Herodian or Herodianus of Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

 (ca. 170–240) was a minor Roman civil servant who wrote a colourful history in Greek titled History of the Empire from the Death of Marcus in eight books covering the years 180 to 238. His work is not entirely reliable although his relatively unbiased account of Elagabalus
Elagabalus , also known as Heliogabalus, was Roman Emperor from 218 to 222. A member of the Severan Dynasty, he was Syrian on his mother's side, the son of Julia Soaemias and Sextus Varius Marcellus. Early in his youth he served as a priest of the god El-Gabal at his hometown, Emesa...

 is more useful than that of Cassius Dio. He was a Greek (perhaps from Antioch) who appears to have lived for a considerable period of time in Rome, but possibly without holding any public office. From his extant work, we gather that he was still living at an advanced age during the reign of Gordianus III, who ascended the throne in 238. Beyond this, nothing is known of his life.

Herodian writes (i.1.§ 3, ii.15.§ 7) that the events described in his history occurred during his lifetime. Photius (Codex 99) gives an outline of the contents of this work and passes a flattering encomium
Encomium is a Latin word deriving from the Classical Greek ἐγκώμιον meaning the praise of a person or thing. "Encomium" also refers to several distinct aspects of rhetoric:* A general category of oratory* A method within rhetorical pedagogy...

 on the style of Herodian, which he describes as clear, vigorous, agreeable, and preserving a happy medium between an utter disregard of art and elegance and a profuse employment of the artifices and prettinesses which were known under the name of Atticism
Atticism was a rhetorical movement that began in the first quarter of the 1st century BC; it may also refer to the wordings and phrasings typical of this movement, in contrast with spoken Greek, which continued to evolve in directions guided by the common usages of Hellenistic Greek.Atticism was...

, as well as between boldness and bombast. He appears to have used Thucydides
Thucydides was a Greek historian and author from Alimos. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC...

 as a model to some extent, both for style and for the general composition of his work, often introducing speeches wholly or in part imaginary. In spite of occasional inaccuracies in chronology and geography, his narrative is in the main truthful and impartial. However, some charge him with showing too great a partiality for Pertinax
Pertinax , was Roman Emperor for three months in 193. He is known as the first emperor of the tumultuous Year of the Five Emperors. A high ranking military and Senatorial figure, he tried to restore discipline in the Praetorian Guards, whereupon they rebelled and killed him...


Birth, Life, and Death

The dates of the birth and death of Herodian are unknown. All available information concerning his life is derived from what he himself wrote, so the evidence is scarce. One can assume that he must have reached the age of ten by the year 180 due to the attentive detail in his descriptions of the events of that time. One notion is that Herodian must have finished writing around 240, which would have made him about 70. He mentions, “My aim is to write a systematic account of the events within a period of seventy years, covering the reigns of several emperors
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

, of which I have personal experience.” (2.15.7) This reaffirms the notion that Herodian was about 70 years of age when this was written and that the actions did indeed occur during his lifetime. However, it is possible that his history was composed at a later date. Herodian’s descriptions of Gordian III are less than flattering, and it is doubtful that he released such a negative review of a current emperor. Following this logic, his history was finished in 244 at the earliest, when Gordian III died. In his first and third books, Herodian mentions the games of Commodus
Commodus , was Roman Emperor from 180 to 192. He also ruled as co-emperor with his father Marcus Aurelius from 177 until his father's death in 180. His name changed throughout his reign; see changes of name for earlier and later forms. His accession as emperor was the first time a son had succeeded...

 in 192, and the Secular Games
Secular games
The Secular Games were a religious celebration, involving sacrifices and theatrical performances, held in ancient Rome for three days and nights to mark the end of a saeculum and the beginning of the next...

 of Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus
Septimius Severus , also known as Severus, was Roman Emperor from 193 to 211. Severus was born in Leptis Magna in the province of Africa. As a young man he advanced through the customary succession of offices under the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. Severus seized power after the death of...

 in 204. If Herodian did attend the games of Commodus, he must have been at least 14 at the time, which is to say that he was born in 178 at the latest.

