Herodian of Antioch, History of the Roman Empire (1961) pp.43-76. Book 2.
1. AFTER the conspirators had killed Commodus, as has been described in the first book of our history, they were anxious to keep the deed secret. And so, to prevent the praetorians on guard in the imperial palace from discovering what they had done, they wrapped the emperor's body in bed linen and tied it securely. They gave the bundle to two loyal slaves and sent it out of the palace as if it were no more than laundry, somewhat bulkier than usual. 2. The slaves carried their burden past the guards; some of them were asleep, overcome by wine, others still awake, but dozing off leaning on their spears. The praetorians made no attempt to discover the contents of the bundle carried from the emperor's bedroom, since it was not their concern to look into such things. After the emperor's body had been carried out through the palace gates undetected, it was placed in a wagon and taken to the outskirts of the city.
3. Then Laetus and Eclectus conferred with Marcia about |44 the best course to follow. They decided that an announcement should be made to the effect that the emperor had died suddenly of apoplexy. They were sure that this report would be accepted without question by those who heard it, since his endless and excessive orgies had prepared them for such an outcome. But before doing anything else, the conspirators thought it best to choose a sensible elder statesman as the successor to the throne, both to save themselves and to bring to all enjoyment of a respite from a tyrant so harsh and undisciplined. Discussing the matter among themselves, they found no man so well qualified for the post as a native-born Italian named Pertinax. 4. This Pertinax was famous for his accomplishments, both civil and military; he had won many victories over the Germans and the Eastern barbarians and was the only survivor of the revered advisers appointed for Commodus by his father. Commodus had not had him put to death—this most distinguished of Marcus' companions and generals—either out of respect for his noble qualities or indifference to him as a pauper. And yet his poverty had contributed in no small measure to the universal praise Pertinax enjoyed; for, despite responsibilities which far outweighed those of his colleagues, he was less wealthy than any of them.
5. That night, while all were sleeping, Laetus and Eclectus, accompanied by a few fellow conspirators, came to Pertinax. Standing at the locked gates of his house, they aroused the porter on guard there. When the man awoke and saw the soldiers standing before the gates with Laetus, whom he knew to be the praetorian prefect, he was alarmed and went inside to report to his master. 6. Pertinax directed his visitors to enter, remarking that the fate he had been expecting was at last about to overtake him. Yet even in this extremity, they say, he remained so serene that he did not get up, but received them lying in bed. Even though he believed that Laetus had come with Eclectus to kill him, he spoke to them calmly, |45 with no sign of pallor. 7. "For a long time now," he said, "I have been waiting for my life to end in this fashion, and I was surprised that Commodus was so slow to act against me, the sole survivor of the advisers his father appointed for him. Why do you delay? You will be carrying out your orders, and I will be relieved from degrading hope and constant fear." 8. To this Laetus replied: "Please stop saying things unworthy of you and your past conduct. Our visit does not concern your death but our safety and the safety of the Roman empire. The tyrant is dead, victim of a fate he richly deserved. What he planned to do to us, we have done to him. 9. We have come to place the empire in your hands, aware that you are not only the most distinguished senator, because of your moderate life, and have won reverence for your greatness and the dignity of your years, but you also enjoy the love and esteem of the people. All these reasons lead us to believe that what we are doing will please the people and save our own lives." 10. Pertinax said in reply: "Why do you mock an old man ? Why do you judge me such a coward that you wish first to taunt and then to kill me?" At this point Eclectus spoke up: "If you do not believe what we say, read this tablet (you know Commodus' handwriting—you see it regularly). From this you will see the danger we have escaped, and you will know that there is no treachery but only truth in what we tell you." After he had read the tablet, Pertinax believed these old friends of his. Now fully understanding everything that had occurred, he placed himself at their disposal.
1. THEY decided that as the first step Pertinax should go to the praetorian camp to learn the attitude of the soldiers of the guard. Laetus undertook to secure the support of the |46 praetorians, since they owed him, as their commanding officer, a measure of respect. 2. Accompanied by all those present, they set out for the praetorian camp. The night had almost passed, and the festival was about to begin; so everything had to be done before daybreak. A number of trusted men were sent out to spread the news that Commodus was dead and that Pertinax was on his way to the praetorian camp to take command of the empire. 3. When these events became known, the people milled about in a frenzy of joy, like men possessed, and everyone took delight in telling the news to his neighbors, especially if they happened to be men of wealth and position, for Commodus was particularly dangerous to such men. Rushing to the temples and altars, the people united in giving thanks to the gods, shouting all sorts of things: "The tyrant is dead!" "The gladiator is slain!" and other blasphemies more scurrilous. 4. All the insults which had hitherto been left unsaid through fear were now voiced openly, with freedom and safety restored. Most of the people ran swiftly to the praetorian camp, because they feared that the praetorians would be reluctant to accept Pertinax as emperor. 5. Indeed, they suspected that in the future these soldiers would show little moderation; they were conditioned to blind obedience to a tyrant and were masters in the use of violence. All the people therefore went out to the camp to force the praetorians to submit. They were in the camp when Laetus and Eclectus arrived, bringing Pertinax with them. Laetus then ordered the praetorians to assemble and addressed them as follows:
6. "Commodus, your emperor, is dead of apoplexy. In a case of this kind, the blame can be put on no one else. The emperor was responsible for his own death. He paid no attention when we urged him time and again to adopt a safer and saner course. You know the way he lived his life. Now he lies dead, choked by his own gluttony. The death he was destined for |47 has overtaken him at last. As you are aware, the cause of death is not one and the same for all men. The most diverse causes bring us to life's inevitable outcome. 7. In place of Commodus we bring to you, and the whole Roman people bring to you, a man respected for his years, temperate in his way of life, and renowned for his courageous exploits. You old soldiers have taken part in his military campaigns, and the rest of you always held him in high honor and esteem during his years of service as prefect of the city. 8. Now Fortune is giving you an emperor who is also a kindly father to you. His reign will please not only you praetorian soldiers on duty here in Rome but also the soldiers stationed on the banks of the far-off rivers and the borders of the Roman empire, men who are familiar with his exploits from their own recollections of them. No longer will we pacify the barbarians with money. They will obey us because they fear us, mindful of what they suffered at this man's hands when he campaigned against them."
