Second Crisis of the Empire, AD 193-194
Publius Helvius Pertinax
Born on 1 August AD 126 at Alba Pompeia in Liguria. Consul AD 120, 139, 140, 145. Became emperor in 1 January AD 193. Wife: Flavia Titiana (one son; Publius HelviusPertinax; one daughter; name unknown. Died in Rome, 28 March AD 193. Deified 1 June AD 193
Whatever the nature of the conspiracy against Commodus, it brought to office in his place a better man, Publius Helvius Pertinax, prefect of Rome and former governor of Britain; but only temporarily, as an ominous pattern of events unfolded such as had followed the death of Nero.
Pertinax, an old soldier was made emperor by favour of the praetorians and their prefect. He lost that favour because in a conscientious effort to rectify the mistakes of Commodus and the evils which had sprung up during his rule, he tried to tighten discipline instead of relaxing it.
He lasted for a mere three months, until the praetorians mutinied, broke into the palace, murdered Pertinax, paraded his head through the streets on a pike, and offered the imperial throne to the highest bidder.
Pertinax reign might have been a short one. But it formed an enormously important precedent. Pertinax is understood to be the first ‘Soldier Emperor’ or ‘Praetorian Emperor’. They were raised to the throne by the provincial legions which they commanded and ruled only till ejected and killed by another soldier who seized the succession.
Marcus Didius Severus Julianus
Born on 30 January AD 133 at Milan. Consul AD 120, 139, 140, 145. Became emperor in 28 March AD 193. Wife: Manlia Scantilla (one daughter; Didia Clara). Died in Rome, 1 June AD 193.
The winner of a bizarre auction held by the praetorian guard to establish the imperial succession was Didius Salvius Julianus, an elderly senator.
Rome might have needed to accept the dictate of the praetorian guard, but the provincial armies had a preference for a chief of their own selection.
Rome was the necessary objective. Helpless it lay waiting to be conquered by its own legions. Albinus was a sluggard, a glutton, commanding little respect among his men. Pescennius was popular in the east, but his army had least experience of fighting. Severus was a hard soldier at the head of hardened troops, – and, being in Pannonia, he was nearest Rome.
Neither Albinus nor Pescennius was ready to strike. Severus marched on Rome. Emperor Julianus alternated between empty threats and desperate offers of compromise. Severus ignored both. As he drew near, the praetorians, inexperienced in war and realizing themselves totally inferior to the advancing troops, deserted to Severus who, in order to save himself trouble and time, had no trouble making promises which he had no intention of keeping.
As he reached Rome on 10 June AD 193, no resistance was offered.
Didius Julianus was stripped of his imperial office and put to death on the orders of the senate.
Lucius Septimius Severus
Born on 11 April AD 145 at Lepcis Magna. Consul AD 190, 193, 194, 202. Became emperor in 9 April AD 193. Wife: (1) Pacia Marciana, (2) Julia Domma (two sons; Septimius Bassianus, Publius Septimius Geta). Died in Ebucarum (York), 4 February AD 211.
Having disbanded the imperial guard and replaced it with a force 50’000 strong, from men of his own legions, Severus set about coming to terms with his two rivals, Pescennius Niger in Syria and Clodius Albinus in Britain. This he finally did in a most conclusive fashion by defeating them in turn: Niger at Issus in AD 194, and Albinus at Lugdunum in Gaul in AD 197.
Severus did not understand himself as fully established till he had inspired wholesome fear in the minds of any potential rivals by dooming several senators to death. Much because the rude soldier was accepted with reluctance by a body which still looked upon itself as the supreme constitutional authority.
In the years immediately before his accession Severus had held command on the most dangerous of all the Roman assignments, the banks of the river Danube. There he had learnt that the empire’s need was defence, not aggression. But so too, that the aggressive barbarians needed to be kept in healthy awe of the Roman power.
Severus was not far from being a barbarian himself. Grim, hard, unscrupulous, he lacked any statesmanly qualities, and yet he was free from wanton cruelty or vindictiveness. In his own, crude ways Severus commanded the empire as he had once commanded his troops as a general.
The domestic administration he left to competent and worthy officials, spending his own time among the armies on one or another frontier.
It was probably in Severus’ time that the prefect of Rome, whose function was primarily military, was invested also with the main jurisdiction in matters of criminal law in and within 100 miles of the city, and the commander of the imperial guard, a military office, with similar jurisdiction over the rest of Italy and the provinces.
After the fall and execution in AD 205 of Fulvius Plautianus, who had performed the latter duty with rather too much authority, Severus appointed in his place a noted legal expert, Aemilius Papinianus (d. AD 212). Within the army itself, the top jobs went to those with the best qualifications, not necessarily those of the highest social rank.
Severus improved the lot of the legionaries by increasing their basic rate of pay to match inflation (it had been static for a hundred years), and by recognizing permanent liaisons as legal marriages – up until then a legionary was not allowed to marry. It was probably Severus, too, who improved the status of the ordinary soldier by extending the civil practice to allow veterans to style themselves honestiores (men of privilege) as opposed to humiliores (men of humble rank).
As the distinction between citizens and non-citizens became eroded, so this new form of class-discrimination developed, which included separate punishments for the same crime.
Whereas humiliores could be sentenced to hard labour in the mines, honestiores were merely banished for a short term. The most common form of punishment for a minor offence was flogging, from which honestioreswere immune. Severus’ philosophy of rule, was to pay the army well and to take no notice of anyone else. By ‘anyone else’ he meant, of course, the senate.
A professional soldier, Severus favoured those with the greater military experience to maintain the empire’s frontiers in the east in the face of the marauding Parthians, and spent the last two and a half years of his life in Britain fending off the menaces of the northern tribes.
