Eutropius, Short History 9

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] After him Maximinus came to the throne, the first emperor that was elected from the army by the will of the soldiers, no approbation of the Senate being given, and he himself not being a senator.note After conducting a successful war against the Germans, and being on that account saluted Imperator by his troops, he was slain by Pupienus at Aquileia, together with his son who was then but a boy, his soldiers forsaking him. He had reigned, with his son, three years and a few days.note

[2] There were then three emperors at the same time, Pupienus, Balbinus, and Gordian, the two former of very obscure origin, the last of noble birth; for the elder Gordian, his father, had been chosen prince by the consent of the soldiery in the reign of Maximinus, when he held the proconsulship of Africa. When Balbinus and Pupienus came to Rome, they were killed in the palace; and the empire was given to Gordian alone.

After Gordian, when quite a boy, had married Tranquillina at Rome, he opened the temple of Janus, and, setting out for the east, made war upon the Parthians, who were then proceeding to make an irruption. This war he soon conducted with success, and made havoc of the Persians in great battles. As he was returning, he was killed, not far from the Roman boundaries, by the treachery of Philip who reigned after him.note The Roman soldiers raised a monument for him, twenty miles from Circessus, which is now a fortress of the Romans, overlooking the Euphrates. His relics they brought to Rome, and gave him the title of god.

[3] When Gordian was killed, the two Philips, father and son, seized on the government, and, having brought off the army safe, set out from Syria for Italy. In their reign the thousandth year of the city of Rome was celebrated with games and spectacles of vast magnificence. Soon after, both of them were put to death by the soldiery; the elder Philip at Verona, the younger at Rome. They reigned but five years.note They were however ranked among the gods.

[4] After these, Decius, a native of Lower Pannonia, born at Budalia, assumed the government. He suppressed a civil war which had been raised in Gaul. He created his son caesar. He built a bath at Rome. When he and his son had reigned two years,note they were both killed in the country of the barbarians, and enrolled among the gods.

[5] Immediately after, Gallus, Hostilian, and Volusian the son of Gallus, were created emperors. In their reign Aemilian attempted an insurrection in Moesia; and both of them, setting out to stop his progress, were slain at Interamna, when they had not quite completed a reign of two years. They did nothing of any account. Their reign was remarkable only for a pestilence,note and for other diseases and afflictions.

[6] Aemilian was little distinguished by birth, and less distinguished by his reign, in the third month of which he was cut off.

[7] Licinius Valerian, who was then employed in Rhaetia and Noricum, was next made general by the army, and soon after emperor. Gallienus also received the title of caesar from the Senate at Rome. The reign of these princes was injurious, and almost fatal, to the Roman name, either through their ill-fortune or want of energy. The Germans advanced as far as Ravenna. Valerian, while he was occupied in a war in Mesopotamia, was overthrown by Sapor king of Persia, and being soon after made prisoner, grew old in ignominious slavery among the Parthians.note

[8] Gallienus, who was made emperor when quite a young man, exercised his power at first happily, afterwards fairly, and at last mischievously. In his youth he performed many gallant acts in Gaul and Illyricum, killing Ingenuus, who had assumed the purple, at Mursa, and Regalianus.

He was then for a long time quiet and gentle; afterwards, abandoning himself to all manner of licentiousness, he relaxed the reins of government with disgraceful inactivity and carelesness. The Alemanni, having laid waste Gaul, penetrated into Italy. Dacia, which had been added to the empire beyond the Danube, was lost. Greece, Macedonia, Pontus, Asia, were devastated by the Goths. Pannonia was depopulated by the Sarmatians and Quadi. The Germans made their way as far as Spain, and took the noble city of Tarraco.note The Parthians, after taking possession of Mesopotamia, began to bring Syria under their power.

[9] When affairs were in this desperate condition, and the Roman Empire almost ruined, Postumus, a man of very obscure birth, assumed the purple in Gaul, and held the government with such ability for ten years,note that he recruited the provinces, which had been almost ruined, by his great energy and judgment; but he was killed in a mutiny of the army, because he would not deliver up Mogontiacum, which had rebelled against him, to be plundered by the soldiers, at the time when Lucius Aelianus was endeavoring to effect a change of government.

