In 235, Emperor Alexander Severus was murdered by mutinous soldiers, at Moguntiacum (modern-day Mainz), on the Rhine.[*] The mutineers hailed their commander – a common man who had risen through the ranks – emperor. He is known as Maximinus Thrax (r. 235–238), and his elevation to the purple marks the beginning of a half-century of upheaval in the Roman Empire – a period characterised by:

The, so-called, ‘third-century crisis’ draws to a close with the accession of Diocletian in 284. In the middle of this tumultuous period, in 260, Britain became part of a breakaway empire known as:

The Gallic Empire

Valerian had become undisputed emperor in 253 – his rival, Aemilian, having been killed by his own troops after a reign of only three months. Rome’s frontiers were threatened on all sides – the main antagonists being the Franks, the Alamanni, the Goths, and the Persians. Valerian immediately shared power with, his adult son, Gallienus – Valerian assumed responsibility for the eastern half of the Empire, Gallienus the western half.


Unfortunately, there is no surviving contemporary narrative of these eventful times. There are four key Latin-written sources from the second half of the 4th century: Aurelius Victor, Eutropius, the Epitome de Caesaribus and the Historia Augusta (which may actually be early-5th century), and two Greek-written sources: Zosimus, who wrote about a century after the anonymous author of the Historia Augusta, and Zonaras, who was working six centuries later than Zosimus. The Latin story and the Greek story are sometimes contradictory.
The two Byzantine historians, Zosimus and Zonaras, preserve snippets of Dexippus of Athens, who wrote soon after 270. The Latin sources, which, with one notable exception, carry only brief summaries of emperors’ reigns, chiefly draw on a single, earlier-4th century, source, known as the Kaisergeschichte.[*] The exception is the Historia Augusta which, though usually following the Kaisergeschichte (directly, and indirectly via Aurelius Victor and Eutropius) also knows Dexippus, and is notorious for mischievously weaving an elaborate web of fantasy around a slim thread of history.

In 260, whilst campaigning against the Persians, in Mesopotamia, Valerian was taken captive.


Valerian was never released. Christian apologist Lactantius, in De Mortibus Persecutorum (On the Deaths of the Persecutors), written circa 313–15:
And presently Valerian also, in a mood alike frantic, lifted up his impious hands to assault God, and, although his time was short, shed much righteous blood.[*] But God punished him in a new and extraordinary manner, that it might be a lesson to future ages that the adversaries of Heaven always receive the just recompense of their iniquities. He, having been made prisoner by the Persians, lost not only that power which he had exercised without moderation, but also the liberty of which be had deprived others; and he wasted the remainder of his days in the vilest condition of slavery: for Sapores [Shapur I], the king of the Persians, who had made him prisoner, whenever he chose to get into his carriage or to mount on horseback, commanded the Roman to stoop and present his back; then, setting his foot on the shoulders of Valerian, he said, with a smile of reproach, “This is true, and not what the Romans delineate on board or plaster.” Valerian lived for a considerable time under the well-merited insults of his conqueror; so that the Roman name remained long the scoff and derision of the barbarians: and this also was added to the severity of his punishment, that although he had an emperor for his son, he found no one to revenge his captivity and most abject and servile state; neither indeed was he ever demanded back. Afterward, when he had finished this shameful life under so great dishonour, he was flayed, and his skin, stripped from the flesh, was dyed with vermilion, and placed in the temple of the gods of the barbarians, that the remembrance of a triumph so signal might be perpetuated, and that this spectacle might always be exhibited to our ambassadors, as an admonition to the Romans, that, beholding the spoils of their captived emperor in a Persian temple, they should not place too great confidence in their own strength.
De Mortibus Persecutorum §5
At the same time, although he was strenuously attempting to drive the Germans out of Gaul, Licinius Gallienus [i.e. Valerian’s son] hurriedly descended on Illyricum. There at Mursa [Osijek, in eastern Croatia] he defeated Ingebus [actually, Ingenuus], the governor of Pannonia, who had conceived a desire to be emperor after learning of Valerian’s disaster, and subsequently Regalianus, who had renewed the war after rallying the soldiers who had survived the disaster at Mursa.[*]
Aurelius Victor Liber de Caesaribus §33


