O’Brien Coin Guide: Roman Emperors and their Coins, Part V (Military Anarchy of the 3rd C)


Introduction

The Crisis of the Third Century, also known as the Military Anarchy or the Imperial Crisis, (AD 235–284) was a period in which the Roman Empire nearly collapsed under the combined pressures of invasion, civil war, plague, and economic depression.

  • The Crisis began with the assassination of Emperor Alexander Severus at the hands of his own troops in 235, initiating a fifty-year period in which there were at least 26 claimants to the title of Emperor, mostly prominent Roman army generals, assuming imperial power over all or part of the Empire.
  • Twenty-six men were officially accepted by the Roman Senate as emperor during this period, and thus became legitimate emperors.

By 268, the Empire had split into three competing states: the Gallic Empire, including the Roman provinces of Gaul, Britannia and (briefly) Hispania; the Palmyrene Empire, including the eastern provinces of Syria Palaestina and Aegyptus; and the Italian-centered and independent Roman Empire, proper, between them. Later, Aurelian (270–75) reunited the empire; the Crisis ended with the ascension and reforms of Diocletian in 284.

The Crisis resulted in such profound changes in the Empire's institutions, society, economic life and, eventually, religion, that it is increasingly seen by most historians as defining the transition between the historical periods of classical antiquity and late antiquity

The Crisis resulted in such profound changes in the Empire’s institutions, society, economic life and, eventually, religion, that it is considered by most historians as defining the transition between the historical periods of classical antiquity and late antiquity

The Emperors & their coins

Maximinus I

Maximinus is described by several ancient sources, though none are contemporary except Herodian’s Roman History. He was a so-called barracks emperor of the 3rd century; his rule is often considered to mark the beginning of the Crisis of the Third Century. He died at Aquileia whilst attempting to put down a Senatorial revolt.

  • CAESAR GAIVS IVLIVS VERVS MAXIMINVS AVGVSTVS
  • Proclaimed emperor by German legions after the murder of Severus Alexander

Maximinus hated the nobility and was ruthless towards those he suspected of plotting against him. He began by eliminating the close advisors of Alexander. His suspicions may have been justified; two plots against Maximinus were foiled.

  • The first was during a campaign across the Rhine, when a group of officers, supported by influential senators, plotted to destroy a bridge across the river, in order to strand Maximinus in hostile territory. They planned to elect senator Magnus emperor, afterwards; but the conspiracy was discovered and the conspirators executed.
  • The second plot involved Mesopotamian archers who were loyal to Alexander. They planned to elevate Quartinus, but their leader Macedo changed sides and murdered Quartinus instead, although this was not enough to save his own life.

The accession of Maximinus is commonly seen as the beginning of the Crisis of the Third Century (also known as the “Military Anarchy” or the “Imperial Crisis”), the commonly applied name for the crumbling and near collapse of the Roman Empire between 235 and 284 caused by three simultaneous crises: external invasion, internal civil war, and economic collapse.

Maximinus’ first campaign was against the Alamanni, whom Maximinus defeated despite heavy Roman casualties in a swamp in the Agri Decumates. After the victory, Maximinus took the title Germanicus Maximus, raised his son Maximus to the rank of caesar and princeps iuventutis, and deified his late wife Paulina.

Maximinus may have launched a second campaign deep into Germania, defeating a Germanic tribe beyond the Weser in the Battle at the Harzhorn. Securing the German frontier, at least for a while, Maximinus then set up a winter encampment at Sirmium in Pannonia, and from that supply base fought the Dacians and the Sarmatians during the winter of 235–236

  • Maximinus reigned from March 20, 235 AD – June 238 AD, until he was assassinated by Praetorian Guard
  • He reigned for 3 years, 3 months
Maximinus I Thrax AE Sestertius, RIC 40, Cohen 71, BMC 221

Maximinus I Thrax AE Sestertius, RIC 40, Cohen 71, BMC 221

Roman Gold Aureus of Maximinus I (235-238 C.E.)

Roman Gold Aureus of Maximinus I (235-238 C.E.)

Gordian I

During the reign of Alexander Severus, Gordian (who was by then in his late sixties), after serving his suffect consulship prior to 223, drew lots for the proconsular governorship of the province of Africa Proconsularis which he assumed in 237. However, prior to the commencement of his promagistrature,Maximinus Thrax killed Emperor Alexander Severus at Moguntiacum in Germania Inferior and assumed the throne.

  • Maximinus was not a popular emperor and universal discontent roused by his oppressive rule culminated in a revolt in Africa in 238. The trigger was the actions of Maximinus’s procurator in Africa, who sought to extract the maximum level of taxation and fines possible, including falsifying charges against the local aristocracy.

A riot saw the death of the procurator, after which they turned to Gordian and demanded that he accept the dangerous honor of the imperial throne. Gordian, after protesting that he was too old for the position, eventually yielded to the popular clamour and assumed both the purple and the cognomen Africanus on March 22

  • CAESAR MARCVS ANTONIVS GORDIANVS SEMPRONIANVS AFRICANVS AVGVSTVS

Due to his advanced age, he insisted that his son, Marcus Antonius Gordianus (Gordian II), be associated with him. A few days later, Gordian entered the city of Carthage with the overwhelming support of the population and local political leaders. Meanwhile in Rome, Maximinus’ praetorian prefect was assassinated and the rebellion seemed to be successful. Gordian in the meantime had sent an embassy to Rome, under the leadership of Publius Licinius Valerianus, to obtain the Senate’s support for his rebellion. 

  • The senate confirmed the new emperor on 2 April and many of the provinces gladly sided with Gordian.

Opposition would come from the neighbouring province of Numidia. Capelianus, governor of Numidia, loyal supporter of Maximinus Thrax, and who held a grudge against Gordian, renewed his alliance to the former emperor and invaded Africa province with the only legion stationed in the region, III Augusta, and other veteran units.

  • Gordian II, at the head of a militia army of untrained soldiers, lost the Battle of Carthage and was killed, and Gordian took his own life by hanging himself with his belt.
  • The Gordians had reigned only thirty-six days
Gordian I AR Denarius. IMP M ANT GORDIANVS AFR AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right, seen from behind / P M TR P COS P P, Gordian, standing facing, head left, holding branch in right hand & a short scepter in left. RSC 2

Gordian I AR Denarius. IMP M ANT GORDIANVS AFR AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right, seen from behind / P M TR P COS P P, Gordian, standing facing, head left, holding branch in right hand & a short scepter in left. RSC 2

Gordian I Æ Sestertius. IMP CAES M ANT GORDIANVS AFR AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right, seen from behind / P M T-R P COS P P S-C, Gordian standing left, holding branch in right hand & resting left on parazonium. Cohen 3.

Gordian I Æ Sestertius. IMP CAES M ANT GORDIANVS AFR AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right, seen from behind / P M T-R P COS P P S-C, Gordian standing left, holding branch in right hand & resting left on parazonium. Cohen 3.

Gordian II

  • CAESAR MARCVS ANTONIVS GORDIANVS SEMPRONIANVS ROMANVS AFRICANVS AVGVSTVS
  • Proclaimed emperor, alongside father Gordian I, in opposition to Maximinus by act of the Senate.
  • Killed during the Battle of Carthage, fighting a pro-Maximinus army

Having embraced the cause of Gordian, the senate was obliged to continue the revolt against Maximinus, and appointed Pupienus and Balbinus, as joint emperors. Nevertheless, by the end of 238, the recognised emperor would be Gordian III, his grandson.

  • Gordian and his son were deified by the Senate.
Denarius of Gordian II Africanus (238 CE) minted in Rome. Obverse IMP M ANT GORDIANVS AFR AVG, laureate and draped bust right; reverse PROVIDENTIA AVG

Denarius of Gordian II Africanus (238 CE) minted in Rome. Obverse IMP M ANT GORDIANVS AFR AVG, laureate and draped bust right; reverse PROVIDENTIA AVG

Gordian II Æ Sestertius. IMP CAES M ANT GORDIANS AFR AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right / VIRTVS AVGG, S C across field, Virtus standing left, holding spear and resting against shield. Cohen 15

Gordian II Æ Sestertius. IMP CAES M ANT GORDIANS AFR AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right / VIRTVS AVGG, S C across field, Virtus standing left, holding spear and resting against shield. Cohen 15

Pupienus

When Gordian I and his son were proclaimed Emperors in Africa, the Senate appointed a committee of twenty men, including the elderly Senator Pupienus, to co-ordinate operations against Maximinus until the arrival of the Gordians. On the news of the Gordians’ defeat and deaths, however, the Senate met in closed session in the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus and voted for two members of the committee to be installed as co-emperors – Pupienus and Balbinus

  • CAESAR MARCVS CLODIVS PVPIENVS MAXIMVS AVGVSTVS

However, factions within the Senate who had hoped to profit from the accession of the Gordians manipulated the people and the Praetorian Guard to agitate for the elevation of Gordian III as their imperial colleague. Leaving his senior colleague Balbinus in charge of the civil administration at Rome, sometime during late April Pupienus marched to Ravenna, where he oversaw the campaign against Maximinus, recruiting German auxiliary troops who had served under him whilst he was in Germania

  •  after Maximinus was assassinated by his soldiers just outside Aquileia, Pupienus despatched both Maximinus’s troops and his own back to their provinces (along with a considerable donative) and returned to Rome with his newly acquired German bodyguard.

Balbinus, in the meantime, had failed to keep public order in the capital.

