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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
Coin of Gordian II. Limesmuseum, Aalen (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering. Gordian II
(Limesmuseum, Aalen)

7.9: End of the two Gordians

[February 238] So the troops with Maximinus continued their march. Meanwhile, in Carthage, his affairs had prospered in a way he had not anticipated. A man of senatorial rank named Capellianus was at that time governor of the Moors under Roman rule, the ones called Numidians. This province was defended by garrison camps so located as to prevent marauding raids by the large number of Moorish barbarians surrounding it.

Capellianus thus had a formidable military force under his command. Gordian was hostile to Capellianus because they had earlier been involved in a lawsuit. When he assumed the title of emperor, Gordian sent a man to replace Capellianus and ordered the governor to leave the province.

Angered by this, and devoted to Maximinus, who had appointed him governor, Capellianus assembled his entire army.[1] Persuading his troops to remain loyal to Maximinus and faithful to their oath, the governor marched toward Carthage at the head of a huge army of young, vigorous men equipped with every type of weapon and trained for battle by military experience gained in fighting the barbarians.

When the report of this army's approach reached the city, Gordian was terrified; the Carthaginians, however, aroused by the news and thinking that their hope of victory lay in the size of a mob rather than in the discipline of an army, went forth in a body to oppose Capellianus. Then the elder Gordian, some say, was in despair because Capellianus was attacking Carthage; when he considered the size of Maximinus' army and reflected that there were no forces in Africa strong enough to match it, he hanged himself.

His death was kept secret, however, and his son was chosen to command the crowd of civilians. When the battle was joined, the Carthaginians were superior in numbers, but they were an undisciplined mob, without military training; for they had grown up in a time of complete peace and indulged themselves constantly in feasts and festivals. To make it worse, they were without arms and proper equipment. 

Each man brought from home a dagger, an ax, or a hunting spear; those who found hides cut out circles of leather, arranged pieces of wood as a frame, and fashioned shields as best they could. The Numidians, by contrast, were excellent javelin men and superb horsemen. Scorning a bridle they used only a stick to guide their mounts.

They easily routed the huge Carthaginian mob; without waiting for the Numidians' charge, the Carthaginians threw down their arms and fled. Crowding and trampling one another underfoot, more Carthaginians were killed in the crush than fell by enemy action. There the son of Gordian died, together with all his companions, and the number of dead was so great that it was impossible to gather them for burial. The body of the young Gordian was never found.

A few of the many who rushed into Carthage and found a place to hide managed to save themselves; they scattered throughout the city, which is huge and densely populated. The rest of the mob crowded before the gates of the city, trying to force their way in; attacked by the cavalry and legionary troops, they were cut down to the last man.

Loud wailing of women and children was heard everywhere in the city when they saw their loved ones slaughtered before their eyes. Others say that when these events were reported to the elder Gordian, who had remained behind because of his advanced age, and he was informed that Capellianus was marching into Carthage, in complete despair he went into his bedroom alone as if to rest; there he used the sash from his waist to hang himself.

Such was the fate of Gordian, whose life in the beginning was favored by Fortune and who died at least presenting the appearance of an emperor. When Capellianus entered Carthage, he put to death all the prominent men who survived the battle, plundered the temples, and seized the public and private funds.

Continuing to the rest of the cities which had destroyed Maximinus' emblems of honor, Capellianus killed the most important men, exiling the rest. He turned the farms and villages over to the soldiers to plunder and burn, pretending to be avenging Maximinus; the truth was, however, that he was scheming to win the goodwill of the soldiers so that if Maximinus should be killed he would have a loyal army and might thus lay claim to the empire.

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Note 1:
It included III Augusta, the legion of Gordian's own province.
Online 2007
Revision: 24 July 2007
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