Abbreviated from the Books of Sextus Aurelius Victor

Translated by Thomas M. Banchich

Canisius College Translated Texts, Number 1

Canisius College. Buffalo, New York



    Diocletian, a Dalmatian, freedman of the senator Anulinus, was, until he assumed power, called in their language Diocles, from his mother and likewise from a city named Dioclea; when he took control of the Roman world, in the fashion of the Romans, he converted the Greek name. He ruled twenty-five years. He made Maximian an Augustus; Constantius and Galerius Maximianus, with the cognomen Armentarius ["Herdsman"], he created Caesars, giving to Constantius, when his prior wife was divorced, Theodora, the stepdaughter of Herculius Maximian.  At this time, Charausius in Gallia, Achilles in Egypt, and Julianus in Italy were made imperatores and, by diverse death, perished. Of these, Julianus, when an attack breached his walls, threw himself into a fire.
     Diocletian actually relinquished the imperial fasces of his own accord at Nicomedia and grew old on his private estates. It was he who, when solicited by Herculius and Galerius for the purpose of resuming control, responded in this way, as though avoiding some kind of plague: "If you could see at Salonae the cabbages raised by our hands, you surely would never judge that a temptation."  He lived sixty-eight years, out of which he passed almost nine in a common condition. He was consumed, as was sufficiently clear, by voluntary death as a result of fear. Inasmuch as when, called by Constantine and Licinius to the celebrations of a wedding which he was by no means well enough to attend, he had excused himself, after threatening replies were received in which it was being proclaimed that he had favored Maxentius and was favoring Maximian, he, regarding assassination as dishonorable, is said to have drunk poison.


    In these days, the Caesars Constantius, the father of Constantine, and Armentarius were proclaimed Augusti, with Severus in Italy and, in Oriens, Maximinus, the son of Galerius' sister, created Caesars; and at the same time Constantine was made a Caesar. Maxentius was made imperator in a villa six miles outside the city, on the road to Lavicanum, next Licinius became an Augustus, and, in the same fashion, Alexander at Carthagina; and likewise Valens was created imperator. Their demise was as follows:
    Severus Caesar was killed by Herculius Maximian in Rome at Tres Tabernae and his ashes were interred in the sepulchre of Gallienus, which is nine miles from the city on the Appian Way. Galerius Maximianus, when his genitals were consumed, died. Maximian Herculius, besieged by Constantine at Massilia, then captured, was executed in a fashion most base, with his neck snapped by a noose. Alexander was slaughtered by Constantine's army. Maxentius, while engaged against Constantine, hastening to enter from the side a bridge of boats constructed a little above the Milvian Bridge, was plunged into the depth when his horse slipped; his body, swallowed up by the weight of his armor, was barely recovered. Maximinus died a simple death at Tarsus. Valens was punished with death by Licinius. As for characters, moreover, they were of this sort: Aurelius Maximian, with the cognomen Herculius, was fierce by nature, burning with lust, stolid in his counsels, of rustic and Pannonian stock. For even now, not far from Sirmium, there is a spot prominent because of a palace constructed there, where his parents once worked wage-earning jobs. He died at the age of sixty, imperator for twenty years. From Eutropia, a Syrian woman, he sired Maxentius and Fausta, the wife of Constantine, to whose father Constantius had given his stepdaughter, Theodora. But Maxentius, they say, was substituted by the womanly wile of one laboring to control a husband's affection by means of an auspice of a most felicitous fecundity which commenced with a boy. Maxentius was dear to no one at all, not even to his father or father-in-law, Galerius. Galerius, moreover, although possessed of an uncultivated and rustic justice, was praiseworthy enough, physically attractive, a skilled and fortunate warrior, sprung from country parents, a keeper of cattle, whence for him the cognomen Armentarius ["Herdsman"]. He was born and also buried in Dacia Ripensis, a place which he had called Romulianum from the name of his mother, Romula. He insolently dared to affirm that, in the fashion of Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, his mother had conceived him after she had been embraced by a serpent. Galerius Maximinus, scion of Armentarius' sister, called by the name Daca, to be sure, before imperium, was a Caesar for four years, then an Augustus in Oriens for three -- in birth, indeed, and in station a shepherd, yet a supporter of every very learned man and of literature, quiet by nature, too fond of wine. Drunk with which, with his mind corrupted, he used to command certain harsh measures; but when he repented what had been done, in a continent and sober time, what he had enjoined, he ordered deferred. Alexander was a Phrygian in origin, inferior in the face of hardship through the fault of old age.