9. After this speech of Laetus, the people restrained themselves no longer. While the praetorians were still hesitating, undecided, the people proclaimed Pertinax emperor, calling him father and shouting his praises to all. At this the soldiers, not because they were equally enthusiastic but because they were compelled by the great number of people present (they were surrounded by the mob and were themselves few in number and unarmed, as was customary during the festival), at last added their voices to the others and proclaimed Pertinax emperor. 10. After they had sworn the usual oaths in his name and had performed the sacrifices, all the people, together with the praetorians, took up laurel branches and escorted Pertinax to the imperial palace just before daylight. |48
1. AFTER he was established in the imperial palace, to which he had been escorted by the praetorians and the people by night, as has been related above, Pertinax was beset by serious doubts; indeed, although in all matters he gave the appearance of being calm and courageous, in the present situation he was very apprehensive. The emperor was little concerned about his own safety (he had many times scorned much greater dangers), but he was worried about this abrupt change from the autocracy of Commodus and about the noble ancestry of certain of the senators. He suspected that these senators, after having been ruled by the most nobly born of all the emperors, would not be willing to let the reins of government fall into the hands of a man who came to the high office from humble and undistinguished antecedents. 2. Even if his life deserved admiration for its restraint, and even if his military exploits were famous, in nobility of birth he was much inferior to the aristocracy. When daylight came, he went to the senate house, but he did not allow the sacred fire to be carried before him nor did he permit any of the imperial tokens to be raised until he had determined how the senate felt about the situation. 3. But as soon as he appeared, all the senators with one voice shouted his praises, calling him emperor and Augustus. At first he declined the envy-provoking title of emperor and, pleading his advanced years, begged to be permitted to decline the honor, pointing out that there were many men of noble birth by whom the empire might more fittingly be ruled. At this, Glabrionus took him by the hand and led him forward, bidding him take his seat upon the imperial throne. 4. This Glabrionus was the most nobly born of all the Roman aristocrats (for he traced his ancestry to Aeneas, son of Venus and Anchises, and he had served two |49 terms as consul. "I myself," Glabrionus said, "whom you consider the most eligible of all, yield the throne to you, and I together with all the rest happily concur in awarding you the supreme power." Then, with all of them pleading with him and actually forcing him to accept the position, Pertinax mounted the imperial throne slowly and reluctantly and addressed the senate as follows:
5. "I am persuaded that your great readiness to do me honor, the extraordinary enthusiasm with which you acclaim me, and your selection of me as emperor in preference to those among you of such noble birth, has in it not the slightest intent to flatter, but is proof and pledge of your good will toward me. And this might make another ready and eager to accept without hesitation what has been entrusted to him, and he might reasonably entertain a hope of managing the empire with no difficulty among subjects so kindly disposed toward him. 6. But these favors which I am receiving at your hands, so great and so flattering, although I am aware of the honor they do me, cause me no little apprehension and inner conflict. For, when the initial favors are so great, it is always difficult to do equal favors in return. Now when anyone who receives small favors does greater favors in return, the fact that this is an easy matter is never taken into consideration; it is thought to be merely evidence of his gratitude. But when the initial favor is virtually unsurpassable, if the recipient does not return one equally large, the fact that this is a difficult matter is never taken into consideration; it is thought to be merely evidence of his ingratitude and lack of appreciation. 7. I see, therefore, that no ordinary task awaits me in proving myself worthy of such an honor as you have bestowed upon me. But the honor of the throne lies not in the throne itself, but in the acts which he who holds it must perform if he is not to disgrace his high office. The more men hate an unpleasant past, the more hopefully they look forward to a |50 pleasant future. Injuries are remembered forever (the memory of pain is difficult to erase), but benefits and the memory of benefits disappear when the enjoyment of them is gone.
8. Freedom is never so pleasant as slavery is unpleasant, and no one ever considers himself fortunate to possess what is his free from danger; he thinks that he is simply enjoying his own possessions. But the man who is deprived of his property never forgets the man responsible for his loss. And if any change takes place for the common good, no one thinks that he has derived from it any personal benefit, since, when the common good prospers, it is of little concern to the whole group as individuals. With respect to his own affairs, no one believes that anything is of value to him unless he happens to obtain something he personally desires. 9. But those who have grown accustomed to reveling in the extravagant excesses of a tyranny not only object to any change toward a more moderate and more economical way of life occasioned by a shortage of money, not terming it sensible economy or planned and judicious management, but they reject it as a mean and wretched way to live, oblivious to the fact that had it not been for the loot taken by pillage and plunder, they could never have enjoyed their luxurious way of life. On the other hand, to give to every man all things according to his worth and for logical reasons, without committing any injustices, and not to supply him with an abundance of money gained from illegal sources teaches prudent conservation of things supplied in quantity. 10. And so you, who are skilled in these matters, must cooperate with me and consider the management of the empire as a joint enterprise, and you must entertain high hopes of living under an aristocracy, not under a tyranny, and you must confirm this for all our subjects."
