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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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Julia Soeamias. Bust at the Musei Capitolini, Roma (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
Julia Soeamias (Musei Capitolini, Roma)

5.7: Heliogabalus adopt Alexianus

[Spring 221] Observing his actions, Maesa suspected that the soldiers were outraged by his eccentricities. Fearing that if Heliogabalus were killed, she would become a private citizen again, she tried to persuade the youth, who was in every respect an empty-headed young idiot, to adopt as his son and appoint as caesar his first cousin and her grandson, the child of her other daughter, Mamaea.

She told the emperor what it pleased him to hear, that it was clearly necessary for him to have time to attend to the worship and service of his god and to devote himself to the rites and revelries and divine functions, but that there should be another responsible for human affairs, to afford him leisure and freedom from the cares of empire. It was not necessary for him, she said, to look for a stranger or someone not a relative; he should entrust these duties to his own cousin.

It was then that the name of Alexianus was changed to Alexander; the name of his grandfather became Alexander the Great, since the Macedonian was very famous and was held in high esteem by the alleged father of them both. Maesa's daughters, and the old woman too, boasted of their adultery with Caracalla, son of Severus, in order to increase the soldiers' love for the youths, who thus appeared to be Caracalla's sons. 

[26 June 221] Alexander was then appointed caesar and served as consul with Heliogabalus himself. Appearing before the Senate, Heliogabalus confirmed this appointment, and all the senators voted approval of the fantastic and ridiculous situation they were ordered to endorse - that the emperor, who was about sixteen, assume the role of father to Alexander, who was twelve. After adopting Alexander as caesar, Heliogabalus undertook to teach him his own practices; he instructed him in dancing and prancing, and, enrolling him in the priesthood, wanted the lad to imitate his appearance and actions.

But his mother Mamaea kept Alexander from taking part in activities so disgraceful and unworthy of an emperor. Privately, she summoned teachers of every subject and had her son trained in the lessons of self-discipline; since he devoted himself to wrestling and to physical exercise as well, he was, by his mother's efforts, educated according to both the Greek and the Roman systems. Heliogabalus, much annoyed at this, regretted his decision to make Alexander his son and partner in the empire. 

He therefore banished Alexander's teachers from the imperial palace; he put to death some of the most distinguished and sent others into exile. The emperor offered the most absurd excuses for doing this, claiming that these men, by teaching Alexander self-control, educating him in human affairs, and refusing to allow him to dance and take part in the frenzied orgies, would corrupt his adopted son. The madness of Heliogabalus increased to such a degree that he appointed all the actors from the stage and the public theaters to the most important posts in the empire, selecting as his praetorian prefect a man who had from childhood danced publicly in the Roman theater [Publius Valerius Comazon].

He elevated in similar fashion another young actor, putting him in charge of the education and conduct of the Roman youths and of the qualifications of those appointed to membership in the senatorial and equestrian orders. To charioteers, comedians, and actors of mimes he entrusted the most important and responsible imperial posts. To slaves and freedmen, to men notorious for disgraceful acts, he assigned the proconsular provincial governorships.



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Online 2007
Revision: 3 July 2007
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