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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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Bust of Alexander the Great, from Delos, now in the Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Bust of Alexander the Great, from Delos, now in the Louvre.

4.8: Caracalla in the East

[215/216] Caracalla, after attending to matters in the garrison camps along the Danube River, went down into Thrace at the Macedonian border, and immediately he became Alexander the Great. To revive the memory of the Macedonian in every possible way, he ordered statues and paintings of his hero to be put on public display in all cities. He filled the Capitol, the rest of the temples, indeed, all Rome, with statues and paintings designed to suggest that he was a second Alexander.[1]

At times we saw ridiculous portraits, statues with one body which had on each side of a single head the faces of Alexander and the emperor. Caracalla himself went about in Macedonian dress, affecting especially the broad sun hat and short boots. He enrolled picked youths in a unit which he labeled his Macedonian phalanx; its officers bore the names of Alexander's generals.


Kesik Tepe. Probably the tomb of Achilles. Photo Marco Prins.
Kesik Tepe. Probably the tomb of Achilles.

He also summoned picked young men from Sparta and formed a unit which he called his Laconian and Pitanate battalion. After doing this, he arranged matters in the cities in that region to his satisfaction and then proceeded to Pergamum in Asia Minor, to try the healing treatments of Aesculapius. When he arrived in that city he made what use he wished of the dream treatments and continued on to Troy.

He visited all the ruins of that city, coming last to the tomb of Achilles; he adorned this tomb lavishly with garlands of flowers, and immediately he became Achilles. Casting about for a Patroclus, he found one ready to hand in Festus, his favorite freedman, keeper of the emperor's daily record book. This Festus died at Troy; some say he was poisoned so that he could be buried as Patroclus, but others say he died of disease.


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

Caracalla ordered a huge pyre of logs to be erected and the body of Festus placed in the center. After sacrificing animals of all kinds, the emperor set fire to the funeral pile; then, taking a bowl and pouring a libation, he offered prayers to the winds. Since he was almost entirely bald, he made himself ridiculous when he wished to place his curls upon the blaze; he did, however, shear off what little hair he had. Among generals, Caracalla admired the Roman Sulla and the Carthaginian Hannibal, and set up statues and paintings of these two.

The emperor then left Troy and traveled through the rest of Asia, Bithynia, and the remaining provinces. After tending to affairs in these regions, he came to Antioch. Given a warm welcome there, he remained for some time. While in the city he sent letters to Alexandria, pretending to be eager to visit the city founded by Alexander and to pay his respects to the god whom the Alexandrians worship above all other deities.[2]

He pretended that the two compelling reasons for his proposed visit were the worship of the god and the memory of his hero Alexander. He therefore ordered a number of hecatombs of cattle to be prepared, together with offerings of every kind. When these matters were reported to the people of Alexandria, who are by nature carefree and very easily aroused on the slightest provocation, they were overjoyed to learn of the emperor's enthusiastic interest and his great affection for them. 

They prepared a superlative reception for the emperor. Everywhere bands were performing on all kinds of musical instruments and playing a variety of melodies. Billows of perfume and the smoke of incense spread sweet aromas throughout the city. The emperor was honored with torchlight parades and showers of floral bouquets.

When he entered the city, accompanied by his entire army, Caracalla went first into the temple, where he sacrificed many hecatombs of cattle and heaped the altars with frankincense. Leaving the temple for the tomb of Alexander, he removed there his purple robe, his finger rings set with precious gems, together with his belts and anything else of value on his person, and placed them upon the tomb.



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Note 1:
The display of love for Alexander is less strange than it may seem. Caracalla had ambitions to conquer the Parthian Empire, and modeled his self-presentation on the man who had conquered Iran before.

Note 2:
Serapis. Caracalla's father Severus had also venerated this god.
Online 2007
Revision: 2 July 2007
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