11. By this speech, Pertinax encouraged the senators and received the plaudits of them all. After awarding him every |51 honor and every token of respect, they escorted the new emperor to the temple of Jupiter and the rest of the shrines; when he had completed the sacrifices for his reign, he entered the imperial palace.
1. WHEN Pertinax' speech to the senate and his letters to the people were made public, all the Romans gave thanks, hoping that he would be for them not so much an emperor as a mild and pious ruler and father. He ordered the praetorians to curb their arrogant treatment of the people; he forbade them to carry axes or strike anyone they chanced to meet. He tried to manage everything with decency and discipline, and in his judicial duties he was mild and moderate. 2. By his consistent and deliberate imitation of Marcus' reign, he delighted the older people, and won the good will of the others without difficulty, released as they were from savage and oppressive tyranny to lead a well-ordered life, free from care. When the mildness of his rule became known everywhere, all nations subject to Roman rule or friendly to the Romans, and all the armies in the field as well, came to regard his reign as that of a god. 3. And indeed, the barbarians who were formerly restless and rebellious, mindful of his brilliant achievements in his previous campaigns, feared him and willingly submitted to him. They put their trust in his reputation for never purposely doing an injustice and always treating every man according to his deserts; improper conduct and savage violence were completely foreign to his nature. Embassies from all countries came to him, and everyone delighted in the rule of the Romans under Pertinax.
4. All, both publicly and privately, were pleased by the order and the moderation of his reign. But what pleased all the |52 rest only galled the soldiers of the imperial bodyguard stationed in Rome. Now forbidden to loot and act with insolence, the praetorians were directed to return to an orderly and disciplined way of life. Since they considered the mild and moderate rule of Pertinax an insult and disgrace to them, as well as a diminution of their unlimited power, they refused to tolerate his well-ordered reign any longer. 5. At the beginning, they had obeyed his orders reluctantly and mutinously. But after he had been emperor for less than two months, during which he had put into effect in a short time many moderate and practical measures, and his subjects were just beginning to entertain high hopes for the future, a wretched turn of fortune upset the situation and ruined everything, preventing a number of excellent projects useful to his subjects from being carried to completion.
6. To begin with, Pertinax assigned all the land in Italy and the rest of the provinces not under cultivation to anyone willing to care for it and farm it, to be his own private property; he gave to each man as much land as he wished and was able to manage, even if the land were imperial property. To these farmers he granted exemption from all taxes for ten years and freedom from government duties as well.1 7. He refused to allow his name to be stamped on imperial property, stating that these effects were not the emperor's personal property but the common and public possessions of the Roman empire. Finally, he removed the tolls previously levied during the tyranny as an easy method of raising revenue, the fees collected at the banks of rivers, the harbors of cities, and the crossroads, restoring to all these their ancient freedom.
8. It is obvious that he would have done even more to benefit his subjects, as his general policy makes plain, for he banished informers from the city and ordered them to be persecuted |53 elsewhere; he took precautions to prevent anyone from being threatened by informers or being embroiled in their false charges. Then the senate particularly, but all other men too, seemed to be living in a blessed state of security. 9. Pertinax was so modest and unassuming that he did not bring his own son, then a young man, into the imperial palace. The youth remained in his father's house and continued to attend his regular school and gymnasium; in his education, as in all his activities, he was an ordinary Roman citizen, and displayed none of the imperial pomp and arrogance.
1. IN A WAY of life so prosperous and well ordered, only the praetorians complained of their lot. Longing for a return to the violence and looting of the preceding tyranny and to their extravagant and dissolute pursuits, they plotted to remove Pertinax on the ground that he was a burden and a nuisance to them, and to choose an emperor who would restore to them their unbridled and uncontrolled power. 2. And so, with no warning, the praetorians rushed headlong from their camp one day at noon, when they were off duty. Wild with unreasoning anger, they burst into the palace with spears raised and swords drawn. 3. The imperial attendants on duty in the palace were astounded at this unbelievable and unexpected assault. Since they were only a handful of unarmed men against a horde of armed soldiers, the attendants deserted their assigned posts and fled into the palace grounds or the nearby passageways. But a few who were devoted to Pertinax informed him of the attack and advised him to flee and put his hope of safety in the people. 4. The emperor, however, did not follow the advice of those who suggested this advantageous course of action in the present emergency; he considered this solution undignified and servile, unworthy |54 of an emperor and unworthy of his previous way of life and his achievements. He therefore declined to flee or to hide; preferring to face the issue squarely, he came out to talk to the praetorians, hoping to win them over and put an end to their insane anger. 5. And so he left the room and approached the praetorians, in an effort to discover the reason for their anger, and tried to persuade them not to act like madmen. Remaining cool and calm in this crisis and displaying the dignity of an emperor, he showed no evidence of fear or cowardice or servility.
6. "For me," he said, "to be murdered by you is neither important nor grievous to an old man who has received so many honors in the course of a long life. It is inevitable that every man must die someday. But for you who are supposed to be the emperor's guardians and defenders to be his murderers, and for you to stain your hands with the blood of an emperor and, what is worse, that of a fellow Roman, be sure that this is not only an act of pollution at the present but also represents a danger for you in the future. I know in my heart that I have wronged you in no way. 7. If you are still grieved at the death of Commodus, remember that it is hardly surprising that death caught up with him. He was mortal. But if you think his death was the result of treachery, the blame does not lie with me. For you know that I am free of all suspicion on that score, and I know no more about what happened then than you do. So, if you suspect anything, bring charges against someone else. 8. But even though Commodus is dead, you will not lack anything which can be supplied you fairly and deservedly, so long as it can be done without recourse to violence and confiscation of property."
