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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
Maximinus Thrax. Bust at the Capitoline Museums. Photo Jona Lendering.
Maximinus Thrax (Musei Capitolini)

6.8: Maximinus proclaimed emperor

There was in the Roman army a man named Maximinus whose half-barbarian family lived in a village in the most remote section of Thrace. They say that as a boy he was a shepherd, but that in his youthful prime he was drafted into the cavalry because of his size and strength. After a short time, favored by Fortune, he advanced through all the military ranks, rising eventually to the command of armies and the governing of provinces.

Because of his military experience, which I have noted above, Alexander put Maximinus in charge of training recruits for the entire army; his task was to instruct them in military duties and prepare them for service in war. By carrying out his assignments thoroughly and diligently, Maximinus won the affection of the soldiers. He not only taught them their duties; he also demonstrated personally to each man what he was to do. As a result, the recruits imitated his manliness and were both his pupils and his admirers.

He won their devotion by giving them all kinds of gifts and rewards. Consequently, the recruits, who included an especially large number of Pannonians, praised the masculinity of Maximinus and despised Alexander as a mother's boy. Their contempt for the emperor was increased by the fact that the empire was being managed by a woman's authority and a woman's judgment, and by the fact that Alexander had directed the campaigns carelessly and timidly. They reminded each other of the defeats in the East which had resulted from the emperor's negligence and of his failure to do anything courageous or vigorous when he faced the Germans.

The soldiers were therefore ready for a change of emperors. They had additional reasons for discontent: they considered the current reign burdensome because of its long duration; they thought it profitless for them now that all rivalry had been eliminated; and they hoped that the reign which they intended to institute would be advantageous to them and that the empire would be much coveted and highly valued by a man who received it unexpectedly. They plotted now to kill Alexander and proclaim Maximinus emperor and Augustus, since he was their fellow soldier and messmate and seemed, because of his experience and courage, to be the right man to take charge of the present war. 

[February 235] They therefore assembled on the drill field for their regular training; when Maximinus took his position before them, either unaware of what was happening or having secretly made prior preparations for the event, the soldiers robed him in the imperial purple and proclaimed him emperor.

At first he refused the honor and threw off the purple, but when they pressed him and, waving their swords, threatened to kill him, he preferred the future risk to the present danger and accepted the empire; often before, he said, dreams and prophecies had predicted this good fortune. He told the soldiers, however, that he accepted the honor unwillingly; he did not really want it and was simply obeying their wish in the matter.

He then directed the soldiers to put their thoughts into action, to take up arms and hurry off to attack Alexander while he was still unaware of what had happened. By reaching the emperor before the news of their approach came, they would surprise his soldiers and his bodyguards too. They would either persuade Alexander's forces to join them, or would overcome them with no difficulty, since the imperial forces would be unprepared and anticipating nothing of this nature.

After arousing great enthusiasm and good will among the troops, Maximinus doubled their rations, promised them lavish gifts, and revoked all sentences and punishments. He then marched out, for his camp was not far from the headquarters of Alexander and his companions.



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Online 2007
Revision: 24 July 2007
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