Reconfiguring the Imperial Past: Narrative Patterns and Historical Interpretation in Herodian’s History of the Empire


In the process of recording the history of the Roman Empire, from the death of Marcus Aurelius to the accession of Gordian III, Herodian makes his characters respond to the same situations in similar or different ways. This book shows that each reign in Herodian’s History is creatively mapped onto ever-recurring narrative patterns. It argues that patterning is not simply decorative in Herodian’s work but constitutes a crucial conceptual and methodological tool for writing interpretative history. Herodian deserves credit as an original and independent author. A careful consideration of the formulaic nature of his historiography indicates that there is more artistry in his composition than had previously been discerned.

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Chrysanthos S. Chrysanthou, DPhil (2016), University of Oxford, is currently the principal investigator of a project on ancient Greek historiography and the ancient Greek novel, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), at the University of Heidelberg. He is the author of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives: Narrative Technique and Moral Judgement (Berlin/Boston, 2018) and a number of articles on ancient Greek literature.
“In comparison to other historians of the empire, such as Tacitus and Cassius Dio, Herodian has remained comparatively under-served by modern literary analysis. Chrysanthou’s book helps to remedy this lack. Noting Herodian’s penchant for circling around particular themes and typical scenes, it convincingly argues that this historian builds up a sense of the merits and faults of the successive emperors through the several ways in which they respond to similar challenges. In doing so, it reveals Herodian to be, like other imperial historians, a thoughtful literary artist, and analyst of what makes for a successful emperor. This is a book which anyone with an interest in ancient historiography, the image of the Roman Emperors, or the history of the late Second and early Third Centuries should read.” Luke Pitcher, Associate Professor in Classical Languages and Literature. Fellow and Tutor in Classics, Somerville College, University of Oxford

“This is a timely study on Herodian’s History of the Empire after Marcus. In this book, Chrysanthos Chrysanthou treats Herodian’s History on its own terms. Approaching Herodian’s work through a careful literary-historiographical analysis of five of the themes which run through the text, Chrysanthou has produced a systematic study which highlights the intellectual unity of Herodian’s work. More than this, Chrysanthou exposes the inner workings of the History, while highlighting Herodian’s considerable literary artistry. The result is a study which greatly advances our understanding of Herodian and his work.” Christopher Mallan, Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History, University of Western Australia.
Historiography of Rome and Its Empire Series
Carsten H. Lange and Jesper M. Madsen

Texts, Translations, and Abbreviations

 0.1 Herodian’s Historiographical Method
 0.2 Herodian and Ancient Historiography
 0.3 Studies on Herodian’s History
 0.4 Methodology and Structure of the Book

1 Character Introductions
 1.1 Commodus
 1.2 Pertinax
 1.3 Didius Julianus
 1.4 Pescennius Niger
 1.5 Septimius Severus
 1.6 Clodius Albinus
 1.7 Geta and Caracalla
 1.8 Opellius Macrinus
 1.9 Elagabalus and Severus Alexander
 1.10 Maximinus Thrax and His Rivals
 1.11 Conclusion

2 Accession Stories
 2.1 “On That Day I Was Both Man and Emperor” (1.5.5)
 2.2 “We Have Come Here to Offer You the Empire” (2.1.9)
 2.3 “They Announced That the Imperial Throne Was up for Sale” (2.6.4)
 2.4 Parallel Accessions: Niger and Septimius Severus
 2.5 “His Sons Succeeded Him to the Rule” (3.15.8)
 2.6 “What Is the Good of Noble Birth?” (5.1.5)
 2.7 Continuity and Variation
 2.8 Conclusion

3 Warfare and Battle Narratives
 3.1 Establishing Paradigms
 3.2 “But This One Man Destroyed Three Reigning Emperors” (3.7.8)
 3.3 Severus’ Eastern Campaign (AD 198)
 3.4 Severus’ British Expedition
 3.5 Caracalla’s Portrait Refined?
 3.6 Macrinus’ ‘Fighting’
 3.7 Severus Alexander
 3.8 Maximinus’ Military Exploits
 3.9 Conclusion

4 Trans-Regnal Themes
 4.1 The Emperor’s Surroundings: Parents, Advisers, and Retinue
 4.2 The Topos of Goodwill (εὔνοια)
 4.3 Appearance, Staging, and Performance

5 The Emperor’s Finale
 5.1 Marcus’ Exemplary Death
 5.2 Commodus: The Murder of a Tyrant
 5.3 Virtue and Military Anarchy: Pertinax’s Death
 5.4 The Downfall of Cowardly and Negligent Emperors: Julianus, Niger, and Albinus
 5.5 The End of Severus and His Sons
 5.6 A Pattern Verified and Enlarged: Macrinus’ Idleness and Luxury
 5.7 Elagabalus’ Fatal Excessiveness
 5.8 The Fall of Severus Alexander: Character and Surrounding
 5.9 The End of Maximinus Thrax and Gordian I
 5.10 Military Disorder and Mutual Rivalry: The Deaths of Maximus and Balbinus
 5.11 Conclusion

Index Locorum
Index Nominum et Rerum
Undergraduate and post-graduate scholars of ancient Greek and Roman historiography, society and politics, Greek and Roman literature and culture, and narrative theory, Academic librarians.