So persuasive were his words that he had now convinced some of them; indeed, quite a few of them began to withdraw, respecting the age of their revered emperor. But while he was still talking, the bolder praetorians attacked and killed |55 him.2 9. After they had committed this savage crime, alarmed by what they had done and wishing to anticipate the fury of the people, who would, they knew, be enraged by the murder, the praetorians rushed back to the camp. Shutting all the gates and blocking the entrances, they placed sentries in the towers and remained inside the walls to defend themselves if the mob should attack the camp. Such was the fate of Pertinax, whose life and policies have been described above.
1. 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. The senators were particularly distressed 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.
3. 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. 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. 5. When they made this proclamation, the more august and respected senators, those |56 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 11. Convinced by his promises and delighted with their expectations, the guard proclaimed Julianus emperor, and, in view of his |57 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. 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. 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.
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. |58
1. WHEN he entered into the office of emperor, Julianus immediately devoted himself to drinking and debauchery. He regarded his duties to the state as of no consequence and occupied his time in luxurious living and profligate practices. It was quickly discovered, however, that he had lied to the praetorians and deceived them, as he was unable to fulfill his promises. 2. The truth is that he did not have as much money in his personal possession as he had pretended to have, and no money was available in the public treasures; these had been completely exhausted by Commodus' extravagances and his lavish and endless disbursements. The praetorians, cheated of their expectations, were enraged by this insulting breach of faith; and the people, when they were aware of the praetorians' attitude, held Julianus in contempt. When the emperor appeared in public, they cursed him bitterly and taunted him for his continuous and disgraceful debauches. 3. At the Circus Maximus, where the crowds were largest, the audience shouted insults at Julianus and called Niger defender of the empire and protector of the sacred office of emperor, begging him to come to their rescue as soon as possible, for they were subjected to unbearable indignities.
4. This Niger had previously served a term as consul; at the time of the events mentioned above, he was governor of Syria, then the largest and most powerful of the Roman provinces. The entire Phoenician territory and all the land as far as the Euphrates River were under Niger's command. 5. The governor, then just past middle age, had won renown for his many brilliant exploits. He was reported to be a fair and capable man and was said to pattern his life after that of Pertinax; the Romans, consequently, had great confidence in Niger. They called for him in all the public assemblies and insulted |59 Julianus to his face by cheering the absent Niger and offering him the empire with loud shouts.
6. When the attitude of the Roman people and their actions were reported to him, Niger was naturally acquiescent and believed that affairs would turn out as he wished, with no difficulty. The fact that Julianus had been deserted by the praetorians because he failed to give them the money he had promised and the fact that he was despised by the people for the shameful way in which he had bought the empire encouraged Niger to be sanguine about his chances of becoming emperor. 7. As the first step, he summoned a few commanders and tribunes and prominent soldiers to his quarters; there he discussed the situation with them and won their support. He revealed in detail what he had heard from Rome, with the intent that, when this news was made public, it would become common knowledge to the soldiers and to the rest of the peoples of the East. 8. He hoped to win the support of all of them without difficulty when they understood that he was not attempting to seize the empire by plotting but rather that he was going to the assistance of the people at Rome, who were begging for him to come. All the Eastern peoples flocked to his support and implored him to take charge of affairs. 9. For the Syrian race is by nature unstable and sympathetic to any proposed change in the established order of things. In addition, the Syrians felt some affection for Niger because he ruled them mildly in all respects and staged a vast number of shows for them. They are by nature a people fond of spectacles, and the citizens of Antioch, a large and prosperous city, celebrate festivals virtually every day of the year in the city and in the surrounding area. 10. And so, by constantly staging shows, about which they are wildly enthusiastic, and by allowing them free license to celebrate the holidays and make merry, Niger won their esteem. |60
1. AWARE of their high regard for him, Niger summoned the soldiers from all stations on an appointed day; after the people also had assembled, he mounted the platform erected for the purpose and addressed them as follows:
2. "The mildness of my disposition and my temperate approach in the important enterprises which I have undertaken are well known to you from of old. Never would I have come before you to discuss these matters if I were motivated solely by personal aims, by unreasonable hopes, or by the desire to realize even greater achievements. But the Romans are calling me and with unceasing cries beg me to extend to them the savior's hand and not allow an empire so illustrious, one made famous by our ancestors from the earliest times, to be brought to disgraceful ruin. 3. Just as it is rash and hasty to undertake such great projects without good cause and reason, so too is it cowardly and treasonable to hesitate when one is summoned and begged to take action. This has led me to come before you to find out what your attitude is and what you think should be done—in short, to use you as my advisers and associates in the present situation. If the issue should prosper, it will work to our mutual advantage. 4. No selfish and self-deluding hopes summon me. The Roman people call me, the Roman people, to whom the gods have given their empire and their mastery over all men. The empire too cries out to me, unsettled as it is and not yet firmly fixed in the hands of any one man. This being the situation, the safety of this course will be obvious, both from the attitude of those who are calling me and from the fact that there is no one to oppose me or stand in my way. 5. My informants in Rome say that the praetorians, who sold the empire to Julianus, are untrustworthy bodyguards because he did not pay them the |61 money he promised. Come now, reveal to me what your attitude is."
6. When he had finished speaking, the entire army and all the people there immediately hailed him as emperor and called him Augustus. They robed him in the imperial purple and provided the remaining tokens of imperial rank from whatever was available. They carried the sacred fire before their emperor and, after escorting him to the temples in Antioch, established him in his own residence, treating it no longer as a private home but as the imperial palace, for they decorated the exterior of the house with the imperial insignia.
