Herodian 4.12

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.


[4.12.1] [216/217] Caracalla had two generals in his army: [Marcus Oclatinius] Adventus, an old man, who had some skill in military matters but was a layman in other fields and unacquainted with civil administration; and [Marcus Opellius] Macrinus, experienced in public affairs and especially well trained in law. Caracalla often ridiculed Macrinus publicly, calling him a brave, self-styled warrior, and carrying his sarcasm to the point of shameful abuse. 

[4.12.2] When the emperor learned that Macrinus was overfond of food and scorned the coarse, rough fare which Caracalla the soldier enjoyed, he accused the general of cowardice and effeminacy, and continually threatened to murder him. Unable to endure these insults any longer, the angry Macrinus grew dangerous.

[4.12.3] This is the way the affair turned out; it was, at long last, time for Caracalla's life to come to an end. The emperor, always excessively curious, wished not only to know everything about the affairs of men but also to meddle in divine matters. Since he suspected everyone of plotting against him, he consulted all the oracles and summoned prophets, astrologers, and entrail-examiners from all over the world; no one who practiced the magic art of prophecy escaped him.

[4.12.4] But when he began to suspect that these men were not prophesying truthfully but were flattering him, Caracalla wrote a letter to Materianus, to whom he had entrusted control of affairs at Rome. This Materianus he considered the most trustworthy of his friends, the only one with whom he shared the imperial secrets. He ordered Materianus to locate all the most highly skilled prophets and to make use of their magic arts to discover whether anyone was plotting to seize the empire.

[4.12.5] Materianus obeyed the emperor's orders to the letter, and whether because the spirits actually revealed these things to him or because he was eager to remove Macrinus, he sent Caracalla a dispatch informing him that Macrinus was conspiring to seize control of the empire and must be eliminated.

[4.12.6] [Spring 217] Sealing this letter, he gave it routinely with the other dispatches to the couriers, who did not, of course, know what they were carrying. Completing the journey with their usual speed, the messengers approached Caracalla after he had already donned his racing uniform and was about to climb into the waiting chariot, and gave him the whole bundle of dispatches, including the letter concerning Macrinus. 

[4.12.7] Caracalla, about to drive off, and intent upon the coming race, ordered Macrinus, who was standing nearby alone, to examine the dispatches and, if they contained anything urgent, to inform him. If, however, there was nothing pressing in them, he was to handle them himself in the usual manner, in his capacity as praetorian prefect. The emperor frequently ordered Macrinus to do this.

[4.12.8] After giving these directions, Caracalla turned to his race. Macrinus withdrew and opened the dispatches in private; when he found the one containing his own death sentence, he saw clearly the danger which threatened him. Knowing the emperor's nature, and realizing that the death sentence contained in the letter would give the emperor legitimate cause for putting him to death, Macrinus removed this letter from the pile and reported that the rest were of the routine sort.