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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., the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Maximinus Thrax. Bust at the Capitoline Museums. Photo Jona Lendering.
Maximinus Thrax (Musei Capitolini)

7.1: Maximinus recognized

[235] The kind of life which Alexander led and the fate which overtook him after fourteen years as emperor we have described in the preceding book. When he assumed control of the empire, Maximinus reversed the situation, using his power savagely to inspire great fear. He undertook to substitute for a mild and moderate rule an autocracy in every way barbarous, well aware of the hostility directed toward him because he was the first man to rise from a lowly station to the post of highest honor.

His character was naturally barbaric, as his race was barbarian. He had inherited the brutal disposition of his countrymen, and he intended to make his imperial position secure by acts of cruelty, fearing that he would become an object of contempt to the Senate and the people, who might be more conscious of his lowly origin than impressed by the honor he had won. Everyone knew and spread the story that when he was a shepherd in the mountains of Thrace, he enlisted in a local auxiliary cohort because of his huge size and great strength, and by luck became the emperor of the Romans.

He therefore immediately disposed of Alexander's friends and associates, together with his senatorial advisers. Some he returned to Rome; others he dismissed for administrative reasons, in order to gain sole command of the army. He wanted no one around him who was superior to him in birth, desiring to act the tyrant as if from a lofty height, with no one near to whom he must defer.

He banished from the imperial palace the entire band of attendants who had served Alexander for many years; he put most of them to death, suspecting that they were plotting against him, for he knew that they were still grieving over Alexander's assassination. Maximinus was aroused to even greater fury by a plot allegedly formed by many centurions and all the senators.

A man of the nobility and consular rank named Magnus was accused of organizing a conspiracy against the emperor and persuading some of the soldiers to transfer the empire to his charge.

The plot was said to be something like this. Maximinus had bridged the Rhine River and was about to cross over and attack the Germans; for, as soon as he got control of the empire, he immediately began military operations. Since it appeared that he had been chosen emperor because of his great size, military prowess, and experience in war, he undertook to confirm by action the good reputation and high esteem he enjoyed among the soldiers. In this way, too, he tried to demonstrate that the charges of vacillation and timidity in military matters they brought against Alexander were well founded. Therefore he did not halt the soldiers' training and exercises, and remained under arms himself, spurring the army to action.

Now, with the bridge completed, he was about to cross over to attack the Germans. Magnus, however, was said to have persuaded a few prominent soldiers, particularly those assigned to guard and maintain the bridge, to destroy the structure after Maximinus had crossed, and to betray the emperor to the barbarians by cutting off his only return route. After the bridge had been destroyed, the great river, very wide and deep, would be impassable, as no boats were available on the enemy's side.

Such was the report of the plot, but whether it was actually true or whether it was fabricated by Maximinus it is not easy to say, because the matter was not investigated. Maximinus did not bring the conspirators to trial or allow them an opportunity to defend themselves; he arrested without warning all who were suspected and executed them without mercy.

There was now unrest among the Osrhoenian archers. These troops were much grieved by Alexander's death, and when they chanced to discover one of the emperor's friends, a former consul (a man named Quartinus, whom Maximinus had dismissed from the army), they seized him unexpectedly and made him their unwilling general; then, conferring upon him the purple and the processional fire, fatal honors, they brought to the imperial throne a most reluctant occupant.

While Quartinus was asleep in his tent, a plot was formed against him, and he was assassinated during the night by a companion and presumed friend, a former commander of the Osrhoenians (his name was Macedo); yet this same Macedo had been a ringleader in the elevation of Quartinus to the throne and in the revolt against Maximinus; in both actions he had the full support of the Osrhoenians. Although he had no reason for enmity or hatred, Macedo killed the man whom he himself had chosen and persuaded to accept the empire. Thinking that this act would win him great favor with Maximinus, Macedo cut off Quartinus' head and brought it to the emperor.

When he learned of the deed, Maximinus, though he believed that he had been freed from a dangerous enemy, nevertheless had Macedo killed, when the man had every reason to hope and believe that he would receive a generous reward. Macedo was not only the instigator of the revolt and the assassin of the man whom he had persuaded to accept the throne against his better judgment, but he was also a traitor to his friend.

For these reasons Maximinus was aroused to greater cruelty and more savage acts, and he was by nature inclined to such behavior. The emperor's appearance was frightening and his body was huge; not easily would any of the skilled Greek athletes or the best-trained warriors among the barbarians prove his equal.

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Online 2007
Revision: 24 July 2007
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