7. Niger was exceedingly pleased by these developments, and believed that control of imperial affairs was firmly fixed in his hands by the attitude of the Roman people and by the enthusiasm of the Eastern peoples. When the situation became generally known, all the people on the continent of Asia lying opposite Europe came to him,3 and every man hastened to submit to him of his own free will; embassies from all those peoples were sent to Niger at Antioch as if he were the recognized Roman emperor. 8. The rulers and kings beyond the Tigris and Euphrates rivers sent congratulations and promised assistance if it should be needed. In return, Niger sent these rulers lavish gifts and thanked them for their support and their offers, but he assured them that he did not lack for allies. He told them that the empire was his beyond any doubt and that he intended to rule without bloodshed.
9. Elated by these hopes, Niger now grew negligent in attending to matters at hand. Spending his time in luxurious living, he reveled with the people of Antioch, devoting himself to shows and spectacles, and postponed his departure for |62 Rome when he should have hurried to the city at top speed. 10. It was imperative that he visit the cities in Illyricum at the earliest possible moment and win their support before someone else did. He did not, however, release in Illyricum any report of what had happened, hoping that the army there, when it learned of these developments, would be in agreement with the entreaties of the Roman people and the attitude of the Eastern armies.
1. WHILE Niger was dreaming these dreams and relying upon uncertain and unfounded hopes, what had occurred in Syria was reported to the Pannonians and the people in Illyricum, as well as to the entire military force in that area—that is, to the troops assigned to duty on the banks of the Danube and the Rhine to check barbarian incursions in those regions and defend the Roman empire. 2. The governor of all the Pannonians (for they were at that time under one command) was a Libyan named Severus, a born administrator and a man of tremendous energy. Accustomed to a rugged life, he was physically able to endure heavy labor; mentally, he was quick to understand and quick to act once he understood. 3. When he learned from reports that the Roman empire was dangling in the sky like a meteor for Niger and Julianus to seize, Severus, charging the former with negligence and the latter with cowardice, decided to intervene in these affairs. He had had dreams which led him to expect something like this, and his dreams were supported by oracular responses and all the signs that appear as prophecies of things to come. All these, whether they are true or false, are invariably believed when they foretell something which later actually occurs. 4. Severus himself recorded many portents in his autobiography, and had them inscribed on |63 his public statues also. But the last and most significant of his dreams, the one which made it clear to him that he would get all he hoped for, must not be omitted. 5. At the time Pertinax was reported to have assumed control of the empire, Severus, after making the sacrifices and swearing the oath of allegiance to the new emperor, went back to his house at dusk and fell asleep. He dreamed that he saw a large, noble stallion adorned with the imperial trappings carrying Pertinax down the middle of the Sacred Way at Rome. 6. But when the horse arrived at the entrance of the Forum, where, in the old days of the Republic, the popular assemblies had been held, in his dream the stallion unseated Pertinax and threw him to the ground. While Severus stood there motionless, the horse slipped under him, taking him up on his back, and bore him safely along. Then, halting in the middle of the Forum, the stallion raised Severus aloft, so that he was seen and cheered by all. And in our time a huge bronze statue depicting this dream still stood on that spot. 7. His resolve thus strengthened, with high hopes that he was being called to the throne by divine summons, Severus made trial of the attitude of the soldiers. As the first step, he met in his quarters with a few commanders and tribunes and prominent soldiers and discussed with them the Roman empire, how it lay completely helpless because there was no man of the nobility and no man with enough ability to take control of it. 8. He spoke with contempt of the praetorians at Rome as disloyal and false to their oath in spilling the blood of their emperor and fellow Roman, and told them that he had to go to Rome to avenge the murder of Pertinax, for he was aware that all the soldiers in Illyricum remembered the governorship of the man. 9. When Marcus was emperor, Pertinax had won with them many victories over the Germans; after he had been appointed general and governor of the province of Illyricum, he had displayed great courage in fighting the enemy. But |64 at the same time he revealed his benevolence and good will toward those he ruled by his moderation and his sensible exercise of authority. For these reasons they revered his memory and were enraged at those who had treated him so savagely. 10. Seizing this as his excuse, Severus without difficulty persuaded them to do what he wished; he pretended that he was not personally seeking the empire and did not desire power for himself, but rather that he wished to avenge the murder of so great an emperor as Pertinax. 11. Although the men of those regions have huge and powerful bodies and are skillful and murderous in battle, they are dull of wit and slow to realize that they are being deceived. Hence they believed Severus when he said that he was enraged and wished to avenge the murder of Pertinax; and, putting themselves in his hands, they made him emperor and turned the control of the empire over to him. 12. Since he now knew the attitude of the Pannonians, he reported these events to the neighboring provinces and to the rulers of all the northern nations under Roman control; he convinced them by lavish promises and the expectation of great rewards, and easily won their support. 13. He was surely the most accomplished of all men in pretending to pledge his good will, but he never kept his sworn word if it proved necessary for him to break it; he lied whenever it was advantageous to him, and his tongue said many things which his heart did not mean.
