History of the Empire From the Death of Marcus/Book VII

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search


1. THE kind of life which Alexander led and the fate which overtook him after fourteen years as emperor we have described in the preceding book. When he assumed control of the empire, Maximinus reversed the situation, using his power savagely to inspire great fear. He undertook to substitute for a mild and moderate rule an autocracy in every way barbarous, well aware of the hostility directed toward him because he was the first man to rise from a lowly station to the post of highest honor. 2. His character was naturally barbaric, as his race was barbarian. He had inherited the brutal disposition of his countrymen, and he intended to make his imperial position secure by acts of cruelty, fearing that he would become an object of contempt to the senate and the people, who might be more conscious of his lowly origin than impressed by the honor he had won. Everyone knew and spread the story that when he was a shepherd in the mountains of Thrace, he enlisted in a local auxiliary cohort because of his huge size and great strength, and by luck became the emperor of the Romans. 3. He therefore immediately disposed of Alexander's friends and associates, together with his senatorial advisers. Some he returned to Rome; others he dismissed for administrative reasons, in order to gain sole command of the army. He wanted no one around him who was superior to him in birth, desiring to act the tyrant as if from a lofty height, with no one near to whom he must defer. 4. He banished from the imperial palace the entire band of attendants who had served Alexander for many years; he put most of them to death, suspecting that they were plotting against him, for he knew that they were still grieving over Alexander's assassination.

Maximinus was aroused to even greater fury by a plot allegedly formed by many centurions and all the senators. 5. A man of the nobility and consular rank named Magnus was accused of organizing a conspiracy against the emperor and persuading some of the soldiers to transfer the empire to his charge. The plot was said to be something like this. Maximinus had bridged the Rhine River and was about to cross over and attack the Germans; 6. for, as soon as he got control of the empire, he immediately began military operations. Since it appeared that he had been chosen emperor because of his great size, military prowess, and experience in war, he undertook to confirm by action the good reputation and high esteem he enjoyed among the soldiers. In this way, too, he tried to demonstrate that the charges of vacillation and timidity in military matters they brought against Alexander were well founded. Therefore he did not halt the soldiers' training and exercises, and remained under arms himself, spurring the army to action. 7. Now, with the bridge completed, he was about to cross over to attack the Germans. Magnus, however, was said to have persuaded a few prominent soldiers, particularly those assigned to guard and maintain the bridge, to destroy the structure after Maximinus had crossed, and to betray the emperor to the barbarians by cutting off his only return route. After the bridge had been destroyed, the great river, very wide and deep, would be impassable, as no boats were available on the enemy's side. 8. Such was the report of the plot, but whether it was actually true or whether it was fabricated by Maximinus it is not easy to say, because the matter was not investigated. Maximinus did not bring the conspirators to trial or allow them an opportunity to defend themselves; he arrested without warning all who were suspected and executed them without mercy.

9. There was now unrest among the Osroenian archers. These troops were much grieved by Alexander's death, and when they chanced to discover one of the emperor's friends, a former consul (a man named Quartinus, whom Maximinus had dismissed from the army), they seized him unexpectedly and made him their unwilling general; then, conferring upon him the purple and the processional fire, fatal honors, they brought to the imperial throne a most reluctant occupant. 10. While Quartinus was asleep in his tent, a plot was formed against him, and he was assassinated during the night by a companion and presumed friend, a former commander of the Osroenians (his name was Macedon); yet this same Macedon had been a ringleader in the elevation of Quartinus to the throne and in the revolt against Maximinus; in both actions he had the full support of the Osroenians. Although he had no reason for enmity or hatred, Macedon killed the man whom he himself had chosen and persuaded to accept the empire. Thinking that this act would win him great favor with Maximinus, Macedon cut off Quartinus' head and brought it to the emperor. 11. When he learned of the deed, Maximinus, though he believed that he had been freed from a dangerous enemy, nevertheless had Macedon killed, when the man had every reason to hope and believe that he would receive a generous reward. Macedon was not only the instigator of the revolt and the assassin of the man whom he had persuaded to accept the throne against his better judgment, but he was also a traitor to his friend.

12. For these reasons Maximinus was aroused to greater cruelty and more savage acts, and he was by nature inclined to such behavior. The emperor's appearance was frightening and his body was huge; not easily would any of the skilled Greek athletes or the best-trained warriors among the barbarians prove his equal.