By unremitting hard work Severus restored and increased the security and prestige of the empire, which had been reduced in the days of Commodus.
But the desire to found a dynasty led him at last to the very blunder into which Marcus Aurelius had been drawn, as he let the imperial succession fall into the hands of his unsuitable son Bassianus, better known as Caracalla.
Caracalla & Geta
‘Caracalla’ – Lucius Septimius Bassianus
Born on 4 April AD 188 at Lugdunum (Lyons). Consul AD 202, 205, 208, 213. Became emperor in 4 February AD 211. Wife: Publia Fulvia Plautilla. Died near Sirmium, 8 April AD 217.
Publius Septimius Geta
Born on 7 March AD 189 at Rome. Consul AD 205. Became emperor in 4 February AD 211. Wife: none). Died at Rome, December AD 211.
Severus had two unruly sons, Caracalla (AD 188-217) and Geta (AD189-212), whom he had nominated to rule jointly after him. Caracalla (a nickname – it means a Gaulish greatcoat) resolved that aspect of the arrangement by murdering his brother, and kept faith with his father’s advice by increasing the pay of the army by 50 per cent, thus initiating a financial crisis.
Some sources suggest that it was to get more taxes to repair this crisis that he granted full citizenship to all free men in the Roman empire. Wether or not that is so, it is to Caracalla in AD 212 that is attributed this final step in the process of universal enfranchisement which had begun in the third century BC.
Caracalla in one swoop did away with the surviving distinction between provincials and citizens.
Though, the murder of his brother, was only the beginning of a continuous display of savagery by a tyrant. On his travels through the eastern provinces this was only further confirmed as, for a today unknown insult to his dignity, Caracalla had thousands of the population massacred.
These things were endured because he bought the good will of the soldiery by relaxation of discipline and lavish donations and increase of pay, both at the expense of the civil population as well as of military efficiency.
While attempting to extend the eastern front Caracalla was murdered in Mesopotamia in AD 217, by a band of discontented officers who preferred their own candidate, Macrinus, commander of the imperial guard since Caracalla had done away with Papinianus.
(Papinianus, after Caracalla had murdered his brother, was ordered to ‘play down’ the crime on his behalf in the senate and in public. He responded that it was easier to commit fratricide than to make excuses for it.)
Marcus Oppellius Macrinus
Born AD 164 at Caesarea in Mauretania. Consul AD 218. Became emperor in 11 April AD 217. Wife: Nonia Celsa (one son; Marcus Opellius Diadumenianus). Died at Antioch June-July AD 218.
Macrinus, whose guilt in the assassination of Caracalla was at first undetected, achieved elevation to the imperial throne, since there was no obvious rival. But he was no soldier, and lacked both the abilities and the character to maintain the position.
Once a rival emerged his fate was sealed. Though Macrinus was accepted by the senate, he never actually got to Rome. He continued the eastern war, only to be defeated and killed the following year by detachments of his own troops in Syria, who supported a 14 year old supposed son, but actually a distant cousin, of Caracalla who was known as Elagabalus.
Varius Avitus Bassianus
Born AD 204 at Emesa in Syria. Consul AD 218, 219, 220, 222. Became emperor in 16 May AD 218. Wife: (1) Julia Cornelia, (2) Julia Aquilia Severa, (3) Annia Faustina. Died in Rome, 11 March AD 222.
There were no descendants of Severus, but there were his sister-in-law Maesa and her daughters Soaemias and Mamaea. These Syrian women were ambitious and Soaemias and Mamaea had sons, Bassianius and Alexander Severus.
The elder of the two boys had been made high priest of the Syrian sun god Elagabal at Emesa. To win over the soldiery, his mother and grandmother did not scruple to spread the story that Caracalla was his father.
The actual involvement of Macrinus in the death of Caracalla was becoming known and the soldiery suspected their new emperor sought to curtail their privileges they had enjoyed under Caracalla. Hence the troops had ample reason to rid themselves of their ruler, only there was an alternative. The existence of Elegabalus gave them just this alternative, however dubious his supposed dependency was.
The bulk of the troops in Syria were easily incited to rise in the name of Caracalla’s son. Macrinus was overthrown in a battle outside Antioch and the young high priest to an exotic Syrian god became Augustus of the Roman empire.
The reign was a vast orgy of the most extravagant and monstrous luxury and unspeakable vices. The only redeeming feature in it was the comparative absence of sheer blood-lust. In Rome the obscene rites of Oriental deities superseded those of the western pantheon.
Even after making every allowance for the exaggeration of shocked moralists or the inventive capacity of political enemies, what remains is still a picture of a totally decadent, if not depraved emperor, totally alien to all things Roman.
Maesa no doubt very soon realized that her second grandson Alexander represented the only possibility of her continuing power. Pains were made to make Alexander Severus personally popular with the soldiery, who were sickened at the depravities of Elagabalus.
As it became evident that a jealous Elagabalus sought the death of Alexander Severus, the praetorians were driven to invade the palace, slay Elagabalus and proclaim the Alexander Severus emperor.
Alexander Severus (205-235)
Marcus Julius Gessius Alexianus
Born on 1 October AD 208 at Arca Caesarea in Phoenicia. Consul AD 222, 226, 229. Became emperor in 13 March AD 222. Wife: Sallustia Orbiana. Died in Rome, March AD 235.
That a 16 year old could take office as emperor of the Roman empire and rule for thirteen years with more than moderate success was due partly to the fact that he was a sensible, likeable lad who knew his limitations and was prepared to take advice, and partly to his mother, Julia Mammaea, who recognized who would give the soundest advice.
The historians are full of praises of the virtues of the young emperor, the restoration of tranquility, the revival of prosperity which had suffered grievously from the merciless and capricious taxation imposed to meet the extravagances of the two last reigns.