The nationality of Herodian is also unclear. He was not from Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, for he says the Alps
The Alps is one of the great mountain range systems of Europe, stretching from Austria and Slovenia in the east through Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany to France in the west....

 were bigger than anything “in our part of the world.” (2.11.8) It has been suggested that Herodian was from Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 since he placed such a large emphasis on Caracalla's
Caracalla , was Roman emperor from 198 to 217. The eldest son of Septimius Severus, he ruled jointly with his younger brother Geta until he murdered the latter in 211...

 massacre of this city and its inhabitants. It is also believed that he could have possibly been an eyewitness to these attacks. Herodian does refer to Alexandria as the second city of the empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

; however, this may be disregarded since he also applies the same title to Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

 and Carthage
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

. It has been proposed that the Herodian was the son of Aelius Herodianus
Aelius Herodianus
Aelius Herodianus or Herodian was one of the most celebrated grammarians of Greco-Roman antiquity. He is usually known as Herodian except when there is a danger of confusion with the historian also named Herodian....

, an Alexandrian grammarian. However while this does fit chronologically, there is no other evidence to support it. The popular speculation, however, is that Herodian was from Antioch. Herodian describes the character of the Syrians as quick-witted and mentions them twice more. However, there are also gaps in Herodian's knowledge of Syrian affairs which lead one to believe that he might not have been from the region at all. For example, he confuses two Parthia
Parthia is a region of north-eastern Iran, best known for having been the political and cultural base of the Arsacid dynasty, rulers of the Parthian Empire....

n kings, and his chronology and geography of the Parthian campaign in 197–198 are deeply flawed. These flaws could be mended due to a lack of knowledge of a small part of the empire; however one would assume that an inhabitant of Syria would have had access to this knowledge. In short, unless an inscription is discovered, Herodian’s place of birth will never be known for certain.

Occupation and Social Status

Neither the occupation nor the social status of Herodian is known. Herodian mentions, “I have written a history of the events following the death of Marcus which I saw and heard in my lifetime. I had a personal share in some of these events during my imperial and public service.” (1.2.5) It has been suggested that Herodian was a senator due to his knowledge of the senatus consultum tacitum, which was a secret declaration by the senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

 when they chose the emperors Pupienus
Pupienus , also known as Pupienus Maximus, was Roman Emperor with Balbinus for three months in 238, the Year of the Six Emperors. The sources for this period are scant, and thus knowledge of the emperor is limited...

 and Balbinus
Balbinus , was Roman Emperor with Pupienus for three months in 238, the Year of the Six Emperors.- Origins and career :Not much is known about Balbinus before his elevation to emperor. It has been conjectured that he descended from Publius Coelius Balbinus Vibullius Pius, the consul ordinarius of...

. However, it is also stated that news of this was leaked by some senators, and it certainly would not have remained a secret for the entirety of Herodian’s lifetime. It is possible, however, that Herodian was a freedman. This fits the profile perfectly, for he would not have cared for the larger political issues, and instead, would have concentrated on personalities and intricacies. Still yet, Herodian could have been an apparitor, a scribe or an attendant to the emperor. This would be suiting, for he would have had access to senatorial documents, traveled extensively, and been knowledgeable in the field of fiscal affairs, which Herodian repetitively stressed in his history.


Herodian's Roman History is a collection of eight books covering the period from the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 A.D. to the beginning of Gordian III's reign in 238. It provides a first person account of one of the most politically diverse times of the Roman Empire. The first book describes the reign of Commodus from 180 to 192, and the second discusses the Year of the Five Emperors
Year of the Five Emperors
The Year of the Five Emperors refers to the year 193 AD, in which there were five claimants for the title of Roman Emperor. The five were Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Pescennius Niger, Clodius Albinus and Septimius Severus....

 in 193. Book Three encompasses the reign of Septimius Severus from 193 to 211, while the fourth discusses the reign of Caracalla from 211 to 217. Book five is about the reign of Elagabalus from 218 through 222, and book six deals with the reign of Severus Alexander from 222 to 235. The seventh book recounts the reign of Maximinus Thrax
Maximinus Thrax
Maximinus Thrax , also known as Maximinus I, was Roman Emperor from 235 to 238.Maximinus is described by several ancient sources, though none are contemporary except Herodian's Roman History. Maximinus was the first emperor never to set foot in Rome...