1. HAVING settled affairs in the manner described above, Maximinus led out his entire army and crossed the bridge fearlessly, eager to do battle with the Germans. Under his command was a vast number of men, virtually the entire Roman military force, together with many Moroccan javelin men and Osroenian and Armenian archers; some were subject peoples, others friends and allies, and included, too, were a number of Parthian mercenaries and slaves captured by the Romans. 2. This enormous force was originally assembled by Alexander, but it was increased in size and trained for service by Maximinus. The javelin men and archers seemed to be especially effective against the Germans, taking them by surprise, attacking with agility and then retreating without difficulty. 3. Though he was in enemy territory, Maximinus advanced for a considerable distance because all the barbarians had fled and he met no opposition. He therefore laid waste the whole country, taking particular care to destroy the ripening grain, and burned the villages after allowing the army to plunder them. Fire destroys the German towns and houses very quickly. 4. Although there is a scarcity of stone and fired brick in Germany, the forests are dense, and timber is so abundant that they build their houses of wood, fitting and joining the squared beams. Maximinus advanced deep into German territory, carrying off booty and turning over to the army all the herds they encountered. 5. The Germans had left the plains and treeless areas and were hiding in the forests; they remained in the woods and marshes so that the battle would have to take place where the thick screen of trees made the missiles and javelins of their enemies ineffectual and where the depths of the marshes were dangerous to the Romans because of their unfamiliarity with the region. The Germans, on the contrary, were well acquainted with the terrain and knew which places provided firm footing and which were impassable. They moved rapidly and easily through the marshes, in water only knee-deep. 6. The Germans, who do all their bathing in the rivers, are expert swimmers.

As a result, most of the skirmishing occurred in those regions, and it was there that the emperor personally and very boldly joined battle. When the Germans rushed into a vast swamp in an effort to escape and the Romans hesitated to leap in after them in pursuit, Maximinus plunged into the marsh, though the water was deeper than his horse's belly; there he cut down the barbarians who opposed him. 7. Then the rest of the army, ashamed to betray their emperor who was doing their fighting for them, took courage and leaped into the marsh behind him. A large number of men fell on both sides, but, while many Romans were killed, virtually the entire barbarian force was annihilated, and the emperor was the foremost man on the field. The swamp pool was choked with bodies, and the marsh ran red with blood; this land battle had all the appearance of a naval encounter. 8. This engagement and his own bravery Maximinus reported in dispatches to the senate and Roman people; moreover, he ordered the scene to be painted on huge canvases to be set up in front of the senate house, so that the Romans might not only hear about the battle but also be able to see what happened there. Later the senate removed this picture together with the rest of his emblems of honor. Other battles took place in which Maximinus won praise for his personal participation, for fighting with his own hands, and for being in every conflict the best man on the field. 9. After taking many German prisoners and seizing much booty, the emperor, since winter had already begun, went to Pannonia and spent his time at Sirmium, the largest city in that country; there he made preparations for his spring offensive. He threatened (and was determined) to defeat and subjugate the German nations as far as the ocean.


1. THIS is the kind of military man the emperor was, and his actions would have added to his reputation if he had not been much too ruthless and severe toward his associates and subjects. What profit was there in killing barbarians when greater slaughter occurred in Rome and the provinces ? Or in carrying off booty captured from the enemy when he robbed his fellow countrymen of all their property? 2. Complete indulgence—encouragement, I should say—was granted to informers to threaten and insult, and to reopen any known crimes committed by a man's ancestors which were hitherto unexposed and undetected. Anyone who was merely summoned into court by an informer was immediately judged guilty, and left with all his property confiscated. 3. It was thus possible every day to see men who yesterday had been rich, today reduced to paupers, so great was the avarice of the tyrant, who pretended to be insuring a continuous supply of money for the soldiers. The emperor's ears were always open to slanderous charges, and he spared neither age nor position. He arrested on slight and trivial charges many men who had governed provinces and commanded armies, who had won the honor of a consulship, or had gained fame by military victories. 4. He ordered these men to be brought in chariots to Pannonia, where he was then passing the time; they were to travel day and night, without an escort, from the east, the west, and the south, wherever they happened to be. After insulting and torturing these prisoners, he condemned them to exile or death.

