, as he was unable to fulfill his promises.

The truth is that he did not have as much money in his personal possession as he had pretended to have, and no money was available in the public treasures; these had been completely exhausted by Commodus' extravagances and his lavish and endless disbursements. The praetorians, cheated of their expectations, were enraged by this insulting breach of faith; and the people, when they were aware of the praetorians' attitude, held Julianus in contempt. When the emperor appeared in public, they cursed him bitterly and taunted him for his continuous and disgraceful debauches.

At the Circus Maximus, where the crowds were largest, the audience shouted insults at Julianus and called Niger defender of the empire and protector of the sacred office of emperor, begging him to come to their rescue as soon as possible, for they were subjected to unbearable indignities.

This Niger had previously served a term as consul; at the time of the events mentioned above, he was governor of Syria, then the largest and most powerful of the Roman provinces. The entire Phoenician territory and all the land as far as the Euphrates River were under Niger's command.

Coin of Pescennius Niger. Limesmuseum, Aalen (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Pescennius Niger (Limesmuseum, Aalen)

The governor, then just past middle age, had won renown for his many brilliant exploits. He was reported to be a fair and capable man and was said to pattern his life after that of Pertinax; the Romans, consequently, had great confidence in Niger. They called for him in all the public assemblies and insulted  Julianus to his face by cheering the absent Niger and offering him the empire with loud shouts.

When the attitude of the Roman people and their actions were reported to him, Niger was naturally acquiescent and believed that affairs would turn out as he wished, with no difficulty. The fact that Julianus had been deserted by the praetorians because he failed to give them the money he had promised and the fact that he was despised by the people for the shameful way in which he had bought the empire encouraged Niger to be sanguine about his chances of becoming emperor. 

As the first step, he summoned a few commanders and tribunes and prominent soldiers to his quarters; there he discussed the situation with them and won their support. He revealed in detail what he had heard from Rome, with the intent that, when this news was made public, it would become common knowledge to the soldiers and to the rest of the peoples of the East.

He hoped to win the support of all of them without difficulty when they understood that he was not attempting to seize the empire by plotting but rather that he was going to the assistance of the people at Rome, who were begging for him to come. All the Eastern peoples flocked to his support and implored him to take charge of affairs.

For the Syrian race is by nature unstable and sympathetic to any proposed change in the established order of things. In addition, the Syrians felt some affection for Niger because he ruled them mildly in all respects and staged a vast number of shows for them. They are by nature a people fond of spectacles, and the citizens of Antioch, a large and prosperous city, celebrate festivals virtually every day of the year in the city and in the surrounding area. 

And so, by constantly staging shows, about which they are wildly enthusiastic, and by allowing them free license to celebrate the holidays and make merry, Niger won their esteem.

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Online 2007
Revision: 28 June 2007
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