  • The sources suggest that Balbinus suspected Pupienus of using his newly acquired German bodyguard to supplant him, and they were soon living in different parts of the Imperial palace.
  • This meant that they were at the mercy of disaffected elements in the Praetorians, who resented serving under Senate-appointed emperors, and now plotted to kill them.
  • Pupienus, becoming aware of the threat, begged Balbinus to call for the German bodyguard. Balbinus, believing that this news was part of a plot by Pupienus to have him assassinated, refused, and the two began to argue just as the Praetorians burst into the room.
  • Both emperors were seized and dragged back to the Praetorian barracks where they were tortured and brutally hacked to death.
Pupienus AR Antoninianus. IMP CAES PVPIEN MAXIMVS AVG, radiate draped bust right / AMOR MVTVVS AVGG, clasped hands. RIC 9b, RSC 2

Pupienus AR Antoninianus. IMP CAES PVPIEN MAXIMVS AVG, radiate draped bust right / AMOR MVTVVS AVGG, clasped hands. RIC 9b, RSC 2

Pupienus AE Dupondius. IMP CAES M CLOD PVPIENVS AVG, radiate, draped & cuirassed bust right / VOTIS/DECENNA/LIBVS/SC within wreath

Pupienus AE Dupondius. IMP CAES M CLOD PVPIENVS AVG, radiate, draped & cuirassed bust right / VOTIS/DECENNA/LIBVS/SC within wreath

Balbinus

Proclaimed joint emperor with Pupienus by the Senate after death of Gordian I and II, in opposition to Maximinus; later co-emperor with Pupienus and Gordian III. Balbinus reigned from April 22, 238 AD – July 29, 238 AD, until assassinated by Praetorian Guard (as detailed above)

  • CAESAR DECIMVS CAELIVS CALVINVS BALBINVS PIVS AVGVSTVS
Balbinus Denarius. 238 AD. IMP C D CAEL BALBINVS AVG, laureate draped bust right / LIBERALITAS AVGVSTORVM, Liberalitas standing left holding coin counter & cornucopiae. RSC 10

Balbinus Denarius. 238 AD. IMP C D CAEL BALBINVS AVG, laureate draped bust right / LIBERALITAS AVGVSTORVM, Liberalitas standing left holding coin counter & cornucopiae

Balbinus Æ Sestertius, IMP CAES D CAE L BALBINVS AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right / PROVIDENTIA DEORVM, Providentia standing left with cornucopia & wand pointed at globe at feet. RIC 19, Cohen 24

Balbinus Æ Sestertius, IMP CAES D CAE L BALBINVS AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right / PROVIDENTIA DEORVM, Providentia standing left with cornucopia & wand pointed at globe at feet. RIC 19, Cohen 24

Gordian III

At the age of 13, he became the youngest sole legal Roman emperor throughout the existence of the united Roman Empire. Gordian was the son of Antonia Gordiana and an unnamed Roman Senator who died before 238. Antonia Gordiana was the daughter of Emperor Gordian I and younger sister of Emperor Gordian II.

  • CAESAR MARCVS ANTONIVS GORDIANVS AVGVSTVS

Due to Gordian’s age, the imperial government was surrendered to the aristocratic families, who controlled the affairs of Rome through the Senate. In 240, Sabinianus revolted in the African province, but the situation was quickly brought under control.

  • In 241, Gordian was married to Furia Sabinia Tranquillina, daughter of the newly appointed praetorian prefect, Timesitheus. As chief of the Praetorian Guard and father in law of the Emperor, Timesitheus quickly became the de facto ruler of the Roman Empire.

In the 3rd century, the Roman frontiers weakened against the Germanic tribes across the Rhine and Danube, and the Sassanid Empire across the Euphrates increased its own attacks.

  • When the Persians under Shapur I invaded Mesopotamia, the young emperor opened the doors of the Temple of Janusfor the last time in Roman history, and sent a large army to the East.
  • The Sassanids were driven back over the Euphrates and defeated in the Battle of Resaena (AD 243).
  • The campaign was a success and Gordian, who had joined the army, was planning an invasion of the enemy’s territory, when his father-in-law died in unclear circumstances.
  • Without Timesitheus, the campaign, and the Emperor’s security, were at risk.

Philip transferred the body of the deceased Timesitheus to Rome and arranged for his deification.

  • Gordian’s youth and good nature, along with the deaths of his grandfather and uncle and his own tragic fate at the hands of the enemy, earned him the lasting esteem of the Romans.
  • The soldiers held Gordian in high esteem, as he may have sacrificed his life to save them in 244
  • Gaius Julius Priscus and, later on, his own brother Marcus Julius Philippus, also known as Philip the Arab, stepped in at this moment as the new Praetorian Prefects and the campaign proceeded.
  • Around February 244, the Persians fought back fiercely to halt the Roman advance to Ctesiphon.
    • Persian sources claim that a battle occurred (Battle of Misiche) near modern Fallujah (Iraq) and resulted in a major Roman defeat and the death of Gordian III.
    • Roman sources do not mention this battle and suggest that Gordian died far away from Misiche, at Zaitha (Qalat es Salihiyah) in northern Mesopotamia.
    • Modern scholarship is not unanimously accepting this course of the events.
    • One view holds that Gordian died at Zaitha, murdered by his frustrated army, while the role of Philip is unknown.
    • Other scholars, such as Kettenhofen, Hartman and Winter have concluded that Gordian died in battle.
Gordian III AV Aureus. Rome, AD 239. IMP CAES M ANT GORDIANVS AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right

Gordian III AV Aureus. Rome, AD 239. IMP CAES M ANT GORDIANVS AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right

Gordian III AR Antoninianus. 238-239 AD. IMP CAES M ANT GORDIANVS AVG, radiate, draped & cuirassed bust right / VIRTVS AVG, Virtus standing facing in military dress, head left, with shield & spear. RIC 6, RSC 381

Gordian III AR Antoninianus. 238-239 AD. IMP CAES M ANT GORDIANVS AVG, radiate, draped & cuirassed bust right / VIRTVS AVG, Virtus standing facing in military dress, head left, with shield & spear. RIC 6, RSC 381

Furia Sabinia Tranquillina (ca. 225 – aft. 244) was the Empress of Rome and wife of Emperor Gordian III. She was the young daughter of the Praetorian Prefect Timesitheus by an unknown wife.

  • In 241 her father was appointed the head of the Praetorian Guard by the Roman Emperor Gordian III.
  • In May that year, Tranquillina had married Gordian.
  • She became a Roman Empress and received the honorific title of Augusta.
  • Her marriage to Gordian was an admission by the young emperor of both Timesitheus’ political indispensability and Tranquillina’s suitability as an empress
Tranquillina, wife of Gordian III, Augusta, AD 241-244. Silver Denarius minted at Rome. SABINIA TRANQ-VILLINA AVG. Diademed and draped bust of Tranquillina right. Reverse: CONCORDIA AVGG. Concordia (Concord) enthroned left, holding patera and double cornucopiae. RIC 252 (R4); RSC 1a

Tranquillina, wife of Gordian III, Augusta, AD 241-244. Silver Denarius minted at Rome. SABINIA TRANQ-VILLINA AVG. Diademed and draped bust of Tranquillina right. Reverse: CONCORDIA AVGG. Concordia (Concord) enthroned left, holding patera and double cornucopiae. RIC 252 (R4); RSC 1a

Philip I

Philip’s rise to prominence began through the intervention of his brother Priscus, who was an important official under the emperor Gordian III. His big break came in 243, during Gordian III’s campaign against Shapur I of Persia, when the Praetorian prefect Timesitheus died under unclear circumstances.

  • At the suggestion of his brother Priscus, Philip became the new Praetorian prefect, with the intention that the two brothers would control the young Emperor and rule the Roman world as unofficial regents.
  • Following a military defeat, Gordian III died in 244 under circumstances that are still debated.
  • While some claim that Philip conspired in his murder, other accounts (including one coming from the Persian point of view) state that Gordian died in battle.
  • Whatever the case, Philip assumed the purple robe following Gordian’s death.
  • CAESAR MARCVS IVLIVS PHILIPPVS AVGVSTVS

Philip was not willing to repeat the mistakes of previous claimants, and was aware that he had to return to Rome in order to secure his position with the senate. However, his first priority was to conclude a peace treaty with Shapur I of Persia, and withdraw the army from a potentially disastrous situation.

  • Although Philip was accused of abandoning territory, the actual terms of the peace were not as humiliating as they could have been. Philip apparently retained Timesitheus’ reconquest of Osroene and Mesopotamia, but he had to agree that Armenia lay within Persia’s sphere of influence.
  • He also had to pay an enormous indemnity to the Persians of 500,000 gold denarii.
  • Philip immediately issued coins proclaiming that he had made peace with the Persians (pax fundata cum Persis)

Philp’s downfall was due to continued problems in the provinces.

  • In late 248, the legions of Pannonia and Moesia, dissatisfied with the result of the war against the Carpi, rebelled and proclaimed Tiberius Claudius Pacatianus emperor.
  • The confusion that this entailed tempted the Quadi and other Germanic tribes to cross the frontier and raid Pannonia
  • At the same time, the Goths invaded Moesia and Thrace across the Danube frontier, and laid siege to Marcianopolis, as the Carpi, encouraged by the Gothic incursions, renewed their assaults in Dacia and Moesia
  • Meanwhile, in the East, Marcus Jotapianus led another uprising in response to the oppressive rule of Priscus and the excessive taxation of the Eastern provinces.
  • Two other usurpers, Marcus Silbannacus and Sponsianus, are also reported to have started unsuccessful rebellions

Overwhelmed by the number of invasions and usurpers, Philip offered to resign, but the Senate decided to throw its support behind the Emperor, with a certain Gaius Messius Quintus Decius most vocal of all the senators. Philip was so impressed by his support that he dispatched Decius to the region with a special command encompassing all of the Pannonian and Moesian provinces.

  • This had a dual purpose of both quelling the rebellion of Pacatianus as well as dealing with the barbarian incursions
  • Although Decius managed to quell the revolt, discontent in the legions was growing. Decius was proclaimed Emperor by the Danubian armies in the spring of 249 and immediately marched on Rome.

Yet even before he had left the region, the situation for Philip had turned even more sour. Financial difficulties had forced him to debase the Antoninianus, as rioting began to occur in Egypt, causing disruptions to Rome’s wheat supply and further eroding Philip’s support in the capital.

Although Decius tried to come to terms with Philip, Philip’s army met the usurper near modern Verona that summer. Philip’s army probably consisted of 2-3 Italian legions and the Praetorian Guard, bringing the numbers up to 20,000 men, while Decius’ own forces consisted of 4-6 legions from the Danube region, as well as several cohorts of auxiliaries and contingents of cavalry, numbering a total of 30,000-40,000 soldiers.

  • Decius easily won the battle and Philip was killed sometime in September 249, either in the fighting or assassinated by his own soldiers who were eager to please the new ruler.
  • Philip’s eleven-year-old son and heir may have been killed with his father and Priscus disappeared without a trace
Philip I AR Antoninianus, IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG, radiate and draped bust right / P M TR P III COS P P, Felicitas, standing left with caduceus & cornucopiae. RIC 3, RSC 124

Philip I AR Antoninianus, IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG, radiate and draped bust right / P M TR P III COS P P, Felicitas, standing left with caduceus & cornucopiae. RIC 3, RSC 124

Philip I AE Sestertius. IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG, bust right / P M TR P V COS III P P S-C, Felicitas standing left holding a caduceus & cornucopiae

Philip I AE Sestertius. IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG, bust right / P M TR P V COS III P P S-C, Felicitas standing left holding a caduceus & cornucopiae

He made his son Philip II co-emperor in summer 247 AD

Philip II AV Aureus. 248 AD. IMP PHILIPPVS AVG, laureate draped bust right / SAECVLARES AVG, low column inscribed COS II. Cohen 77

Philip II AV Aureus. 248 AD. IMP PHILIPPVS AVG, laureate draped bust right / SAECVLARES AVG, low column inscribed COS II. Cohen 77

Philip II, as Caesar, AR Antoninianus. M IVL PHILIPPVS CAES, radiate, draped & cuirassed bust right / PRINCIPI IVVENT, attendant standing behind Philip II holding spear & parazonium

Philip II, as Caesar, AR Antoninianus. M IVL PHILIPPVS CAES, radiate, draped & cuirassed bust right / PRINCIPI IVVENT, attendant standing behind Philip II holding spear & parazonium

He also had his wife, Otacilia Severa, named Augusta.