As long as his actions affected only individuals and the calamities suffered were wholly private, the people of the cities and provinces were not particularly concerned with what the emperor was doing. 5. Unpleasant things which happen to those who seem to be fortunate or wealthy are not only a matter of indifference to the mob, but they often bring pleasure to mean and malicious men, who envy the powerful and the prosperous. After Maximinus had impoverished most of the distinguished men and confiscated their estates, which he considered small and insignificant and not sufficient for his purposes, he turned to the public treasuries; all the funds which had been collected for the citizens' welfare or for gifts, all the funds being held in reserve for shows or festivals, he transferred to his own personal fortune. The offerings which belonged to the temples, the statues of the gods, the tokens of honor of the heroes, the decorations on public buildings, the adornments of the city, in short, any material suitable for making coins, he handed over to the mints. 6. But what especially irked the people and aroused public indignation was the fact that, although no fighting was going on and no enemy was under arms anywhere, Rome appeared to be a city under siege. Some citizens, with angry shaking of fists, set guards around the temples, preferring to die before the altars than to stand by and see their country ravaged. From that time on, particularly in the cities and the provinces, the hearts of the people were filled with rage. The soldiers too were disgusted with his activities, for their relatives and fellow citizens complained that Maximinus was acting solely for the benefit of the military.


1. FOR these reasons, and justifiably, the people were aroused to hatred and thoughts of revolt. Prayers were offered by all, and the outraged gods were invoked, but no one dared to start anything until, after Maximinus had completed three years as emperor, the people of Africa first took up arms and touched off a serious revolt for one of those trivial reasons which often prove fatal to a tyrant. The uprising occurred in this manner. 2. The procurator of Africa was a man who performed his duties with excessive severity; he handed down extremely harsh decisions and extorted money to win the emperor's favor. Maximinus always appointed men who subscribed to his way of thinking. The treasury officials at that time, even if they happened to be honest, which was rarely the case, since they foresaw their own risks and knew the emperor's avarice, acted as dishonestly as the rest, even if they did so against their will. 3. Then the procurator of Africa, who acted the tyrant with everyone, involved in lawsuits some young men of the wealthiest and most aristocratic local families and undertook to extort money from them and rob them of their inheritances. Angered by this, the youths promised to pay him the money, but requested a delay of a few days. Calling a meeting, they won the support of all who were known to have suffered an injury or feared that they might suffer one. They ordered the field laborers to come into the city at night armed with clubs and axes. 4. Obeying their masters' orders, the workmen entered the city in a body before daybreak, carrying arms for hand-to-hand fighting hidden under their clothes. A large number assembled; for Africa, which is a heavily populated province, has many farmers. 5. When dawn was approaching, the youths appeared and ordered the mob of workmen to follow them as if they were simply part of the crowd; they directed the workmen to take their assigned positions and, keeping their weapons hidden, to resist bravely if any of the soldiers or the people should attack them to avenge the deed they were plotting. 6. Carrying daggers under their robes, the youths approached the procurator as if to discuss the payment of the money; then, attacking him suddenly, they stabbed and killed him. When his bodyguards drew their swords in retaliation, the workmen from the fields pulled out their clubs and axes and, fighting for their masters, easily routed their opponents.


1. THE success of their plan immediately put the youths in a desperate situation; they realized that a single avenue of safety lay open to them: to add to their bold act deeds even bolder and, enlisting the governor of the province as a partner in their peril, to rouse the whole province to revolt. They knew that the governor, who hated Maximinus, had long prayed for this, but was afraid to act. 2. As it was now noon, the entire group went to the house of the proconsul. The governor, whose name was Gordian, had received the African post by lot when he was about eighty years old, after he had previously governed many provinces and served in the highest public offices. For this reason the youths believed that he would accept with pleasure the office of emperor as the crowning achievement in his career in public office; they thought that the senate and the Roman people would be glad to accept as emperor a man from the aristocracy who had risen to the high office after many governorships as if in a regular cursus. 3. It happened that on the day these events occurred Gordian was at home resting, enjoying a brief respite from his labors and duties. Accompanied by the entire band with drawn swords, the youths overpowered the guards on duty at the gates and burst into the house, where they found Gordian resting on a couch. Standing around him, they draped him in a purple cloak and greeted him with the imperial honors. 4. Astounded by this unexpected turn of events, and thinking it was an act of treachery or part of a plot against him, Gordian threw himself to the floor, begging them to spare the life of an old man who had never harmed them and to continue to display their loyalty and good will toward the emperor. But the youths were insistent and drew their swords. Gordian, alarmed and unaware of what had occurred, did not understand the situation. One of the youths, a talented speaker of distinguished family, asked for quiet and ordered the rest to remain silent. 5. Then, sword in hand, he addressed Gordian as follows: "With two dangers threatening you, the one present, the other future, the one already obvious, the other a remote possibility, you must make your choice whether to enjoy safety with us and have faith in greater things to come, in which indeed we have all placed our trust, or to die at our hands this very moment. If you elect to accept the present situation, there are many factors which augur well for the future: Maximums' hatred of everyone; the people's longing for deliverance from a cruel tyrant; their approval of your conduct in your former offices; and the fact that among the senate and the Roman people you enjoy a distinguished reputation and are held in high esteem. 6. But death awaits you this very day if you decide against us and refuse to join us, and we shall die ourselves, if need be, after we have killed you. We have done a deed which calls for even more desperate measures. The tyrant's procurator is dead, having paid the penalty for his savagery—death at our hands. If you join us and share our peril you will enjoy the honor of being emperor, and the deed which we have done will be praised, not punished."