Probably the controlling spirit of government for some years was Mamaea, who exercised a supreme influence over the son, whom she trained and guided.
In the civil administration Alexander was guided by a selected council of state. But the problem of effective control was rendered for him more difficult than it had been for the Antonines, through the failure of military discipline an the insubordination of the rank and file of the soldiery for which Caracalla was mainly responsible.
Alexander owed his throne, probably his life, to the praetorians who therefore deeply resented any attempts to curb their powers and privileges. The young emperor in person led Roman armies on one great campaign against the eastern power which now again bore the Persian instead of the Parthian name.
Trajan at the beginning, and Cassius Avidius in the second half of the second century had struck heavy blows against the long formidable Arsacid power. Severus also had conducted a vigorous campaign against the Parthians. But now the Arsacids had been swept away by a Persian chief, the founder of the Sassanid dynasty, who assumed the old Persian name Ardashir (Artaxerxes) and was bent on nothing less than the recovery of the old Persian empire.
He deliberately challenged Rome, telling its emperor to withdraw from Asia. Alexander took up the challenge. The emperor returned from the campaign to report to the senate of great victories won against immense odds.
It seem clear however that the honours on the whole rested with the Persians, despite suffering heavy defeats in battle, had not in fact lost any territory.
While it would appear that the personal prestige of Ardashir was enhanced, Alexander’s failure to sufficiently impress a soldiery already disposed to mutiny was fatal.
Alexander had scarcely returned to Rome when he was summoned to the northern frontier to deal with the German hordes. In AD 235 the soldiery mutinied and Alexander and his mother were both set upon and murdered at the fortress town of Mainz.
Maximinus, Gordian and Gordian II
Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus
Born AD ca. 173 in the Danube region. Became emperor in March AD 235. Wife: Caecilia Paulina (one son; Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus). Died at Aquileia, April AD 238.
Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus Romanus
Born AD ca. 159. Consul AD ca. 223. Became emperor in 19 March AD 238. Wife: Fabia Orestilla; (two sons; Marcus Antonus Gordianus Sempronianus Romanus; unknown; one daughter; Maecia Faustina). Died in Carthage, 9 April AD 238. Deified AD 238.
Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus Romanus
Born AD cMarcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus Romanusa. 192. Became emperor in 19 March AD 238. Died at Carthage, 9 April AD 238. Deified AD 238.
The murder of Alexander Severus was certainly the work of Maximinus, a giant of a Thracian peasant who had risen through the ranks to become commander of the imperial guard.
He now nominated himself as emperor, doubled the pay of the army, and continued the German campaign at its head. Maximinus enormous strength and almost incredible powers of endurance had already attracted the attention of Severus thirty before. This mighty barbarian had sufficient enough intelligence to win and to justify his promotion.
The soldiers believed that they had found a leader who was one of their kind, one to whose discipline and command they would readily submit.
For the moment the sheer brute force of this giant was irresistible. For three years, remaining himself with his army on the Rhine or the Danube, Maximinus ruled the empire.
This in turn meant that he disposed of anyone whose ambition, character of abilities he feared. While all over he empire he robbed the cities of their public funds and stripped temples of their treasures, stamping out resistance by ruthless massacre.
Eventually things came to a head in the province of Africa. The people slaughtered an imperial official charged with the business of collecting the exorbitant taxes and persuaded their own elderly prefect to assume the throne, very much against his own will in AD 237. This new emperor, Gordian I, immediately associated with himself his scarcely less reluctant son.
The Gordians made haste to report these proceedings to the senate, submitting themselves to its decision as the constitutional authority. The senate responded by confirming their election and declaring Maximinus Thrax a public enemy.
But meanwhile the commander of Mauretania fell upon the Gordians and slew them.
Balbinus and Pupienus
Decimus Caelius Calvinus Balbinus
Born AD ca. 170. Consul AD 203, 213. Became emperor in February AD 238. Wife: unknown. Died in Rome, May AD 238.
Marcus Clodius Pupienus Maximus
Born AD ca. 164. Consul AD 217, 234. Became emperor in February AD 238. Wife: unknown (two sons; Titus Clodius Pupienus Pulcher Maximus; Marcus Pupienus Africanus; one daughter; Pupiena Sextia Paulina Cethegilla) Died in Rome, May AD 238.
On receiving the alarming news of the death of the two Gordians the senators, who could hope for no mercy from Maximinus, elected two of their own number as joint emperors, Balbinus and Maximus. Though they were also forced by the angry city mob to further associate the new emperors with a very youthful Gordian III who became Caesar.
Maximinus Thrax though still had to be reckoned with. After some delay he was now moving down from the northern frontier upon Italy, and the armies which could be hastily gathered had little hope of defeating his experienced troops.
Maximinus, passing the Alps, found before him a denuded country, and a strongly defended fortress in Aquileia. He began to besiege it and his troops began to starve. With no food they became mutinous and murdered their chief.
The senatorial revolution was apparently complete. the joint emperors set about an honest attempt to place the government on an orderly basis and restore the discipline of the army, which very soon mutinied again, cut them to pieces and declared the thirteen year-old Gordian III sole emperor.
Marcus Antonius Gordianus
Born 20 January AD 225. Consul AD 239, 241. Became emperor in March AD 238. Wife: Furia Sabina Tranquillina. Died near Zaitha in Mesoptamia, 25 February AD 244. Deified in AD 244.
Though he was only 13 at his accession, Gordian III, with the help of a capable regent, enjoyed civil and military success until the regent Timesitheus died of an illness.
Timesitheus’ successor though Philippus was considerably less noble-minded and strove from the very beginning to undermine and eventually murder the emperor he was charged to protect.
Gordian III was murdered in Mesopotamia in AD 244 as a result of Philippus’ plotting while collecting wild animals to take part in his triumphal procession in Rome for his victories in Persia.
