Herodian 2.6

Herodian (late second, first half third century): Greek historian, author of a History of the Roman Empire since the Death of Marcus Aurelius 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.

The Empire Sold to Didius Julianus

[2.6.1] [28 March 193] When the assassination of the emperor was reported to the people, they ran about like madmen in their grief and rage. In the grip of unreasoning fury, the mob searched for the emperor's assassins, but were unable to find them and take their revenge. 

[2.6.2] The senators were particularlydistressed by what had happened. They considered the loss of their benevolent father and revered protector a public disaster, and once more there arose the fear of a tyranny, the praetorians' special delight.

[2.6.3] [30 March 193] But after a day or two had passed, with every man fearing for his life, the people grew calm. Men of position went out to their estates which were farthest from the city, to avoid the danger of being present at the selection of the new emperor. 

[2.6.4] When the praetorians saw that the people were quiet and that no one dared to avenge the murder of the emperor, they remained isolated inside the camp. Then, bringing forward to the walls the men with the loudest voices, they made proclamation that the empire was for sale, promising to hand it over to the man who offered the highest price, and promising to conduct the purchaser safely to the imperial palace under the protection of their arms. 

[2.6.5] When they made this proclamation, the more august and respected senators, those who were nobly born and still wealthy, the scattered survivors of Commodus' tyranny, did not go to the wall; they had no desire to use their wealth basely and shamefully to buy the empire.

[2.6.6] But the praetorians' proposition was reported to a man named Julianus while he was giving a dinner in the late afternoon amid much drinking and carousing. This Julianus had already served a term as consul and was thought to be a very wealthy man; he was one of the Romans censured for an intemperate way of life.

[2.6.7] Then his wife and daughter and a mob of parasites persuaded him to leave his dining couch and hurry to the wall of the camp to find out what was going on. All the way to the camp they urged him to seize the prostrate empire; he had plenty of money and could outbid anyone who opposed him.

[2.6.8] And so, when they came to the wall, Julianus shouted up a promise to give the praetorians everything they wanted, assuring them that he had plenty of money, that his strongboxes were crammed with gold and silver. At the same moment the urban prefect Sulpicianus, a man of consular rank (he was the father of Pertinax' wife), came to bargain for the empire.

[2.6.9] But the praetorians refused to accept this man, afraid of his kinship with Pertinax, and fearing too that this might be a trick to avenge the emperor's murder. Lowering a ladder, they brought Julianus up to the top of the wall, for they were unwilling to open the gates until they knew how much he would pay for the empire.

[2.6.10] When he came up, Julianus promised to revive the memory of Commodus, to restore his honors, and to re-erect his statues which the Senate had pulled down; he further promised to restore to the praetorians all the powers they had possessed under that emperor and to give each soldier more gold than he asked for or expected to receive.

[2.6.11] Convinced by his promises and delighted with their expectations, the guard proclaimed Julianus emperor, and, in view of his family and his ancestry, thought it appropriate that he assume the name of Commodus. Then, raising their standards, to which pictures of Julianus had been attached, they prepared to escort the emperor to the imperial palace. 

[2.6.12] After he had performed the usual imperial sacrifices in the camp, Julianus was led out under the protection of a contingent of the guard larger than normal. Because he had purchased the empire shamefully, disgracefully, and fraudulently, using force and opposing the wishes of the people, the new emperor rightly feared that the people would be hostile toward him.

[2.6.13] Therefore, under full arms and armor, the praetorians formed a phalanx so that, if necessary, they could fight. They placed their chosen emperor in the center of the formation, holding their spears and shields over their heads to protect the procession from any shower of stones hurled down from the houses. In this fashion they succeeded in conducting Julianus to the palace, as none of the people dared oppose them. No one, however, shouted the congratulations usually heard when emperors were accompanied by a formal escort; on the contrary, the people stood at a distance, shouting curses and reviling Julianus bitterly for using his wealth to purchase the empire.

[2.6.14] It was on this occasion that the character of the praetorians was corrupted for the first time; they acquired their insatiable and disgraceful lust for money and their contempt for the sanctity of the emperor. The fact that there was no one to take action against these men who had savagely murdered their emperor, and the fact that there was no one to prevent the shameful auction and sale of the Roman empire, were the original causes of the praetorians' disgraceful and mutinous revolt at this time and also for later revolts. Their lust for gold and their contempt for their emperors increased, as did assassinations also.