Marcia Otacilia Severa or Otacilia Severa was the Empress of Rome and wife of Emperor Marcus Julius Philippus or Philip the Arab, who reigned over the Roman Empire from 244 to 249. She was a member of the ancient gens Otacilia, of consular and senatorial rank.

  • Her father was Otacilius Severus or Severianus, who served as Roman Governor of Macedonia and Moesia
  • Her mother was a member of gens Marcius or was related to the gens.

Severa and Philip are generally considered as the first Christian imperial couple, because during their reign the persecutions of Christians had ceased and the couple had become tolerant towards Christianism.

  • It was through her intervention, for instance, that Bishop and Saint Babylas of Antioch was saved from persecution.
  • Severa was in Rome that time and when the news of her husband’s death arrived, their son was murdered by the Praetorian Guard still in her arms.
  • Severa survived her husband and son and lived later in obscurity. It is mentioned in the Roan scripts of Malta V.118 of the museum of Valletta that she had set sail to the land of Aliya Shamsan to live in the birthplace of Phillip
Otacilia Severa, Philip I, & Philip II as Caesar, AE44 Bimetallic Orichalcum & Copper medallion. Rome, 244-247 AD. MARCIA OTACIL SEVERA AVG, draped bust of Otacilia right, in stephane / PIETAS AVGVSTORVM, draped busts of Philip I, laureate, & Philip II, bare-headed, vis a vis, both busts seen from behind. Gnecchi 1

Otacilia Severa, Philip I, & Philip II as Caesar, AE44 Bi-metallic Orichalcum & Copper medallion. Rome, 244-247 AD. MARCIA OTACIL SEVERA AVG, draped bust of Otacilia right, in stephane / PIETAS AVGVSTORVM, draped busts of Philip I, laureate, & Philip II, bare-headed, vis a vis, both busts seen from behind. Gnecchi 1

Otacilia Severa AV Aureus. MARCIA OTACIL SEVERA AVG, diademed, draped bust right / PVDICITIA AVG, Pudicitia seated left, pulling veil from face & holding scepter. Cohen 51

Otacilia Severa gold Aureus. MARCIA OTACIL SEVERA AVG, diademed, draped bust right / PVDICITIA AVG, Pudicitia seated left, pulling veil from face & holding scepter. Cohen 51

Otacilia Severa AR Antoninianus. Antioch mint. M OTACIL SEVERA AVG, diademed & draped bust right, resting on a crescent / P M TR P IIII COS II P P, Philip, veiled, standing left, sacrificing over tripod

Otacilia Severa silver Antoninianus. Antioch mint. M OTACIL SEVERA AVG, diademed & draped bust right, resting on a crescent / P M TR P IIII COS II P P, Philip, veiled, standing left, sacrificing over tripod

Trajan Decius

Trajan Decius was Roman Emperor from 249 to 251. In the last year of his reign, he co-ruled with his son Herennius Etruscus until they were both killed in the Battle of Abritus fighting against the Goths.

  • Trajan Decius was the first Roman Emperor to die in battle against a foreign enemy

Unlike some of his immediate imperial predecessors such as Philip the Arab or Maximinus who did not have extensive administrative experience before assuming the throne, Decius was a distinguished senator who had served as consul in 232, had been governor of Moesia and Germania Inferior soon afterwards, served as governor of Hispania Tarraconensis between 235–238, and was urban prefect of Rome during the early reign of Emperor Philip the Arab (Marcus Iulius Phillippus).

Around 245, Emperor Philip entrusted Decius with an important command on the Danube. By the end of 248 or 249, Decius was sent to quell the revolt of Pacatianus and his troops in Moesia and Pannonia; some modern historians see this rebellion as a reflection of emerging Balkan separatism.

  • After the collapse of the revolt, Decius let the troops proclaim him Emperor.
  • Philip had to advance against him and was killed near Verona, Italy, in September 249.
  • The Senate then recognized Decius as Emperor, giving him the attribute Traianus “the good emperor Trajan”
  • CAESAR GAIVS MESSIVS QVINTVS TRAIANVS DECIVS AVGVSTVS

Decius’ political program was focused on the restoration of the strength of the State, both militarily opposing the external threats, and restoring the public piety with a program of renovation of the State religion. This resulted in the persecution of Christians under Decius

  • A number of prominent Christians were killed, including Pope Fabian himself in 250
  • Anti-Christian feeling led to pogroms at Carthage and Alexandria
  • At this time, there was a second outbreak of the Antonine Plague, which at its height from 251 to 266, took the lives of 5,000 daily in Rome.
  • This outbreak is referred to as the “Plague of Cyprian” (the bishop of Carthage), where both the plague and the persecution of Christians were especially severe

During his reign, he proceeded with several building projects in Rome, “including the Thermae Decianae or Baths of Decius on the Aventine”, which was completed in 252 and survived through to the 16th century

  • Decius also acted to repair the Colosseum, which had been damaged by lightning strikes

The barbarian incursions into the Empire were becoming more and more daring and frequent whereas the Empire was facing a serious economic crisis in Decius’ time. During his brief reign, Decius engaged in important operations against the Goths, who crossed the Danube to raid districts of Moesia and Thrace. This is the first considerable occasion the Goths — who would later come to play such an important role — appear in the historical record.

  • The Goths under King Cniva were surprised by the emperor while besieging Nicopolis on the Danube; the Goths fled through the difficult terrain of the Balkans, but then doubled back and surprised the Romans near Beroë (modern Stara Zagora), sacking their camp and dispersing the Roman troops.
    • The Goths then moved to attack Philippopolis (modern Plovdiv), which fell into their hands.
  • The governor of Thrace, Titus Julius Priscus, declared himself Emperor under Gothic protection in opposition to Decius but Priscus’s challenge was rendered moot when he was killed soon afterwards.
    • Then the invaders began returning to their homeland, laden with booty and captives

The Battle of Abritus

In the meantime, Decius had returned with his re-organized army, accompanied by his son Herennius Etruscus and the general Trebonianus Gallus, intending to defeat the invaders and recover the booty.

  • The final engagement, the battle of Abrittus, in which the Goths fought with the courage of despair, under the command of Cniva, took place during the second week of June 251 on swampy ground in the Ludogorie (region in northeastern Bulgaria which merges with Dobruja plateau and the Danube Plain to the north) near the small settlement of Abrittus or Forum Terebronii (modern Razgrad).
  • Jordanes records that Decius’ son Herennius Etruscus was killed by an arrow early in the battle, and to cheer his men Decius exclaimed, “Let no one mourn; the death of one soldier is not a great loss to the republic.”
  • Nevertheless, Decius’ army was entangled in the swamp and annihilated in this battle, while he himself was killed on the field of battle.
Trajan Decius AV Aureus. 249 AD. IMP TRAIANVS DECIVS AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right / VICTORIA AVG, Victory advancing left bearing wreath & palm. Calico 3301, Cohen 108

Trajan Decius AV Aureus. 249 AD. IMP TRAIANVS DECIVS AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right / VICTORIA AVG, Victory advancing left bearing wreath & palm. Calico 3301, Cohen 108

Trajan Decius AR Antoninianus. IMP C M Q TRAIANVS DECIVS AVG, radiate, draped & cuirassed bust right /PANNONIAE, the two Pannoniae standing front holding standards. RIC 21b, RSC 86

Trajan Decius AR Antoninianus. IMP C M Q TRAIANVS DECIVS AVG, radiate, draped & cuirassed bust right /PANNONIAE, the two Pannoniae standing front holding standards. RIC 21b, RSC 86

Trajan Decius Æ Sestertius. Struck 249-250 AD. IMP C M Q TRAIANVS DECIVS AVG, laureate and cuirassed bust right, seen from behind / DACIA FELIX S-C, Dacia standing left, holding ensign. Cohen 35

Trajan Decius Æ Sestertius. Struck 249-250 AD. IMP C M Q TRAIANVS DECIVS AVG, laureate and cuirassed bust right, seen from behind / DACIA FELIX S-C, Dacia standing left, holding ensign. Cohen 35

Philip I made his son Herennius Etruscus co-emperor in early 251 AD

Hostilian

Following his father’s accession to the throne, Hostilian received the treatment of an imperial prince, but was always kept in the shade of his brother Herennius, who enjoyed the privileges of being older and heir. In the beginning of 251, Decius elevated his son Herennius to co-emperor and Hostilian succeeded him in the title of princeps iuventutis (prince of youth).

  • Decius and Herennius then set out on campaign against king Cniva of the Goths, to punish him for raids on the Danubian frontier. Hostilian remained in Rome due to his inexperience, and empress Herennia was named regent.
  • The campaign proved to be a disaster: both Herennius and Decius died in the Battle of Abrittus and became the first two emperors to be killed by a foreign army in battle.
  • The armies in the Danube acclaimed Trebonianus Gallus emperor, but Rome acknowledged Hostilian’s rights.
  • Since Trebonianus was a respected general, there was fear of another civil war of succession, despite the fact that he chose to respect the will of Rome and adopted Hostilian. But later in 251, the Plague of Cyprian broke out in the Empire and Hostilian died in the epidemic.
    • He was the first emperor in 40 years to die of natural causes (plague), one of only 13.
    • His death opened the way for the rule of Trebonianus with his natural son Volusianus.
  • CAESAR CAIVS VALENS HOSTILIANVS MESSIVS QVINTVS AVGVSTVS
  • Son of Trajan Decius, accepted as heir by the Senate
Hostilian AR Antoninianus. C VAL HOS MES QVINTVS N C, radiate bust right, draped / MARS PROPVG, Mars advancing right, holding spear & shield. RSC 12

Hostilian AR Antoninianus. C VAL HOS MES QVINTVS N C, radiate bust right, draped / MARS PROPVG, Mars advancing right, holding spear & shield. RSC 12

Hostilian, as Caesar, Æ Sestertius. C VALENS HOSTIL MES QVINTVS N C, bare-headed & draped bust right / PRINCIPI IVVENTVTIS S-C, Apollo seated left, holding branch & resting elbow on lyre. RIC 215a, Cohen 31

Hostilian, as Caesar, Æ Sestertius. C VALENS HOSTIL MES QVINTVS N C, bare-headed & draped bust right / PRINCIPI IVVENTVTIS S-C, Apollo seated left, holding branch & resting elbow on lyre. RIC 215a, Cohen 31

Trebonianus Gallus

When Decius and his co-emperor and son Herennius Etruscus died in the Battle of Abrittus at the hands of the Goths, the soldiers proclaimed Gallus emperor, despite Hostilian, Decius’ surviving son, ascending the imperial throne in Rome. Gallus did not back down from his intention to become emperor, but accepted Hostilian as co-emperor, perhaps to avoid the damage of another civil war.