Marcus Julius Verus Philippus
born AD ca. 204. Consul AD 245(?), 246(?), 247. Became emperor in 25 February AD 244. Wife: Marcia Otacilia Severa (one son; Marcus Julius Philippus). Died at Verona, Sept/Oct AD 249.
Philippus Arabs‘ reign was remarkable mostly for several revolts against him. Had he achieved his position by treachery against Gordian III, whom he reported to the senate as having died of illness, he possessed little moral authority with which to command the loyalty of the troops.
Philippus initial action was to make peace with Persia, to allow him to head for Rome and secure his throne. In AD 245 he led a campaign against the Carpi and Quadi who had crossed the Danube and after a two year struggle successful forced the barbarians to sue for peace.
This success no doubt improved his standing, allowing him enough popular support to try and create a dynasty by making his son, also named Philippus, co-Augustus.
Yet the question of his own leadership was far from settled among the military, not to mention his son’s accession. The first rebellion was that of a certain Sibannacus on the Rhine, shortly afterwards followed by Sponsianus on the Danube. These revolts were brief and easily dealt with.
And yet early in AD 248 some of the legions on the Danube nominated Pacatianus as emperor.
In turn the trouble among the Romans only further encouraged the Goths who now crossed the Danube and wrought havoc in the northern provinces.
Worse still, in the east of the empire the legions now hailed a certain Iotapianus emperor.
So dire did the situation grow, Philippus became convinced the empire was falling apart and offered his resignation to the senate.
Though one senator, Decius, responded to the emperor’s address to the senate that all was far from lost and that Philippus should remain in office. When his estimation that both challengers would no doubt soon fall victim to their own mutinous troops came true, it was Decius himself who at the end of AD 248 was dispatched to the Danube to restore order among the mutinous soldiers.
In a bizarre turn of events the Danubian troops, so impressed by their leader, proclaimed him emperor in AD 249. Decius protested he had no desire to be emperor, but Philippus gathered troops and moved north to destroy him.
Left with no choice but to fight the man who sought him dead, Decius led his troops south to meet him. In September or October of the AD 249 the two sides met at Verona.
Philippus was no great general and by that time suffered from poor health. He led his superior army into a crushing defeat. Both he and his son met their death in battle.
Gaius Messius Quintus Decius
Born AD ca. 190. Became emperor in Sept/Oct AD 249. Wife: Herennia Cupressenia Etruscilla (two sons; Quintus Herrenius Decius; Gaius Valens Hostilianus). Died at Abrittus in Moesia, June AD 251. Deified AD 251.
After Decius’ victory over Philippus Arabs at Verona, the senate made haste to confirm his election as emperor (AD 249). Decius then still maintained, perhaps quite truthfully, to have accepted the decision of his soldiers to make him emperor against his will.
He would seem to have been a man of ability and character who was genuinely resolved to make worthy use of the power which had been thrust on him. He proposed to restore the state by a revival of the old Roman virtues. The first steps to that end were to appoint an honoured and distinguished senator, Valerian, to the long obsolete office of censor, and a zealous return to the pristine worship of the ancient gods of Rome.
In turn this brought about a sharp but short persecution of the Christians, who had been undisturbed since the days of Marcus Aurelius. But action of another kind was immediately necessary. The menace on the middle and lower Danube was greater than it had ever been before.
In AD 250 Decius was summoned to the Balkans by the news that a vast Gothic horde, supplemented by fighting men of various non-Gothic tribes, had swarmed over the Danube and was ravaging the Roman province of Moesia.
He found them engaged in besieging the fortress of Nicopolis, On his approach they broke off their siege and instead went on to attack the much more important stronghold of Philippopolis. Decius pursued them, the Goths then suddenly turned, surprised his army and defeated it, thereafter continuing onward to Philippopolis which fell after stubborn resistance.
Decius however reorganized his army, blocked the passes, cut off the Goths’ way out of the Balkans and threatened them with destruction.
He was determined to deal them nothing less than an annihilating blow and at last he very nearly succeeded.
Both sides knew that the stake was all or nothing. In the great battle of Forum Trebonii, the emperor’s son was slain before his eyes, but the first line of Goths was shattered, so too the second.
But the front of the third was covered by a bog in which the imperial legions, pushing on to complete the victory became hopelessly entangled, so that they were cut to pieces, emperor Decius perished with his soldiers (AD 251).
Gaius Vibius Afininus Trebonianus Gallus
Born AD ca. 206. Consul AD 245. Became emperor in June AD 251. Wife: Afinia Gemina Baebiana (one son; Gaius Vibius Volusianus; one daughter; Vibia Galla). Died at Interamna, August AD 253.
The disaster of Decius’ defeat and death was terrific, but not without precedent. What was to follow however was even more ominous. Decius had realized that the Goths were foes who for the safety of the empire must be broken utterly and at all cost. Trebonianus Gallus, the successor chosen by his own soldiers was of a different mould than Decius.
Most likely to be able to return to Rome and secure his throne Gallus made a very unpopular peace with the Goths, allowing them to retire from Roman territory with all their booty and prisoners, and promising to pay them an annual subsidy.
Had Gallus won a peace which lost him the respect of many of his soldiers, then it wasn’t long before the Goths broke it anyhow. Within only a few months the Goths and their allies were pouring into Illyria. Aemilianus, the commander of Lower Moesia, flung himself upon them and utterly defeated them.
Having so redeemed Roman honour in the eyes of his troops and many other Romans, he then claimed the imperial throne for himself.
Leading his forces into Italy he took Trebonianus Gallus completely by surprise.
The few troops Gallus could muster were utterly inferior in both numbers and quality to the hardened Danubian troops of Aemilian. And so Gallus’ desperate troops killed their own emperor at Interamna in order to escape slaughter (AD 253).
