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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)

5.4: Death of Macrinus

[May 218] These matters were reported to Macrinus while he was at Antioch, and the rumor quickly spread through the rest of the armies that the son of Caracalla had been found and that the sister of Julia was handing out money. Believing everything that was said and accepting it as true, the soldiers were deeply stirred.

They were moved by hatred of Macrinus and pity for the memory of Caracalla; these considerations persuaded them to support a change of emperors. More than any other factor, however, the hope of money influenced their decision, and many soldiers voluntarily deserted to the new Caracalla. Contemptuously dismissing the affair as the efforts of children, and displaying his usual indolence, Macrinus remained at home, but he did send one of the praetorian prefects to Emesa with a contingent of troops which he considered large enough to crush the rebels with the greatest of ease.

When Julianus (for this was the prefect's name) arrived and attacked the walls of the camp, the soldiers inside, mounting the towers and battlements, displayed Bassianus to the besieging army; cheering the son of Caracalla, they waved their full purses to induce the attackers to desert.

Believing that Bassianus was the son of Caracalla and looked exactly like him (for this is what they wanted to see), the besieging soldiers cut off Julianus' head and sent it back to Macrinus; when the gates were opened, all of them were welcomed into the camp. The troops, thus augmented, were sufficient not only to withstand a siege but also to fight a pitched battle at close quarters. The number of those who deserted each day, though they came in small groups, continued to increase the size of the army in the camp.

When he learned of these developments, Macrinus assembled all the available troops and marched out to put under siege those who had deserted him for Heliogabalus. The soldiers of Heliobalus, however, did not wait for the attack. Finding his troops bold enough to march out confidently to engage Macrinus in battle, the youth led them from the city.

[8 June 218] When the two armies met on the borders of Phoenicia and Syria, Heliogabalus' soldiers fought with spirit, fearing that if they should lose, they would suffer for what they had done. The soldiers of Macrinus, on the other hand, were completely indifferent and deserted to Heliogabalus.

When Macrinus saw what was happening, he was afraid that, having lost all his troops, he would be captured and shamefully treated. While the battle was still raging, he stripped off his purple cloak and other imperial insignia and secretly left the field with a few centurions whom he believed to be especially loyal to him. To avoid recognition he shaved off his beard, donned a traveling cloak, and kept his head covered. 

He traveled night and day and thus outdistanced the report of his disaster; the centurions drove the chariots at top speed, as if they had been sent by Macrinus, still emperor, on an urgent mission. And so Macrinus fled from the battle. Both armies continued the fight; the bodyguards and spearbearers whom they call praetorians fought for Macrinus, these picked men making a courageous stand against the rest of the army; the remainder of the troops fought for Heliogabalus. 

But when those who were fighting for Macrinus saw neither the emperor nor the imperial emblems for some time, they did not know whether he had been killed or had fled the battlefield, nor did they know what course they should follow under the circumstances. They had no desire to fight for a man who was absent, and were ashamed to surrender and, betrayed, become prisoners of war.

Informed by deserters of Macrinus' flight, Heliogabalus sent heralds to advise the praetorians that they were fighting vainly for a cowardly fugitive; he solemnly promised them security and amnesty, and offered them service as his bodyguard. Convinced, the praetorians switched their allegiance. Heliogabalus then sent men in pursuit of Macrinus, who by that time had fled some distance.


Macrinus and Diadumenianus
Macrinus and Diadumenianus (!!)

The fugitive was finally captured at Chalcedon in Bithynia, desperately ill and exhausted by his continuous flight. His pursuers found him hiding in the outskirts of the city and cut off his head. It is said that he was hurrying to Rome, putting his faith in the people's enthusiastic support; but when he attempted to cross over to Europe by the narrow Propontic Gulf and was already close to Byzantium, they say that the wind was against him and carried him back to Asia and his fate.

So, by mischance, Macrinus failed to elude his pursuers and met an ignoble end a little later while striving to get to Rome, where he should have gone in the beginning. Thus he owed his downfall equally to bad judgment and bad luck. Such was the fate of Macrinus; with him perished his son Diadumenianus, who was his Caesar.



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Online 2007
Revision: 3 July 2007
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