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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.
Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine

6.1: Return to normalcy in Rome

[222] The fate which Heliogabalus suffered I have described in the preceding pages. When Alexander received the empire, the appearance and the title of emperor were allowed him, but the management and control of imperial affairs were in the hands of his women, and they undertook a more moderate and more equitable administration.

First, they chose from the Senate, to be the emperor's advisory council, sixteen men who because of their age seemed most dignified and temperate in their conduct. Nothing was said or done unless these men had first considered the matter and given unanimous approval. The fact that the character of the imperial government was changed from an arrogant autocracy to a form of aristocracy pleased the people, the army, and especially the senators.

To begin with, the statues of the gods which Heliogabalus had moved or transferred were returned to their original positions in the ancient temples and shrines. The unqualified men whom Heliogabalus had promoted to positions of trust or honor or who were notorious for their crimes were deprived of what they had received from the emperor and were ordered by the councilors to return to their former occupations.

In all government business and matters of state, the emperor's council entrusted political matters and public affairs to those who were competent lawyers and skillful orators, while they put in charge of military affairs experienced men who were skilled in the arts of war.


Coin of Julia Maesa. Valkhof Museum, Nijmegen (Holland). Photo Marco Prins.
Coin of Julia Maesa (Valkhof Museum, Nijmegen)

After the empire had been governed in this manner for some time, Maesa, then an old woman, died; receiving the imperial honors, she became, as the Romans believe, a deity.

Now left alone with her son, Mamaea tried to govern and control him in the same fashion. Fearing that his vigorous young manhood might plunge him into the errors of adolescence because his power and position were assured, Mamaea kept the palace under close guard and allowed no one suspected of debauchery to approach the youth. She was afraid that his character would be corrupted if his flatterers aroused his growing appetites to disgraceful desires.


Julia Mamaea. Bust from the British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Jona Lendering.
Julia Mamaea (British Museum)

She therefore induced him to serve as judge in the courts continually and for most of each day; occupied with important matters and the necessary business of the empire, he would have no opportunity to indulge in scandalous practices. Alexander's deportment was governed by a character naturally mild and civilized, and much inclined to benevolence, as was made clear when the youth grew older.

At any rate, he entered the fourteenth year of his reign without bloodshed, and no one could say that the emperor had been responsible for anyone's murder. Even though men were convicted of serious crimes, he nevertheless granted them pardons to avoid putting them to death, and not readily did any emperor of our time, after the reign of Marcus, act in this way or display so much concern for human life. Indeed, over a period of many years, no one could recall that any man had been condemned to death by Alexander without a trial.

Alexander blamed his mother for her excessive love of money and was annoyed by her relentless pursuit of gold. For a time she pretended to be gathering funds to enable Alexander to gratify the praetorians readily and generously, but in truth she was hoarding it for herself. And her miserliness in some measure reflected discredit upon his reign, even though he personally opposed it and was angry when she confiscated anyone's property and inheritance illegally.


Sallustia Orbiana. Bust from the Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Sallustia Orbiana (Louvre)

[225 or 226] Mamaea secured for Alexander a wife from the aristocracy. [227] Although he loved the girl and lived with her, she was afterward banished from the palace by his mother, who, in her egotistic desire to be sole empress, envied the girl her title. So excessively arrogant did Mamaea become that the girl's father, though Alexander esteemed him highly, could no longer endure the woman's insolence toward him and his daughter; consequently, he took refuge in the praetorian camp, fully aware of the debt of gratitude he owed Alexander for the honors he had received from him, but complaining bitterly about Mamaea's insults.

Enraged, Mamaea ordered him to be killed and at the same time drove the girl from the palace to exile in Libya. She did this against Alexander's wishes and in spite of his displeasure, but the emperor was dominated by his mother and obeyed her every command. One might bring this single charge against Alexander, that his excessive amiability and abnormal filial devotion led him to bow to his mother in matters he personally disapproved.

And so for thirteen years he ruled the empire in blameless fashion so far as he personally was concerned.



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Online 2007
Revision: 7 July 2007
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