Marcus Aemilius Aemilianus
Born AD ca. 207. Became emperor in July/August AD 253. Wife: Gaia Cornelia Supera. Died at Spoletium, October AD 253.
The senate had barely time to confirm Aemilian as the new emperor, before he was in turn overthrown a few months after his victory.
Valerian, nominated three years earlier to the office of censor by Decius, had been sent to command the armies on the Rhine. Gallus had called for him to come to his aid, when Aemilian’s troops arrived, and yet the call had come too late.
Valerian had started out for Italy, but his emperor was dead before he arrived. But Valerian, once roused, did nor turn his troops around, but far more marched on, determined to overthrow the usurper.
Aemilian started out from Rome and moved north with his troops, to face off the invader. But history repeated itself, and Aemilian was slain at Spoletium by his own troops in order to avoid a fight (AD 253).
Publius Licinius Valerianus
Born AD ca. 195. Consul in AD 230’s. Became emperor in October AD 253. Wife: Egnatia Mariniana (two sons; Publis Licinius Egnatius Gallianus; Publius Licinius Valerianus). Captured by Persians in June AD 260. Died in Captivity.
At the death of Aemilian, Valerian assumed the throne, beginning a seven year reign which brought fresh disaster. With himself he associated his son Gallienus. The guardianship of teh German frontiers was placed in the hands of his son and colleague, together with the able soldier Postumus, who achieved several victories over the Franks and Alemanni.
While Gallienus was engaged in teh west Valerian plunged into disaster in the east. Persian aggression was still a huge threat to the empire under its leader Sapor (Shapur). Sapor turned his arms on Armenia, aving first taken the precaution of having the Armenian king Chosroes assassinated.
Armenia fell an easy prey to Sapor, who captured the Roman fortresses of Carrhae and Nisibis. Valerian marched his troops toward Edessa in Meopotamia to relieve the siege of the city, but suffered heavy losses. Seeking to come to terms with Sapor he was asked to attend a personal meeting with the Persian king, who at this encounter simply had him taken prisoner and taken to Persia, where he died in captivity. Valerian’s army was trapped and forced to surrender.
Publius Licinius Egantius Gallienus
Born AD ca. 213. Became emperor in October AD 253. Wife: Cornelia Salonina (three sons; Licinius Valerianus, Licinius Salolinus, Licinius Egnatius Marinianus). Died near Mediolanum (Milan), September AD 268. Deified AD 268.
After the disastrous capture of Valerian, the Persians swept devastatingly over Syria, even capturing Antioch, gathering spoils and captives but without thought of setting up an organized dominion.
The Roman generals Macrianus and Callistus managed to rally what was left of Roman forces to halt Sapor’s advance at the battle of Corycus, forcing the Persians to retreat behind the Euphrates.
Macrianus then masterminded a rebellion, placing his two sons, Macrianus and Qietus on the throne as join eastern emperors. But these efforts of setting up an eastern empire were to be crushed by an unlikely ally of Emperor Gallienus. From Palmyra, on the border of the Syrian desert, emerged prince Odenathus who should defeat Quietus at Emesa and put an end to the rebellion.
Thereafter the prince of Palmyra, Odenathus, staged an effective campaign against the Persians which gained him the command of the east by the now sole emperor Gallienus. He used his powers well, harassing the Persian withdrawal all the way back to the Euphrates river.
Meanwhile Gallienus in the west had to deal with an unfailing crop of challengers to his title. The worst such rebellion being that of Postumus, who successfully managed to break away several western provinces from the empire (The Gallic Empire).
In the east Odenathus eventually died in AD 267, leaving his title of commander of the east, to his famous wife Zenobia.
Then in AD 268 a massive Gothic invasion of the Balkans took place, the barbarians attacking in such huge numbers, they overwhelmed the Roman frontier defences.
Supported by the vast fleet of the Heruli, over 300’000 Goths broke into Thrace and Macedonia. Gallienus greatest moment arrived when he marched east, prevented the sack of Athens and defeated the great barbarian army at the great battle of Naissus, the bloodiest battle of the entire third century.
Though his plans of following up his great victory and driving the remaining Goths back over the Danube were quashed as news reached him of the rebellion of Aureolus at Mediolanum (Milan). He returned to Italy and laid siege to Milan, only to be assassinated by a conspiracy involving the praetorian prefect Heraclianus and the two future emperors Claudius Gothicus and Aurelian.
The Gallic Empire (AD 260- 274)
For a brief time, caused by the weakened state of the empire, the western provinces managed to break away from Rome, creating their own independent state, known as the Gallic empire.
Claudius II Gothicus
Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius
born 10 May AD 214 in Illyricum. Became emperor in September AD 268. Died at Sirmium, August AD 270. Deified AD 270.
Claudius Gothicus, who had been among the leaders of the conspiracy against Gallienus. He was the choice of the army to succeed the murdered emperor and was soon after confirmed by the senate.
Claudius Gothicus would make no terms with the besieged rebel Aureolus and did not interfere when the senate sentenced him to death. The title Gothicus in the emperor’s name is attributed to have been won in his many engagements with Gothic armies and marauders as he set about the task which had been denied Gallienus, that of driving the Goths out of the Balkans after their crushing defeat at Naissus.
(The victory over the Goths at Naissus was for a long time mistakenly believed to have been achieved by Claudius Gothicus.)
Though not all should go well for Claudius Gothicus. In AD 269 Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, who had inherited the title of supreme commander of the east, broke with her alliance to Rome and began her conquest of the eastern provinces of the empire.
Was Claudius still busy with the Goths, and had he also learnt of further troubles with the Jutes (Juthungi) at the borders of Raetia, he simply could not deal with the threat arising from Palmyra.