7. After the young man had finished speaking, the rest of the band cast aside all restraint. The entire populace of the city quickly assembled when the news was known, and the youths proclaimed Gordian Augustus. He begged to be excused, protesting that he was too old. But otherwise he was eager for fame, and did not enter into the office without some personal satisfaction, choosing to risk the future rather than the present danger, and thinking that it was not so terrible a thing to die, if need be, amidst the imperial honors.

8. Immediately the whole province of Africa was aroused; the people there pulled down Maximinus' emblems of honor and decorated their cities with paintings and statues of Gordian; they added "Africanus" to his imperial titles, giving him their own name, for the Libyans are called Africans in Latin.


1. THESE events occurred at Thystrum, where Gordian was staying at the time. After a few days, however, he left that city, having assumed the title and appearance of emperor, and proceeded to Carthage, which he knew to be a large and heavily populated city where he might do everything just as if he were in Rome. The city of Carthage, in size, wealth, and population, is surpassed only by Rome and contends with Alexandria in Egypt for second place in the empire. 2. Gordian was accompanied by the entire imperial escort, the soldiers on duty there, and the tallest of the city's youths, who preceded him in the manner of the praetorians at Rome. The fasces were wreathed with laurel; it is the laurel which distinguishes the fasces of the emperor from those of other officials. The sacred fire was carried before him, and for a brief period Carthage was Rome in appearance and prosperity.

3. Gordian wrote letters to all the prominent men in Rome, including the leading senators, most of whom were his friends and relatives. He sent open letters to the senate and the Roman people in which he revealed his union with the Africans and attacked the savagery of Maximinus, knowing that this trait of the emperor's character was most violently hated. 4. He promised the Romans moderation in all things: he would banish informers, provide new trials for the unjustly condemned, and return exiles to their own lands. To the praetorians he promised more money than anyone had given them before, and he announced gifts for the people. Arrangements were made for the early execution of the commandant of the Praetorian Guard in Rome, a man named Vitalianus. Gordian knew that the prefect committed the most savage and cruel acts and that he was an intimate and devoted friend of Maximinus. 5. Gordian suspected that Vitalianus would strenuously resist what he was trying to do, and he further suspected that the Romans' fear of the prefect would keep them from assisting him. Consequently, he sent to Rome the quaestor of the province, a bold and physically powerful man who, in the prime of youth, was eager to risk any danger for his emperor. Gordian assigned several centurions and a contingent of soldiers to the quaestor and gave him sealed dispatches written on the folding tablets by which secret messages were sent to the emperors. 6. He ordered these men to enter Rome before dawn and approach Vitalianus while he was still hearing cases, after he had withdrawn into the little office in the courtroom where, alone, he opened and read the private messages which seemed to bear upon the emperor's safety. Gordian further told them to inform the prefect that they were carrying secret messages which concerned Maximinus and that he had sent them on a matter involving the emperor's safety. 7. He ordered these men to pretend that they wished to speak with Vitalianus privately and deliver their report; while he was examining the seals on the dispatches, they were to ask him some question and kill him with the swords concealed beneath their robes. It all happened precisely as Gordian had ordered. Since Vitalianus was accustomed to appear before daybreak, the messengers came to him privately while it was still dark and only a few people were with him. 8. Some visitors had not yet arrived; others had greeted him before dawn and had already left. All was quiet, with only a few people outside his door. When the messengers from Gordian revealed to the prefect what has been described above, they were readily admitted. Handing him the dispatches, they drew their daggers while he was examining the seals and stabbed him to death; then, holding their daggers ready for action, they sprang from the house.