  • To secure his position at Rome and stabilize the situation on the Danube frontier, Gallus made peace with the Goths.
    • Peace terms allowed the Goths to leave the Roman territory while keeping their captives and plunder.
    • In addition, it was agreed that they would be paid an annual subsidy.
  • Upon reaching Rome, Gallus’ proclamation was formally confirmed by the Senate
    • His son Volusianus was appointed Caesar.
    • On June 24, 251, Decius was deified
    • By July 15 Hostilian disappears from history — he may have died in an outbreak of plague ???
  • CAESAR GAIVS VIBIVS TREBONIANVS GALLVS AVGVSTVS

It is thought that Gallus may have also ordered a localized and uncoordinated persecution of Christians but only only two incidents are known:

  • Pope Cornelius was exiled to Centumcellae, where he died in 253
  • His successor, Pope Lucius, was also exiled just after his election.
    • The latter was recalled to Rome during the reign of Valerian.

Like his predecessors, Gallus did not have an easy reign.

  • In the East, an Antiochene (Mariades) revolted, ravaged Syria and Cappadocia, then fled to the Persians.
  • Gallus ordered his troops to attack the Persians, but Persian Emperor Shapur I invaded Armenia and destroyed a large Roman army, taking it by surprise at Barbalissos in AD 253.
    • Shapur I then invaded the defenseless Syrian provinces, captured all of its legionary posts and ravaged its cities, including Antioch, without any response.
    • Persian invasions were repeated in the following year, but now Uranius Antoninus (a priest originally called Sampsiceramus), a descendant of the royal house of Emesa, confronted Shapur and forced him to retreat.
      • Sampsiceramus proclaimed himself emperor, however, and minted coins with his image upon them.
  • On the Danube, Scythian tribes were once again on the loose, despite the peace treaty signed in 251.
    • They invaded Asia Minor by sea, burned the great Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, and returned home with plunder.
    • Lower Moesia was also invaded in early 253. 
  • Aemilianus, governor of Moesia Superior and Pannonia, took the initiative of battle and defeated the invaders
    • Since the army was no longer pleased with the Emperor, the soldiers proclaimed Aemilianus emperor.
    • With a usurper, supported by Pauloctus, threatening the throne, Gallus prepared for a fight.
  • He recalled several legions and ordered reinforcements to return to Rome from Gaul under the command of the future emperor Publius Licinius Valerianus.
    • Despite these dispositions, Aemilianus marched onto Italy ready to fight for his claim and caught Gallus at Interamna (modern Terni) before the arrival of Valerianus.
  • What exactly happened there is not clear.
    • Later sources claim that after an initial defeat, Gallus and Volusianus were murdered by their own troops
    • or Gallus did not have the chance to face Aemilianus at all because his army went over to the usurper.
      • In any case, both Gallus and Volusianus were killed in August 253
Trebonianus Gallus AR Antoninianus. IMP CAE C VIB TREB GALLVS AVG, radiate, draped bust right / FELICITAS PVBLICA, Felicity standing left with caduceus and cornucopiae. RIC 33; RSC 37; Sear 9629

Trebonianus Gallus AR Antoninianus. IMP CAE C VIB TREB GALLVS AVG, radiate, draped bust right / FELICITAS PVBLICA, Felicity standing left with caduceus and cornucopiae. RIC 33; RSC 37; Sear 9629

Trebonianus Gallus AE Sestertius. Struck 253 AD. IMP CAES C VIBIVS TREBONIANVS GALLVS AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right / P M TR P IIII COS II P P, emperor standing left, sacrificing over lighted tripod altar and holding short sceptre. Cohen 96; Sear

Trebonianus Gallus AE Sestertius. Struck 253 AD. IMP CAES C VIBIVS TREBONIANVS GALLVS AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right / P M TR P IIII COS II P P, emperor standing left, sacrificing over lighted tripod altar and holding short sceptre. Cohen 96

Volusianus, AR Antoninianus. AD 251. C VIBIO VOLVSIANO CAES, radiate, draped bust right / IVNO MARTIALI, Juno seated facing within round distyle temple, peacock at her side. RIC 131; RSC 47

Volusianus, AR Antoninianus. AD 251. C VIBIO VOLVSIANO CAES, radiate, draped bust right / IVNO MARTIALI, Juno seated facing within round distyle temple, peacock at her side. RIC 131; RSC 4. He was made co-emperor by his father (Trebonianus Gallus) in AD 251

Aemilian

As Aemilian continued towards Rome, the Roman senate (after a short opposition) decided to recognize him as emperor. Aemilian then wrote to the Senate, promising to fight for the Empire in Thrace and against Persia, and to relinquish his power to the Senate, of which he considered himself a general.

  • CAESAR MARCVS AEMILIVS AEMILIANVS AVGVSTVS

Aemilian received the titles of Pius, Felix and Pater Patriae, the tribunicia potestas, and was elevated to the rank of pontifex maximus; he was not, however, elevated to consulate (possibly a hint of his non-senatorial birth).

  • His coinage shows that his propaganda focused on his capability as a military commander
    • he defeated the Goths when nobody thought this possible
    • thus he was “the right man” for the job of restoring the power of the Roman Empire

However, Valerian, governor of the Rhine provinces, was on his way south with an army which, according to Zosimus, had been called in as a reinforcement by Gallus.

  • Modern historians believe this army, possibly mobilized for an incumbent campaign in the East, moved only after Gallus’ death to support Valerian’s bid for power.
  • Emperor Aemilian’s men, fearful of a civil war and Valerian’s larger force, mutinied.
  • They killed Aemilian at Spoletium or at theSanguinarium bridge, between Oriculum and Narnia (half way between Spoletium and Rome), and recognized Valerian as the new emperor.

The troubled administration of emperor Aemilian was perhaps best summed up by Eutropius:

“Aemilianus came from an extremely insignificant family, his reign was even more insignificant, and he was slain in the third month”

Aemilian AR Antoninianus. IMP AEMILIANVS PIVS FEL AVG, radiate, draped & cuirassed bust right / APOL CONSERVAT, Apollo standing left, resting against lyre & holding branch. RSC 2; Sear 9830

Aemilian AR Antoninianus. IMP AEMILIANVS PIVS FEL AVG, radiate, draped & cuirassed bust right / APOL CONSERVAT, Apollo standing left, resting against lyre & holding branch. RSC 2; Sear 9830

Aemilian AE Sestertius. IMP AEMILIANVS PIVS FEL AVG, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right / APOL CONSERVAT, Apollo standing left, holding branch and resting hand on lyre set on a rock. Sear 9853

Aemilian AE Sestertius. IMP AEMILIANVS PIVS FEL AVG, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right / APOL CONSERVAT, Apollo standing left, holding branch and resting hand on lyre set on a rock. Sear 9853

However, Valerian, governor of the Rhine provinces, was on his way south with an army which, according to Zosimus, had been called in as a reinforcement by Gallus.

  • Modern historians believe this army, possibly mobilized for an incumbent campaign in the East, moved only after Gallus’ death to support Valerian’s bid for power.
  • Emperor Aemilian’s men, fearful of a civil war and Valerian’s larger force, mutinied.
  • They killed Aemilian at Spoletium or at theSanguinarium bridge, between Oriculum and Narnia (half way between Spoletium and Rome), and recognized Valerian as the new emperor.

The troubled administration of emperor Aemilian was perhaps best summed up by Eutropius:

“Aemilianus came from an extremely insignificant family, his reign was even more insignificant, and he was slain in the third month”

Valerian

Unlike many of the ephemeral emperors and rebels who bid for Imperial Power during the Crisis of the Third Century of the Roman Empire, Valerian was of a noble and traditional senatorial family. Upon his arrival in late September, Aemilianus’s legions defected, killing Aemilianus and proclaiming Valerian emperor. In Rome, the Senate quickly acknowledged Valerian, not only for fear of reprisals but also because he was one of their own.

  • CAESAR PVBLIVS LICINIVS VALERIANVS AVGVSTVS

Valerian’s first act as emperor on 22 October 253 was to make his son Gallienus his Caesar and colleague. Early in his reign, affairs in Europe went from bad to worse, and the whole West fell into disorder. In the East, Antioch had fallen into the hands of a Sassanid vassal and Armenia was occupied by Shapur I (Sapor).

  • Valerian and Gallienus split the problems of the empire between them,
  • with the son taking the West, and the father heading East to face the Persian threat.

By 257, he had recovered Antioch and returned the province of Syria to Roman control.

  • The following year, the Goths ravaged Asia Minor.
  • In 259, Valerian moved on to Edessa, but an outbreak of plague killed a critical number of legionaries, weakening the Roman position, and the town was besieged by the Persians.
  • At the beginning of 260, Valerian was decisively defeated in the Battle of Edessa, and he arranged a meeting with Shapur to negotiate a peace settlement. The truce was betrayed by Shapur, who seized Valerian and held him prisoner for the remainder of his life. Valerian’s capture was a tremendous defeat for the Romans.
  • Valerian was the only Roman Emperor who was captured as a prisoner of war, causing instability in the Empire.

Valerian, while fighting the Persians, sent two letters to the Senate, ordering steps to be taken against Christians.