Yet, Claudius was not to be the man to lead the Roman armies either against the Jutes, nor against Zenobia. A plague broke out in his camp to which he succumbed in AD 270, whilst making preparations for a campaign against the Jutes.
Marcus Aurelius Quintillus
Became emperor in August AD 270. Died at Aquileia, ca. September AD 270.
Quintillus was the brother of Claudius Gothicus and the story of his brief succession is mainly that of two conflicting claims of Claudius Gothicus’ last will. Did he claim that his brother had made him his successor and was he the preferred choice by many in the army, then Aurelian, Claudius Gothicus’ comrade in arms and highly respected general claimed he had been chosen to succeed.
For a brief time Quintillus, recognized by the senate as the rightful emperor, contested Aurelian’s claim. But soon he found himself completely abandoned, as everyone turned to Aurelian more through fear than by choice, and he committed suicide.
Born 9 September AD 214. Became emperor in August AD 270. Wife: Ulpia Severina (one daughter; name unknown). Died at Caenophrurium in Thrace, October/November AD 275. Deified AD 275.
The threat of the empire being overrun from several directions at once was temporarily averted by Aurelian , who became emperor in AD 270. In addition to evacuating the Roman garrisons in Dacia, he defeated the Alemanni, who on this, their fourth invasion of Italy, had got as far as Ariminum.
Though never since Hannibal had any foreign foe thrust so near to the heart of Italy. So threatening had the situation been that Aurelian was moved to raise a new wall of defence encircling Rome.
The overthrow of the Alemanni, following the treaties with the Goths, seemed to promise a long period of security on the Rhine and Danube frontiers. Though there remained beyond the borders of the empire the insolent Persian king, still unpunished for the devastation he had wrought and the humiliation he had inflicted.
But before that matter could be taken in hand, there was still the task of reuniting the empire itself, which had had several provinces torn from it by Postumus during his revolt against Gallienus.
Tetricus, by now the fourth successor to Postumus, was still ruling these renegade provinces known as the Gallic Empire.Though in truth this self-styled Gallic emperor was only anxious to be relieved from a situation where he was anything but master. It would have cost him his life at the hands of the soldiery to openly submit to Aurelian.
And yet the battle of Châlons is believed by many to have been little more than a token show of defiance, in which Tetricus quite gladly saw his troops defeated in order to be able to relinquish his position. Then Aurelian’s attention turned to the east of the empire.
In the east Zenobia, following Odenathus, not only claimed for herself the command of the east, as bestowed on her late husband, but was in fact recognized throughout the east and in Egypt, which owed to Palmyra their preservation from the Persians.
The abilities first of Odenathus and then of Zenobia, aided by the wisdom of the philosopher Longinus, had given protection and restored order and prosperity without aid from Rome.
Dispatching his lieutenant Probus to Egypt to take control there, Aurelian himself led the imperial troops against Palmyra. Zenobia offered valiant but vain resistance. Palmyra itself was besieged and captured. Zenobia herself was taken prisoner at her attempt to flee. along with Tetricus the captive queen was displayed in the magnificent triumph in Rome which celebrated the victories of Aurelian and the restoration of the empire.
The pride of Rome and the emperor being satisfied, the emperor displayed mercy by granting the fallen monarchs their lives.
It now finally remained to deal with Persia. A great expedition to that end was organized and under way, when Aurelian fell victim to a conspiracy.
He was murdered (AD 275) still in the fifth year of his reign, which had been a succession of triumphs. His murderers were not to be rebels but people among his staff who feared deserved or undeserved punishment.
Marcus Claudius Tacitus
Born AD ca 200 in the Danube Region. Consul AD 203. Became emperor Oct./Nov. AD 275. Died in Tyana in Cappadocia, July AD 276.
Tacitus was the immediate successor of Aurelian. With barbarian invasions befalling the empire on many fronts, Tacitus decided that it was the east which required most urgent attention and led his armies into Asia Minor (Turkey), where he alongside his brother Florian, defeated a large Gothic invasion force in spring AD 276. Though already by July of AD 276 Tacitus was dead, either due to natural causes or by assassination.
Marcus Annius Florianus
Became emperor July AD 276. Died at Tarsus, September AD 276.
Florian acceded to the throne immediately after his brother’s death, though within only two or three weeks Aurelian’s lieutenant Pobus, challenged his rule and soon after their armies marched on each other. Though Florian’s troops eventually mutinied, killed their leader and declared allegiance to Probus.
Marcus Aurelius Equitius Probus
Born on 19 August AD 232 at Sirmium. Consul AD 277, 278, 279, 281, 282. Became emperor in July AD 276. Died near Sirmium, September AD 282. Deified AD 282.
After the murder of Florian the senate found itself with no other alternative than to recognize Probus in AD 276.Though matters should not be easy for the new emperor. the Persian king Sapor had died and the campaign against the Persians was abandoned.
If the Goths were quieted, the Germans along the Rhine and the Raetian were growing increasingly active. Probus, a most distinguished soldier, spent the six years of his reign in vigorous campaigns carried far across the Rhine, enlisting from the barbarians themselves large bodies of auxiliary troops in the service of Rome.
But no series of successes could disguise the fundamental dangers of the situation. While the emperor was constantly personally engaged on campaigns on one frontier, he could not give his attention to other regions of the great empire.
In the east the commander Saturninus was forced into revolt by his own troops. It collapsed before the advance of the imperial forces, as did one or two others still more futile. The trouble was that such risings were possible even when the emperor was a soldier and statesman as able as Probus.
Still more worrying was that a leader so applauded by soldiers and civilians should suddenly be slain in a mutiny led by the praetorian prefect Carus (AD 282).
