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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
Soldier of the praetorian guard. Relief from Puteoli, now in the Neues Museum Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
Soldier of the praetorian guard. Relief from Puteoli
(Neues Museum, Berlin)

7.6: Execution of the praetorian prefect

[January 238] These events occurred at Thysdrus [El Djem], where Gordian was staying at the time. After a few days, however, he left that city, having assumed the title and appearance of emperor, and proceeded to Carthage, which he knew to be a large and heavily populated city where he might do everything just as if he were in Rome. The city of Carthage, in size, wealth, and population, is surpassed only by Rome and contends with Alexandria in Egypt for second place in the empire.

Gordian was accompanied by the entire imperial escort, the soldiers on duty there, and the tallest of the city's youths, who preceded him in the manner of the praetorians at Rome. The fasces were wreathed with laurel; it is the laurel which distinguishes the fasces of the emperor from those of other officials. The sacred fire was carried before him, and for a brief period Carthage was Rome in appearance and prosperity.

Gordian wrote letters to all the prominent men in Rome, including the leading senators, most of whom were his friends and relatives. He sent open letters to the Senate and the Roman people in which he revealed his union with the Africans and attacked the savagery of Maximinus, knowing that this trait of the emperor's character was most violently hated.

He promised the Romans moderation in all things: he would banish informers, provide new trials for the unjustly condemned, and return exiles to their own lands. To the praetorians he promised more money than anyone had given them before, and he announced gifts for the people. Arrangements were made for the early execution of the commandant of the Praetorian Guard in Rome, a man named Vitalianus. Gordian knew that the prefect committed the most savage and cruel acts and that he was an intimate and devoted friend of Maximinus.

Gordian suspected that Vitalianus would strenuously resist what he was trying to do, and he further suspected that the Romans' fear of the prefect would keep them from assisting him. Consequently, he sent to Rome the quaestor of the province, a bold and physically powerful man who, in the prime of youth, was eager to risk any danger for his emperor. Gordian assigned several centurions and a contingent of soldiers to the quaestor and gave him sealed dispatches written on the folding tablets by which secret messages were sent to the emperors. 

He ordered these men to enter Rome before dawn and approach Vitalianus while he was still hearing cases, after he had withdrawn into the little office in the courtroom where, alone, he opened and read the private messages which seemed to bear upon the emperor's safety. Gordian further told them to inform the prefect that they were carrying secret messages which concerned Maximinus and that he had sent them on a matter involving the emperor's safety.

He ordered these men to pretend that they wished to speak with Vitalianus privately and deliver their report; while he was examining the seals on the dispatches, they were to ask him some question and kill him with the swords concealed beneath their robes. It all happened precisely as Gordian had ordered. Since Vitalianus was accustomed to appear before daybreak, the messengers came to him privately while it was still dark and only a few people were with him.

Some visitors had not yet arrived; others had greeted him before dawn and had already left. All was quiet, with only a few people outside his door. When the messengers from Gordian revealed to the prefect what has been described above, they were readily admitted. Handing him the dispatches, they drew their daggers while he was examining the seals and stabbed him to death; then, holding their daggers ready for action, they sprang from the house.

Those who were present drew back in astonishment, thinking that Maximinus had ordered the murder, for he often did this sort of thing even to those who seemed to be his most intimate friends. Hurrying down the Sacred Way, the assassins displayed the letters of Gordian to the people and handed over his directives to the consuls and other officials. And now the rumor spread that Maximinus had been assassinated.



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Online 2007
Revision: 24 July 2007
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