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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
Coin of Clodius Albinus as caesar. Obverse.
Coin of Clodius Albinus as caesar. Obverse (©!!)

3.7: Severus defeats Albinus near Lyon

[January 197] When it was reported that Severus was not merely threatening to come but would soon appear in person, Albinus was in a state of complete confusion amid the negligence and revelry. Crossing over to the mainland of Gaul opposite Britain, he established his headquarters there. He then sent messages to the governors of the provinces ordering them to provide food and money for his army. Some obeyed and sent supplies, to their own destruction, since they suffered for it later; those who did not obey him saved themselves, more by luck than good judgment. The outcome of the affair and the fortunes of war determined the wisdom of each decision. 

When the army of Severus came to Gaul, a few minor skirmishes occurred here and there, but the final battle was fought near the large and prosperous city of Lugdunum.[1] [19 February 197] Albinus shut himself up in that city, remaining behind when he sent the army out to do battle. A major engagement developed, and for a long time each side's chances of victory were equal, for in courage and ruthlessness the soldiers from Britain were in no way inferior to the soldiers from Illyria. When these two magnificent armies were locked in combat, it was no easy matter to put either one to flight.

As some contemporary historians recorded -saying it not to curry favor but in the interests of accuracy- the division of the army stationed opposite the sector where Severus and his command were fighting proved far superior; the emperor slipped from his horse and fled, managing to escape by throwing off the imperial cloak.[2] But while the soldiers from Britain were pursuing the Illyrians, chanting paeans of praise as if they were already victorious, they say that Laetus, one of Severus' generals, appeared with the troops under his command fresh and not yet committed in the battle. 

The historians accuse Laetus of watching the progress of the battle and deliberately waiting, holding his troops out of the fighting and appearing only after he was informed that Severus had been beaten. The aftermath of the affair substantiates the charge that Laetus coveted the empire himself. Later, when Severus had set everything straight and was living an orderly life, he gave generous rewards to the rest of his commanders, but Laetus alone he put to death, as seems reasonable under the circumstances, considering the general's past performances.

All this happened at a much later date, however. On this occasion, when Laetus appeared with fresh troops, as has been related above, Severus' soldiers, taking heart, wrapped the emperor in the imperial cloak again and mounted him on his horse.

But Albinus' soldiers, thinking that the victory was theirs, now found themselves in disorder when this powerful and as yet uncommitted army suddenly attacked; after a brief resistance they broke and ran. When the rout became general, Severus' soldiers pursued and slaughtered the fugitives until they drove them into Lugdunum. Each contemporary historian has recorded to suit his own purpose the actual number of those killed and captured on each side.

The emperor's troops captured Lugdunum and burned it. When they caught Albinus they cut off his head and sent it to Severus. The emperor thus won two magnificent victories, one in the East and one in the West. No battles and no victories can be compared to those of Severus, and no army to the size of his army; there are no comparable uprisings among nations, or total number of campaigns, or length and speed of marches.

Momentous indeed were the battles of Caesar against Pompey, when Roman fought Roman; equally momentous were the battles fought by Augustus against Antony and the sons of Pompey, and the struggles of Sulla and Marius at an earlier date, in the Roman civil and foreign wars. But here is one man who overthrew three emperors after they were already ruling, and got the upper hand over the praetorians by a trick: he succeeded in killing Julianus, the man in the imperial palace; Niger, who had previously governed the people of the East and was saluted as emperor by the Roman people; and Albinus, who had already been awarded the honor and authority of caesar. He prevailed over them all by his courage. It is not possible to name another like Severus.

Such was the fate suffered by Albinus, who was stripped of the honor which destroyed him after a brief time.

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Note 1:
Modern Lyon.

Note 2:
Cassius Dio (Roman History, 76.6) gives a less humiliating twist to this story, saying that "Severus found his life imperiled when he lost his horse. When he saw all his men in flight, he tore off his riding cloak, and drawing his sword, rushed among the fugitives, hoping either that they would be ashamed and turn back or that he might himself perish with them".
Online 2007
Revision: 2 Jan. 2009
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