Marcus Aurelius Numerius Carus
Born AD ca. 224 at Narbo in Gaul. Consul AD 283. Became emperor in September AD 282. Died near Ctesiphon, July/August AD 283.
Carus, though advanced in years, was an able and experienced soldier. Leaving his elder son Carinus to rule the west, he himself too up the project of the Persian war. On the way eastward, marching through Illyricum, he inflicted a heavy defeat on a horde of Sarmatians, continued during the winter his advance through Thrace and Asia Minor (Turkey), and in AD 283 conducted a triumphant campaign in Mesopotamia and even beyond the Tigris.
Though he soon after met his death in mysterious circumstances, reports saying his tent was struck by lighting during a storm.
Carinus and Numerian
Marcus Aurelius Carinus
Born AD ca. 250. Consul AD 283. Became emperor in spring AD 283. Wives: (1) Magnia Urbica (one son; Nigrinianus), (2 to 9) unknown. Died near Margum, summer AD 285.
Marcus Aurelius Numerius Numerianus
Born AD ca. 253. Became emperor in spring AD 283. Died near Nicomedia, November AD 284.
At Carus’ death, rule of the empire fell to his two sons, Carinus and Numerian. The troops compelled Numerian to abandon the Persian expedition on which he had accompanied his father. He was credited with both character and ability, but his health had broken down under the hardships of the Persian campaign.
Though he accompanied his army in its withdrawal westwards he was constantly confined to a sick-bed, where he was rarely seen by anyone else but Arrius Aper, the praetorian prefect. All state business passed through Aper’s hands, so too all communication with the outside world.
At length the general suspicion became intolerable. Soldiers forced their way to their emperor, and found not a sick man, but a corpse. Aper was then led in chains before a new emperor Diocletian, who had been elected the new ruler from his post of commander of the imperial bodyguard, who executed Aper by his own sword.
A few months later the tyrannical Carinus was slain at the very point of victory in battle over Diocletian, by the dagger of one of his own officer’s whose wife he had seduced.
Diocletian – Constantine AD 284-337
Diocletian splits the empire
Diocletian, Maximian and Carausius
Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus
Born 22 December AD 240. Consul AD 284, 285, 287, 290, 293, 296, 299, 303, 304, 308. Became emperor in 20 November AD 284. Wife: Prisca (one daughter; Galeria Valeria). Died at Spalatum, 3 December AD 311.
Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus
Born 21 July AD ca 250. Consul AD 287, 288, 290, 293, 297, 299, 303, 304, 307. Became emperor in 1 April AD 286. Wife: Eutropia (one son; Marcus Valerius Maxentius; one daughter; Fausta). Died at Massilia, July AD 310.
Born in Menapia, date unknown. Became emperor in AD 286/7. Died AD 293.
One aspect of the problem was not so much that the empire was falling apart, but that it had always consisted of two parts. Much of the region which comprised Macedonia and Cyrenaica and the lands to the east was Greek, or had been Hellenized before being occupied by Rome.
The western part of the empire had received from Rome its first taste of a common culture and language overlaid on a society which was largely Celtic in origin.
Diocletian was an organizer. In AD 286 he split the empire into east and west, and appointed a Dalmatian colleague, Maximian (d. AD 305), to rule the west and Africa. A further division of responsibilities followed in AD 292.
Diocletian and Maximian remained senior emperors, with the title of Augustus, but Galerius, Diocletian’s son-in-law, and Constantius (surnamed Chlorus – ‘the pale’) were made deputy emperors with the title of Caesar. Galerius was given authority over the Danube provinces and Dalmatia, while Constantius took over Britain, Gaul and Spain.
Significantly, Diocletian retained all his eastern provinces and set up his regional headquarters at Nicomedia in Bithynia, where he held court with all the outward show of an eastern potentate, complete with regal trappings and elaborate ceremonial.
The establishment of an imperial executive team had less to do with delegation that with the need to exercise closer supervision over all parts of the empire, and thus to lessen the chances of rebellion. There had already been trouble in the north, where in AD 286 the commander of the combined naval and military forces based at Boulogne, Aurelius Carausius, to avoid execution for embezzling stolen property, proclaimed himself emperor of Britain and even issued his own coins.
Diocletian ruled for twenty one years until, on 1 May AD 305, he took the unprecedented step of announcing from Nicomedia that he had abdicated, and offered Maximian no choice but to do the same.
While his reign had been outwardly peaceful, the years of turmoil had left their mark on the administration of the empire and on its financial situation. Diocletian reorganized the provinces and Italy into 116 divisions, each governed by a rector or praeses, which were then grouped into twelve dioceses under a vicariusresponsible to the appropriate emperor.
He strengthened the army (while at the same time purging it of Christians), and introduced new policies for the supply of arms and provisions.
Diocletian’s monetary reforms were equally wide-ranging, but though the new tax system he introduced was workable, if not always equitable, his bill in AD 301 to curb inflation by establishing maximum prices, wages, and freight charges fell into disuse, its effect having been that goods simply disappeared from the market.
Its interest today lies in its comparisons, even though or because these are much as one would expect. Ordinary wine was twice the price of beer, while named vintages were almost four times as much as the ordinary wine. Pork mince cost half as much again as beef mince, and about the same as prime sea fish.
River fish were cheaper. A pint of fresh quality olive oil was more expensive that the same amount of vintage wine; there was cheaper oil as well. A carpenter could expect twice the wages of a farm labourer or a sewer cleaner, all with meals included.
A teacher of shorthand or arithmetic might earn half as much again per pupil as a primary-school teacher; grammar teachers, and teachers of rhetoric five times as much. Baths’ barbers were all paid the same rate per customer.
Diocletian died in his retirement palace in his native Dalmatia in AD 311, having spent his retirement gardening and studying philosophy, refusing to play any further part in the government of the empire, which immediately after his departure began to founder.
