Zosimus, New History 5.38

Zosimus (Greek Ζώσιμος): Early Byzantine, pagan author of a history of the Roman Empire, published in the first quarter of the sixth century CE.

The translation of ZosimusNew History offered here was printed in 1814 by W. Green and T. Chaplin in London, and was probably prepared by J. Davis of the Military Chronicle and Military Classics Office. The translator is anonymous. The text was found at Tertullian.org. The notes were added by Jona Lendering.


[5.38.1] When Alaric was near Rome, besieging its inhabitants, the Senate suspected Serena of bringing the barbarians against their city. The whole Senate therefore, with Placidia, uterine sister to the emperor, thought it proper that she should suffer death, for being the cause of the present calamity. They observed, that "Alaric, upon Serena being removed, will retire from the city, because no person will remain by whom he can hope the town to be betrayed into his hands." 

[5.38.2] This suspicion was in reality groundless, as Serena never had any such intentions. However she suffered justly for her impieties toward the gods, which I am now about to relate. When the elder Theodosius, after defeating the rebel Eugenius, arrived at Rome, and occasioned in all persons a contempt and neglect of divine worship, by refusing to defray the charge of the holy rites from the public funds, the priests of both sexes were dismissed and banished, and the temples were deprived of sacrifices. 

[5.38.3] Serena, insulting the deities with derision, was determined to see the temple dedicated to the gods. In this perceiving some ornaments around the neck of the statue of Vesta, suitable to the divine worship that was paid to her, she took them off the statue, and placed them upon her own neck. An aged woman, who was the only one remaining of the Vestal Virgins, upbraided her severely for so impious an action. Serena not only returned very violent language, but commanded her attendants to drive or carry her away. 

[5.38.4] Notwithstanding, the old woman, as she was leaving the place, prayed that whatever was due to such impiety might fall on Serena, her husband, and children. Serena did not notice what she had said, but left the temple pleased with the ornaments she had obtained. Yet afterwards she was frequently visited by an appearance, not only imaginary, in her dreams, but real, when she was awake, which predicted her death. Other persons likewise beheld the same appearance. So far did that just power of vengeance, whose office it is to punish the wicked, discharge its duty, that although Serena knew what would happen, she was without caution, and submitted that neck which she had decorated with the attire of the goddess, even to a halter.

[5.38.5] It is likewise said that Stilicho, for an impiety not much unlike this of which Serena was guilty, did not escape the secret hand of vengeance. He is said to have commanded the doors of the Capitol to be stripped of a large quantity of gold with which they were covered. They who were employed in that act found on some part of the doors this inscription, "These are reserved for a wretched prince." The veracity of the prediction contained in this inscription was proved, for he indeed died in the most wretched and miserable manner.