Eutropius, Short History 8

Eutropius (c.320-c.390?): Roman historian, author of a very popular Short History of the Roman Empire.

The translation of Eutropius' Short History offered here is by John Selby Watson and was published in 1886. The text was found at Tertullian.org. The notes were added by Jona Lendering.


[1] In the eight hundred and fiftieth year from the foundation of the city, in the consulship of Vetus and Valens,note the Empire was restored to a most prosperous condition, being committed, with great good fortune, to the rule of meritorious princes. To Domitian, a most murderous tyrant, succeeded Nerva, a man of moderation and activity in private life, and of noble descent, though not of the very highest rank. He was made emperor at an advanced age, Petronius Secundus, the prefect of the praetorian guards, and Parthenius, one of the assassins of Domitian, giving him their support, and conducted himself with great justice and public spirit. He provided for the good of the state by a divine foresight, in his adoption of Trajan. He died at Rome, after a reign of one year, four months, and eight days, in the seventy-second year of his age, and was enrolled among the gods.note

[2] To him succeeded Ulpius Cretinus Trajan, born at Italica in Spain, of a family rather ancient than eminent for his father was the first consul in it. He was chosen emperor at Agrippina, a city of Gaul.

He exercised the government in such a manner, that he is deservedly preferred to all the other emperors. He was a man of extraordinary skill in managing affairs of state, and of remarkable courage. The limits of the Roman Empire, which, since the reign of Augustus, had been rather defended than honorably enlarged, he extended far and wide. He rebuilt some cities in Germany; he subdued Dacia by the overthrow of Decebalus, and formed a province beyond the Danube, in that territory which the Thaiphali, Victoali, and Thervingi now occupy. This province was a thousand miles in circumference.

[3] He recovered Armenia, which the Parthians had seized, putting to death Parthamasires who held the government of it. He gave a king to the Albani. He received into alliance the king of the Iberians, Sarmatians, Bosporani, Arabs, Osrhoeni, and Colchians. He obtained the mastery over the Gordueni and Marcomedi, as well as over Anthemusia, an extensive region of Persia. He conquered and kept possession of Seleucia, Ctesiphon, Babylon, and the country of the Messenii. He advanced as far as the boundaries of India, and the Red Sea, where he formed three provinces, Armenia, Assyria, and Mesopotamia, including the tribes which border on Media. He afterwards, too, reduced Arabia into the form of a province. He also fitted out a fleet for the Red Sea, that he might use it to lay waste the coasts of India.

[4] Yet he went beyond his glory in war, in ability and judgment as a ruler, conducting himself as an equal towards all, going often to his friends as a visitor, either when they were ill, or when they were celebrating feast days, and entertaining them in his turn at banquets where there was no distinction of rank, and sitting frequently with them in their chariots; doing nothing unjust towards any of the senators, nor being guilty of any dishonesty to fill his treasury; exercising liberality to all, enriching with offices of trust, publicly and privately, every body whom he had known even with the least familiarity; building towns throughout the world, granting many immunities to states, and doing every thing with gentleness and kindness; so that during his whole reign, there was but one senator condemned, and he was sentenced by the Senate without Trajan's knowledge. Hence, being regarded throughout the world as next to a god, he deservedly obtained the highest veneration both living and dead.

[5] Among other sayings of his, the following remarkable one is mentioned. When his friends found fault with him, for being too courteous to every body, he replied, that "he was such an emperor to his subjects, as he had wished, when a subject, that emperors should be to him."

After having gained the greatest glory both in the field and at home, he was cut off, as he was returning from Persia, by a diarrhoea, at Seleucia in Isauria. He died in the sixty-third year, ninth month, and fourth day of his age, and in the nineteenth year, sixth month, and fifteenth day of his reign.note He was enrolled among the gods, and was the only one of all the emperors that was buried within the city. His bones, contained in a golden urn, lie in the forum which he himself built, under a pillar whose height is a hundred and forty-four feet.

So much respect has been paid to his memory, that, even to our own times, they shout in acclamations to the emperors, "More fortunate than Augustus, better than Trajan!" So much has the fame of his goodness prevailed, that it affords ground for most noble illustration in the hands either of such as flatter, or of such as praise with sincerity.

[6] After the death of Trajan, Aelius Hadrian was made emperor, not from any wish to that effect having been expressed by Trajan himself, but through the influence of Plotina, Trajan's wife; for Trajan in his life-time had refused to adopt him, though he was the son of his cousin. He also was born at Italica in Spain.

Envying Trajan's glory, he immediately gave up three of the provinces which Trajan had added to the Empire, withdrawing the armies from Assyria, Mesopotamia, and Armenia, and deciding that the Euphrates should be the boundary of the empire. When he was proceeding, to act similarly with regard to Dacia, his friends dissuaded him, lest many Roman citizens should be left in the hands of the barbarians, because Trajan, after he had subdued Dacia, had transplanted thither an infinite number of men from the whole Roman world, to people the country and the cities; as the land had been exhausted of inhabitants in the long war maintained by Decebalus.

