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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 Macrinus. Musei Capitolini, Roma (Italy). Photo Marco Prins.
Bust of Macrinus (Musei Capitolini, Rome)

4.14: Accession of Macrinus

[8 April 217] After Caracalla's death, the bewildered soldiers were at a loss as to what to do. For two days they were without an emperor while they looked for someone to fill the office. And now it was reported that Artabanus was approaching with a huge army, seeking a legitimate revenge for the Parthians whom Caracalla had murdered under a truce and in time of peace.

The army first chose Adventus as their emperor because he was a military man and a praetorian prefect of considerable ability; he declined the honor, however, pleading his advanced age. [11 April 217] They then decided upon Macrinus, influenced by their tribunes, who were close friends of the general and were suspected of having been involved in the plot against Caracalla. Later, after Macrinus' death, these tribunes were punished, as we shall relate in the pages to follow. 

Macrinus thus received the office of emperor not so much because of the soldiers' affection and loyalty as from necessity and the urgency of the impending crisis.

While these events were taking place, Artabanus was marching toward the Romans with a huge army, including a strong cavalry contingent and a powerful unit of archers and those mail-clad soldiers who hurl spears from dromedaries.


Coin of Artabanus IV. Bode-Museum, Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
Coin of Artabanus IV (Bode-Museum, Berlin)

When the approach of Artabanus was reported, Macrinus called the soldiers together and addressed them as follows: "That all of you regret the passing of such an emperor, or, more accurately, fellow soldier, is hardly surprising. But to endure misfortunes and disasters with equanimity is the part of intelligent men.

Truly the memory of Caracalla is locked in our hearts, and to those who come after us will be handed down this memory, which will bring him everlasting fame for his great and noble deeds, his love and affection for you, and his labors and comradeship with you. But now it is time for us, since we have paid the last of the prescribed honors to the memory of the dead and have performed his funeral rites, to look to the present emergency.



You see the barbarian with his whole Eastern horde already upon us, and Artabanus seems to have good reason for his enmity. We provoked him by breaking the treaty, and in a time of complete peace we started a war. Now the whole Roman empire depends upon our courage and loyalty. This is no quarrel about boundaries or river beds; everything is at stake in this dispute in which we face a mighty king fighting for his children and kinsmen who, he believes, have been murdered in violation of solemn oaths.

Therefore let us take up our arms and our battle stations in the customary Roman good order. In the fighting, the undisciplined mob of barbarians, assembled only for temporary duty, may prove its own worst enemy. Our battle tactics and our stern discipline, together with our combat experience, will insure our safety and their destruction. Therefore, with hopes high, contest the issue as it is fitting and traditional for Romans to do.

Thus will you repel the barbarians, and by winning a great and glorious reputation you will make it clear to the Romans and to all men - and you will likewise confirm that previous victory - that you did not deceive the barbarians by fraudulently and treacherously breaking your treaty with them, but that you conquered and won by force of arms."

After this speech the soldiers, recognizing the necessity of the matter, took up battle stations and remained under arms.



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Online 2007
Revision: 2 July 2007
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