9. Those who were present drew back in astonishment, thinking that Maximinus had ordered the murder, for he often did this sort of thing even to those who seemed to be his most intimate friends. Hurrying down the Sacred Way, the assassins displayed the letters of Gordian to the people and handed over his directives to the consuls and other officials. And now the rumor spread that Maximinus had been assassinated.


1. WHEN these reports became known, the people milled about as if possessed. The fact is that all peoples are eager for a change of government, but the Roman mob, because of its tremendous size and diverse elements, is unusually prone to instability and vacillation. 2. Therefore the statues, paintings, and all of Maximinus' emblems of honor were destroyed, and the hatred which fear had hitherto suppressed now poured forth without hindrance, freely and fearlessly. The senators met before they received accurate information concerning Maximinus and, placing their trust for the future in the present situation, proclaimed Gordian Augustus, together with his son, and destroyed Maximinus' emblems of honor. 3. Informers and men who were bringing lawsuits either fled or were killed by those against whom they had brought unjust charges; officials and judges who had been the instruments of his savagery were dragged about the city by the mob and were then thrown into the sewers. There was great slaughter of those innocent of wrongdoing: without warning, men broke into the houses of their creditors and their opponents in lawsuits, indeed into the house of anyone they hated for some trivial reason; after threatening and abusing them as informers, their attackers robbed and killed them. 4. Acts of civil war were committed in the name of freedom and peace and security; for example, the man who had been appointed prefect of the city after having held many consular offices (his name was Sabinus) was struck on the head by a stone and killed while he was trying to prevent what was happening in the city.

This is what the people did, but the senate, once it recognized the danger, did everything in its power to induce the provinces to revolt against Maximinus. 5. Embassies composed of senators and distinguished Equestrians were sent to all the governors with letters which clearly revealed the attitude of the senate and the Roman people. These letters requested the governors to aid the common fatherland and the senate with their counsel, and urged the provinces to remain loyal to Rome, where the power and authority from the beginning had been in the hands of the people, whose friends and subjects the provinces were from the time of their ancestors. 6. The majority of the governors welcomed the embassies and had no difficulty in arousing the provinces to revolt because of the general hatred of Maximinus. After killing the provincial officials who favored Maximinus, the governors came to the support of the Romans. A few of the governors, however, killed the envoys who came to them or sent them to Maximinus under guard; these, upon their arrival, he tortured to death in savage fashion.


1. THIS was the situation with respect to the city and the attitude of the Romans. When these events were reported to Maximinus, he was enraged, but, although he was seriously concerned, he pretended to ignore the matter. On the first and second days he remained quietly in his headquarters, consulting with his friends about a plan of action. 2. The whole army there with him and all the civilians in that region knew of the developments at Rome, and were amazed at the spirit of bold insubordination revealed by these acts; no one talked about the affair, however, each man pretending to be ignorant of what was occurring. So great was Maximinus' apprehension that he allowed nothing to escape his notice; he kept close watch on all, concerned not only with what they said but even with their facial expressions. 3. Then, summoning the entire army to the plain in front of the city, the emperor came forth on the third day, carrying the speech which some of his friends had written for him:[1]

