Herodian 7.12

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.

Civil War

[7.12.1] [Spring 238] This debacle increased the fury of the mob and the Senate. Generals were chosen and picked men were called up for service from all parts of Italy. The young men were assembled and armed with whatever weapons were at hand. [Pupienus] Maximus led most of these soldiers out to attack Maximinus; the rest remained behind to guard and defend the city. 

[7.12.2] Daily attacks were launched against the walls of the praetorian camp, but these assaults accomplished nothing, as the soldiers put up a stout resistance from their higher position. Struck and wounded, the attackers suffered heavily in the fighting. Balbinus, who had remained in Rome, issued an edict in which he pleaded with the people to effect a truce and promised amnesty to the soldiers, offering them pardon for all their offenses. 

[7.12.3] But he failed in his efforts to persuade either side: so huge a mob thought it disgraceful to be defied by a mere handful of men, and the praetorians were enraged to be suffering these barbaric indignities at the hands of Romans. Finally, when the attacks on the walls made no progress, the generals decided that it would be good strategy to block off all the streams flowing into the praetorian camp and thus overcome the soldiers by cutting off their water supply.

[7.12.4] They therefore stopped the flow of water into the camp and diverted it into other channels, damming up the beds of the streams which flowed under the walls. Recognizing the danger, the despairing praetorians opened the gate and rushed forth to the attack. A sharp skirmish resulted and, when the mob fled, the guards pursued and drove them into all parts of the city.

[7.12.5] Bested in the hand-to-hand fighting, the people climbed to the housetops and rained down upon the praetorians tiles, stones, and clay pots. In this way they inflicted severe injuries upon the soldiers, who, being unfamiliar with the houses, did not dare to climb after them, and, of course, the doors of the shops and houses were barred. The soldiers did, however, set fire to houses that had wooden balconies (and there were many of this type in the city).

[7.12.6] Because a great number of houses were made chiefly of wood, the fire spread very rapidly and without a break throughout most of the city. Many men who lost their vast and magnificent properties, valuable for the large incomes they produced and for their expensive decorations, were reduced from wealth to poverty.

[7.12.7] A great many people died in the fire, unable to escape because the exits had been blocked by the flames. All the property of the wealthy was looted when the criminal and worthless elements in the city joined with the soldiers in plundering. And the part of Rome destroyed by fire was greater in extent than the largest intact city in the empire.

[7.12.8] This was the situation at Rome. In the meantime, having completed his march, Maximinus was poised on the borders of Italy; after offering sacrifices at all the boundary altars, he advanced into Italy, ordering the troops to march under arms in battle formation.

[7.12.9] We have now described in detail the revolt in the province of Africa, the civil war in Rome, the actions of Maximinus, and his advance into Italy; the events which followed will be related in the succeeding book.