    With all these men out of the way, the rights of imperium fell to Constantine and Licinius. Constantine, son of imperator Constantius and Helena, ruled thirty years. While a young man being held as a hostage by Galerius in the city of Rome on the pretence of his religion, he took flight and, for the purpose of frustrating his pursuers, wherever his journey had brought him, he destroyed the public transports, and reached his father in Britain; and by chance, in those very days in the same place, ultimate destiny was pressing on his parent, Constantius. With him dead, as all who were present -- but especially Crocus, King of the Alamanni, who had accompanied Constantius for the sake of support -- were urging him on, he took imperium. To Licinius, who was summoned to Mediolanum, he wed his own sister Constantia; and his own son, Crispus by name, born by Minervina, a concubine, and likewise Constantinus, born in those same days at the city Arlate, and Licinianus, son of Licinius, about twenty months old, he made Caesars. But, indeed, as imperia preserve concord with difficulty, a rift arose between Licinius and Constantine; and first, near Cibalae, beside a lake named Hiulca, when Constantine burst into Licinus' camps by night, Licinius sought escape and, by a swift flight, reached Byzantium. There Martinianus, Master of Offices, he made a Caesar. Then Constantine, stronger in battle in Bithynia, pledged through the wife to confer regal garb upon Licinius, his safety having been guaranteed. Then, after he had been sent to Thessalonica, a little later he ordered him and Martinianus slaughtered. Licinius died after about fourteen years of dominatio, and near the sixtieth year of his life: through a love of avarice he was the worst of all men and not a stranger to sexual debauchery, harsh indeed, immoderately impatient, hostile toward literature, which, as a result of his boundless ignorance, he used to call a poison and a public pestilence, especially forensic endeavor. Obviously he was sufficiently salutary to farmers and country folk, because he had sprung from and had been raised from that group, and a most strict guardian of the military according to the institutes of our forefathers. He was a vehement suppressor of all eunuchs and courtiers, calling them worms and vermin of the palace. But Constantine, when mastery of the entire Roman Empire had been obtained through the wondrous good fortune of his wars, with his wife, Fausta, inciting him, so men think, ordered his son Crispus put to death. Then, when his mother, Helena, as a result of excessive grief for her grandson, chastised him, he killed his own wife, Fausta, who was thrown into hot baths. He was, to be sure, too desirous of praise, as is able to be ascertained. On account of the legends inscribed on many structures, he was accustomed to call Trajan "Wall Plant." He built a bridge over the Danube. The royal garb he adorned with gems, and his head, at all times, with a diadem. Nevertheless, he was most agreeable in many matters: by means of laws most severe he checked malicious prosecutions; he nurtured the fine arts, especially studies of literature; he himself read, wrote, reflected, and listened to legations and the complaints of the provinces. And when, with his children and his brother's son, Delmatius, confirmed as Caesars, he had lived sixty-three years, half of which thus, so that thirteen he alone ruled, he was consumed by disease. He was a mocker rather than a flatterer. From this he was called bull-necked in the folktale, for ten years a most excellent man, for the following second ten a brigand, for the last, on account of his unrestrained prodigality, a ward irresponsible for his own actions. His body was buried in Byzantium, called Constantinople. With him dead, Delmatius was put to death by the violence of the troops.
    Thus dominatio of the Roman world was returned to three men, Constantinus, Constantius, and Constans, the sons of Constantine. These individually held these areas as their realms: Constantinus the Younger, everything beyond the Alps; Constantius, from the Strait of the Propontis, Asia, and Oriens; Constans, Illyricum and Italy and Africa; Delmatius, Thrace and Macedonia and Achaea; Hannibalianus, brother of Delmatius Caesar, Armenia and neighboring, allied nations.
    However, on account of the legal right to Italy and Africa, Constantinus and Constans immediately disagreed. When Constantinus, reckless and horribly intoxicated, in a display of highway robbery, rushed into territories not his own, he was slain and thrown into a river, the name for which is Alsa, not far from Aquileia. But while Constans, because of a desire of hunting, was roaming through forests and woodland pastures, some soldiers, with Chrestius, Marcellinus, and also Magnentius the instigators, conspired toward his murder. As soon as the day of carrying out the business was resolved, Marcellinus, feigning the birth of a son, invited many men to dinner. And so, late in the night, while a drinking party was being celebrated, he withdrew as if to relieve himself as is normal, and assumed the revered attire. When this action was discovered, Constans attempted to flee to Helena, a city close to the Pyrenees, and by Gaiso, who had been dispatched with picked men, he was killed in the thirteenth year of his reign as an Augustus (for he had been a Caesar for a three-year period), at the age of twenty-seven. Disabled in the feet and hands through a malady of the joints, he was fortunate in temperateness of climate, in an abundance of harvests, and in no terror from barbarians, things which would have been still greater indeed, if he had promoted governors of provinces not for a price, but on the basis of judgment. When his death became known, Vetranio, Master of Soldiers, seized imperium in Pannonia at Mursia; not many days after, Constantius deposed him from power, granting to him not only a long life, but also a retirement full of pleasures. He was, moreover, a most simpleminded man, verging on stupidity.