  • The first, sent in 257, commanded Christian clergy to perform sacrifices to the Roman gods or face banishment.
  • The second, the following year, ordered Christian leaders to be executed, Roman senators and knights who were Christians to perform acts of worship to the Roman gods or lose their titles, their property and if they continued to refuse, also to be executed, Roman matrons who would not apostatize to lose their property and be banished, and civil servants and members of the Imperial household who would not worship the Roman gods to be reduced to slavery and sent to work on the Imperial estates.
    • This shows that Christians were prevalent at this time in very high positions.
    • Among the prominent Christians executed as a result of their refusal to perform acts of worship to the Roman gods as ordered by Valerian were Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, Pope Sixtus II, bishop of Rome along with six deacons and Lawrence of Rome.
      • When Valerian’s son Gallienus became Emperor in 260, the legislation was rescinded
  • Valerian died in captivity and, it is said, he was subjected to constant insult and torture
    • The greatest insult, allegedly, was being used as a human footstool by Shapur when mounting his horse
    • His death is a much fabled affair
      • Shapur was said to have forced Valerian to swallow molten gold
      • that Shapur had Valerian was killed by being flayed alive
      • that Valerian skinned and his skin stuffed with straw and preserved as a trophy in the main Persian temple
      • it was only after a later Persian defeat against Rome that his skin was given a cremation and burial
  • The captivity and death of Valerian is frequently debated by historians without any definitive conclusion
    • The joint rule of Valerian and Gallienus was threatened several times by usurpers.
    • Gallienus secured the throne until his own assassination in 268 AD
Valerian I. 253-260 AD. AV Aureus, 2.72g. Rome. IMP C P LIC VALERIANVS AVG, laureate, draped, cuirassed bust right / IOVI CONSERVA, Jupiter standing left holding thunderbolt and sceptre. Goebl 25a; RIC 37; Cohen 82; Calico 3418

Valerian I. 253-260 AD. gold Aureus, 2.72g. Rome. IMP C P LIC VALERIANVS AVG, laureate, draped, cuirassed bust right / IOVI CONSERVA, Jupiter standing left holding thunderbolt and sceptre. Goebl 25a; RIC 37; Cohen 82; Calico 3418

Valerian I AR Antoninianus. Lyons mint. VALERIANVS P F AVG, radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right / ORIENS AVGG, Sol walking left, holding whip and raising right hand. RSC 143a; Sear 9950

Valerian I silver Antoninianus. Lyons mint. VALERIANVS P F AVG, radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right / ORIENS AVGG, Sol walking left, holding whip and raising right hand. RSC 143a; Sear 9950

Valerian I AE Sestertius. Rome mint, 253-254 AD. IMP C P LIC VALERIANVS AVG, laureate, draped, & cuirassed bust right, slight drapery on left shoulder / CONCORDIA EXERCIT, S C across field, Concordia standing left, holding patera in extended right hand & cradling double cornucopiae in left arm. Cohen 40v

Valerian I AE Sestertius. Rome mint, 253-254 AD. IMP C P LIC VALERIANVS AVG, laureate, draped, & cuirassed bust right, slight drapery on left shoulder / CONCORDIA EXERCIT, S C across field, Concordia standing left, holding patera in extended right hand & cradling double cornucopiae in left arm. Cohen 40v

Gallienus, AR antoninianus. Lyons mint. Joint Reign. GALLIENVS PF AVG, radiate, cuirassed bust left, holding spear and shield / FIDES MILITVM, eagle standing left, head turned right, between two standards. RIC 15 (Joint Reign); RSC 251

Gallienus, AR antoninianus. Lyons mint. Joint Reign. GALLIENVS PF AVG, radiate, cuirassed bust left, holding spear and shield / FIDES MILITVM, eagle standing left, head turned right, between two standards. RIC 15 (Joint Reign); RSC 251

Gallienus

Gallienus was Roman Emperor with his father Valerian from 253 to 260 and alone from 260 to 268. He ruled during the Crisis of the Third Century that nearly caused the collapse of the empire. While he won a number of military victories, he was unable to prevent the secession of important provinces.

  • CAESAR PVBLIVS LICINIVS EGNATIVS GALLIENVS AVGVSTVS

Gallienus spent most of his time in the provinces of the Rhine area (Germania Inferior, Germania Superior, Raetia, and Noricum), though he almost certainly visited the Danube area and Illyricum during 253 to 258. According to Eutropius and Aurelius Victor, he was particularly energetic and successful in preventing invaders from attacking the German provinces and Gaul, despite the weakness caused by Valerian’s march on Italy against Aemilianus in 253.

AD 258-260 The revolt of Ingenuus

  • Ingenuus, governor of at least one of the Pannonian provinces, declared himself emperor
  • Gallienus reacted with great speed and crossed the Balkans, taking with him the new cavalry corps (comitatus) under the command of Aureolus and defeated Ingenuus at Mursa or Sirmium.
    • The victory must be attributed mainly to the cavalry and its brilliant commander.
    • Ingenuus was killed after the fall of his capital, Sirmium.

AD 258-260 Invasion of the Alamanni

  • A major invasion by the Alemanni and other Germanic tribes occurred between 258 and 260
    • Franks broke through the lower Rhine, invading Gaul, some reaching as far as southern Spain
    • The Alamanni invaded, probably through Agri Decumates and devastated Germania Superior and Raetia
      • They entered Italy, the first invasion of the Italian peninsula, aside from its most remote northern regions, since Hannibal 500 years before.
      • When invaders reached the outskirts of Rome, they were repelled by an improvised army assembled by the Senate, consisting of local troops (probably praetorian guards) and the strongest of the civilian population.
      • On their retreat through northern Italy, they were intercepted and defeated in the battle of Mediolanum (near present day Milan) by Gallienus’ army, which had advanced from Gaul, or from the Balkans after dealing with the Franks.
      • The battle of Mediolanum was decisive, and the Alamanni didn’t bother the empire for the next ten years.
      • The Juthungi managed to cross the Alps with their valuables and captives from Italy.

AD 260 The revolt of Regalianus

  • Around the same time, Regalianus, a military commander of Illyricum, was proclaimed Emperor.
  • Regalianus held power for some six months and issued coins bearing his image.
  • After some success against the Sarmatians, his revolt ended when the Roxolani invaded Pannonia and killed Regalianus in taking the city of Sirmium.

AD 260 Capture of Valerian & the revolt of Macrianus

  • The Roman army was defeated at the Battle of Edessa, and Valerian was taken prisoner.
  • Shapur’s army raided Cilicia and Cappadocia (in present day Turkey), sacking 36 cities.
    • It took a rally by an officer Callistus (Balista), a fiscal official named Fulvius Macrianus, the remnants of the Roman army in the east, and Odenathus and his Palmyrene horsemen to turn the tide against Shapur.
    • The Sassanids were driven back, but Macrianus proclaimed his two sons Quietus and Macrianus (sometimes misspelled Macrinus) as emperors.
      • Coins struck for them in major cities of the East indicate acknowledgement of the usurpation.
      • The two Macriani left Quietus, Ballista, and, presumably, Odenathus to deal with the Persians while they invaded Europe with an army of 30,000 men, according to the Historia Augusta. At first they met no opposition.
  • The Pannonian legions joined the invaders, being resentful of the absence of Gallienus.
  • He sent his successful commander Aureolus against the rebels, however, and the decisive battle was fought in the spring or early summer of 261, most likely in Illyricum, although Zonaras locates it in Pannonia.
    • The army of the usurpers was defeated and surrendered, and their two leaders were killed.
    • In the aftermath of the battle, the rebellion of Postumus had already started, so Gallienus had no time to deal with the rest of the usurpers, namely Balista and Quietus.
      • He came to an agreement with Odenathus, who had just returned from his victorious Persian expedition.
      • Odenathus received the title of dux Romanorum and besieged the usurpers, who were based at Emesa.
      • Eventually, the people of Emesa killed Quietus, and Odenathus arrested and executed Balista

AD 260 The revolt of Postumus

  • After the defeat at Edessa, Gallienus lost control over the provinces of Britain, Spain, parts of Germania, and a large part of Gaul when another general, Postumus, declared his own realm (usually known today as the Gallic Empire).
    • The revolt partially coincided with that of Macrianus in the East.
    • Gallienus had installed his son Saloninus and his guardian, Silvanus, in Cologne in 258.
    • Postumus, a general in command of troops on the banks of the Rhine, defeated some raiders and took possession of their spoils. Instead of returning it to the original owners, he preferred to distribute it amongst his soldiers.
      • When news of this reached Silvanus, he demanded the spoils be sent to him.
      • Postumus made a show of submission, but his soldiers mutinied and proclaimed him Emperor.
    • Under his command, they besieged Cologne, and after some weeks the defenders of the city opened the gates and handed Saloninus and Silvanus to Postumus, who had them killed.
      • Postumus claimed the consulship for himself and one of his associates, Honoratianus
    • Upon receiving news of the murder of his son, Gallienus began gathering forces to face Postumus.
    • The invasion of the Macriani forced him to dispatch Aureolus with a large force to oppose them, however, leaving him with insufficient troops to battle Postumus.
      • After some initial defeats, the army of Aureolus, having defeated the Macriani, rejoined him, and Postumus was expelled.
      • Aureolus was entrusted with the pursuit and deliberately allowed Postumus to escape and gather new forces.
      • Gallienus returned in 263 or 265 and surrounded Postumus in an unnamed Gallic city.
        • During the siege, Gallienus was severely wounded by an arrow and had to leave the field.
        • A standstill persisted until his later death, and the Gallic Empire remained independent until 274.

AD 262 The revolt of Aemilianus

  • In 262, the mint in Alexandria started to again issue coins for Gallienus, demonstrating that Egypt had returned to his control after suppressing the revolt of the Macriani.
    • In spring of 262, the city was wrenched by civil unrest as a result of a new revolt – the rebel this time was the prefect of Egypt, Lucius Mussius Aemilianus, who had already given support to the revolt of the Macriani.
    • Knowing he could not afford to lose control of the vital Egyptian granaries, Gallienus sent his general Theodotus against Aemilianus, probably by a naval expedition.
      • The decisive battle probably took place near Thebes, and the result was a clear defeat of Aemilianus.
      • In the aftermath, Gallienus became Consul three more times in 262, 264, and 266.

AD 267–269 The Herulian invasions

  • A major naval expedition was led by the Heruli starting from north of the Black Sea and leading in the ravaging of many cities of Greece (among them, Athens and Sparta).
  • Then another, even more numerous army of invaders started a second naval invasion of the empire.
    • The Romans defeated the barbarians on sea first.
    • Gallienus’ army then won a battle in Thrace, and the Emperor pursued the invaders.
    • According to some historians, he was the leader of the army who won the great Battle of Naissus, while the majority believes that the victory must be attributed to his successor, Claudius II.