The chronology of this time is not clear, and is the subject of debate. The literary sources are not in agreement about the dates, nor indeed order, of Valerian’s capture and the rebellion of Ingenuus. Aurelius Victor (§32) places Valerian’s capture in “the sixth year of his reign”, i.e. in 259 – the Historia Augusta (‘The Two Gallieni’ 21) agrees.[*] But the Epitome de Caesaribus (§33) says Gallienus ruled for “seven [years] with his father”, which would place Valerian’s capture in 260. Whilst Aurelius Victor clearly places the rebellion of Ingenuus after the capture of Valerian, the Historia Augusta (‘The Thirty Tyrants’ 9) dates the rebellion to “the consulship of Tuscus and Bassus”, i.e. 258, which is before.
A papyrus from Oxyrhynchus (P.Oxy. 2186) indicates that Valerian was still considered to be emperor on 28th August 260, and Valerian’s coinage was still being minted in Alexandria after 29th August 260 – but possibly this simply means that, though he had been captured the previous year, his loss had not yet been officially accepted. Another papyrus (P.Oxy. 3476), however, demonstrates that by 17th September 260 the usurpers Macrianus and Quietus were being recognized in Egypt. Anyway, the most popular scholarly opinion seems to be that Valerian was captured in late-spring/early-summer 260. Regarding Ingenuus’ rebellion, the simplest view (though not the only one of course) is to accept Aurelius Victor’s train of events, which has the advantage of providing motivation for Ingenuus’ actions, so if Valerian was captured in 260, then Ingenuus’ rebellion was in 260.
Aurelius Victor also notes:
At that time too, a force of Alamanni took possession of Italy while tribes of Franks pillaged Gaul and occupied Spain, where they ravaged and almost destroyed the town of Tarraconensis [Tarragona], and some, after conveniently acquiring ships, penetrated as far as Africa.
Liber de Caesaribus §33
Eutropius (IX, 7) says that “the Germans [the Alamanni] advanced as far as Ravenna”. Zosimus (I, 37–38), however, says that “the Scythians … penetrated Italy as far as Rome”. Presumably, when Zosimus says “Scythians”, usually meaning the Goths, he actually means the Alamanni. At any rate, Zosimus goes on to say that Gallienus “continued beyond the Alps, intent on the German war [against the Franks, presumably]”, so the senate scraped together an ad hoc army which scared off the “barbarians”, who then “ravaged all the rest of Italy”. Eventually, Gallienus went “to Rome to relieve Italy from the war which the Scythians were thus carrying on”. Zonaras (XII, 24) says that Gallienus defeated 300,000 Alamanni, at Milan, with a force of just 10,000. An inscription (L’ Année épigraphique 1993, 1231), on an altar found at Augsburg (in Roman times: Augusta Vindelicum, capital of the province of Raetia) in 1992, celebrates the defeat of a band of Juthungi (a group associated with the Alamanni) in the April of … well the indicated year is another subject of debate, but probably 261. The inscription notes that “many thousand Italian captives were freed”, so the Juthungi must have been returning home from a raid on Italy. No doubt Gallienus took a considerable number of troops from the Rhine frontier to confront Ingenuus. It would seem reasonable to suggest that the Alamanni and the Franks took advantage, and managed to penetrate deep into the Empire.[*] Incidentally, the mention of the Franks by Aurelius Victor, above, is their first appearance in history.

During his absence, Gallienus had left his son, the Caesar Saloninus, in nominal charge.[*] Saloninus was under the guardianship of one Silvanus (or Albanus), whilst the army was under the command of Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus.