After him Marius, a contemptible mechanic, assumed the purple, and was killed two days after. Victorinus then took on himself the government of Gaul; a man of great energy; but, as he was abandoned to excessive licentiousness, and corrupted other men's wives, he was assassinated at Agrippina, in the second year of his reign, one of his secretaries having contrived a plot against him.note

[10] To him succeeded Tetricus, a senator, who, when he was governing Aquitania with the title of prefect, was chosen emperor in his absence, and assumed the purple at Bourdeaux. He had to endure many insurrections among the soldiery.note

But while these transactions were passing in Gaul, the Persians, in the east, were overthrown by Odaenathus, who, having defended Syria and recovered Mesopotamia, penetrated into the country as far as Ctesiphon.

[11] Thus, while Gallienus abandoned the government, the Roman Empire was saved in the west by Postumus, and in the east by Odaenathus. Meanwhile Gallienus was killed at Milan, together with his brother, in the ninth year of his reign,note and Claudius succeeded him, being chosen by the soldiers, and declared emperor by the Senate.

Claudius defeated the Goths, who were laying waste Illyricum and Macedonia, in a great battle. He was a frugal and modest man, strictly observant of justice, and well qualified for governing the Empire. He was however carried off by disease within two years after he began to reign,note and had the title of a god. The Senate honored him with extraordinary distinctions, insomuch that a golden shield was hung up to him in the Senate House, and a golden statue erected to him in the Capitol.

[12] After him Quintillus, the brother of Claudius, was elected emperor by agreement among the soldiers, a man of singular moderation and aptitude for governing, comparable, or perhaps superior, to his brother. He received the title of emperor with the consent of the Senate, and was killed on the seventeenth day of his reign.

[13] After his death Aurelian succeeded to the throne. He was born in Dacia Ripensis, and was a man of ability in war, but of an ungovernable temper, and too much inclined to cruelty. He defeated the Goths with great vigor, and extended the Roman Empire, by various successes in the field, to its former limits. He overthrew Tetricus at Catalauni in Gaul, Tetricus himself, indeed, betraying his own army, whose constant mutinies he was unable to bear; and he had even by secret letters entreated Aurelian to march towards him, using, among other solicitations, the verse of Virgil:

Eripe me his, invicte, malis. Unconquer'd hero, free me from these ills.

He also took prisoner Zenobia, who, having killed her husband Odaenathus, was mistress of the east, in a battle of no great importance near Antioch, and, entering Rome, celebrated a magnificent triumph, as recoverer of the east and the west, Tetricus and Zenobia going before his chariot. This Tetricus was afterwards governor of Lucania, and lived long after he was divested of the purple. Zenobia left descendants, who still live at Rome.

[14] In his reign, the people of the mint raised a rebellion in the city, after having adulterated the money, and put to death Felicissimus the commissioner of the treasury. Aurelian suppressed them with the utmost severity; several noblemen he condemned to death. He was indeed cruel and sanguinary, and rather an emperor necessary for the times in some respects than an amiable one in any. He was always severe, and put to death even the son of his own sister. He was however a reformer, in a great degree, of military discipline and dissoluteness of manners.

[15] He surrounded the city of Rome with stronger walls. He built a temple to the Sun, in which he put a vast quantity of gold and precious stones. The province of Dacia, which Trajan had formed beyond the Danube, he gave up, despairing, after all Illyricum and Moesia had been depopulated, of being able to retain it. The Roman citizens, removed from the town and lands of Dacia, he settled in the interior of Moesia, calling that Dacia which now divides the two Moesiae, and which is on the right hand of the Danube as it runs to the sea, whereas Dacia was previously on the left.

He was killed through the treachery of one of his own slaves, who carried to certain military men, the friends of Aurelian, their own names entered upon a list, having counterfeited the hand of Aurelian, and making it appear that he intended to put them to death. That he might be prevented from doing so, he was assassinated by them in the middle of the road, the old paved way, which is between Constantinople and Heraclea. The place is called Caenophrurium. But his death was not unavenged. He also gained the honor of being enrolled among the gods. He reigned five years and six months.note

[16] After him Tacitus succeeded to the throne; a man of excellent morals, and well qualified to govern the empire. He was unable, however, to show the world anything remarkable, being cut off by death in the sixth mouth of his reign. Florian, who succeeded Tacitus, was on the throne only two mouths and twenty days, and did nothing worthy of mention.