1. SEVERUS sent letters to all the soldiers in Illyricum and to their officers and won their support. After assembling the troops from all stations, he assumed as his names both Severus and Pertinax, hoping that this would endear him not only to the people in Illyricum but also to the Romans because of their memories of that emperor. He then called |65 the soldiers together on the assembly ground and, mounting a platform erected for him, addressed them as follows:
2. "The faith and reverence which you have for the gods, by whom you swear, and the respect which you have for your emperors, whom you esteem, you have made abundantly clear by your rage at the acts of the praetorians in Rome, who are more suited for parades than for battles. And now, because you ask it, although I never before entertained such a hope (you know my loyalty to the emperors), it is my duty to undertake and successively resolve these matters which have your approval. 3. I must not allow the Roman empire to lie helpless, that empire which, to the end of Marcus' reign, was administered with reverence and appeared to be august and awesome. Under Commodus, however, the empire underwent a change, and yet, even if it did suffer somewhat at his hands because of his youth, all was forgiven him because of his noble birth and the memory of his father. And the truth is that there was more reason to pity than to despise him for his errors, in that we attributed most of what happened not to him personally but to the parasites who swarmed around him and to his advisers and accomplices in his irregular acts. 4. But when the empire came into the hands of that revered elder statesman Pertinax, the memory of whose courage and service to the state is still firmly fixed in our hearts, the praetorians not only did not protect their emperor, but went so far as to murder that illustrious man. And now some fellow has disgracefully purchased the empire and its vast expanse of land and sea; as you have heard, he is hated by the people and no longer trusted by the disillusioned praetorians. 5. Even if they loved him and intended to support him, you outnumber them and are superior in courage. You have trained under actual combat conditions in your continuous skirmishes with the barbarians, and you are accustomed to endure all kinds of labor. Ignoring heat and cold, you cross |66 frozen rivers on the ice; you do not drink water from wells, but water you have dug yourself. You have also trained by fighting with animals, and, all in all, you have won so distinguished a reputation for bravery that no one could stand against you. 6. Toil is the true test of the soldier, not easy living, and those luxury-loving sots would not face your battle cry, much less your battle line. But if any one of you is concerned about affairs in Syria, he may judge how feeble the effort is there and how slight the hope of success by the fact that these men have not dared to venture beyond their own borders and were not bold enough to plan for a journey to Rome. There they remain, content, believing that this temporary taste of living in luxury represents the total profit to them of this firmly established empire. 7. The truth is that the Syrians are suited only to games and childish banter. This is especially true of those who live in Antioch, who are reported to be highly enthusiastic supporters of Niger. But the rest of the provinces and cities have up to now found no one worthy of the imperial throne, and, because no man has appeared who will rule with courage and use sound administrative practices, it is evident that they are only pretending to support that fellow. 8. But if they should learn that the army of Illyricum has already made its choice, and if they should hear our name, which is not unknown or without honor among them, because of our term as governor of Syria, know well, I say, that they will not find fault with me for delay or cowardice, nor will they elect to stand and face your bravery and your battle prowess, for they are greatly inferior to you in size of body, in endurance of hardship, and in close-quarter combat.
9. Let us therefore occupy Rome before they do it; that city is the seat of the empire. By establishing our headquarters in Rome, we shall manage the rest easily, putting our trust in divine prophecies and our reliance in your strength and your arms." |67
After Severus had finished speaking, the soldiers shouted his praises, calling him Augustus and Pertinax, and displaying the utmost zeal and enthusiasm for him.
1. WITHOUT delay and waste of time, Severus ordered them to get ready only as much gear as each could conveniently carry, and announced his decision to depart for Rome. He distributed money to the troops and issued supplies for the journey. With prodigious effort, he sped on his way, stopping nowhere and allowing no time for rest except for the brief periods necessary to enable the soldiers to recover from the rigorous march. 2. He shared personally in their hardships, sleeping in an ordinary army tent and eating and drinking whatever was available to all; on no occasion did he make use of imperial luxuries or comforts. As a result, he enjoyed even greater popularity among the troops; respecting him not only for sharing their hardships but also for overcoming all difficulties, they carried out his orders with enthusiasm.
3. After crossing Pannonia, Severus came to the mountains of Italy; outstripping the news of his approach, he appeared in person to the people there before they had heard that he was emperor or that he was on his way to Rome. The cities of Italy regarded the approach of this formidable army with apprehension. The men of Italy, long unused to arms and war, were devoted to farming and peaceful pursuits. 4. As long as Roman affairs were governed by Republican principles and the senate selected the generals who took charge of military affairs, all the Italians were under arms, and controlled the lands and the seas, waging wars with Greeks and barbarians. There was no place on earth, no place under heaven, to which the Romans did not extend the borders of their |68 empire. 5. From the time when Augustus assumed control of the government, however, the princeps freed the Italians from the necessity of working and of bearing arms; establishing forts and camps for the defense of the empire, he stationed mercenaries in these to serve as a defensive bulwark on the frontiers. The empire was further protected by great barriers of rivers and mountains and impassable deserts. 6. When the people of Italy learned that Severus was approaching with a huge army, they were understandably dismayed by the unexpectedness of this development. Not daring to oppose him or try to stop him, they took up laurel branches and went out to meet him, welcoming him with open gates. Delaying only to secure good omens and say a few words to the people, Severus hurried on to Rome.
7. When these developments were reported to Julianus, he was in despair because of what he had heard about the size and the power of the army of Illyricum, because of his lack of faith in the Roman people, who hated him, and because of his lack of confidence in the praetorians, whom he had swindled. Still, he collected his own money and that of his friends, appropriated what was left in the public and temple treasuries, and undertook to distribute this sum among the praetorians in an effort to purchase their good will. 8. But in spite of the fact that they received large amounts of money, the praetorians were in no way grateful to the emperor; they felt that he was not giving them a bonus but only paying them what he owed them.