… [Postumus] was inclined towards innovation, and accompanied some soldiers that revolted at the same time to Agrippina [Cologne], which is the principal city on the Rhine, in which he besieged Saloninus, the son of Gallienus, threatening to remain before the walls until he was given up to him. On this account the soldiers found it necessary to surrender both him and Silvanus, whom his father had appointed his guardian, both of whom Postumus put to death and made himself sovereign of the Celtae [i.e. Gauls].
Zosimus New History I, 38


Zonaras provides more detail – Postumus intercepted a band of “barbarians” who were carrying their loot back across the Rhine. He killed many of the raiders and distributed the plunder amongst his own men:
Albanus [Zosimus’ Silvanus], when he had learned this, sent messengers and demanded that the plunder be brought to him and to the young Gallienus [i.e. Saloninus]. Postumus called his soldiers together and exacted from them their shares of the plunder, scheming to incite them to rebellion. And that is exactly what happened. With them he attacked the city of Agrippina, and the inhabitants of the city surrendered to him both the son of the sovereign and Albanus, and he executed them both.
Epitome of Histories XII, 24
In their accounts of the time of Postumus’ rebellion, Aurelius Victor, the Historia Augusta (in the persona of Trebellius Pollio) and Zosimus name Gallienus’ son Saloninus. Zonaras says the youth was called Gallienus, like his father – on this point though, ‘Trebellius Pollio’ notes:
With regard to his name there is great uncertainty, for many have recorded that it was Gallienus and many Saloninus.
Historia Augusta ‘The Two Gallieni’ 19
To add to the confusion, the Epitome de Caesaribus (§32) implies that it was Gallienus’ son Valerian who was killed during Postumus’ rebellion. Though the Epitome de Caesaribus says that Postumus came to power when Gallienus’ son was killed, it does not say he was executed by Postumus. Zosimus and Zonaras, however, are explicit on that point. Aurelius Victor doesn’t mention that Saloninus was killed, and Eutropius, in his brisk résumé, mentions no son of Gallienus at all.
Gallienus had two sons, Valerian and Saloninus, who consecutively held the rank of Caesar. An inscription from Mauretania (CIL VIII, 8473), evidently set-up before Valerian Augustus had been taken prisoner by the Persians, commemorates the “deified Caesar” Valerian, brother of the “most noble Caesar” Saloninus – i.e. Valerian Caesar was dead at the time of the inscription, and Saloninus was Caesar. Evidence from Egypt – Alexandrian coinage and papyri from Oxyrhynchus – indicates Valerian Caesar died in 258. The same sources suggest that Saloninus died in 260–61. Most modern scholars, it seems, agree that Postumus rebelled in 260, after news of the capture of Valerian Augustus arrived in Gaul, and that it was Saloninus who was killed. Rare coins, minted in Gaul (possibly at Cologne), show that Saloninus had assumed the rank of Augustus.
According to Aurelius Victor, Eutropius and the Historia Augusta, once his father was out of the way, Gallienus neglected his duties and indulged in debauchery – it was as a result of Gallienus’ behaviour that Postumus rebelled.[*] The two Greek-writers, however, give no indication that this was the case, indeed, Zonaras (XII, 25) praises Gallienus’ character.
In the Historia Augusta, ‘Trebellius Pollio’ conjures up a tale in which Gallienus is “the evil prince”, and Postumus is cast as the hero:
If anyone, indeed, desires to know the merits of Postumus, he may learn Valerian’s opinion concerning him from the following letter which he wrote to the Gauls: “As general in charge of the Rhine frontier and governor of Gaul we have named Postumus, a man most worthy of the stern discipline of the Gauls. He by his presence will safeguard the soldiers in the camp, civil rights in the forum, law-suits at the bar of judgement, and the dignity of the council chamber, and he will preserve for each one his own personal possessions; he is a man at whom I marvel above all others and well deserving of the office of prince, and for him, I hope you will render me thanks. If however, I have erred in my judgement concerning him, you may rest assured that nowhere in the world will a man be found who can win complete approval…”
Historia Augusta ‘Thirty Tyrants’ 3
Valerian’s glowing testimonial is, without doubt, a fabrication.
Now while Gallienus, continuing in luxury and debauchery, gave himself up to amusements and revelling and administered the commonwealth like a boy who plays at holding power, the Gauls, by nature unable to endure princes who are frivolous and given over to luxury and have fallen below the standard of Roman valour, called Postumus to the imperial power; and armies, too, joined with them, for they complained of an emperor who was busied with his lusts.
Historia Augusta ‘The Two Gallieni’ 4
‘Trebellius Pollio’ refuses to associate any dishonourable conduct with, his knight in shining armour, Postumus:
This man, the most valiant in war and most steadfast in peace, was so highly respected for his whole manner of life that he was even entrusted by Gallienus with the care of his son Saloninus (whom he had placed in command of Gaul), as the guardian of his life and conduct and his instructor in the duties of a ruler.[*] Nevertheless, as some writers assert – though it does not accord with his character – he afterwards broke faith and after slaying Saloninus seized the imperial power. As others, however, have related with greater truth, the Gauls themselves, hating Gallienus most bitterly and being unwilling to endure a boy as their emperor, hailed as their ruler the man [i.e. Postumus] who was holding the rule in trust for another, and despatching soldiers they slew the boy.
Historia Augusta ‘Thirty Tyrants’ 3
An aureus of Postumus.
(Postumus Pius Augustus)[*]
… Postumus, a man of very obscure birth, assumed the purple in Gaul, and held the government with such ability for ten years, that he restored the provinces, which had been almost ruined, by his great energy and judgement.
Eutropius Breviarium Ab Urbe Condita IX, 9