[17] Probus then succeeded to the government, a man rendered illustrious by the distinction which he obtained in war. He recovered Gaul, which had been seized by the barbarians, by remarkable successes in the field. He also suppressed, in several battles, some persons that attempted to seize the throne, as Saturninus in the east, and Proculus and Bonosus at Agrippina.

He allowed the Gauls and Pannonians to have vineyards. By obliging his soldiers to work, too, he planted vineyards on Mount Alma in Sirmium, and on Mount Aureus in Upper Moesia, and left them to the people of the provinces to cultivate.

After he had gone through a great number of wars, and had at last obtained peace, he observed, that "in a short time soldiers would not be wanted". He was a man of spirit, activity, and justice, equalling Aurelian in military glory, and surpassing him in affability of manners. He was killed, however, at Sirmium, in an iron turret, during an insurrection of the soldiery. He reigned six years and four months.note

[18] After the death of Probus, Carus was created emperor, a native of Narbo in Gaul, who immediately made his sons, Carinus and Numerian, caesars, and reigned, in conjunction with them, two years. News being brought, while he was engaged in a war with the Sarmatians, of an insurrection among the Persians, he set out for the east, and achieved some noble exploits against that people; he routed them in the field, and took Seleucia and Ctesiphon, their noblest cities, but, while he was encamped on the Tigris, he was killed by lightning.note

His son Numerian, too, whom he had taken with him to Persia, a young man of very great ability, while, from being affected with a disease in his eyes, he was carried in a litter, was cut off by a plot of which Aper, his father-in-law, was the promoter; and his death, though attempted craftily to be concealed until Aper could seize the throne, was made known by the odor of his dead body; for the soldiers, who attended him, being struck by the smell, and opening the curtains of his litter, discovered his death some days after it had taken place.

[19] In the meantime Carinus, whom Carus, when he set out to the war with Parthia, had left, with the authority of caesar, to command in Illyricum, Gaul, and Italy, disgraced himself by all manner of crimes; he put to death many innocent persons on false accusations, formed illicit connexions with the wives of noblemen, and wrought the ruin of several of his school-fellows, who happened to have offended him at school by some slight provocation. Incurring the hatred of all men. by such proceedings, he not long after met with deserved punishment.note

The victorious army, on returning from Persia, as they had lost their emperor Carus by lightning, and the caesar Numerian by a plot,note conferred the imperial dignity on Diocletian, a native of Dalmatia, of such extremely obscure birth, that he is said by most writers to have been the son of a clerk, but by some to have been a freedman of a senator named Anulinus.

[20] Diocletian, in the first assembly of the army that was held, took an oath that Numerian was not killed by any treachery on his part; and while Aper, who had laid the plot for Numerian's life, was standing by, he was killed, in the sight of the army, with a sword by the hand of Diocletian. He soon after overthrew Carinus, who was living under the utmost hatred and detestation, in a great battle at Margum, Carinus being betrayed by his own troops, for though he had a greater number of men than the enemy, he was altogether abandoned by them between Viminacium and Mount Aureus.

He thus became master of the Roman Empire; and when the peasants in Gaul made an insurrection, giving their faction the name of Bagaudae, and having for leaders Amandus and Aelianus, he despatched Maximian Herculius, with the authority of caesar, to suppress them.note Maximian, in a few battles of little importance, subdued the rustic multitude, and restored peace to Gaul.

[21] During this period, Carausius, who, though of very mean birth, had gained extraordinary reputation by a course of active service in war, having received a commission in his post at Bononia, to clear the sea, which the Franks and Saxons infested, along the coast of Belgica and Armorica, and having captured numbers of the barbarians on several occasions, but having never given back the entire booty to the people of the province or sent it to the emperors, and there being a suspicion, in consequence, that the barbarians were intentionally allowed by him to congregate there, that he might seize them and their booty as they passed, and by that means enrich himself, assumed, on being sentenced by Maximian to be put to death, the imperial purple, and took on him the government of Britain.

[22] While disorder thus prevailed throughout the world, while Carausius was taking arms in Britain and Achilleus in Egypt, while the Quinquegentiani were harassing Africa, and Narses was making war upon the east, Diocletian promoted Maximian Herculius from the dignity of caesar to that of emperor, and created Constantius and Maximian Galerius caesars,note of whom Constantius is said to have been the grand-nephew of Claudius by a daughter, and Maximian Galerius to have been born in Dacia not far from Serdica.