4. "I know that what I am going to say to you will sound strange and incredible, and I believe that you will find my remarks ridiculous and amusing, rather than awe-inspiring. It is not the Germans who are taking up arms to oppose you and your valor, those men whom we have conquered so often, nor the Sarmatians, who daily plead with us for peace. The Persians, who not long ago were overrunning Mesopotamia, are now subdued, happy to enjoy what they have, kept in check by the repute of your great skill in arms, and by the trial which they made of my military talents, of which they got a thorough knowledge when I commanded the armies on the riverbank. 5. But the fact is (and you will have to laugh when you hear it) that the Carthaginians have taken leave of their senses and have either persuaded or compelled a miserable old man, doddering in advanced senility, to accept the throne, making sport of the empire as if in deliberate mockery. In what army do they trust, these men among whom lictors are sufficient to protect the proconsul? What kind of weapons do they carry, these men who have no arms except the spears they use in single combat with animals? Dancing, sarcastic quips, and rhythmic posturing are their methods of training for war. 6. Let no one be frightened by the report of what has happened at Rome. Taken unaware by deceit and treachery, Vitalianus was murdered, but you know the unstable and capricious nature of the Roman mob, and you know that it is bold only as long as nothing is involved except shouting. But if that rabble sees only two or three armed men of the legions, each person is terrified at the thought of his own individual danger. Crowding together and trampling their neighbors, the rabble are indifferent to the common danger. 7. If anyone has informed you of the senate's action, do not be surprised if our mild way of life seems irksome to the people and they prefer the undisciplined activities of Gordian; and do not wonder that they call manly and moderate acts fear-inspiring, and believe that unrestrained frenzy is civilized because it provides pleasure. They are, as a result, unfavorably disposed toward my rule because it is disciplined and well ordered, but they are delighted to hear the name of Gordian, whose reprehensible way of life is not unknown to you. 8. It is with these and men like them that you will wage war, if anyone is willing to dignify it by that name. I believe that the majority, indeed, nearly everyone, will extend olive branches and hold out their children to us as soon as we set foot in Italy. They will throw themselves prostrate at our feet, while the rest will flee, in fear and trembling, and all their property will fall into my hands for distribution to you, and it will be your privilege to receive it and enjoy it in security."

9. After speaking thus, Maximinus attacked the senate and the Roman people with incoherent abuse, threatening gestures, and savage grimaces, as if he were enraged at his audience; he then publicly announced his departure for Rome. He made a lavish distribution of money to the soldiers, and delayed only a single day before beginning his march at the head of a huge force which included all the Roman armies.

10. A not inconsiderable force of Germans followed him; these he had either conquered by arms or had persuaded to join him in friendly alliance. He had engines of war and military machines, in fact everything he ordinarily took with him when he marched against the barbarians, and he slowed his progress further by collecting supplies and wagons from all sides. 11. As his journey to Rome was sudden and unexpected —not the usual sort but the result of hasty action—he gathered together whatever the army needed. He thought it best, under the circumstances, to send the Pannonians ahead; he had special confidence in these troops who had been first to proclaim him emperor and who wished and promised to risk their lives on his behalf. He ordered these soldiers to precede the rest of his force and seize the regions of Italy before his arrival.


1. SO THE troops with Maximinus continued their march. Meanwhile, in Carthage, his affairs had prospered in a way he had not anticipated. A man of senatorial rank named Capelianus was at that time governor of the Moroccans under Roman rule, the ones called Numidians. This province was defended by garrison camps so located as to prevent marauding raids by the large number of Moroccan barbarians surrounding it. 2. Capelianus thus had a formidable military force under his command. Gordian was hostile to Capelianus because they had earlier been involved in a lawsuit. When he assumed the title of emperor, Gordian sent a man to replace Capelianus and ordered the governor to leave the province. 3. Angered by this, and devoted to Maximinus, who had appointed him governor, Capelianus assembled his entire army. Persuading his troops to remain loyal to Maximinus and faithful to their oath, the governor marched toward Carthage at the head of a huge army of young, vigorous men equipped with every type of weapon and trained for battle by military experience gained in fighting the barbarians.

4. When the report of this army's approach reached the city, Gordian was terrified; the Carthaginians, however, aroused by the news and thinking that their hope of victory lay in the size of a mob rather than in the discipline of an army, went forth in a body to oppose Capelianus. Then the elder Gordian, some say, was in despair because Capelianus was attacking Carthage; when he considered the size of Maximinus' army and reflected that there were no forces in Africa strong enough to match it, he hanged himself. 5. His death was kept secret, however, and his son was chosen to command the crowd of civilians. When the battle was joined, the Carthaginians were superior in numbers, but they were an undisciplined mob, without military training; for they had grown up in a time of complete peace and indulged themselves constantly in feasts and festivals. To make it worse, they were without arms and proper equipment. 6. Each man brought from home a dagger, an ax, or a hunting spear; those who found hides cut out circles of leather, arranged pieces of wood as a frame, and fashioned shields as best they could. The Numidians, by contrast, were excellent javelin men and superb horsemen. Scorning a bridle they used only a stick to guide their mounts. 7. They easily routed the huge Carthaginian mob; without waiting for the Numidians' charge, the Carthaginians threw down their arms and fled. Crowding and trampling one another underfoot, more Carthaginians were killed in the crush than fell by enemy action. There the son of Gordian died, together with all his companions, and the number of dead was so great that it was impossible to gather them for burial. The body of the young Gordian was never found. 8. A few of the many who rushed into Carthage and found a place to hide managed to save themselves; they scattered throughout the city, which is huge and densely populated. The rest of the mob crowded before the gates of the city, trying to force their way in; attacked by the cavalry and legionary troops, they were cut down to the last man. 9. Loud wailing of women and children was heard everywhere in the city when they saw their loved ones slaughtered before their eyes. Others say that when these events were reported to the elder Gordian, who had remained behind because of his advanced age, and he was informed that Capelianus was marching into Carthage, in complete despair he went into his bedroom alone as if to rest; there he used the sash from his waist to hang himself.

