The Life of Diadumenianus


Historia Augusta


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The life of the boy Antoninus Diadumenianus who, together with his father, Opellius Macrinus, was proclaimed emperor by the army when Bassianus had been slain through the treachery of Macrinus, contains nothing memorable, save that he received the name of Antoninus and that there befell him astonishing omens signifying that his reign would be but a short one — and so it really came to pass.

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Now as soon as it became known among the legions that Bassianus was slain, great sorrow beset the hearts of all, for they thought, because they had not an Antoninus at the head of the state, that with Bassianus the Roman Empire would come to an end.

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When word of this was brought to Macrinus, who by this time was emperor, he became afraid that the army would turn to some one of the Antonines, many of whom, being of the kin of Antoninus Pius, were among the leaders. He therefore gave orders at once to compose an harangue, and then bestowed upon his son, this lad, the name Antoninus.

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His harangue: "You behold me, Comrades, now advanced in years, and Diadumenianus still a lad, whom, if the gods are gracious, you will have for many years as your prince.

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Furthermore I perceive that there still remains among you a great yearning for the name of the Antonines. And so, since the nature of human weakness seems to leave me but a short space of life, with your sanction I bestow upon this lad the name Antoninus, and he for long years to come shall be in your eyes an Antoninus indeed."

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Outcries of the soldiers: "Macrinus, our Emperor, may the gods keep you! Antoninus Diadumenianus, may the gods keep you!

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An Antoninus have we all for a long time desired. Jupiter, Greatest and Best, grant long life to Macrinus and to Antoninus. Thou knowest, O Jupiter, that no man can conquer Macrinus. Thou knowest, O Jupiter, that no man can conquer Antoninus.

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An Antoninus we have, and in him we have all things; an Antoninus, indeed, have the gods granted to us. Worthy of his sire is Antoninus, aye worthy of the Empire too."


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1

Macrinus the Emperor spoke: "Accept, therefore, Comrades, in return for the bestowal of the imperial power, three aurei for each one of you, and for the bestowal of the name Antoninus five aurei for each, together with the advancements prescribed by custom, but at this time doubled. The gods will grant that such gifts shall be often bestowed upon you, but we shall give you every five years what we have deemed right to give today."

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Thereupon the child himself, Diadumenianus Antoninus, the Emperor, spoke: "I bring you thanks, Comrades, because you have bestowed upon me both imperial office and name; and inasmuch as you have deemed us worthy, both my father and myself, to acclaim us Emperors of Rome and to commit the state to our keeping,

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my father, for his part, will take good care not to fail the Empire, and I, moreover, will strive earnestly, not to fail the name of the Antonines. For I know that it is the name of Pius and of Marcus and of Verus that I have taken, and to live according to the standard of these is difficult indeed.

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Meanwhile, however, in return for the imperial office and in return for my name, I promise you all that my father has promised and as much as he has promised, doubling all advancements, even as my revered father Macrinus has promised here in your presence."

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Herodian, the Greek writer, omits these details and records only that Diadumenianus as a child received from the soldiers the title of Caesar and that he was slain along with his father.

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Immediately after this harangue a coin was struck at Antioch bearing the name of Antoninus Diadumenianus, but coinage with the name of Macrinus was postponed until the senate should give command.

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Moreover, despatches announcing the bestowal of the name Antoninus were sent to the senate. In return, it is said, the senate readily acknowledged his rule — although some think they did so only out of hatred for Antoninus Caracalla.

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Now Macrinus, as emperor, purposed in honour of his son Antoninus to present to the populace mantles of a reddish hue, to be called 'Antoninian' as Bassianus' Gallic mantles had been. For it was more fitting, he said, that his son should be called Paenuleus or Paenularius, than that Bassianus should have been called Caracalla.

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He also issued an edict, promising a largess in the name of Antoninus, as the edict itself will prove.

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The text of the edict: "I would, Fellow-citizens, that we were now present in person; for then your Antoninus himself would give you a largess in his own name. He would, furthermore, enroll boys as Antoniniani and girls as Antoninianae, that they might extend the glory of so dear a name"; and so forth throughout.


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1

When he had done all in this fashion he gave orders that the standards in the Camp and the colours should be called Antonine and he had statues of Bassianus made of gold and of silver; and ceremonies of thanksgiving were celebrated for seven days in honour of the naming of Antoninus.

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The boy himself was beautiful beyond all others, somewhat tall of stature, with golden hair, black eyes, and an aquiline nose; his chin was wholly lovely in its modelling, his mouth designed for a kiss, and he was by nature strong and by training graceful.

