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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)

8.3: Negotiations at Aquileia

[March-April 238] These are the preparations which had been made in the city. When it was reported to Maximinus that Aquileia was well defended and tightly shut, he thought it wise to send envoys to discuss the situation with the townspeople from the foot of the wall and try to persuade them to open the gates. There was in the besieging army a tribune who was a native of Aquileia, and whose wife, children, and relatives were inside the city.

Maximinus sent this man to the wall accompanied by several centurions, expecting their fellow citizen to win them over easily. The envoys told the Aquileians that Maximinus, their mutual emperor, ordered them to lay down their arms in peace, to receive him as a friend, not as an enemy, and to turn from killing to libations and sacrifices. Their emperor directed them not to overlook the fact that their native city was in danger of being razed to its very foundations, whereas it was in their power to save themselves and to preserve their city when their merciful emperor pardoned them for their offenses. Others, not they, were the guilty ones.

The envoys shouted their message from the foot of the wall so that those above might understand it. Most of the city's population was on the walls and in the towers; only those standing guard at other posts were absent. They all listened quietly to what the envoys were saying.

Fearing that the people, convinced by these lying promises, might choose peace instead of war and throw open the gates, Crispinus ran along the parapet, pleading with the Aquileians to hold out bravely and offer stout resistance; he begged them not to break faith with the Senate and the Roman people, but to win a place in history as the saviors and defenders of all Italy. He warned them not to trust the promises of a tyrant, a liar, and a hypocrite, and not to surrender to certain destruction, lulled by soft words, when they could put their trust in the always unpredictable outcome of war.

Often, he continued, few have prevailed over many and those who appeared to be weaker have overcome those assumed to be stronger. Nor should they be frightened by the size of the besieging army. "Those who fight on another's behalf," he said, "well aware that the benefits, if any should result, will be not theirs but his, are less eager to do battle, knowing that while they share the risks, another will reap the greatest prizes of the victory.

But those who fight for their native land can look for greater favor from the gods because they do not pray for help in seizing the property of others, but ask only to be allowed to retain in safety what is already theirs. They show an enthusiasm for battle which results not from the orders of another but from their own inner compulsion, since all the fruits of victory belong to them and them alone." 

By saying such things as these, Crispinus, who was venerable by nature and highly skilled in speaking Latin, and had governed the Aquileians moderately, succeeded in persuading them to remain at their assigned posts; he ordered the envoys to return unsuccessful to Maximinus. He is said to have persevered in his prosecution of the war because the many men in the city who were skilled at auguries and the taking of auspices reported that the omens favored the townspeople. The Italians place particular reliance upon the taking of auguries.

Oracles, too, revealed to them that their native god promised them victory. They call this god Belis,[1] and worship him with special devotion, identifying him with Apollo, whose image, some of Maximinus' soldiers said, often appeared in the sky over the city, fighting for the Aquileians.

Whether the god actually appeared to some of the besiegers, or whether they simply said that he did because they were ashamed that so large an army was unable to overcome a mob of civilians, and it would thus seem that they had been beaten by gods, not by men, I am unable to say, but the strangeness of the whole affair makes everything about it credible.



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Note 1:
The Celtic god Belenus.
Online 2007
Revision: 25 July 2007
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