    Constantius proclaimed Caesar Gallus, the son of his father's brother, marrying to him his sister, Constantia. Magnentius, too, made Decentius, his brother, Caesar beyond the Alps. In these days, at Rome, Nepotianus, son of Eutropia, Constantine's sister, with those who had been destroyed driving him on, took the name Augustus; him Magnentius crushed in twenty-eight days. At this time, Constantius did battle with Magnentius at Mursa and was victorious. In this battle, hardly anywhere was Roman might more fully consumed and the fortune of the whole empire dashed. Then, when Magnentius had removed himself toward Italy, near Ticinum he scattered many who were recklessly and, as is customary in victory, too boldly pursuing him. Not much later, cornered near Lugdunum, he breathed his last in the forty-second month of imperium and in about the fiftieth year of his life, his side pierced with a sword secretly supplied, assisting the blow by pushing against a wall -- as he was of immense size -- , spewing blood from the wound, his nostrils, and mouth. He sprang from barbarian parents, who inhabited Gallia; he was inclined toward the study of reading, sharp of tongue, of a haughty spirit, and cowardly beyond measure; a master, nevertheless, for concealing terror under a pretext of boldness. When his death was heard of, Decentius ended his life with a noose made of a cloth swathe. At this time, Gallus Caesar was killed by Constantius. He ruled four years. Silvanus was made imperator and, on the twenty-eighth day of imperium, was destroyed. He was by nature most charming. Although the scion of a barbarian father, he was nevertheless, as a result of Roman training, sufficiently cultivated and patient.
    Constantius took to himself with the rank of Caesar Claudius Julian, Gallus' brother, almost twenty-three years old. In the Argentoratensian Fields in Gallia, he, with a few troops, destroyed an innumerable army of enemies. The heaps were standing like mountains, the blood was flowing in the fashion of rivers; a king, noble Nodomarius, was captured; the entire aristocracy was routed; the frontier of Roman property was restored; and afterward, doing battle with the Alamanni, he captured their most powerful king, Badomarius. He was proclaimed Augustus by the Gallic troops. Through legations, Constantius urged him to return to his original status and title. Julian, in a rather mild, secret correspondence, replied that he would serve far more dutifully under the title of a lofty imperium. As a result of these things, Constantius burned more and more with outrage and, as he was unable to endure the like, with a sharp fever which excessive indignation increased by sleepless nights, perished in the foothills of Mount Taurus near Mopsocrene in the forty-fourth year of age and in the thirty-ninth of imperium, but in his twenty-fourth as an Augustus: eight alone, sixteen with his brothers and Magnentius, fifteen as a Caesar. He was lucky in civil wars, lamentable in foreign; an amazing artist with arrows, very abstinent from food, drink, and sleep, able to endure labor, a lover of eloquence, which, since, through slowness of mind, he was unable to attain, he used to envy in others. He was addicted to the love of eunuchs, courtiers, and wives, by whom - satisfied by no deviant or unlawful pleasure - he used to be polluted. But from wives, many whom he obtained, he especially delighted in Eusebia, who was indeed elegant, but, through Adamantiae and Gorgoniae and other dangerous abettors, harmful of her husband's reputation, contrary to what is customary for more upright females whose precepts often aid their husbands. For, as I pass over others, it is incredible to relate how much Pompeia Plotina increased the glory of Trajan: when his procurators were disrupting the provinces with false accusations to the extent that one of them was said to have greeted a certain wealthy fellow thus, "How did you get so much?"; another, "Where did you get so much?"; a third, "Give me what you've got," she admonished her husband and, reproaching him because he was so unconcerned with his reputation, returned so much that afterward he spurned unjust exactions and called the fisc the spleen, because, as it increased, the remaining muscles and limbs dwindled.