Thre was however a curious episode during Diocletian’s reign which took place in the west of the empire. The western Augustus Maximian had hardly taken office, and proven his authority by crushing an insurrection in Gaul, when Britain declared its independence. For seven years the two Augusti found themselves compelled to recognize a third emperor in the person of Mausaeus Carausius, previously commander of the North Sea Fleet.
Constantius Chlorus, Galerius, Severus II
Maxentius, Licinius and Maximinus II Daia
Flavius Julius Constantius
Born 31 March AD ca. 250 in Illyricum. Became emperor in 1 May AD 305. Wife: (1) Helena (one son; Constantine), (2) Theodora ( two sons; Flavius Dalmatius, Flavius Julius Constantius; third child unknown). Died at Ebucarum (York), 25 July AD 306.
Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus
Born AD ca. 250 at Florentiniana, Upper Moesia. Became emperor in 1 May AD 305. Wife: (1) Galeria Valeria (one daughter; Valeria Maximilla), (2) an unknown concubine (one sons; Candidianus). Died at Nicomedia, May AD 311.
Flavius Valerius Severus
Born in the Danubian region, date unknown. Became emperor in August AD 306. Wife: (1) unknown (one son; Severus). Died at Rome, 16 September AD 307.
Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius
Born in AD ca. 279 possibly in Syria. Became emperor in 28 October AD 306. Wife: Valeria Maximilla (two sons; Valerius Romulus; unknown). Died at Milvian Bridge at Rome, 28 October AD 312.
Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximinus
Born 20 November AD 270 in the Danubian region. Became emperor in 1 August AD 310. Wife: unknown (one daughter; unknown). Died at Tarsus July/August AD 313.
Valerius Licinius Licinianus
Born in AD ca. 250 in Upper Moesia. Became emperor in 11 November AD 308. Wife: Constantia (one son; Licinius). Died at Thessalonica early in AD 325.
When he retired, Diocletian had promoted Galerius and Constantius to the posts of Augustus, and appointed two new Caeasars. The troubles broke out when Constantius died in York in AD 306, and his troops proclaimed his son Constantine as their leader.
Encouraged by this development, Maxentius, son of Maximian, had himself set up as emperor and took control of Italy and Africa, whereupon his father came out of involuntary retirement and insisted on having back his former imperial command.
The situation degenerated into chaos. At one point in AD 308 there seem to have been six men styling themselves Augustus, whereas Diocletian’s system allowed for only two.
Galerius died in AD 311, having on his deathbed revoked Diocletian’s anti-Christian edicts. Matters were not fully resolved until AD 324, when Constantine defeated and executed his last surviving rival. The empire once again had a single ruler, and against all the odds he lasted for some years.
Flavius Valerius Constantinus
Born on 27 February AD 285 (or AD 272/273) at Naissus. Consul AD 307, 312, 313, 315, 319, 320, 326, 329. Became emperor in AD 307. Wife: (1) Minervina (one son; Gaius Flavius Julius Crispus), (2) Fausta (three sons; Flavius Claudius Constantinus, Flavius Julius Constantius, Flavius Julius Constans; two daughters; Constantia, Helena) Died at Ankyrona near Nicomedia, 22 May AD 337. Deified AD 337.
Constantine was born in Naissus in Upper Moesia in about AD 290, his father subsequently being forced to divorce his mother (a former barmaid) and marry Maximian’s daughter. His appellation ‘the Great’ is justified on two counts.
Under Diocletian especially, the Christians had suffered a terrible time. In AD 313, while the struggle for imperial power was at its height, Constantine initiated the edict of Milan – Milan, not Rome, was now the administrative centre of the government of Italy – which gave Christians (and others) freedom of worship and exemption from any religious ceremonial.
It is said that before the battle of the Milvian Bridge in AD 312, at which he enticed Maxentius to abandon his safe position behind the Aurelian Wall and then drove most of his army into the Tiber, Constantine had dreamed of the sign of Christ.
Thereafter he was not actually baptized until just before his death in AD 337, he regarded himself as a man of the god of the Christians, and can therefore claim to be the first Christian emperor or king. In AD 325 he assembled at Nicaea in Bithynia 318 bishops, each elected by his community, to debate and affirm some priciples of their faith.
The result, known as the Nicene Creed, is now part of the Roman Catholic mass and the Anglican churches’ service of communion. And, in AD 330, he established the seat of government of the Roman empire in a town known as Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinopolis (city of Constantine), thus ensuring that a Roman (but Hellenized and predominantly Christian) empire would survive the inevitable loss of its western part.
Its capital stood, until the middle of the fifteenth century, as a barrier between the forces of the east and the as yet ill-organized tribes and peoples of Europe, each struggling to find a permanent identity and culture.
To the Jews Constantine was ambivalent: while the Edict of Milan is also known as the Edict of Toleration, Judaism was seen as a rival to Christianity, and among other measures he forbade the conversion of pagans to its practices.
In time he became even more uncompromising towards the pagans themselves, enacting a law against divination and finally banning sacrifices. He also destroyed temples and confiscated temple lands and treasures, which gave him much needed funds to fuel his personal extravagances.
His reign constituted, however, a series of field days for architects, whom he encouraged to celebrate the religious revolution by reinventing the basilica as a dramatic ecclesiastical edifice. A general of considerable dynamism, he developed Diocletian’s reforms, and completed the division of the military into two arms: frontier forces and permanent reserves, who could be sent anywhere at short notice.
He changed the system of command so that normally the posts of civil governor and military commander were separate. He disbanded the imperial guard, and established a chief of staff to assume control of all military operations and army discipline; the praetorian prefects (commanders of the imperial guard), became appeal judges and chief ministers of finance.
Constantine the Great died 22 May AD 337.