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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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Bust of Septimius Severus. Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki (Greece). Photo Marco Prins.
Bust of Septimius Severus (Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki)

2.11: Severus' march on Rome

[April 193] Without delay and waste of time, Severus ordered them to get ready only as much gear as each could conveniently carry, and announced his decision to depart for Rome. He distributed money to the troops and issued supplies for the journey. With prodigious effort, he sped on his way, stopping nowhere and allowing no time for rest except for the brief periods necessary to enable the soldiers to recover from the rigorous march.

He shared personally in their hardships, sleeping in an ordinary army tent and eating and drinking whatever was available to all; on no occasion did he make use of imperial luxuries or comforts. As a result, he enjoyed even greater popularity among the troops; respecting him not only for sharing their hardships but also for overcoming all difficulties, they carried out his orders with enthusiasm.

After crossing Pannonia, Severus came to the mountains of Italy; outstripping the news of his approach, he appeared in person to the people there before they had heard that he was emperor or that he was on his way to Rome. The cities of Italy regarded the approach of this formidable army with apprehension. The men of Italy, long unused to arms and war, were devoted to farming and peaceful pursuits.

As long as Roman affairs were governed by republican principles and the senate selected the generals who took charge of military affairs, all the Italians were under arms, and controlled the lands and the seas, waging wars with Greeks and barbarians. There was no place on earth, no place under heaven, to which the Romans did not extend the borders of their empire.

From the time when Augustus assumed control of the government, however, the princeps freed the Italians from the necessity of working and of bearing arms; establishing forts and camps for the defense of the empire, he stationed mercenaries in these to serve as a defensive bulwark on the frontiers. The empire was further protected by great barriers of rivers and mountains and impassable deserts.

When the people of Italy learned that Severus was approaching with a huge army, they were understandably dismayed by the unexpectedness of this development. Not daring to oppose him or try to stop him, they took up laurel branches and went out to meet him, welcoming him with open gates. Delaying only to secure good omens and say a few words to the people, Severus hurried on to Rome.

When these developments were reported to Julianus, he was in despair because of what he had heard about the size and the power of the army of Illyricum, because of his lack of faith in the Roman people, who hated him, and because of his lack of confidence in the praetorians, whom he had swindled. Still, he collected his own money and that of his friends, appropriated what was left in the public and temple treasuries, and undertook to distribute this sum among the praetorians in an effort to purchase their good will.

But in spite of the fact that they received large amounts of money, the praetorians were in no way grateful to the emperor; they felt that he was not giving them a bonus but only paying them what he owed them.

Although his friends advised him to lead out the army and seize the passes of the Alps, Julianus did nothing. The Alps are very tall mountains - there are none like them in our part of the world; they surround Italy like a wall and are her first line of defense. This is yet another piece of good fortune which Nature has provided the Italians, an impregnable barrier across their entire northern frontier, for the Alps extend unbroken from the Tyrrhenian to the Adriatic Sea.

But Julianus, as I have said, did not dare to venture forth from Rome. He did, however, send a message to the praetorians, begging them to take up arms, practice their drills, and dig trenches to defend the city. In the city he made what preparations he could for the battle with Severus. All the elephants used by the Romans in parades were trained to carry men and towers on their backs. It was hoped that the elephants would terrify the troops from Illyricum and stampede the enemy cavalry when these huge beasts, which the horses had never seen before, appeared on the field. The whole city was training in arms and preparing for battle.



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Online 2007
Revision: 29 June 2007
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