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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)

7.8: Maximinus prepares for a march on Rome

[January-February 238] This was the situation with respect to the city and the attitude of the Romans. When these events were reported to Maximinus, he was enraged, but, although he was seriously concerned, he pretended to ignore the matter. On the first and second days he remained quietly in his headquarters, consulting with his friends about a plan of action.

The whole army there with him and all the civilians in that region knew of the developments at Rome, and were amazed at the spirit of bold insubordination revealed by these acts; no one talked about the affair, however, each man pretending to be ignorant of what was occurring. So great was Maximinus' apprehension that he allowed nothing to escape his notice; he kept close watch on all, concerned not only with what they said but even with their facial expressions.

Then, summoning the entire army to the plain in front of the city, the emperor came forth on the third day, carrying the speech which some of his friends had written for him:

"I know that what I am going to say to you will sound strange and incredible, and I believe that you will find my remarks ridiculous and amusing, rather than awe-inspiring. It is not the Germans who are taking up arms to oppose you and your valor, those men whom we have conquered so often, nor the Sarmatians, who daily plead with us for peace. The Persians, who not long ago were overrunning Mesopotamia, are now subdued, happy to enjoy what they have, kept in check by the repute of your great skill in arms, and by the trial which they made of my military talents, of which they got a thorough knowledge when I commanded the armies on the riverbank.

But the fact is (and you will have to laugh when you hear it) that the Carthaginians have taken leave of their senses and have either persuaded or compelled a miserable old man, doddering in advanced senility, to accept the throne, making sport of the empire as if in deliberate mockery. In what army do they trust, these men among whom lictors are sufficient to protect the proconsul? What kind of weapons do they carry, these men who have no arms except the spears they use in single combat with animals? Dancing, sarcastic quips, and rhythmic posturing are their methods of training for war.

Let no one be frightened by the report of what has happened at Rome. Taken unaware by deceit and treachery, Vitalianus was murdered, but you know the unstable and capricious nature of the Roman mob, and you know that it is bold only as long as nothing is involved except shouting. But if that rabble sees only two or three armed men of the legions, each person is terrified at the thought of his own individual danger. Crowding together and trampling their neighbors, the rabble are indifferent to the common danger.

If anyone has informed you of the Senate's action, do not be surprised if our mild way of life seems irksome to the people and they prefer the undisciplined activities of Gordian; and do not wonder that they call manly and moderate acts fear-inspiring, and believe that unrestrained frenzy is civilized because it provides pleasure. They are, as a result, unfavorably disposed toward my rule because it is disciplined and well ordered, but they are delighted to hear the name of Gordian, whose reprehensible way of life is not unknown to you.

It is with these and men like them that you will wage war, if anyone is willing to dignify it by that name. I believe that the majority, indeed, nearly everyone, will extend olive branches and hold out their children to us as soon as we set foot in Italy. They will throw themselves prostrate at our feet, while the rest will flee, in fear and trembling, and all their property will fall into my hands for distribution to you, and it will be your privilege to receive it and enjoy it in security."

After speaking thus, Maximinus attacked the Senate and the Roman people with incoherent abuse, threatening gestures, and savage grimaces, as if he were enraged at his audience; he then publicly announced his departure for Rome. He made a lavish distribution of money to the soldiers, and delayed only a single day before beginning his march at the head of a huge force which included all the Roman armies.

A not inconsiderable force of Germans followed him; these he had either conquered by arms or had persuaded to join him in friendly alliance. He had engines of war and military machines, in fact everything he ordinarily took with him when he marched against the barbarians, and he slowed his progress further by collecting supplies and wagons from all sides.

As his journey to Rome was sudden and unexpected - not the usual sort but the result of hasty action - he gathered together whatever the army needed. He thought it best, under the circumstances, to send the Pannonians ahead; he had special confidence in these troops who had been first to proclaim him emperor and who wished and promised to risk their lives on his behalf. He ordered these soldiers to precede the rest of his force and seize the regions of Italy before his arrival.



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Online 2007
Revision: 24 July 2007
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