Herodian 7.11

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.

Street Fights

[7.11.1] [March 238] At this same time a fatal blunder was made in Rome, one which originated in the rashness of two senators. The people of Rome were in the habit of coming to the Senate house to find out what the Senate was doing.

[7.11.2] When the praetorians whom Maximinus had left behind in the camp at Rome learned of this practice (they were discharged veterans who had remained at home because of their age), they came unarmed and in civilian dress to the door of the Senate house to find out what was happening and stood there with the rest of the crowd.

[7.11.3] The other spectators remained outside, but two or three praetorians who were more curious than the rest, wishing to hear what was being planned, entered the council chamber, pushing past the base of the statue of Victory. Then a senator of the Carthaginian race named Gallicanus, who had recently been consul, and another senator named Maecenas, a man of praetorian rank, attacked the soldiers as they stood with their hands under their cloaks, and stabbed them to the heart with daggers hidden under their robes.

[7.11.4] As a result of the recent revolt and disorder, all the senators were armed with daggers, openly or secretly, claiming that they were carrying them for protection against possible enemy plots. The praetorians who were struck down on this occasion, having no opportunity to defend themselves because the attack was wholly unexpected, lay dead at the base of the statue of Victory.

[7.11.5] When the other praetorians saw this, they were terrified by the fate of their comrades. Unarmed and fearing the size of the mob, they turned and fled. Gallicanus ran out of the Senate house into the crowd, displaying the dagger in his bloody hand, and ordered the mob to pursue and kill the enemies of the senate and the Roman people, the friends and supporters of Maximinus.

[7.11.6] The mob, easily persuaded, cheered Gallicanus and set out after the praetorians, hurling stones. The soldiers, few in number and wounded as well, fled before their pursuers; running into the praetorian camp, they shut the gates, took up arms, and posted guards on the walls. Gallicanus, by his reckless crime, brought civil war and widespread destruction upon the city.

[7.11.7] He persuaded the people to break into the public arsenals, where armor used in parades rather than in battle was stored, each man to protect himself as best he could. He then threw open the gladiatorial schools and led out the gladiators armed with their regular weapons; finally, he collected all the spears, swords, and axes from the houses and shops.

[7.11.8] The people, as if possessed, seized any tools they could find, made of suitable material, and fashioned weapons. They assembled and went out to the praetorian camp, where they attacked the gates and walls as if they were actually organizing a siege. The praetorians, with their vast combat experience, protected themselves behind their shields and the battlements; wounding their attackers with arrows and long spears, they kept them from the walls and drove them back.

[7.11.9] With evening approaching, the besiegers decided to retire, since the civilians were exhausted and most of the gladiators were wounded. The people retreated in disorder, thinking that the few praetorians would not dare to pursue so large a mob. But the praetorians now threw open the gates and gave chase. They slaughtered the gladiators, and the greater part of the mob also perished, crushed in the confusion. After following the mob for a short distance, the praetorians returned and remained inside the walls of the camp.