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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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Gordian I. Bardo Museum, Tunis (Tunisia). Photo Jan van Vliet.
Gordian (Bardo Museum, Tunis)

7.5: The Gordians made emperor

[237/238] The success of their plan immediately put the youths in a desperate situation; they realized that a single avenue of safety lay open to them: to add to their bold act deeds even bolder and, enlisting the governor of the province as a partner in their peril, to rouse the whole province to revolt. They knew that the governor, who hated Maximinus, had long prayed for this, but was afraid to act. 

As it was now noon, the entire group went to the house of the proconsul.[1] The governor, whose name was Gordian, had received the African post by lot when he was about eighty years old, after he had previously governed many provinces and served in the highest public offices. For this reason the youths believed that he would accept with pleasure the office of emperor as the crowning achievement in his career in public office; they thought that the Senate and the Roman people would be glad to accept as emperor a man from the aristocracy who had risen to the high office after many governorships as if in a regular cursus.

It happened that on the day these events occurred Gordian was at home resting, enjoying a brief respite from his labors and duties. Accompanied by the entire band with drawn swords, the youths overpowered the guards on duty at the gates and burst into the house, where they found Gordian resting on a couch. Standing around him, they draped him in a purple cloak and greeted him with the imperial honors.

Astounded by this unexpected turn of events, and thinking it was an act of treachery or part of a plot against him, Gordian threw himself to the floor, begging them to spare the life of an old man who had never harmed them and to continue to display their loyalty and good will toward the emperor. But the youths were insistent and drew their swords. Gordian, alarmed and unaware of what had occurred, did not understand the situation. One of the youths, a talented speaker of distinguished family, asked for quiet and ordered the rest to remain silent.

Then, sword in hand, he addressed Gordian as follows: "With two dangers threatening you, the one present, the other future, the one already obvious, the other a remote possibility, you must make your choice whether to enjoy safety with us and have faith in greater things to come, in which indeed we have all placed our trust, or to die at our hands this very moment. If you elect to accept the present situation, there are many factors which augur well for the future: Maximums' hatred of everyone; the people's longing for deliverance from a cruel tyrant; their approval of your conduct in your former offices; and the fact that among the senate and the Roman people you enjoy a distinguished reputation and are held in high esteem.

But death awaits you this very day if you decide against us and refuse to join us, and we shall die ourselves, if need be, after we have killed you. We have done a deed which calls for even more desperate measures. The tyrant's procurator is dead, having paid the penalty for his savagery - death at our hands. If you join us and share our peril you will enjoy the honor of being emperor, and the deed which we have done will be praised, not punished."

After the young man had finished speaking, the rest of the band cast aside all restraint. The entire populace of the city quickly assembled when the news was known, and the youths proclaimed Gordian Augustus. He begged to be excused, protesting that he was too old. But otherwise he was eager for fame, and did not enter into the office without some personal satisfaction, choosing to risk the future rather than the present danger, and thinking that it was not so terrible a thing to die, if need be, amidst the imperial honors.

Immediately the whole province of Africa was aroused; the people there pulled down Maximinus' emblems of honor and decorated their cities with paintings and statues of Gordian; they added "Africanus" to his imperial titles, giving him their own name, for the Libyans are called Africans in Latin.

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Note 1:
The date may have been the first of January, when citizens and soldiers took vows of loyalty towards the emperor. In 69, this date was the occasion of the revolt against Galba.
Online 2007
Revision: 24 July 2007
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