 from 235 to 238, and the final one describes the Year of the Six Emperors
Year of the Six Emperors
The Year of the Six Emperors refers to the year 238, during which six people were recognised as emperors of Rome.The emperor at the beginning of the year was Maximinus Thrax, who had ruled since 235. Later sources claim he was a cruel tyrant, and in January 238 a revolt erupted in North Africa...

 in 238. Most likely, Herodian is writing for an eastern audience, for he often explains different Roman customs and beliefs that would have seemed foreign to Easterners.

Herodian has been both praised and criticized by scholars. The first person on record to review Herodian is the ninth-century patriarch of Constantinople
Patriarch of Constantinople
The Ecumenical Patriarch is the Archbishop of Constantinople – New Rome – ranking as primus inter pares in the Eastern Orthodox communion, which is seen by followers as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church....

, Photius. Of Herodian, Photius wrote “he neither exaggerates with hyperbole nor omits anything essential; in short, in all the virtues of historiography there are few men who are his superior.” Zosimus
Zosimus was a Byzantine historian, who lived in Constantinople during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I . According to Photius, he was a comes, and held the office of "advocate" of the imperial treasury.- Historia Nova :...

 used him as a source as did John of Antioch
John of Antioch
John of Antioch was Patriarch of Antioch and led a group of moderate Eastern bishops during the Nestorian controversy. He is sometimes confused with John Chrysostom, who is occasionally also referred to as John of Antioch. John gave active support to his friend Nestorius in the latter's dispute...

 when writing his World Chronicle. An English translator of the Roman History wrote in 1705 that Herodian "still preserves a Majesty suitable to the Greatness of the Subject which he treats, and has something in him so pleasing and comely, as perhaps all the Art and Labour of other Men can never reach.” Altheim commended Herodian’s wide vision of the period, and F.A. Wolf
Friedrich August Wolf
Friedrich August Wolf was a German philologist and critic.He was born at Hainrode, a village not far from Nordhausen, Germany. His father was the village schoolmaster and organist...

 acclaimed Herodian’s lack of bias and superstition. However, not all views of Herodian are positive. For example, Wolf also charged Herodian with a deficiency in critical faculty. While the author of the Historia Augusta drew from Herodian, he also censured him for bias, and Herodian was by no means Zosimus’ first choice. Similarly, John Zonaras only utilized Herodian where Cassius Dio’s history leaves off.

Herodian has long been criticized for a lack of historical accuracy, but recent studies have tended to side with him, legitimizing his historical facts. In the second book, Herodian states that his intention was to “narrate only the most important and conclusive…actions separately and in chronological order.” (2.15.7) Because of this, Herodian sometimes consolidates a large number of events into a single reference or two. For example, all of Caracalla’s campaign in the north during 213 through 214 is condensed into two short allusions. Similarly, a single reference to a winter in Sirmium
Sirmium was a city in ancient Roman Pannonia. Firstly mentioned in the 4th century BC and originally inhabited by the Illyrians and Celts, it was conquered by the Romans in the 1st century BC and subsequently became the capital of the Roman province of Lower Pannonia. In 294 AD, Sirmium was...

 sums up Maximinus’ battles on the Rhine and Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

 in 236 through 238. Herodian also occasionally falls short in his descriptions of geography. He confuses Arabia Scenite with Arabia Felix and claims that Issus
Battle of Issus
The Battle of Issus occurred in southern Anatolia, in November 333 BC. The invading troops, led by the young Alexander of Macedonia, defeated the army personally led by Darius III of Achaemenid Persia in the second great battle for primacy in Asia...

 was where the final battle and capture of Darius III took place.

In regards to Cassius Dio, both he and Herodian admittedly make many errors in their histories. Dio is credited as the expert when it comes to the senate; however, Herodian challenges Dio on his description of the people's reaction to the proclamation of Septimius Severus as their new emperor. Dio's work is not always the more accurate of the two and must not be immediately chosen over Herodian’s.

External links

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