That he might also unite them by affinity, Constantius married Theodora the step-daughter of Herculius, by whom he had afterwards six children, brothers to Constantine; while Galerius married Valeria, the daughter of Diocletian; both being obliged to divorce the wives that they had before.

With Carausius, however, as hostilities were found vain against a man eminently skilled in war, a peace was at last arranged. At the end of seven years, Allectus, one of his supporters, put him to death, and held Britain himself for three years subsequently, but was cut off by the efforts of Asclepiodotus, prefect of the praetorian guard.

[23] At the same period a battle was fought by Constantius caesar in Gaul, at Lingonae, where he experienced both good and had fortune in one day; for though he was driven into the city by a sudden onset of the barbarians, with such haste and precipitation that after the gates were shut he was drawn up the wall by ropes, yet, when his army came up, after the lapse of scarcely six hours, he cut to pieces about sixty thousand of the Alemanni.

Maximian the emperor, too, brought the war to an end in Africa, by subduing the Quinquegentiani, and compelling them to make peace.

Diocletian, meanwhile, besieging Achilleus in Alexandria, obliged him to surrender about eight months after, and put him. to death. He used his victory, indeed, cruelly, and distressed all Egypt with severe proscriptions and massacres. Yet at the same time he made many judicious arrangements and regulations, which continue to our own days.

[24] Galerius Maximian, in acting against Narses, fought, on the first occasion, a battle far from successful, meeting him between Callinicus and Carrhae, and engaging in the combat rather with rashness than want of courage; for he contended with a small army against a very numerous enemy. Being in consequence defeated, and going to join Diocletian, he was received by him, when he met him on the road, with such extreme haughtiness, that he is said to have run by his chariot for several miles in his scarlet robes.

[25] But having soon after collected forces in Illyricum and Moesia, he fought a second time with Narses (the grandfather of Hormisdas and Sapor), in Greater Armenia, with extraordinary success, and with no less caution and spirit, for he undertook, with one or two of the cavalry, the office of a speculator. After putting Narses to flight, he captured his wives, sisters, and children, with a vast number of the Persian nobility besides, and a great quantity of treasure; the king himself he forced to take refuge in the remotest deserts in his dominions.

Returning therefore in triumph to Diocletian, who was then encamped with some troops in Mesopotamia, he was welcomed by him with great honor. Subsequently, they conducted several wars both in conjunction and separately, subduing the Carpi and Bastarnae, and defeating the Sarmatians, from which nations he settled a great number of captives in the Roman territories.

[26] Diocletian was of a crafty disposition, with much sagacity, and keen penetration. He was willing to gratify his own disposition to cruelty in such a way as to throw the odium upon others; he was however a very active and able prince. He was the first that introduced into the Roman Empire a ceremony suited rather to royal usages than to Roman liberty, giving orders that he should be adored, whereas all emperors before him were only saluted. He put ornaments of precious stones on his dress and shoes, when the imperial distinction had previously been only in the purple robe, the rest of the habit being the same as that of other men.

[27] But Herculius was undisguisedly cruel, and of a violent temper, and showed his severity of disposition in the sternness of his looks. Gratifying his own inclination, he joined with Diocletian in even the most cruel of his proceedings.

But when Diocletian, as age bore heavily upon him, felt himself unable to sustain the government of the empire, he suggested to Herculius that they should both retire into private life, and commit the duty of upholding the state to more vigorous and youthful hands. With this suggestion his colleague reluctantly complied. Both of them, in the same day,note exchanged the robe of empire for an ordinary dress, Diocletian at Nicomedia, Herculius at Milan, soon after a magnificent triumph which they celebrated at Rome over several nations, with a noble succession of pictures, and in which the wives, sisters, and children of Narses were led before their chariots. The one then retired to Salonae,note and the other into Lucania.note

[28] Diocletian lived to an old age in a private station, at a villa which is not far from Salonae, in honorable retirement, exercising extraordinary philosophy, inasmuch as he alone of all men, since the foundation of the Roman Empire, voluntarily returned from so high a dignity to the condition of private life, and to an equality with the other citizens. That happened to him, therefore, which had happened to no one since men were created, that, though he died in a private condition, he was enrolled among the gods.