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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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Maximinus Thrax. Bust at the Capitoline Museums. Photo Jona Lendering.
Maximinus Thrax (Musei Capitolini)

8.1: Maximinus marches on Rome

[Spring 238] Maximinus' actions after the death of Gordian and his advance into Italy have been described in the preceding book, together with the revolt in Africa and the dissension which arose at Rome between the praetorians and the people. Halting at the borders, Maximinus sent scouts ahead to find out whether any soldiers lay in ambush in the valleys, thickets, or mountain forests.

Leading his army down into level country, Maximinus drew up the legions in a broad, shallow rectangle in order to occupy most of the plain; he placed all the heavy baggage, supplies, and wagons in the center of the formation and, taking command of the rear guard, followed with his troops. 

On each flank marched the squadrons of armed cavalry, the Moorish javelin men, and the archers from the East. The emperor also brought along a large number of German auxiliaries; he assigned these to the van to bear the initial assaults of the enemy. These men are savage and bold in the opening phases of battle; and if any risk were involved, the barbarian Germans were readily expendable.

When the troops had crossed the plain in good  order and strict discipline, they came to the first city in Italy, the one called Hema [Ljubljana] by the natives.[1] Hema is situated on an elevated plateau at the foot of the Alps. From there advance guards and army scouts returned to report to Maximinus that the city was deserted. The inhabitants had fled in a body after setting fire to the doors of the temples and houses. As they had burned or carried off everything in the cities and fields, no food was left for men or animals.

Maximinus was gratified by the immediate flight of these Italians, and now anticipated that all the people of Italy would flee at his approach. But the army was by no means pleased to find itself suffering from famine at the very outset. Therefore, after spending the night at Hema, some in the city in houses already stripped of doors and everything else, others in the fields around the city, at sunrise they pressed on to the Alps. The Alps are very tall mountains which nature has erected as a defensive wall for Italy; rising high above the clouds, they extend a great distance and encompass Italy from the Tyrrhenian Sea on the west to the Ionian Sea on the east.

The mountains are covered with limitless dense forests, and the passes are narrow because of the towering cliffs or rough, broken rocks. These narrow passes are man-made, fashioned with much labor by the ancient Italians. The army advanced through these gaps with great anxiety, expecting the heights to be occupied and the paths blocked against their passage. Judging by the nature of the region, they were justified in their apprehensions.



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Note 1:
Herodian's description of Maximinus' march on Rome repeats much of what he has already said in 7.2, but offers more details. However, the mountains mentioned there, the Alps, can not be harmonized with the information here, because the army would have reached Hema before crossing the Alps, as is correctly said here.
Online 2007
Revision: 25 July 2007
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