AD 268 The revolt of Aureolus, conspiracy and death of Gallienus

  • Soon after the battle of Naissus, the authority of Gallienus was challenged by Aureolus, commander of the cavalry stationed in Mediolanum (Milan), who was supposed to keep an eye on Postumus.
    • Instead, he acted as deputy to Postumus until the very last days of his revolt, when he seems to have claimed the throne for himself.
    • The decisive battle took place at what is now Pontirolo Nuovo near Milan; Aureolus was clearly defeated and driven back to Milan.
      • Gallienus laid siege to the city but was murdered during the siege.
      • There are differing accounts of the murder, but sources agree that most of Gallienus’ officials wanted him dead.
      • On hearing the news that Gallienus was dead, the Senate in Rome ordered the execution of his family (including his brother Valerianus and son Marinianus) and their supporters, just before receiving a message from Claudius to spare their lives and deify his predecessor
Gallienus, AV Aureus, Rome. AD 261. 2.18 g. GALLIENVM AVG SENATVS, radiate, cuirassed bust right, slight drapery on left shoulder / GENIVS AVG, Genius, modius on head, naked but for chlamys over shoulders, standing left, holding patera and cornucopiae, standard to right

Gallienus, AV Aureus, Rome. AD 261. 2.18 g. GALLIENVM AVG SENATVS, radiate, cuirassed bust right, slight drapery on left shoulder / GENIVS AVG, Genius, modius on head, naked but for chlamys over shoulders, standing left, holding patera and cornucopiae, standard to right

Gallienus, AE denarius, 19mm, 1,88g. 254 AD, Viminacium. IMP GALLIENVS P AVG, laureate, cuirassed bust right / VIRTVS AVGG, Mars (or Gallienus) in military dress, standing left, right foot on helmet or globe, holding globe and spear. Not in Ric or Cohen; Goebl 437 var (obv. legend); Doyen Viminacium 19

Gallienus, AE denarius, 19mm, 1,88g. 254 AD, Viminacium. IMP GALLIENVS P AVG, laureate, cuirassed bust right / VIRTVS AVGG, Mars (or Gallienus) in military dress, standing left, right foot on helmet or globe, holding globe and spear. Not in Ric or Cohen; Goebl 437 var (obv. legend); Doyen Viminacium 19

Saloninus, AV aureus, Commagene. 3.65 g. SALON VALERIANVS NOB CAES, bare-headed, draped bust right / SPES PVBLICA Spes standing left, raising hem of robe, presenting flower to prince

Saloninus, AV aureus, Commagene. 3.65 g. SALON VALERIANVS NOB CAES, bare-headed, draped bust right / SPES PVBLICA Spes standing left, raising hem of robe, presenting flower to prince

Saloninus Caesar AR Antoninianus. Lyons mint. SAL VALERIANVS CAES, radiate, draped bust right / PRINC IVVENT, prince standing left holding baton and transverse spear, one standard to right.

Saloninus Caesar AR Antoninianus. Lyons mint. SAL VALERIANVS CAES, radiate, draped bust right / PRINC IVVENT, prince standing left holding baton and transverse spear, one standard to right.

Claudius Gothicus

Claudius had served with the Roman army for all his adult life, making his way up the military hierarchy until the Emperor Gallienus made him the commander of his elite cavalry force (hipparchos) and subsequently his military deputy.

  • In September 268 he found himself assigned as a military tribune with the Imperial Army besieging the usurper Aureolus in Milan. His troops then proclaimed him Emperor amid charges, never proven, that he murdered his predecessor Gallienus.
  • It is possible Claudius gained his position and the respect of the soldiers by being physically strong and especially cruel. A legend tells of Claudius knocking out a horse’s teeth with one punch.
  • Claudius, like Maximinus Thrax before him, was of barbarian birth. After an interlude of failed aristocratic Roman emperors since Maximinus’ death, Claudius was the first in a series of tough soldier-emperors who would eventually restore the Empire from the Crisis of the third century
  • CAESAR MARCVS AVRELIVS CLAVDIVS AVGVSTVS

At the time of his Claudius’ accession, the Roman Empire was in serious danger from several incursions, both within and outside its borders. The most pressing of these was an invasion of Illyricum and Pannonia by the Goths. Although Gallienus had already inflicted some damage on them at the Battle of Nestus, Claudius, not long after being named Emperor, followed this up by winning his greatest victory, and one of the greatest in the history of Roman arms.

  • At the Battle of Naissus, Claudius and his legions routed a huge Gothic army.
    • Together with his cavalry commander, the future Emperor Aurelian, the Romans took thousands of prisoners, destroyed the Gothic cavalry as a force, and stormed their laager
    • The victory earned Claudius his surname of “Gothicus” (conqueror of the Goths), and that is how he is known to this day. More importantly, the Goths were soon driven back across the Danube River by Aurelian, and nearly a century passed before they again posed a serious threat to the empire.
  • At the same time, the Alamanni had crossed the Alps and attacked the empire.
    • Claudius responded quickly, routing the Alamanni at the Battle of Lake Benacus in the late fall of 268
      • For this he was awarded the title of “Germanicus Maximus.
    • He then turned on the Gallic Empire, ruled by a pretender for the past eight years and encompassing Britain, Gaul, and the Iberian Peninsula.
      • He won several victories and soon regained control of Hispania and the Rhone river valley of Gaul.
        • This set the stage for the ultimate destruction of the Gallic Empire under Aurelian.

However, Claudius did not live long enough to fulfill his goal of reuniting all the lost territories of the empire.

  • Late in 269 he had traveled to Sirmium and was preparing to go to war against the Vandals, who were raiding in Pannonia. However, he fell victim to the Plague of Cyprian (possibly smallpox), and died early in January 270.
    • Before his death, he is thought to have named Aurelian as his successor, though Claudius’ brother Quintillus briefly seized power.
      • The Senate immediately deified Claudius as “Divus Claudius Gothicus”
Claudius, AV aureus, Milan mint. 4.58 gr. IMP CLAVDIVS AVG, Laureate head left / VIRTVS AVG, Virtus advancing right, holding spear and trophy. Calico 3964

Claudius Gothicus, gold aureus, Milan mint. 4.58 gr. IMP CLAVDIVS AVG, Laureate head left / VIRTVS AVG, Virtus advancing right, holding spear and trophy. Calico 3964

Claudius II, AE Antoninianus, Cyzicus. DIVO CLAVDIO, radiate head right with two dots under head / CONSACRATIO, Flaming altar with horned roof. 4 panels on altar, dot in each panel. LaVenera Vol I 10924; Goebl 288a1

Claudius Gothicus, silver Antoninianus, Cyzicus. DIVO CLAVDIO, radiate head right with two dots under head / CONSACRATIO, Flaming altar with horned roof. 4 panels on altar, dot in each panel. LaVenera Vol I 10924; Goebl 288a1

Quintillus

The brother of Claudius Gothicus, he seized power after his death. Some historians say that Quintillus was elected by soldiers of the Roman army immediately following the death of his brother, while their choice was reportedly approved by the Roman Senate.

  • CAESAR MARCVS AVRELIVS CLAVDIVS QVINTILLVS AVGVSTVS

The few records of Quintillus’ reign are contradictory. They disagree on the length of his reign, variously reported to have lasted as few as 17 days and as many as 177 days (about six months).

Records also disagree on the cause of his death.

  • Historia Augusta reports him murdered by his own soldiers in reaction to his strict military discipline. 
  • Jerome reports him killed, presumably in conflict with Aurelian.
  • John of Antioch and Joannes Zonaras reported Quintillus to have committed suicide by opening his veins and bleeding himself to death.
  • John reports the suicide to have been assisted by a physician.
  • Claudius Salmasius pointed that Dexippus recorded the death without stating causes.
    • All records however agree in placing the death at Aquileia.

Surviving Roman records considered Quintillus a moderate and capable Emperor. He was seen as a champion of the Senate and thus compared to previous Emperors Servius Sulpicius Galba and Publius Helvius Pertinax.

  • All three were highly regarded by Senatorial sources despite their failure to survive a full year of reign.
Quintillus, AV Aureus. 5.01 gr, Milan mint. IMP C M AVR QVINTILLVS AVG, laureate, draped, cuirassed bust right / CONCORD EXER, Concordia standing facing, head left, holding standard and cornucopiae. Officina letter T in exergue. Cohen 11 (2nd ed.); Biaggi 1574; Calicó 3966; RIC - (1 var, different rev. legend); Sear 11429

Quintillus, AV Aureus. 5.01 gr, Milan mint. IMP C M AVR QVINTILLVS AVG, laureate, draped, cuirassed bust right / CONCORD EXER, Concordia standing facing, head left, holding standard and cornucopiae. Officina letter T in exergue

Quintillus AE Antoninianus. IMP C M AVR C L QVINTILLVS AVG, radiate, draped bust right / APOLLINI CONS, Apollo standing left holding branch and resting hand on lyre set on rock. H in exergue. RIC 9 var (position of H)

Quintillus AE Antoninianus. IMP C M AVR C L QVINTILLVS AVG, radiate, draped bust right / APOLLINI CONS, Apollo standing left holding branch and resting hand on lyre set on rock. H in exergue. RIC 9 var (position of H)

Aurelian

Born in humble circumstances, he rose through the military ranks to become emperor. His military successes were instrumental in ending the Roman Empire’s Crisis of the Third Century, earning him the title Restitutor Orbis or ‘Restorer of the World’.

  • During his reign, he defeated the Alamanni after a devastating war.
  • He also defeated the Goths, Vandals, Juthungi, Sarmatians, and Carpi.
  • Aurelian restored the Empire’s eastern provinces after his conquest of the Palmyrene Empire in 273.
  • The following year he conquered the Gallic Empire in the west, reuniting the Empire in its entirety.
  • He was also responsible for the construction of the Aurelian Walls in Rome

His previous successes as a cavalry commander ultimately made him a member of emperor Gallienus’ entourage. During the reign of Claudius, Aurelian was promoted rapidly: he was given command of the elite Dalmatian cavalry, and was soon promoted to overall Magister equitum, effectively the head of the army after the Emperor – the Emperor’s position before his acclamation

  • CAESAR LVCIVS DOMITIVS AVRELIANVS AVGVSTVS

When Claudius died, his brother Quintillus seized power with support of the Senate. With an act typical of the Crisis of the Third Century, the army refused to recognize the new Emperor, preferring to support one of its own commanders: Aurelian was proclaimed emperor in September 270 by the legions in Sirmium. Aurelian defeated Quintillus’ troops, and was recognized as Emperor by the Senate after Quintillus’ death. The claim that Aurelian was chosen by Claudius on his death bed can be dismissed as propaganda; later, probably in 272, Aurelian put his own dies imperii the day of Claudius’ death, thus implicitly considering Quintillus a usurper.

  • With his base of power secure, he now turned his attention to Rome’s greatest problems — recovering the vast territories lost over the previous two decades, and reforming theres publica
The Roman Empire by 271 A.D before the reconquest of the Palmyrene Empire and the Gallic Empire by Aurelian

The Roman Empire by 271 A.D before the reconquest of the Palmyrene Empire (orange) and the Gallic Empire (green) by Aurelian

The first actions of the new Emperor were aimed at strengthening his own position in his territories. Late in 270, Aurelian campaigned in northern Italia against the Vandals, Juthungi, and Sarmatians, expelling them from Roman territory. To celebrate these victories, Aurelian was granted the title of Germanicus Maximus.