    Then Julian, the care of the Roman world having been returned to one man, himself, excessively desirous of glory, marched toward Persia. There, led by a certain deserter into an ambush, when the Parthians were pressing upon him from different directions, he rushed from a just-established camp with a hastily snatched shield. And when, with unthinking ardor, he attempted to order the ranks for battle, he was struck with a pike by a single man, from the enemy and, in fact, in flight. And borne back to his tent and having emerged once again to encourage his men, gradually drained of blood, he died at just about midnight, having said beforehand, when consulted about imperium, that he recommended no one, lest, as is customary in a multitude with discrepant inclinations, he produce danger for a friend from envy and for the state as a result of the discord of the army. There had been in him immense knowledge of literature and of affairs, he had equaled the philosophers and the wisest of the Greeks. He was very disposed toward exercise of the body, in which he was strong indeed, but he was short.  A disregard of due measure in certain matters diminished these things. His desire of praise was excessive; his worship of the gods superstitious; he was more daring than befits an imperator, by whom personal safety always must be maintained for the security of all, <but> in war most of all. The desire of glory had so violently overwhelmed him that neither by the movement of the earth nor by very numerous presages through which he was being forbidden to attack Persia was he led to put an end to his ardor, and not even a massive sphere observed by night to fall from heaven before the day of battle kept him cautious.


    Jovian, child of Varronianus, his father, an inhabitant of the land of  Singido in the province Pannonia, ruled eight months. His father, when he had lost many children, was commanded in a dream to call Jovian him who, with his wife's time to give birth now at hand, was going to be born. He was extraordinary in body, pleasant in spirit, studious of literature. Hastening from Persia to Constantinople in the middle of a harsh winter, he died suddenly from repletion of the stomach, made more grievous by the plaster of a new building, in about his fortieth year.


    Valentinian ruled ten years less ten days. His father, Gratianus, sprung from modest stock near Cibalis, was called Funarius ["Trace-horse"] because five soldiers were unable to wrest a slave-market rope from him while he was carrying it. Admitted into the army on the basis of this merit, he rose all the way to the power of the praetorian prefecture; on account of his favor among the soldiers, imperium was offered to a resistant Valentinian. He admitted Valens, his own brother, into imperium as a partner to himself and, at length, at the behest of his mother-in-law and wife, created as Augustus Gratian, his son, who was not yet fully mature. Valentinian was seemly in countenance, clever in character, serious in mind, most cultivated in conversation, although a man of few words, stern, vehement, tainted by faults, and most of all that of greed, of which he was a keen lover, and, in these things which I shall mention, very close to Hadrian: he was a most elegant painter, had a most powerful memory, reflected upon new weapons, fashioned images by means of wax or clay, made prudent use of places, times, and conversation; and so, in order to conclude briefly, if it had been permitted that he, who had entrusted himself as if to men most reliable and most prudent, had lacked men inimical to him, or that he had employed praiseworthy and erudite advisors, without doubt, he would have shone forth, a perfect princeps. In his time, Firmus, usurping rule in Mauretania, was destroyed. Valentinian, responding at Bergentio to a legation of Quadi, expired as the result of a hemorrhage, his voice lost, his senses intact, in the fifty-fifth year of age. Many, indeed, said that this had happened because of overeating and satiety. And so, with him dead, Valentinianus, now in his fourth year, with Equitius as promoter and Merobaudes, was produced from nearby, where he had been with his mother, and made imperator.


    Valens, in company with his brother Valentinian, about whom we have spoken, ruled thirteen years, five months. This Valens, when a lamentable war with the Goths was entered into, was carried, wounded by arrows, to a most humble dwelling; there, with Goths arriving and a fire set underneath, he was consumed by the blaze. In him, these things demanded approbation: he was a fine advocate for owners of property; he seldom shifted judges; he was loyal to friends; he became angry without injury or danger to anyone; he was quite cautious, to be sure. In his times, Procopius, usurping a tyranny, was destroyed.


    Gratian, a native of Sirmium, ruled with his father, Valentinian, eight years, eighty-five days; with his uncle and brother, three years; with the same brother and Theodosius, four; and with Arcadius added to all these, six months. At Argentaria, a city in Gallia, he killed thirty thousand Alamanni in battle. And when he had recognized that extreme danger threatened the Roman name as a result of the Goths and Taifali and also, more terrible than total annihilation, the Huns and Alans controlling Thrace and Dacia as though foreign lands, to the applause of all, he committed a third of the imperium to Theodosius, a year under thirty, who was summoned from Hispania. Moreover, this Gratian was not of modest learning in literature: he composed poetry; he spoke elegantly; he explicated debates in the fashion of rhetors; both night and day he did nothing but practice archery, and he thought that to hit the mark was a thing of supreme pleasure and divine skill. He was sparing of food and sleep, and a conqueror of wine and sexual desire; and he would have been fitted with all good qualities, if he had attended to comprehending the science of ruling the state, from which he was almost a stranger not only by inclination but also by practice. For he aroused the hatred of the troops against himself when he neglected the army and preferred to the venerable Roman soldier a few from the Alans whom he had arrogated to himself by an immense payment of gold, and with the retinue of barbarians he had almost even begun to have friendship  to the degree that he sometimes made a journey in the same attire. At this time, when Maximus had seized a tyranny in Britain and had crossed over into Gallia, he was received by legions hostile to Gratian, put Gratian to flight, and, without delay, killed him. He lived XXIX years.