[7] He enjoyed peace, however, through the whole course of his reign; the only war that he had, he committed to the conduct of a governor of a province. He went about through the Roman Empire, and founded many edifices. He spoke with great eloquence in the Latin language, and was very learned in the Greek. He had no great reputation for clemency, but was very attentive to the state of the treasury and the discipline of the soldiers.

He died in Campania, more than sixty years old, in the twenty-first year, tenth month, and twenty-ninth day of his reign.note The Senate was unwilling to allow him divine honors; but his successor Titus Aurelius Fulvius Antoninus, earnestly insisting on it, carried his point, though all the senators were openly opposed to him.

[8] To Hadrian, then, succeeded Titus Antoninus Fulvius Boionius, who was also named Pius, sprung from an eminent, though not very ancient, family: a man of high character, who may justly be compared to Numa Pompilius, as Trajan may be paralleled with Romulus.

He lived, before he came to the throne, in great honor, but in greater still during his reign. He was cruel to none, but indulgent to all. His reputation in military affairs was but moderate; he studied rather to defend the provinces than to enlarge them. He sought out the most just men to fill political offices. He paid respect to the good; for the bad he showed dislike without treating them with harshness. By kings in alliance with Rome he was not less venerated than feared, so that many nations among the barbarians, laying aside their arms, referred their controversies and disputes to him, and submitted to his decision.

He was very rich before he began to reign, but diminished his wealth by pay to the soldiers and bounties to his friends; he left the treasury, however, well stored. It was for his clemency that he was surnamed Pius. He died at his country seat called Lorium, twelve miles from the city, in the seventy-third year of his age, and the twenty-third of his reign.note He was enrolled among the gods, and was deservedly an object of veneration.

[9] After him reigned Marcus Antoninus Verus, a man indisputably of noble birth; for his descent, on the father's side, was from Numa Pompilius, and on the mother's from a king of the Sallentines, and jointly with him reigned Lucius Antoninus Verus. Then it was that the commonwealth of Rome was first subject to two sovereigns, ruling with equal power, when, till their days, it had always had but one emperor at a time.

[10] These two were connected both by relationship and affinity; for Verus Antoninus had married the daughter of Marcus Antoninus; and Marcus Antoninus was the son-in-law of Antoninus Pius, having married Galeria Faustina the Younger, his own cousin.

They carried on a war against the Parthians, who then rebelled for the first time since their subjugation by Trajan. Verus Antoninus went out to conduct that war, and, remaining at Antioch and about Armenia, effected many important achievements by the agency of his generals; he took Seleucia, the most eminent city of Assyria, with forty thousand prisoners; he brought off materials for a triumph over the Parthians, and celebrated it in conjunction with his brother, who was also his father-in-law.

He died in Venetia, as he was going from the city of Concordia to Altinum. While he was sitting in his chariot with his brother, he was suddenly struck with a rush of blood, a disease which the Greeks call apoplexis. He was a man who had little control over his passions, but who never ventured to do anything outrageous, from respect for his brother. After his death, which took place in the eleventh year of his reign,note he was enrolled among the gods.

[11] After him Marcus Antoninus held the government alone, a man whom any one may more easily admire than sufficiently commend. He was, from his earliest years, of a most tranquil disposition; so that even in his infancy he changed countenance neither for joy nor for sorrow. He was devoted to the Stoic philosophy, and was himself a philosopher, not only in his way of life, but in learning. He was the object of so much admiration, while yet a youth, that Hadrian intended to make him his successor; but having adopted Titus Antoninus Pius, he wished Marcus to become Titus' son-in-law, that he might by that means come to the throne.

[12] He was trained in philosophy by Apollonius of Chalcedon; in the study of the Greek language by Sextus of Chaeronea, the grandson of Plutarch; while the eminent orator Fronto instructed him in Latin literature. He conducted himself towards all men at Rome as if he had been their equal, being moved to no arrogance by his elevation to Empire. He exercised the most prompt liberality, and managed the provinces with the utmost kindness and indulgence.

Under his rule affairs were successfully conducted against the Germans. He himself carried on one war with the Marcomanni, but this was greater than any in the memory of man, so that it is compared to the Punic Wars; for it became so much the more formidable, as whole armies had been lost; since, under the emperor, after the victory over the Parthians, there occurred so destructive a pestilence, that at Rome, and throughout Italy and the provinces, the greater part of the inhabitants, and almost all the troops, sunk under the disease.

[13] Having persevered, therefore, with the greatest labor and patience, for three whole years at Carnuntum, he brought the Marcomannic war to an end; a war which the Quadi, Vandals, Sarmatians, Suebi, and all the barbarians in that quarter, had joined with the Marcomanni in raising; he killed several thousand men, and, having delivered the Pannonians from slavery, triumphed a second time at Rome with his son Commodus Antoninus, whom he had previously made caesar.note

As he had no money to give his soldiers, in consequence of the treasury having been exhausted for the support of the war, and as he was unwilling to lay any tax on the provinces or the Senate, he sold off all his imperial furniture and decorations, by an auction held in the forum of the emperor Trajan, consisting of vessels of gold, cups of crystal and murrha, silk garments belonging to his wife and himself, embroidered with gold, and numbers of jewelled ornaments. This sale was continued through two successive months, and a great quantity of money was raised from it.

