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

4.7: Caracalla's Germanic War

[213] After committing such crimes as these, hounded by his conscience and finding life in Rome intolerable, the emperor decided to leave the city to see to matters in the garrison camps and visit the provinces.

Leaving Italy, he journeyed to the banks of the Danube, where he concerned himself with the northern part of his empire; at the same time he exercised by driving in chariot races and by fighting at close quarters with wild animals of every kind.[1] Only occasionally did he sit as judge, although he was quick to grasp the essentials of a case in court and quick to pass judgment on the basis of the arguments presented. 

He grew especially fond of the Germans in those regions; after gaining their friendship, he entered into alliances with them, and selected for his personal bodyguard the strongest and most handsome young men. He frequently put off the Roman cloak and donned German dress, appearing in the short, silver-embroidered cloaks which they customarily wear, augmented by a yellow wig with the locks arranged in the German style.

Delighted with the emperor's antics, the barbarians became very fond of him, as did the Roman soldiers also, particularly because of his lavish gifts of money but also because he always played the soldier's part. If a ditch had to be dug anywhere, the emperor was the first man to dig; if it were necessary to bridge a stream or pile up a high rampart, it was the same; in every task involving labor of hand or body, the emperor was first man to the job.


he destruction of a Germanic village by Roman soldiers. Column of Marcus Aurelius, Rome.
Destruction of a Germanic village by Roman soldiers. Column of Marcus Aurelius  (!!!)

He set a frugal table and even went so far as to use wooden dishes at his meals. He ate the bread that was available; grinding with his own hands his personal ration of grain, he made a loaf, baked it in the ashes, and ate it.

Scorning luxuries, he used whatever was cheapest and issued to the poorest soldier. He pretended to be delighted when they called him fellow soldier instead of emperor. For the most part he marched with the troops, carrying his own arms and rarely using a chariot or a horse.

Occasionally he even placed the standards of the legions on his shoulders and bore them along; these standards, tall and decorated with many gold ornaments, were a heavy burden for even the strongest soldiers. For these actions Caracalla won the affection of the soldiers by his military prowess and gained their admiration by his feats of strength. And it is certainly true that the performance of such strenuous tasks by a man of small stature was worthy of admiration.



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Note 1:
In fact, Caracalla fought several successful wars against the Alamans, which Herodian does not mention.
Online 2007
Revision: 2 July 2007
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