10. Such was the fate of Gordian, whose life in the beginning was favored by Fortune and who died at least presenting the appearance of an emperor. When Capelianus entered Carthage, he put to death all the prominent men who survived the battle, plundered the temples, and seized the public and private funds. 11. Continuing to the rest of the cities which had destroyed Maximinus' emblems of honor, Capelianus killed the most important men, exiling the rest. He turned the farms and villages over to the soldiers to plunder and burn, pretending to be avenging Maximinus; the truth was, however, that he was scheming to win the good will of the soldiers so that if Maximinus should be killed he would have a loyal army and might thus lay claim to the empire.


1. THIS is what was happening in Africa. When the death of the elder Gordian was reported at Rome, the people and the senate particularly were completely bewildered, dumfounded to learn that Gordian, in whom they had placed their hope, was dead. They knew that Maximinus, who was naturally hostile and antagonistic toward them, would spare no one. Now that he had good reason for hatred, he would as a matter of course vent his rage upon them as upon acknowledged enemies. 2. The senate therefore thought it best to meet and consider what should be done. Since they had already cast the die, they voted to issue a declaration of war and choose two men from their own ranks to be joint emperors, dividing the imperial authority so that the power might not be in one man's hands and thus plunge them again into autocracy. They did not meet as usual in the senate house but in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, the god whom the Romans worship on the Capitoline Hill. 3. They shut themselves up alone in this temple, as if to have Jupiter as their witness, fellow council member, and overseer of their actions. Choosing the men most distinguished for their age and merit, they approved them by ballot. Other senators received votes, but on the final count Maximus and Balbinus were elected joint emperors by majority opinion. 4. Maximus had held many army commands; appointed prefect of Rome, he administered the office with diligence and enjoyed among the people a good reputation for his understanding nature, his intelligence, and his moderate way of life. Balbinus, an aristocrat who had twice served as consul and had governed provinces without complaint, had a more open and frank nature. 5. After their election, the two men were proclaimed Augusti, and the senate awarded them by decree all the imperial honors.

While these actions were being taken on the Capitoline Hill, the people, whether they were informed by Gordian's friends and fellow countrymen or whether they learned it by rumor, filled the entire street leading up to the Capitol. The huge mob was armed with stones and clubs, for they objected to the senate's action and particularly disapproved of Maximus. 6. The prefect ruled the city too strictly for the popular taste, and was very harsh in his dealings with the criminal and reckless elements of the mob. In their fear and dislike of Maximus, they kept shouting threats to kill both emperors, determined that the emperor be chosen from the family of Gordian and that the title remain in that house and under that name. 7. Balbinus and Maximus surrounded themselves with an escort of swordsmen from the young Equestrians and the discharged soldiers living in Rome, and tried to force their way from the Capitol. The mob, armed with stones and clubs, prevented this until, at someone's suggestion, the people were deceived. There was in Rome at that time a little child, the son of Gordian's daughter, who bore his grandfather's name. 8. The two emperors ordered some of their men to bring the child to the Capitol. Finding the lad playing at home, they lifted him to their shoulders and brought him to the Capitol through the midst of the crowd. Showing the boy to the people and telling them that he was the son of Gordian, they called him "Gordian," while the mob cheered the boy and scattered leaves in his path. 9. The senate appointed him Caesar, since he was not old enough to be emperor. The mob, placated, allowed the imperial party to proceed to the palace.


1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.


1. 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. Maximus led most of these soldiers out to attack Maximinus; the rest remained behind to guard and defend the city. 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. 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. 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. 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). 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. 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.

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.

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.


  1. A nice touch, to account for the elegant speech of the nonliterary emperor.