Although his friends advised him to lead out the army and seize the passes of the Alps, Julianus did nothing. The Alps are very tall mountains—there are none like them in our part of the world; they surround Italy like a wall and are her first line of defense. This is yet another piece of good fortune which Nature has provided the Italians, an impregnable barrier across their entire northern frontier, for the Alps |69 extend unbroken from the Tyrrhenian to the Adriatic Sea. 9. But Julianus, as I have said, did not dare to venture forth from Rome. He did, however, send a message to the praetorians, begging them to take up arms, practice their drills, and dig trenches to defend the city. In the city he made what preparations he could for the battle with Severus. All the elephants used by the Romans in parades were trained to carry men and towers on their backs. It was hoped that the elephants would terrify the troops from Illyricum and stampede the enemy cavalry when these huge beasts, which the horses had never seen before, appeared on the field. The whole city was training in arms and preparing for battle.
1. WHILE Julianus' troops were delaying and preparing for battle, word came that Severus was approaching. Dividing most of his army into small bands, Severus ordered them to slip into the city unnoticed. Spreading out along all the roads into Rome, many by day, but even more by night, entered the city unobserved, in civilian disguise, with their weapons concealed. 2. The enemy was thus already in the city while Julianus was hesitating, unaware of what was happening. When the people learned of these developments, they were in complete confusion; fearing the army of Severus, they pretended to support his cause, charging Julianus with cowardice and Niger with hesitation and sloth. But when they heard that Severus was in Rome, the people were thunderstruck. 3. Julianus, dumb and witless, did not know how to handle the situation. Ordering the senate to convene, he sent a letter to Severus in which he proposed peace and, proclaiming him emperor, made him his colleague in governing the empire. The senate voted its approval of these proposals; but when it was obvious that Julianus was terror-stricken and in |70 despair, all the senators immediately abandoned him for Severus. 4. After two or three days had passed, the senators, aware that Severus was in Rome, contemptuous of Julianus, entered the senate house at the order of the consuls, the officials who took charge at Rome when the affairs of the empire were in confusion. 5. After convening, the senate consulted about what should be done in the present emergency. Meanwhile, Julianus was still in the imperial palace bewailing the disaster that had befallen him and pleading to be allowed to resign as emperor and turn the entire power over to Severus. 6. When the senate learned that Julianus was cowering in fear and that the Praetorian Guard had deserted him in terror of Severus, that body voted to take the empire from Julianus and proclaim Severus sole emperor. They therefore sent to Severus an embassy made up of the chief officials and the most distinguished senators to hand over to him all the imperial honors. 7. A tribune was sent to kill Julianus, that cowardly and wretched old man who had in this way purchased with his own money his miserable death.
1. DESERTED by all, Julianus was found weeping disgracefully and was killed. When he learned of the senate's action and the death of Julianus, Severus, encouraged to hope for greater success, used a trick to seize and hold prisoner the Praetorian Guard, the murderers of Pertinax. He quietly sent private letters to the tribunes and centurions, promising them rich rewards if they would persuade the praetorians in Rome to submit and obey the emperor's orders. 2. He also sent an open letter to the praetorian camp, directing the soldiers to leave their weapons behind in the camp and come forth unarmed, as was the custom when they escorted the emperor to the sacrifices or to the celebration of |71 a festival. He further ordered them to swear the oath of allegiance in his name and to present themselves with good expectations of continuing to serve as the emperor's bodyguard. 3. Trusting these orders and persuaded by their tribunes, the praetorians left their arms behind and appeared from the camp in holiday uniform, carrying laurel branches. Arriving at Severus' camp, they sent word that they were at the assembly ground where the emperor had ordered them to muster for a welcoming address. 4. The praetorians moved toward the emperor as he was mounting the speaking platform; then, at a given signal, they were all seized while cheering him in unison. Prior orders had been issued to Severus' soldiers to surround the praetorians, now their enemy, at the moment when they were standing with their eyes fixed in expectant attention upon the emperor; they were not, however, to wound or strike any member of the guard. Severus ordered his troops to hold the praetorians in a tight ring of steel, believing that they would not resist, since they were only a few unarmed men, fearful of wounds, confronted by an armed host. 5. When he had them netted like fish in his circle of weapons, like prisoners of war, the enraged emperor shouted in a loud voice:
"You see by what has happened that we are superior to you in intelligence, in size of army, and in number of supporters. Surely you were easily trapped, captured without a struggle. It is in my power to do with you what I wish when I wish. Helpless and prostrate, you lie before us now, victims of our might. 6. But if one looks for a punishment equal to the crimes you have committed, it is impossible to find a suitable one. You murdered your revered and benevolent old emperor, the man whom it was your sworn duty to protect. The empire of the Roman people, eternally respected, which our forefathers obtained by their valiant courage or inherited because of their noble birth, this empire you shamefully and |72 disgracefully sold for silver as if it were your personal property. 7. But you were unable to defend the man whom you yourselves had chosen as emperor. No, you betrayed him like the cowards you are. For these monstrous acts and crimes you deserve a thousand deaths, if one wished to do to you what you have earned. You see clearly what it is right you should suffer. But I will be merciful. I will not butcher you.
8. My hands shall not do what your hands did. But I say that it is in no way fit or proper for you to continue to serve as the emperor's bodyguard, you who have violated your oath and stained your hands with the blood of your emperor and fellow Roman, betraying the trust placed in you and the security offered by your protection. Still, compassion leads me to spare your lives and your persons. But I order the soldiers who have you surrounded to cashier you, to strip off any military uniform or equipment you are wearing, and drive you off naked. 9. And I order you to get yourselves as far from the city of Rome as is humanly possible, and I promise you and I swear it on solemn oath and I proclaim it publicly that if any one of you is found within a hundred miles of Rome, he shall pay for it with his head."