  • The authority of the Emperor was challenged by several usurpers — Septimius, Urbanus, Domitianus, and the rebellion of Felicissimus — who tried to exploit the sense of insecurity of the empire and the overwhelming influence of the armies in Roman politics.

Aurelian was a reformer, and settled many important functions of the imperial apparatus, dealing with the economy and religion. He restored many public buildings, re-organized the management of the food reserves, set fixed prices for the most important goods, and prosecuted misconduct by the public officers.

Aurelian strengthened the position of the Sun god Sol Invictus as the main divinity of the Roman pantheon. His intention was to give to all the peoples of the Empire, civilian or soldiers, easterners or westerners, a single god they could believe in without betraying their own gods. The center of the cult was a new temple, built in 274 in the Campus Agrippae in Rome, with great decorations financed by the spoils of the Palmyrene Empire.

  • During his short rule, Aurelian seemed to follow the principle of “one faith, one empire”, which would not be made official until the Edict of Thessalonica.
  • He appears with the titledeus et dominus natus (“God and born ruler”) on some of his coins, a style also later adopted by Diocletian.
    • Lactantius argued that Aurelian would have outlawed all the other gods if he had had enough time.
    • He was recorded by Christian historians as having organized persecutions

Aurelian’s reign records the only uprising of mint workers. The rationalis Felicissimus, a senior public financial official whose responsibilities included supervision of the mint at Rome, revolted against Aurelian.

  • The revolt seems to have been caused by the fact that the mint workers, and Felicissimus first, were accustomed to stealing the silver for the coins and producing coins of inferior quality.
    • Aurelian wanted to eliminate this, and put Felicissimus on trial.
    • The rationalis incited the mintworkers to revolt: the rebellion spread in the streets, even if it seems that Felicissimus was killed immediately, presumably executed.

In 275, Aurelian marched towards Asia Minor, preparing another campaign against the Sassanids: the deaths of Kings Shapur I (272) and Hormizd I (273) in quick succession, and the rise to power of a weakened ruler (Bahram I), set the possibility to attack the Sassanid Empire.

  • On his way, the Emperor suppressed a revolt in Gaul — possibly against Faustinus, an officer or usurper of Tetricus — and defeated barbarian marauders in Vindelicia (Germany).

However, Aurelian never reached Persia, as he was murdered while waiting in Thrace to cross into Asia Minor. As an administrator, Aurelian had been very strict and handed out severe punishments to corrupt officials or soldiers.

  • A secretary of Aurelian (called Eros by Zosimus) had told a lie on a minor issue.
  • In fear of what the Emperor might do, he forged a document listing the names of high officials marked by the emperor for execution, and showed it to collaborators.
  • The notarius Mucapor and other high-ranking officers of the Praetorian Guard, fearing punishment from the Emperor, murdered him in September 275, in Caenophrurium, Thrace (modern Turkey).

Aurelian’s short reign reunited a fragmented Empire while saving Rome from barbarian invasions that had reached Italy itself. His death prevented a full restoration of political stability and a lasting dynasty that could end the cycle of assassination of Emperors and civil war that marked this period. Even so, he brought the Empire through a very critical period in its history, and without Aurelian it never would have survived the invasions and fragmentation of the decade in which he reigned

  • The city of Orléans in France is named after Aurelian.
  • Originally named Cenabum, Aurelian rebuilt and named it Aurelianum or Aureliana Civitas (“city of Aurelian”, cité d’Aurélien), which evolved into Orléans.
Aurelian, AV Aureus, Milan. 270-275 AD. IMP C D AVRELIANVS AVG, laureate, draped, cuirassed bust right / MARTI PACIFERO, Mars standing left, holding branch and spear. Calico 4014. Sear 11481; Goebl 13

Aurelian, AV Aureus, Milan. 270-275 AD. IMP C D AVRELIANVS AVG, laureate, draped, cuirassed bust right / MARTI PACIFERO, Mars standing left, holding branch and spear. Calico 4014. Sear 11481; Goebl 13

Aurelian, AE antoninianus. Siscia. IMP C AVRELIANVS AVG, radiate, cuirassed bust right / ORIENS AVG, Sol standing front, looking left, holding globe and raising right hand; captive at foot left. Mintmark Star S. Goebl 222c2 var (mintmark)

Aurelian, AE antoninianus. Siscia. IMP C AVRELIANVS AVG, radiate, cuirassed bust right / ORIENS AVG, Sol standing front, looking left, holding globe and raising right hand; captive at foot left. Mintmark Star S. Goebl 222c2 var (mintmark)

Tacitus

After the assassination of Aurelian, Tacitus was chosen by the Senate to succeed him, and the choice was cordially ratified by the army.

  • This was the last time the Senate elected a Roman Emperor.
  • There was an interregnum between Aurelian and Tacitus, and there is substantial evidence that Aurelian’s wife, Ulpia Severina, ruled in her own right before the election of Tacitus
Severina, AV Aureus. Ticinum AD 274-275, 6.39 g. SEVERINA AVG, diademed and draped bust right / PROVIDEN DEOR, Sol standing left, holding globe and raising right hand towards Fides, standing right, holding two standards

Severina, AV Aureus. Ticinum AD 274-275, 6.39 g. SEVERINA AVG, diademed and draped bust right / PROVIDEN DEOR, Sol standing left, holding globe and raising right hand towards Fides, standing right, holding two standards

Severina, billon antoninianus, Lyons. SEVERINA AVG, diademed and draped bust right, on crescent / CONCORD MILIT, Concordia seated left, holding patera and cornucopiae. Mintmark BL

Severina, billon antoninianus, Lyons. SEVERINA AVG, diademed and draped bust right, on crescent / CONCORD MILIT, Concordia seated left, holding patera and cornucopiae. Mintmark BL

Tacitus was situated at Campania when he heard the news of his election, and he quickly rushed to Rome. He decided to re-involve the Senate in some consultative manner in the mechanisms of government and asked the Senate to deify Aurelian, before arresting and executing Aurelian’s murderers.

  • CAESAR MARCVS CLAVDIVS TACITVS AVGVSTVS

Next he moved against the barbarian mercenaries that had been gathered by Aurelian to supplement Roman forces for his Eastern campaign.

  • These mercenaries had plundered several towns in the Eastern Roman provinces after Aurelian had been murdered and the campaign cancelled.
  • His half-brother, the Praetorian Prefect Florianus, and Tacitus himself won a victory against these tribes, among which were the Heruli, gaining the emperor the title Gothicus Maximus

On his way back to the west to deal with a Frankish and Alamannic invasion of Gaul, according to Aurelius Victor, Eutropius and the Historia Augusta, Tacitus died of fever at Tyana in Cappadocia in June 276

Tacitus, AV Aureus, Siscia. 275-276 AD. IMP C M C L TACITVS AVG, radiate, cuirassed bust right / VIRTVS MILITVM, Tacitus on horseback right, holding spear. RIC 179v (bust type), Estiot 111

Tacitus, gold Aureus, Siscia. 275-276 AD. IMP C M C L TACITVS AVG, radiate, cuirassed bust right / VIRTVS MILITVM, Tacitus on horseback right, holding spear. RIC 179v (bust type), Estiot 111

Tacitus AE Antoninianus. Siscia. IMP CM CL TACITVS AVG, radiate, cuirassed bust right / FELICITAS SAECVLI, Felicitas, standing left by altar, holding patera and caduceus. Mintmark XXIV. Estiot 2267, La Venera 1759

Tacitus AE Antoninianus. Siscia. IMP CM CL TACITVS AVG, radiate, cuirassed bust right / FELICITAS SAECVLI, Felicitas, standing left by altar, holding patera and caduceus. Mintmark XXIV. Estiot 2267, La Venera 1759

Florian

Florian was reportedly a maternal half-brother to the Emperor Marcus Claudius Tacitus. Appointed Praetorian Prefect in Tacitus’s army in his campaign against the Goths, according to the available sources, he was chosen by the army in the West to succeed Tacitus in 276, without the Roman Senate consensus.

  • CAESAR MARCVS ANNIVS FLORIANVS AVGVSTVS

Florian was fighting the Heruli when the army in the East elected Probus. Florian had the support of Italia, Gaul, Hispania, Britain, Africa, and Mauretania. The two rival emperors met in battle in Cilicia; Florianus had the larger army, but Probus was a more experienced general and avoided a direct clash.

  • Florian’s western army was not accustomed to the hot, dry eastern climate, and Probus secured a small victory.
  • Florian was assassinated by his own troops near Tarsus once their confidence was lost.
  • He died in September 276, having been emperor for only eighty-eight days
Florian, AE antoninianus. Rome mint. AD 276. IMP C FLORIANVS AVG, radiate, draped, cuirassed bust right, seen from the back / LAETITIA FVND, Laetitia standing left, holding wreath and anchor. Mintmark XXIB. Rome 34 var; Estiot 2475-2487; ric.mom.fr, 4220.

Florian, AE antoninianus. Rome mint. AD 276. IMP C FLORIANVS AVG, radiate, draped, cuirassed bust right, seen from the back / LAETITIA FVND, Laetitia standing left, holding wreath and anchor. Mintmark XXIB. Rome 34 var; Estiot 2475-2487; ric.mom.fr, 4220.

Probus

Probus entered the army around AD 250 upon reaching adulthood. Appointed as a military tribune by the emperor Valerian, he later distinguished himself under the emperors Aurelian and Tacitus. He was appointed governor of the East by Tacitus, whose death in 276 prompted Probus’ soldiers to proclaim him emperor.

Florianus, the half-brother of Tacitus, was also proclaimed successor by his soldiers, but he was killed after an indecisive campaign. Probus travelled west, defeating the Goths along the lower Danube in 277, and acquiring the title of Gothicus. His position as emperor was ratified by the Senate around this time.

  • CAESAR MARCVS AVRELIVS PROBVS AVGVSTVS

One of his principles was never to allow the soldiers to be idle, and to employ them in time of peace on useful works, such as the planting of vineyards in Gaul, Pannonia and other districts, in order to restart the economy in these devastated lands.

  • Of a greater and more lasting significance, Probus began the strategy of settling the Germanic tribes in the devastated provinces of the empire. In effect, he romanized them, turning them from potential invaders into peaceful farmers
  • In 280–281, Probus put down three usurpers, Julius Saturninus, Proculus and Bonosus

Different accounts of Probus’s death exist

  1. According to John Zonaras, the commander of the Praetorian Guard Marcus Aurelius Carus had been proclaimed, more or less unwillingly, emperor by his troops. When Probus sent some troops against the new usurper, those troops changed sides and supported Carus, Probus’ remaining soldiers assassinated him at Sirmium (September/October AD 282)
  2. According to other sources, however, Probus was killed by disgruntled soldiers, who rebelled against his orders to be employed for civic purposes, like draining marshes. Carus was proclaimed emperor after Probus’ death and avenged the murder of his predecessor.
Probus, AV aureus, 22mm, 5.98 g. AD 276–282. Siscia. IMP C M AVR PROBVS PF AVG, Laureate, cuirassed bust left, wearing imperial mantle, holding eagle-tipped sceptre / HERCVLI ERYMANTHIO, Hercules standing right, carrying the Erymanthian boar over his shoulder. Calicò 4156 (this coin); Sear 11909 var (bust type): RIC 586 var; Cohen 272 var.

