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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
The Curia Julia. Photo Jona Lendering.
The Senate House

4.5: Caracalla in the Senate

[20 December 211] The emperor spent that night in the temple in the praetorian camp; then, growing bold because he had won over the soldiers by gifts, he came from the Senate house accompanied by the entire guard, which was more heavily armed that was customary for the imperial escort. After he had gone in and offered sacrifices, Caracalla mounted the imperial throne and addressed the senators as follows:

"I am not unaware that every murder of a kinsman, immediately the deed is known, is despised, and that the name 'kinsman-killer' arouses harsh censure as soon as it falls upon the ear. Pity follows for the victims, hatred for the victors. In such cases it appears that the victim is abused, the victor abusing.

But if one were to consider the deed with sober judgment and not with sympathy for the fallen, and if he were to evaluate the victor's motive and intent, he would find that sometimes it is both reasonable and necessary for the man about to suffer an injury to defend himself and not stand passively and submit. Censure for cowardice follows when a man succumbs to disaster, but the winner gains, together with his safety, a reputation for courage. 

As to the rest, all the plots he laid against me, using deadly poisons and every kind of treachery, these you can discover by the use of torture. For this reason I issued orders for Geta's servants to be present here so that you may learn the truth. Several have already been examined, and the results of the examination are available. In his final act of treachery, Geta burst in upon me while I was with my mother, accompanied by swordsmen whom he had obtained for this attempt upon my life.


Caracalla. Antikensammlung, Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
Caracalla (Altes Museum, Berlin)

But I grasped the situation with great shrewdness and presence of mind and defended myself against an enemy who no longer displayed the attitude or feelings of a brother. Now to defend oneself against plots is not merely proper; it is a standard practice. Indeed, Romulus, the founder of this city, refused to allow his brother to ridicule what he had done.[1]

And I pass over without comment Germanicus, brother [2] of Tiberius; Britannicus, Nero's brother [3]; and Titus, brother of Domitian.[4] Even Marcus himself, who professed to love philosophy and excellence, would not tolerate the arrogance of Lucius, his brother-in-law, and by a plot removed him from the scene.[5] So I too, when poisons were prepared for me and a sword hung over me, defended myself against my enemy, for this is the name which describes his actions.

First of all, you must give thanks to the gods for having preserved at least one of your emperors for you; then you must lay aside your differences of opinion in thought and in attitude and lead your lives in security, looking to one emperor alone. Jupiter, as he is himself sole ruler of the gods, thus gives to one ruler sole charge of mankind." After making these statements at the top of his voice, in a towering rage, he glared balefully at his brother's friends and returned to the palace, leaving most of the senators pale and trembling.



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Note 1:
Remus had made jokes about the height of the walls that Romulus was still building; Romulus killed the joker.

Note 2:
Nephew, in fact. There were rumors that Tiberius had ordered the poisoning of Germanicus.

Note 3:
Nero had been adopted by Claudius, who already had a son, Britannicus.

Note 4:
This rumor is also found in Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, 6.32.

Note 5:
This is nonsense; Lucius Verus died of natural causes. Herodian uses this to show that Caracalla is insincere.
Online 2007
Revision: 2 July 2007
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