Herennius Etruscus

Herennius Etruscus
Roman Emperor
In Power May – Jun 251
Born c. 227
Died 251 (aged 23–24)

Herennius Etruscus was born in 227 in Pannonia, in modern-day Serbia. His father was the emperor, Decius, and his mother was Herennia Cupressenia Etruscilla. He had a younger brother named Hostilian, who also became an emperor.

In 249, the emperor Philip the Arab sent Decius to the Danube to crush the invading Goths. Decius vanquished the Goths and impressed the legions with his generalship. Consequently, the legions declared Decius their emperor, despite his reluctance. Philip soon heard of the proclamation and, fearing he would be overthrown, gathered his troops and prepared to clash with Decius. Decius, who had no plans of becoming emperor, was forced to prepare for battle. Both men’s forces faced off in Macedonia, with Decius easily winning the battle. After this, Herennius was granted the title of Caesar by his father. The Danubian tribes would launch constant attacks throughout Decius’ reign, and in 251, Decius would proclaim Herennius as Augustus, making his son his co-ruler.

Clashes with the Goths

In 249, the Goths again invaded the Danubian provinces, this time, with a huge force of 70,000 men. Decius sent his general, Trebonianus Gallus, to thwart the invaders, who were led by their king, Cniva. Decius brought Herennius with him to Nicopolis, where they successfully ambushed the Goths. Cniva, however, launched a quick counter-attack and defeated Herennius and Decius, who were taken by surprise. Father and son soon had to reorganize in Moesia and brace for the next clash against the Goths.


In 251, Herennius and Decius again faced the Goths in what came to be known as the Battle of Abritus. Cniva knew the terrain very well and had earlier hidden a third of his army behind a swamp. Herennius was killed by an arrow early in the fighting, prompting his father to address the army, “Let no one mourn. The death of one soldier is not a great loss to the Republic.” Decius then advanced towards the Goths, who then retreated towards the swampy terrain. When Decius’ soldiers became caught up in the mud, a separate horde of Goths sprang from behind the swamp and slaughtered them. Decius himself was slain and Gallus was forced to make a humiliating peace treaty with the Goths. Gallus was shortly proclaimed the new emperor, but he named Hostilian, the younger brother of Herennius, his co-emperor. The Senate granted Herennius and his father, the status of gods.