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And when first he assumed the scarlet and purple garments and the other imperial insignia used in the camp, he was radiant as a being from the stars or a dweller in heaven, and he was beloved of all because of his beauty. This much there is to be said concerning the boy.

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Now let us proceed to the omens predicting his imperial power — which are marvellous enough in the case of others, but in his case beyond the usual wont.


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1

On the day of his birth, his father, who then chanced to be steward of the greater treasury, was inspecting the purple robes, and those which he approved as being brighter in hue he ordered to be carried into a certain chamber, in which two hours later Diadumenianus was born.

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Furthermore, whereas it usually happens that children at birth are provided by nature with a caul, which the midwives seize and sell to credulous lawyers (for it is said that this bring luck to those who plead),

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this child, instead of a caul, had a narrow band like a diadem, so strong that it could not be broken, for the fibres were entwined in the manner of a bow-string.

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The child, they say, was accordingly called Diadematus, but when he grew older, he was called Diadumenianus from the name of his mother's father, though the name differed little from his former appellation Diadematus.

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Also they say that twelve purple sheep were born on his father's estate and of these only one had spots upon it.

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And it is well known, besides, that on the very day of his birth an eagle brought to him generally a tiny royal ring-dove, and, after placing it in his cradle as he slept, flew away without doing him harm. Moreover, birds called pantagathi built a nest in his father's house.


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1

And about the time of his birth, the astrologers, on reading his horoscope, cried out that he was both the son of an emperor and an emperor too, just as though his mother had been seduced — as, indeed, public gossip maintained.

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Moreover, when he was walking about in the open country, an eagle bore away his cap; and when the child's comrades shouted out, the bird set it upon the statue of a king on a royal monument near the farm-house in which his father then lived, fitting it close to the head.

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This seemed portentous to many and a sign of an early death, but later events showed it to be a prediction of glory.

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He was born, furthermore, on the birthday of Antoninus, at the same hour as Antoninus Pius and with the stars in almost the same positions. Wherefore the astrologers said that he would be both the son of an emperor and an emperor himself, but not for long.

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On the day of his birth, which was also the birthday of Antoninus, a certain woman, who lived near by, cried out, it is said, "Let him be called Antoninus". Macrinus, however, was afraid and refused the imperial name, both because none of his kin was called by this name and at the same time because rumours concerning the significance of his horoscope had already spread abroad.

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These omens and others, too, occurred, or so numerous writers have related, but the following one is especially worthy of note. As Diadumenianus was lying in his cradle, some say, a lion broke its chains and dashed about savagely, but when it came to the cradle of the child it only licked him and left him unharmed; but when the nurse — the only person who chanced to be present in the open place in which the child was lying — threw herself at the lion, it seized her in its teeth and she perished.


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1

These are the details concerning Antoninus Diadumenianus which seem to be worthy of mention. His life, indeed, I should have combined with the achievements of his father, had not the name of the Antonines constrained me to publish a special discussion of the life of this boy.

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And in fact the name of the Antonines was at that time so greatly beloved, that he who had not the prestige of this name did not seem to merit the imperial power.

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Wherefore some also think that Severus and Pertinax and Julianus should be honoured with the praenomen Antoninus, and that later on the two Gordiani, father and son, had Antoninus as a surname.

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However, it is one thing to assume this as praenomen and another to take it as an actual name.

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In the case of Pius, for instance, Antoninus was his actual name and Pius only a surname. Moreover, the true name of Marcus was Verissimus, but when this was set aside and annulled, Antoninus was conferred on him not as a praenomen but as his name.

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So the original name of Verus was Commodus, but when this was annulled, he too was called Antoninus not as a praenomen but as a name.

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Commodus, however, was given the name Antoninus by Marcus, and on the day of his birth he was so enrolled in the public records.

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As for Caracalla Bassianus, it is well known that he was called Antoninus on account of a dream beheld by Severus, which revealed that an Antoninus with fore-ordained to be his successor, and that he was given the name in his thirteenth year, when, it is said, Severus conferred on him also the imperial power.

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Geta, moreover, who, many aver, was not called Antoninus at all, was given the name, it is generally said, with the same intention as Bassianus — namely that he might succeed his father Severus; but this never came to pass.

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After him, the name Antoninus was given to this very Diadumenianus, in order, it is generally said, that he might thereby find favour with the army, the senate, and the people of Rome, since there was a great yearning for Bassianus Caracalla.


