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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)

5.1: Macrinus and the Senate

[Late 217] Caracalla's life and death have been described in the preceding book. While at Antioch, Macrinus wrote a letter to the Senate and the Roman people in which he said the following: 

"You are familiar with the course of my life from its very beginning. You know my inclination toward uprightness of character, and are aware of the moderation with which I previously managed affairs, when my power and authority were little inferior to that of the emperor himself. For that reason, and since the emperor sees fit to put his trust in the praetorian prefects, I do not think it necessary for me to address you at great length. You know that I did not approve of the emperor's actions. Indeed, I frequently risked my life on your behalf when he listened to random charges and attacked you without mercy.

He criticized me harshly too, often publicly complaining about my moderation and my restraint in dealing with those under my authority, and ridiculing me for my easygoing ways and mild manner. He delighted in flatterers and men who encouraged him to cruelty and gave him good reason for his savagery by arousing his anger with slanderous charges. These people he considered his loyal friends. I, on the other hand, have from the beginning been mild, moderate, and agreeable.

We brought the war against the Parthians to a conclusion, a critical struggle involving the safety of the whole Roman empire. In our courageous opposition to the Parthians we proved in no way inferior to them, and in signing a treaty of peace we made a loyal friend instead of a dangerous enemy of a great king, who had marched against us at the head of a formidable army. Under my rule all men shall live in peace, and senatorial rule shall replace the autocracy.

But let no one think me unworthy of my post, and let no one believe that Fortune blundered in raising me to this position, even though I am of the equestrian order. For what advantage is there in nobility of birth unless it be combined with a beneficent and kindly nature? The gifts of Fortune fall upon the undeserving also, but it is the excellence of his own soul which brings every man his measure of personal glory. Nobility of birth, wealth, and the like are presumed to bring happiness, but, since they are bestowed by someone else, they deserve no praise.

Virtue and kindness, on the other hand, besides commanding admiration, win a full measure of praise for anyone who succeeds by his own efforts. What, may I ask, did the noble birth of Commodus profit you ? Or the fact that Caracalla inherited the throne from his father? Indeed, having received the empire as legal heirs, the two youths abused their high office and conducted themselves insolently, as if the empire were their own personal possession by right of inheritance. But those who receive the empire from your hands are eternally in your debt for the favor, and they undertake to repay those who have done them previous good services.

The noble ancestry of the highborn emperors leads them to commit insolent acts out of contempt for their subjects, whom they regard as far below them. By contrast, those who come to the throne as a result of temperate behavior treat the post with respect, since they secured it by toil; they continue to show to those who were formerly their superiors the same deference and esteem they were accustomed to show.

I intend to have you senators as my associates and assistants in managing the empire, and I intend to do nothing without your approval. You shall live in freedom and security, enjoying the privileges of which you were deprived by your nobly born emperors and which Marcus, of old, and Pertinax, recently, undertook to restore to you; the latter also are emperors who came to the throne from private circumstances. Surely it is better for a man to provide his descendants with the glorious beginnings of a family line than, having inherited ancestral glory, to disgrace it by outrageous behavior."



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Online 2007
Revision: 3 July 2007
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