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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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The Cilician Gate. Photo Jona Lendering.
The Cilician Gate

3.3: Severus crosses the Taurus Mountains

[January 194] Passing through Bithynia and Galatia, the army of Severus swept into Cappadocia; there it halted and put the defense works under siege. This was no small undertaking, however: the narrow rough road made an approach very difficult; and Niger's soldiers, fighting back bravely, stood upon the battlements and hurled stones down on the attackers.

Thus a few defenders easily held off a great number of attackers, for the narrow approach was protected on one side by a lofty mountain and on the other by a steep cliff which served as the channel of a waterfall formed by mountain streams. All these natural defenses had been utilized by Niger to block Severus' approach from any direction.

While these things were happening in Cappadocia, where mutual jealousy and enmity were general, the Laodiceans in Syria revolted from Niger because they hated the people of Antioch, and the people of Tyre in Phoenicia revolted because they hated the people of Berytus. When they learned that Niger was in headlong flight, the people of these two cities decided to risk stripping him of his honors and publicly proclaimed their support of Severus.

Niger learned of this action while he was in Antioch, and although up to this time he had been quite mild, he was now justifiably angered by their insolent defection and sent against them his Moorish javelin men and some of the archers too, ordering them to kill everyone they met, loot the two cities, and burn them to the ground.

The Moroccans are the most brutal and savage men in the world and are wholly indifferent to death or danger. Taking the Laodiceans by surprise, they destroyed the city and slaughtered the inhabitants. Then they hurried on to Tyre and, after much looting and killing, burned the whole city.

While these events were taking place in Syria and Niger was collecting an army, the troops of Severus pitched camp and besieged the fortifications in the Taurus Mountains. The soldiers were disheartened and discouraged, however; the defenses, protected by a mountain and a cliff, were strong and difficult to approach.

But when the army of Severus was about to abandon the siege and their opponents believed that their position was impregnable, rain suddenly fell in torrents during the night, and much snow along with it. (The winters are severe in Cappadocia and especially so in the Taurus Mountains.) A large and violent stream of water now poured down on the fortifications, which blocked the regular stream bed and checked the torrent; hence the current became deep and strong. Then Nature prevailed over man's handiwork, and the wall was unable to hold back the stream. The wall did briefly withstand the pressure of the water on its joints, but finally the foundations, which had been constructed hastily and without the usual care, were undermined by the torrent and the wall collapsed. The whole fortification was exposed, and the stream, leveling the area, breached the defense works.

When those on guard at the barricade saw what had happened, they feared that they would be surrounded and trapped by the rushing flood; abandoning their posts, they fled, since there was no longer anything to keep the enemy out. Delighted by this turn of events, the troops of Severus rejoiced, believing that they were under the guidance of divine providence; when they saw the guards fleeing in all directions they crossed the Taurus Mountains without difficulty or opposition and marched into Cilicia.



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Online 2007
Revision: 29 June 2007
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