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1

There is still in existence a letter written by Opellius Macrinus, father of Diadumenianus, in which he boasts, not so much that he attained to the imperial power, having previously held second place in the Empire, as that he had become the father of one bearing the name Antoninus, than which no name was then more illustrious — no, not even that of the gods.

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But before I insert this letter, I wish to include some verses directed at Commodus, who had taken the name of Hercules, in order that I may show to all that the name of the Antonines was so illustrious that it was not deemed suitable to add to it even the name of a god.

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The verses directed against Commodus Antoninus are as follows:

Commodus wished to possess Hercules' name as his own;

That of the great Antonines did not seem noble enough.

Nothing of common law, nothing of ruling he knew,

Hoping indeed as a god greater renown to acquire

Than by remaining a prince called by an excellent name.

Neither a god will he be, nor for that matter a man.

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These verses, written by an unknown Greek, some unskilful poet has rendered into Latin, and I have thought it right to insert them here for the purpose of showing to all that the Antonines were deemed greater than the gods as a result of the love felt for the three emperors, a love which has enshrined their wisdom, kindness, and righteousness — righteousness in the case of Pius,

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kindness in the case of Verus, and wisdom in the case of Marcus. I will now return to the letter written by Opellius Macrinus:

"Opellius Macrinus to his wife Nonia Celsa. The good fortune to which we have attained, my dear wife, is incalculable. Perhaps you may think I allude to the imperial power, but this is nothing great and Fortune has bestowed it on even the undeserving.

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No! I have become the father of an Antoninus; you have become the mother of an Antoninus. Blessed indeed are we, fortunate is our house, and noble the meed of praise now at length attained by this happy empire!

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May the gods grant, and kindly Juno too, whom you revere, both that he may achieve the deserts of an Antoninus, and that I, who am now the father of an Antoninus, may be deemed worthy in the sight of all."


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1

This letter indicates how much glory he thought he had gained from the fact that his son was called Antoninus.

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Yet in spite of all, Diadumenianus was killed with his father in the fourteenth month of their reign, not, indeed, for any fault of his own, but because of his father's harsh and tyrannical rule.

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Nevertheless, I find in many writers that he himself was cruel beyond his years, and this is shown by a letter which he sent to his father.

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For when certain men had fallen under the suspicion of rebellion, Macrinus visited upon them the most cruel punishments in the absence, as it chanced, of his son; but when the latter learned that the instigators of the rebellion had indeed been put to death, but their accomplices, among whom were the military governor of Armenia and the governors of Asia and Arabia, had, on account of a long-standing friendship, been sent away unharmed, he addressed, it is said, the following letter to his father, sending an identical one to his mother also. A copy of this letter I think, for the sake of history, should be inserted:

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"Augustus the son to Augustus the father. You do not seem, my dear father, to have kept close enough to your usual ways or to your affection for me; for you have spared the lives of men engaged in a plot to seize the imperial power, either in the hope that if you spare them now they will prove more kindly disposed to you in the future, or else believing that because of an ancient friendship they ought to be sent away unharmed. This should not have been done, nor will it prove of any avail.

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For, in the first place, they cannot love you now, rendered sore, as they are, by suspicion; in the second, those who have forgotten their ancient friendship and have joined your bitterest enemies will prove to be all the more cruel foes. Consider also the fact that they still have armies.

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'Even should you yourself regard not the fame of such actions,

Think of the youthful Ascanius, the hopes of Iulus your scion;

Fated for him is Italy's realm and the land of the Romans.'

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These men must be executed, if you wish to live in safety, for, thanks to the evil ways of mankind, there will be no lack of other foes, if the lives of these be spared."

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This letter, attributed by some to Diadumenianus himself, by others to his teacher Caelianus, formerly a rhetorician in Africa, shows how cruel the young man would have been, had he lived.


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1

There is still in existence another letter, which he wrote to his mother, reading as follows:

"Our Lord and Emperor loves neither you nor himself, for he spares the life of his foes. See to it, then, that Arabianus, Tuscus, and Gellius be bound to the stake, lest if an opportunity arise, they may not let it slip."

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And, as Lollius Urbicus records in his history of his own time, these letters, when made public by his secretary, are said to have done the boy much harm among the soldiers.

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For after his father was slain many wished to spare him, but his chamberlain came forward and read these letters before an assembly of the troops.

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And so, when both had been slain and their heads borne about on pikes, the army out of affection for his name went over to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.

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He was said to be the son of Bassianus Caracalla, but he was, in point of fact, a priest of the temple of Elagabalus and the filthiest of men, who through some decree of Fate was to bring disgrace upon the Roman Empire.

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But the details concerning him, for there are many, I will relate in their own proper place.