    Theodosius, whose father was Honorius and whose mother was Thermantia, tracing his origin from the princeps Trajan, was made imperator by Gratian Augustus at Sirmium and reigned seventeen years. They say that his parents, having been advised in a dream, bestowed upon him a name that in Latin we understand to mean "Given by God." Also, with regard to this oracle, it was divulged in Asia that the name of the man who would succeed Valens would begin with the Greek letters Y and E and O and D. Through the close relationship of the beginning of his name, a Theodorus was deceived and, when he presumed that the throne ought to be his, paid the penalties of wicked desire. Theodosius, moreover, was an expander and distinguished defender of the state. For in diverse battles he defeated the Huns and Goths who had devastated it under Valens. Also, when petitioned by the Persians, he concluded a peace. In addition, at Aquileia he killed Maximus the tyrant, who had murdered Gratian and had taken control of Gallia, and executed his son Victor, who had been made Augustus while still an infant. He also conquered Eugenius the tyrant and Arbogastes, killing ten thousand of their troops. For after he destroyed Valentinianus at Vienna, relying on Arbogastes' might, he had usurped control; but he soon lost imperium, along with his life.
    Furthermore, many writings of the ancients and pictures inform us that Theodosius resembled Trajan in his manners and physique: thus, his stature was eminent, his limbs the same, likewise his hair and his mouth, except that his legs were somewhat weak for marching and his eyes were not as glowing (I am not sure whether he was as kind, or had as much of a beard, or walked with so dignified a gait). But his intellect was certainly similar, to such a degree that there is nothing able to be said which does not seem to be transferred to that man from books. He was merciful, compassionate, open, thinking to distinguish himself from others by dress alone; he was respectful toward all men, but more profusely toward the good; he prized simple characters equally, accomplished but harmless he admired; he bestowed great things with great spirit; he loved to reward citizens or those whom he knew through private companionship with honors, wealth, and other favors; he had especially esteemed the services of those toward himself and his father in hopeless adversity. Nevertheless, he so detested those things by which Trajan was bespattered -- intoxication, to be sure, and desire of the triumph -- that he did not initiate wars, but found them in existence, and forbade by law lascivious occupations and that female lutists be employed in revelries, attributing so much to propriety and continence that he barred marriages of first cousins just as if they were those of sisters. If we should compare him to the exceedingly polished, he was moderately learned; he was obviously intelligent and very keen with regard to becoming acquainted with the deeds of our ancestors. From these he never ceased to censure the acts of which he read that were haughty, cruel, and inimical to liberty, as Cinna, Marius, and Sulla, and everyone holding dominatio, but especially the treacherous and ungrateful. He was, of course, enraged by unbecoming acts, but was quickly placated, because of which harsh measures were sometimes mollified as the result of a slight delay. And he possessed by nature what Augustus possessed from a teacher of philosophy. He it was who, when he had seen that he was easily disturbed, advised him, lest he order something harsh, to recite by memory the twenty-four Greek letters when he became angry, so that passion, which is momentary, would, with the mind turned to something else, lessen with the interposition of a little time.
    What is of rare virtue, he was doubtless better after his regal power increased with the years, and better by far after his victory in civil war. For he was very solicitous both to attend to the care of the grain supply and to return to many from his own the great mass of gold and silver borne off and expended by the tyrant, while the benign of the principes were, in fact, almost accustomed to concede denuded farms and devastated estates. Now it is those less important and, as is said, intrapalace matters, which, indeed, because they are secret, greatly attract to themselves the eyes and ears of men of inquisitive nature: he nurtured his paternal uncle like a parent; he held the children of his deceased brother and sister as his own, having embraced cognates and affines in the spirit of a parent; he presented elegant and delightful, nevertheless inexpensive, entertainment; he mixed his conversations according to persons, his endeavors according to their ranks, light speech with weighty; he was a pleasing father, an agreeable husband. He exercised neither for the purpose of pleasure nor stamina; when there was leisure, he restored his spirit by means of long walks and he controlled his health through moderation of eating; and so he departed in peace at Mediolanum, in the course of his fiftieth year in mortal affairs, bequeathing to his two sons, that is, to Arcadius and Honorius, two states quiescent. In the same year, his body was borne to Constantinople and interred.

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