10. After he had issued these orders, the soldiers from Illyricum rushed forward and stripped from the praetorians their short ceremonial swords inlaid with gold and silver; next, they ripped off belts, uniforms, and any military insignia they were wearing, and sent them off naked. 11. The praetorians had to submit to this treatment, since they were betrayed and taken by a trick. Indeed, what else could they do—a few naked men against so many fully armed soldiers? They left then, lamenting their fate, and, although they accepted with gratitude the safe-conduct granted them, they bitterly regretted that they had left the camp without arms and had been trapped in this humiliating and high-handed fashion.
12. The circumstances of the situation led Severus to use another stratagem. Fearing that, after they had been cashiered from |73 the service, the praetorians might rush back to the camp and snatch up their arms, the emperor sent ahead, by other streets and ways, men picked for their demonstrated courage; these men were to reach the camp ahead of the praetorians, seize the arms there, and shut out the guards if they came to the camp.
Such was the punishment suffered by the murderers of Pertinax.
1. THEN Severus entered Rome with all the rest of his army under arms: his presence in the city brought fear and panic to the Romans because of his achievements, so daring and favored by fortune. The people and the senate, carrying laurel branches, received him, the foremost of men and emperors, who had accomplished great deeds without bloodshed or difficulty. 2. Everything about the man was extraordinary, but especially outstanding were his shrewd judgment, his endurance of toils, and his spirit of bold optimism in everything he did. Then, after the people had welcomed him with cheers and the senate had saluted him at the city gates, Severus went into the temple of Jupiter and offered sacrifices; after sacrificing in the rest of the shrines in accord with imperial practice, he entered the palace. 3. On the following day he went to the senate and addressed all the senators in a speech that was very mild in tone and full of promises of good things for the future. Greeting them collectively and individually, he told them that he had come to avenge the murder of Pertinax and assured them that his reign would mark the reintroduction of senatorial rule. No man would be put to death or have his property confiscated without a trial; he would not tolerate informers; he would bring unlimited prosperity to his subjects; he intended to imitate Marcus' reign in every way; and he would assume not only |74 the name but also the manner and approach of Pertinax. 4. By this speech he won a good opinion for himself among most of the senators, and they believed his promises. But some of the older senators knew the true character of the man, and said privately that he was indeed a man of great cunning, who knew how to manage things shrewdly; they further said that he was very skillful at deceit and at feigning anything and everything; and, moreover, he always did what was of benefit and profit to his own interests. The truth of these observations was later demonstrated by what the man actually did.
5. After spending a short time in Rome, during which he made generous gifts to the people, staged shows, and rewarded his soldiers lavishly, he chose for service in the imperial bodyguard, to replace the praetorians he had dismissed, the best-qualified soldiers from his army. He then set out for the East. 6. Since Niger was still delaying and wasting time in luxurious living in Antioch, Severus wished to surprise him before he was prepared. He therefore ordered his soldiers to be ready to march, and collected recruits everywhere, calling up the young men from the cities of Italy and enrolling them in the army. All the units of the army he had left behind in Illyricum were directed to march into Thrace and join him there. 7. He fitted out a naval unit; manning with heavily armed troops all the triremes in Italy, he sent these off too. He got ready a large and powerful force with incredible speed, aware that he would need a large army to operate against Niger and the entire continent lying opposite Europe.
1. SEVERUS made preparations for the war with great care. A thorough and cautious man, he had his doubts about the army in Britain, which was large and very |75 powerful, manned by excellent soldiers. Britain was then under the command of Albinus, a man of the senatorial order who had been reared in luxury on money inherited from his ancestors. 2. Severus, wishing to gain the friendship of this man, deceived him by a trick; he feared that Albinus, having strong stimuli to encourage him to seize the throne, and made bold by his ancestry and wealth, a powerful army, and his popularity among the Romans, might seize the empire and occupy Rome while Severus was busy with affairs in the East. 3. And so he deceived the man by pretending to do him honor. Albinus, conceited and somewhat naive in his judgment, really believed the many things which Severus swore on oath in his letters. Severus appointed him Caesar, to anticipate his hope and desire for a share of the imperial power. 4. He wrote Albinus the friendliest of letters, deceitful, of course, in which he begged the man to devote his attention to the welfare of the empire. He wrote him that the situation required a man of the nobility in the prime of life; he himself was old and afflicted with gout, and his sons were still very young. Believing Severus, Albinus gratefully accepted the honor, delighted to be getting what he wanted without fighting and without risk. 5. After making these same proposals to the senate, to increase their faith in him, Severus ordered coins to be struck bearing his likeness, and he increased the favor he had won by erecting statues of himself and assuming the rest of the imperial honors. When he had, by his cunning, arranged matters securely with respect to Albinus and consequently had nothing to fear from Britain, the emperor, accompanied by the entire army of Illyricum, set out against Niger, convinced that he had arranged to his own advantage everything affecting his reign.
6. Where he halted on his march, what he said in each city, the portents that seemed to appear by divine foresight, the countries and conflicts, the number of men on each side who |76 fell in battle, all these have been recorded fully enough by numerous historians and poets who have made the life of Severus the subject of their entire work. But it is my intent to write a chronological account of the exploits of many emperors over a period of seventy years, exploits about which I have knowledge from personal experience. Therefore I shall record the most significant and distinguished of Severus' achievements in the order in which they occurred, not selecting the favorable ones in order to flatter him, as did the writers of his own day; but, on the other hand, I shall omit nothing worth telling or worth remembering.
[Footnotes moved to end]
1. 1 The plague and the frontier wars during Marcus Aurelius' reign had seriously reduced the number of farmers in the empire.
2. 2 March 28, 193.
3. 3 The Propontis marked a natural dividing line between West and East. Niger, after consolidating his gains in the East, failed to extend his control of the empire by appearing personally in the West.
This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2007. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
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