After his victory, however, he gave back the money to such of the purchasers as were willing to restore what they had bought, but was by no means troublesome to any one who preferred to keep their purchases.

[14] He allowed the more eminent men to give entertainments with the same magnificence, and the same number of attendants, as himself. In the display of games after his victory, he was so munificent, that he is said to have exhibited a hundred lions at once. Having, then, rendered the state happy, both by his excellent management and gentleness of disposition, he died in the eighteenth year of his reign and the sixty-first of his life,note and was enrolled among the gods, all unanimously voting that such honor should be paid him.

[15] His successor, Lucius Antoninus Commodus, had no resemblance to his father, except that he fought successfully the Germans. He endeavored to alter the name of the month of September to his own, so that it should he called Commodus. But he was corrupted with luxury and licentiousness. He often fought, with gladiator's arms, in the fencing school, and afterwards with men of that class in the amphitheater.

He died so sudden a death, that he was thought to have been strangled or despatched by poison, after he had reigned twelve years and eight months after his father,note and in the midst of such execration from all men, that even after his death he was styled "the enemy of the human race".

[16] To him succeeded Pertinax, at a very advanced age, having reached his seventieth year; he was appointed to be emperor by a decree of the Senate, when he was holding the office of prefect of the city. He was killed in a mutiny of the praetorian soldiers, by the villany of Julianus, on the eightieth day of his reign.note

[17] After his death Salvius Julianusnote seized the government, a man of noble birth, and eminently skilled in the law; he was the grandson of that Salvius Julianus who composed the perpetual edict in the reign of the emperor Hadrian. He was defeated by Severus at the Milvian Bridge, and killed in the palace. He lived only eight months after he began to reign.

[18] Septimius Severys then assumed the government of the Roman Empire; a native of Africa, born in the province of Tripolitana, and town of Lepcis. He was the only African, in all the time before or after him, that became emperor. He was first prefect of the treasury, afterwards military tribune, and then rose, through several offices and posts of honor, to the government of the whole state. He had an inclination to be called Pertinax, in honor of that Pertinax who had been killed by Julian. He was very parsimonious, and naturally cruel.

He conducted many wars, and with success. He killed Pescennius Niger, who had raised a rebellion in Egypt and Syria, at Cyzicus. He overcame the Parthians, the interior Arabs, and the Adiabeni. The Arabs he so effectually reduced, that he made them a province; hence he was called Parthicus, Arabicus, and Adiabenicus.

He rebuilt many edifices throughout the whole Roman world. In his reign, too, Clodius Albinus, who had been an accomplice of Julianus in killing Pertinax, set himself up for caesar in Gaul, and was overthrown and killed at Lyons.

[19] Severus, in addition to his glory in war, was also distinguished in the pursuits of peace, being not only accomplished in literature, but having acquired a complete knowledge of philosophy.

The last war that he had was in Britain; and that he might preserve, with all possible security, the provinces which he had acquired, he built a rampart of thirty-two miles long from one sea to the other. He died at an advanced age at York, in the eighteenth year and fourth month of his reign,note and was honored with the title of god.

He left his two sons, Bassianusnoteand Geta, to be his successors, but desired that the name of Antoninus should be given by the Senate to Bassianus only, who, accordingly, was named Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Bassianus, and was his father's successor. As for Geta, he was declared a public enemy, and soon after put to death.

[20] Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Bassianus then, who was also called Caracalla, was a man very much of his father's disposition, but somewhat more rough and vindictive. He erected baths of excellent construction at Rome, which is called the bath of Antoninus, but did nothing else worthy of record. He wanted ability to control his passions; for he married his own step-mother Julia. He died in Osroene, near Edessa, while he was planning an expedition against the Parthians, in the sixth year and second month of his reign,note having scarcely passed the forty-second year of his age. He was buried with a public funeral.

[21] Opellius Macrinus, who was captain of the praetorian guards, and his son Diadumenus, were then made emperors, but did nothing memorable, in consequence of the shortness of their reign; for it lasted but a year and two months.note They were both killed together in a mutiny of the soldiers. 

[22] After these, Marcus Aurelius Antoninusnote was made emperor, who was thought to be the son of Antoninus Caracalla. He was however priest of the temple of Elagabal. Having come to Rome with high expectations on the part of the army and the Senate, he polluted himself with every kind of impurity. He led a life of the utmost shamelessness and obscenity, and was killed at the end of two years and eight months in a tumult of the soldiers.note His mother Soeamias, a native of Syria, perished with him.

[23] To him succeeded Aurelius Alexander, a very young man, who was named caesar by the army, and Augustus by the Senate. Having undertaken a war with the Persians, he defeated their king Xerxesnote with great glory. He enforced military discipline with much severity, and disbanded whole legions that raised a disturbance. He had for his adviser, or secretary of state, Ulpian, the compiler of the law. He was also in great favor at Rome. He lost his life in Gaul, in a tumult of the soldiery, in the thirteenth year and eighth day of his reign.note He testified great affection for his mother Mammaea.