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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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Balbinus. Bust at the Archaeological Museum of Selçuk (Turkey). Photo Marco Prins.
Balbinus (Museum Selçuk)

7.10: The Senate appoints Pupienus and Balbinus

[February/March 238] This is what was happening in Africa. When the death of the elder Gordian was reported at Rome, the people and the Senate particularly were completely bewildered, dumbfounded to learn that Gordian, in whom they had placed their hope, was dead. They knew that Maximinus, who was naturally hostile and antagonistic toward them, would spare no one. Now that he had good reason for hatred, he would as a matter of course vent his rage upon them as upon acknowledged enemies.

The senate therefore thought it best to meet and consider what should be done. Since they had already cast the die, they voted to issue a declaration of war and choose two men from their own ranks to be joint emperors, dividing the imperial authority so that the power might not be in one man's hands and thus plunge them again into autocracy. They did not meet as usual in the Senate house but in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, the god whom the Romans worship on the Capitoline Hill.

They shut themselves up alone in this temple, as if to have Jupiter as their witness, fellow council member, and overseer of their actions. Choosing the men most distinguished for their age and merit, they approved them by ballot. Other senators received votes, but on the final count [Pupienus] Maximus and Balbinus were elected joint emperors by majority opinion.

Maximus had held many army commands; appointed prefect of Rome, he administered the office with diligence and enjoyed among the people a good reputation for his understanding nature, his intelligence, and his moderate way of life. Balbinus, an aristocrat who had twice served as consul and had governed provinces without complaint, had a more open and frank nature.

After their election, the two men were proclaimed Augusti, and the Senate awarded them by decree all the imperial honors.

While these actions were being taken on the Capitoline Hill, the people, whether they were informed by Gordian's friends and fellow countrymen or whether they learned it by rumor, filled the entire street leading up to the Capitol. The huge mob was armed with stones and clubs, for they objected to the Senate's action and particularly disapproved of Maximus. 

The prefect ruled the city too strictly for the popular taste, and was very harsh in his dealings with the criminal and reckless elements of the mob. In their fear and dislike of Maximus, they kept shouting threats to kill both emperors, determined that the emperor be chosen from the family of Gordian and that the title remain in that house and under that name. 

The Curia Julia. Photo Jona Lendering.
The Senate House

Balbinus and Maximus surrounded themselves with an escort of swordsmen from the young equestrians and the discharged soldiers living in Rome, and tried to force their way from the Capitol. The mob, armed with stones and clubs, prevented this until, at someone's suggestion, the people were deceived. There was in Rome at that time a little child, the son of Gordian's daughter, who bore his grandfather's name.

The two emperors ordered some of their men to bring the child to the Capitol. Finding the lad playing at home, they lifted him to their shoulders and brought him to the Capitol through the midst of the crowd. Showing the boy to the people and telling them that he was the son of Gordian, they called him "Gordian," while the mob cheered the boy and scattered leaves in his path.

The senate appointed him caesar, since he was not old enough to be emperor. The mob, placated, allowed the imperial party to proceed to the palace.

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Online 2007
Revision: 24 July 2007
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