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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.
Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Bust of Septimius Severus. Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki (Greece). Photo Marco Prins.
Bust of Septimius Severus (Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki)

2.10: Severus' speech to the soldiers

[Early April 193] Severus sent letters to all the soldiers in Illyricum and to their officers and won their support. After assembling the troops from all stations, he assumed as his names both Severus and Pertinax, hoping that this would endear him not only to the people in Illyricum but also to the Romans because of their memories of that emperor. [11 April 193] He then called the soldiers together on the assembly ground and, mounting a platform erected for him, addressed them as follows:

"The faith and reverence which you have for the gods, by whom you swear, and the respect which you have for your emperors, whom you esteem, you have made abundantly clear by your rage at the acts of the praetorians in Rome, who are more suited for parades than for battles. And now, because you ask it, although I never before entertained such a hope (you know my loyalty to the emperors), it is my duty to undertake and successively resolve these matters which have your approval.

I must not allow the Roman empire to lie helpless, that empire which, to the end of Marcus' reign, was administered with reverence and appeared to be august and awesome. Under Commodus, however, the empire underwent a change, and yet, even if it did suffer somewhat at his hands because of his youth, all was forgiven him because of his noble birth and the memory of his father. And the truth is that there was more reason to pity than to despise him for his errors, in that we attributed most of what happened not to him personally but to the parasites who swarmed around him and to his advisers and accomplices in his irregular acts.

But when the empire came into the hands of that revered elder statesman Pertinax, the memory of whose courage and service to the state is still firmly fixed in our hearts, the praetorians not only did not protect their emperor, but went so far as to murder that illustrious man. And now some fellow has disgracefully purchased the empire and its vast expanse of land and sea; as you have heard, he is hated by the people and no longer trusted by the disillusioned praetorians. 

Even if they loved him and intended to support him, you outnumber them and are superior in courage. You have trained under actual combat conditions in your continuous skirmishes with the barbarians, and you are accustomed to endure all kinds of labor. Ignoring heat and cold, you cross frozen rivers on the ice; you do not drink water from wells, but water you have dug yourself. You have also trained by fighting with animals, and, all in all, you have won so distinguished a reputation for bravery that no one could stand against you.

Toil is the true test of the soldier, not easy living, and those luxury-loving sots would not face your battle cry, much less your battle line. But if any one of you is concerned about affairs in Syria, he may judge how feeble the effort is there and how slight the hope of success by the fact that these men have not dared to venture beyond their own borders and were not bold enough to plan for a journey to Rome. There they remain, content, believing that this temporary taste of living in luxury represents the total profit to them of this firmly established empire.

The truth is that the Syrians are suited only to games and childish banter. This is especially true of those who live in Antioch, who are reported to be highly enthusiastic supporters of Niger. But the rest of the provinces and cities have up to now found no one worthy of the imperial throne, and, because no man has appeared who will rule with courage and use sound administrative practices, it is evident that they are only pretending to support that fellow.

But if they should learn that the army of Illyricum has already made its choice, and if they should hear our name, which is not unknown or without honor among them, because of our term as governor of Syria, know well, I say, that they will not find fault with me for delay or cowardice, nor will they elect to stand and face your bravery and your battle prowess, for they are greatly inferior to you in size of body, in endurance of hardship, and in close-quarter combat.

Let us therefore occupy Rome before they do it; that city is the seat of the empire. By establishing our headquarters in Rome, we shall manage the rest easily, putting our trust in divine prophecies and our reliance in your strength and your arms."  

After Severus had finished speaking, the soldiers shouted his praises, calling him Augustus and Pertinax, and displaying the utmost zeal and enthusiasm for him.









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Online 2007
Revision: 26 June 2007
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