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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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Clodius Albinus
Clodius Albinus

3.8: Severus' revenge on the adherents of Albinus

[197] Then the angry emperor took vengeance upon Albinus' friends at Rome. He sent the man's head to the city and ordered that it be displayed. When he reported his victory in dispatches, he added a note stating that he had sent Albinus' head to be put on public view so that the people might know the extent of his anger against them. 

After settling affairs in Britain, he divided this region into two provinces, each under its own governor.[1] When he had also arranged matters in Gaul in what he considered the most advantageous way, he put all the friends of Albinus to death and confiscated their property, indifferent to whether they had supported the man by choice or by necessity. He then took his entire army to Rome in order to inspire the utmost terror there.

When he had completed the journey at his usual rapid pace, he entered Rome, raging at Albinus' surviving friends. The citizens, carrying laurel branches, welcomed him with all honor and praise; the Senate also came out to greet him, most of them standing before him in abject dread, convinced that he would not spare their lives. Since his malevolence, a natural character trait, was deadly even when he had little provocation, now that he seemed to have every reason to treat them harshly, the members of the Senate were terror-stricken.

After visiting the temple of Jupiter and offering sacrifices in the rest of the shrines, Severus entered the imperial palace. In honor of all his victories he made generous gifts to the people; distributing large sums of money to the soldiers, he granted them many privileges which they had not previously enjoyed. 

He was the first emperor to increase their food rations, to allow them [2] to wear gold finger rings, and to permit them to live with their wives; these were indulgences hitherto considered harmful to military discipline and the proper conduct of war. Severus was also the first emperor to make a change in the harsh and healthy diet of the soldiers and to undermine their resolution in the face of severe hardships; moreover, he weakened their strict discipline and respect for their superiors by teaching them to covet money and by introducing them to luxurious living.

Having arranged these matters in the way he thought best, Severus went into the Senate house and, mounting the imperial throne, launched a bitter attack upon the friends of Albinus, producing secret letters of theirs which he had found among the man's private correspondence. He blamed some for the extravagant gifts they had sent to Albinus, and brought other charges against the rest, complaining about the friendship of the men of the East for Niger and the support of the men of the West for Albinus.

Then, without warning, he put to death all the eminent senators of that day,[3] together with those men in the provinces who were noted for ancestry or wealth, pretending that he was avenging himself upon his enemies, when the truth was that he was driven by an insatiable lust for money; no other emperor was ever so greedy for gold.

Although in his steadfastness of purpose, his endurance of toil, and his management of military affairs he was inferior to none of the respected emperors, still his love of money acquired unjustly and from murder done without provocation became an obsession with the man. His subjects submitted from fear rather than affection.

He did try, however, to do what would please the people; he staged costly spectacles of every kind, killing on numerous occasions hundreds of animals of every species collected from all parts of the empire and from foreign lands as well, in connection with which he distributed lavish gifts. He held triumphal games for which he summoned dramatic actors and skilled athletes from every quarter.

In his reign we saw every kind of show exhibited in all the theaters simultaneously, as well as night-long revels celebrated in imitation of the Mysteries. The people of that day called them the Secular Games when they learned that they would be held only once every hundred years. Heralds were sent throughout Rome and Italy bidding all to come and see what they had never seen before and would never see again. It was thus made clear that the amount of time which elapsed between one celebration of the Secular Games and the next far exceeded the total span of any man's life.[4]

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Note 1:
Britannia Inferior (modern England) and Britannia Superior (Cornwall, Wales, Northumbria). Severus had arranged affairs in the same way in Syria. As a result, no governor could use more than two legions.

Note 2:
In fact only several officers, who were now entitled to an equestrian career. Among the military measures that Herodian leaves unrecorded, is the creation of a strategic reserve, consisting of the Second legion Parthica. Together with the Praetorian Guard, it could be employed where the emperor needed reinforcements.

Note 3:
Reportedly, twenty-nine senators were executed. Their property was confiscated and became the private purse of the emperor. From now on, the accounts of the ruler were separated from the accounts of the empire.

Note 4:
Herodian combines three celebration that were separated by several years: his triumphal festival (not a procession!) in 198, the celebration of his tenth regnal year (203), and the Secular Games of 204.
Online 2007
Revision: 30 June 2007
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