Probus, gold aureus, 22mm, 5.98 g. AD 276–282. Siscia. IMP C M AVR PROBVS PF AVG, Laureate, cuirassed bust left, wearing imperial mantle, holding eagle-tipped sceptre / HERCVLI ERYMANTHIO, Hercules standing right, carrying the Erymanthian boar over his shoulder. Calicò 4156 (this coin); Sear 11909 var (bust type): RIC 586 var; Cohen 272 var.

Probus, Lyons Mint, AE Antoninianus. VIRTVS PROBI AVG, Radiate, helmeted, cuirassed bust left, holding spear and shield / ADVENTVS PROBI AVG, Emperor riding left, right hand raised, left holding sceptre; at foot, captive. Mintmark I. RIC V-2, 20 var (bust type and mintmark); Sear 11954 var (bust type).

Probus, Lyons Mint, silver Antoninianus. VIRTVS PROBI AVG, Radiate, helmeted, cuirassed bust left, holding spear and shield / ADVENTVS PROBI AVG, Emperor riding left, right hand raised, left holding sceptre; at foot, captive. Mintmark I. RIC V-2, 20 var (bust type and mintmark); Sear 11954 var (bust type).

Carus

After the murder of Probus at Sirmium, Marcus Aurelius Carus was proclaimed emperor by the soldiers. Although Carus severely avenged the death of Probus, he was suspected as an accessory to the deed. He does not seem to have returned to Rome after his accession, contenting himself with an announcement to the Senate

  • CAESAR MARCVS AVRELIVS CARVS AVGVSTVS

Carus, already sixty, wished to establish a dynasty and immediately elevated Carinus and Numerian to the rank of Caesar. Having bestowed the title of Caesar upon his sons, he left Carinus in charge of the western portion of the empire and took Numerian with him on an expedition against the Persians, which had been contemplated by Probus.

Carinus amd Numerian, AV aureus. 21 mm. 4.66 gr. Lyons. CARINVS ET NUMERIANVS AVGG, Jugate busts of Carinus, laureate, and Numerian, laureate and draped, right / VICTORIA AVGG, Victory walking left, holding trophy. Calicò 4405a; Cohen 4 var (denarius); Bastien, Lyons, 405 var (denarius)

Carinus amd Numerian, AV aureus. 21 mm. 4.66 gr. Lyons. CARINVS ET NUMERIANVS AVGG, Jugate busts of Carinus, laureate, and Numerian, laureate and draped, right / VICTORIA AVGG, Victory walking left, holding trophy. Calicò 4405a; Cohen 4 var (denarius); Bastien, Lyons, 405 var (denarius)

  • He defeated the Quadi and Sarmatians on the Danube
    • He was given the title Germanicus Maximus,

Carus proceeded through Thrace and Asia Minor, annexed Mesopotamia, pressed on to Seleucia and Ctesiphon, and marched his soldiers beyond the Tigris. The Sassanid King Bahram II, limited by internal opposition and his troops occupied with a campaign in modern day Afghanistan, could not effectively defend his territory.

  • The victories of Carus avenged all the previous defeats suffered by the Romans against the Sassanids
    • He received the title of Persicus Maximus.

Carus’ hopes of further conquest were cut short by his death, which was announced after a violent storm. His death was variously attributed to disease, the effects of lightning, or a wound received in the campaign against the Persians.

  • The fact that he was leading a victorious campaign, and his son Numerian succeeded him without opposition
    • This also suggests that his death may have been due to natural causes.
Carus, AV aureus, Ticinum, 282-283 AD. 4.21 gr. IMP C M AVR CARVS P F AVG, laureate, cuirassed bust right / ADVENTVS CARI AVG, Carus on horseback packing left, holding sceptre and raising right hand. Cohen 6 var (spear); RIC -; Calicó 4260 and Biaggi 1642

Carus, gold aureus, Ticinum, 282-283 AD. 4.21 gr. IMP C M AVR CARVS P F AVG, laureate, cuirassed bust right / ADVENTVS CARI AVG, Carus on horseback packing left, holding sceptre and raising right hand. Cohen 6 var (spear); Calicó 4260 and Biaggi 1642

Carus Silvered AE Antoninianus. IMP C M AVR CARVS AVG, helmeted, radiate, & cuirassed bust right / PAX AVGG, Pax standing left, holding branch & transverse sceptre; B to left. Sear5 12173

Carus Silvered Antoninianus. IMP C M AVR CARVS AVG, helmeted, radiate, & cuirassed bust right / PAX AVGG, Pax standing left, holding branch & transverse sceptre; B to left. Sear5 12173

Numerian

The death of Carus left Numerian and Carinus as the new Augusti. Carinus quickly made his way to Rome from Gaul, arriving in January 284, while Numerian lingered in the East. The Roman retreat from Persia was orderly and unopposed, for the Persian King, Bahram II, was still struggling to establish his authority.

By March 284, Numerian had only reached Emesa (Homs) in Syria; by November, only Asia Minor.

  • In Emesa he was apparently still alive and in good health, as he issued the only extant rescript in his name there.
  • Coins were issued in his name in Cyzicus at some time before the end of AD 284

After Emesa, Numerian’s staff, including the prefect Aper, reported that Numerian suffered from an inflammation of the eyes and had to travel in a closed coach. When the army reached Bithynia, some of Numerian’s soldiers smelled an odor reminiscent of a decaying corpse emanating from the coach. They opened its curtains and found Numerian dead.

  • CAESAR MARCVS AVRELIVS NVMERIVS NVMERIANVS AVGVSTVS

Numerian’s generals and tribunes called a council for the succession and chose as emperor Diocletian, commander of the cavalry arm of the imperial bodyguard, despite Aper’s attempts to garner support. The army of the east gathered on a hill outside of Nicomedia and unanimously saluted their new Augustus.

  • Diocletian accepted the purple imperial vestments and raised his sword to the light of the sun, swearing an oath denying responsibility for Numerian’s death.
    • He asserted that Aper had killed Numerian and concealed the deed.
    • In full view of the army, turned and killed Aper.
Numerian, AV aureus, Antioch mint, AD 283. IMP C M AVR NVMERIANVS NOB C, laureate, draped, cuirassed bust right / CONSERVAT AVGGG, Sol standing left, holding globe and raising right hand. Mintmark: SMA. RIC 373, Calico 4303; Sear 12209

Numerian, gold aureus, Antioch mint, AD 283. IMP C M AVR NVMERIANVS NOB C, laureate, draped, cuirassed bust right / CONSERVAT AVGGG, Sol standing left, holding globe and raising right hand. Mintmark: SMA. RIC 373, Calico 4303; Sear 12209

Numerian, AE antoninianus. Cyzicus mint. NVMERIANVS NOB CAES, radiate, draped bust right / CLEMENTIA dot TEMP, Numerian, holding sceptre, standing right receiving Victory on globe from Jupiter, standing left, holding sceptre. A in lower centre. Mintmark XXI. RIC V-2, 372

Numerian, AE antoninianus. Cyzicus mint. NVMERIANVS NOB CAES, radiate, draped bust right / CLEMENTIA dot TEMP, Numerian, holding sceptre, standing right receiving Victory on globe from Jupiter, standing left, holding sceptre. A in lower centre. Mintmark XXI. RIC V-2, 372

Carinus

Carinus was the elder son of emperor Carus, he was first appointed Caesar and in the beginning of 283 co-emperor of the western portion of the empire by his father. He fought with success against the Germanic Quadi tribes, but soon left the defence of the Upper Rhine to his legates and returned to Rome, where the surviving accounts, which demonize him, assert that he abandoned himself to all kinds of debauchery and excess.

  • CAESAR MARCVS AVRELIVS CARINVS AVGVSTVS

After the death of Carus, the army in the east demanded to return to Europe, and Numerian, the younger son of Carus, was forced to comply. During a halt at Chalcedon, Numerian was found dead. Diocletian, commander of the body-guards, claimed that Numerian had been assassinated, and he was proclaimed emperor by the soldiers.

  • Carinus left Rome at once and set out for the east to meet Diocletian.
  • On his way through Pannonia he put down the usurper Sabinus Iulianus
    • In July 285 he encountered the army of Diocletian at the Margus River in Moesia.

Historians differ on what then ensued at the Battle of the Margus River (Morava)

  1. the valour of his troops had gained the day, but Carinus was assassinated by a tribune whose wife he had seduced
  2. a complete victory for Diocletian, and Carinus’ army deserted him

This latter account of what happened may be confirmed by the fact that Diocletian kept in service Carinus’ Praetorian Guard commander, Titus Claudius Aurelius Aristobulus.

Carinus, AV Aureus. Struck AD 282, 4.83 g. M AVR CARINVS NOB CAES, laureate, draped, cuirassed bust right / PAX AETERNA, Pax advancing left, holding olive branch and sceptre. RIC 153; Cohen 62; Calicó 4351

Carinus, AV Aureus. Struck AD 282, 4.83 g. M AVR CARINVS NOB CAES, laureate, draped, cuirassed bust right / PAX AETERNA, Pax advancing left, holding olive branch and sceptre. RIC 153; Cohen 62; Calicó 4351

Carinus Silvered AE Antoninianus. M AVR CARINVS NOB CAES, radiate, draped & cuirassed bust right / PIETAS AVGG, sacrificial implements (sprinkler, simpulum, jug, patera, knife and lituus), ZKA in ex. RIC 155, Cohen 74

Carinus Silvered Antoninianus. M AVR CARINVS NOB CAES, radiate, draped & cuirassed bust right / PIETAS AVGG, sacrificial implements (sprinkler, simpulum, jug, patera, knife and lituus), ZKA in ex. RIC 155, Cohen 74

Carinus, billon antoninianus. Rome, 284-5 AD. IMP CARINVS P F AVG, radiate, draped, cuirassed bust right / AETERNIT AVGG, Aeternitas standing left, holding phoenix on globe, lifting hem of robe with left hand. KAΓ in ex

Carinus, billon antoninianus. Rome, 284-5 AD. IMP CARINVS P F AVG, radiate, draped, cuirassed bust right / AETERNIT AVGG, Aeternitas standing left, holding phoenix on globe, lifting hem of robe with left hand. KAΓ in ex

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