Inscriptions show that the British provinces, the Spanish provinces and, for a short time at least, the province of Raetia, were also part of the, so-called, Gallic Empire, which Postumus organized in proper Roman style, with its own senate and consuls.[*] It would appear that he never attempted to expand his empire further.[*]

Gallienus, when he had learned of these things, proceeded against Postumus, and, when he had engaged him, was initially beaten and then prevailed, with the result that Postumus fled. Then Aureolus was sent to chase him down. Though able to capture him, he was unwilling to pursue him for long, but, coming back, he said that he was unable to capture him. Thus Postumus, having escaped, next organized an army.
Zonaras Epitome of Histories XII, 24

At some point, Gallienus again marched against Postumus. He besieged him in an unnamed city in Gaul, but received an arrow wound in the back and was obliged to abandon the siege. He clearly never achieved a decisive victory over Postumus.

Probably in 267, whilst Gallienus was occupied in the Balkans with the Goths and their associates, the previously mentioned Aureolus:

… since he was in command of the legions in Raetia,[*] had seized the imperial power …
Aurelius Victor Liber de Caesaribus §33
He [Aureolus] seized the city of Mediolanum [Milan] and prepared to engage the sovereign.[*] The latter, too, when he had arrived with a force and taken the field against the usurper, destroyed many of the opposition. Then Aureolus was wounded and penned in Mediolanum, besieged by the sovereign.
Zonaras Epitome of Histories XII, 25

In 268 (late-summer?), whilst he was besieging Aureolus in Milan, Gallienus was assassinated. One of the officers (probably) involved in the murder plot, Claudius, was proclaimed emperor (Claudius II, generally called Claudius Gothicus, a title gained as a result of his success against the Goths). During his occupation of Milan, Aureolus had minted coins in Postumus’ name. If he was expecting Postumus to come to his aid, he was disappointed. Following Gallienus’ murder, Aureolus was also despatched. Postumus had problems of his own:

After he had driven off a horde of Germans he was involved in a war with Laelianus whom he routed just as successfully, but he then perished in a revolt of his own men [around spring 269] supposedly since he had refused to allow them, despite their insistence, to plunder the inhabitants of Mogontiacum [Mainz] because they had supported Laelianus.
Aurelius Victor Liber De Caesaribus §33

With Postumus and Laelianus both dead, the purple was assumed by Marius, a former blacksmith. Numismatic evidence suggests he lasted rather longer than the two or three days the Latin sources allot him.[*] Next to rule was Victorinus, but the Gallic Empire was beginning to crumble. Inscriptions suggest that Spain shifted its allegiance to Claudius Gothicus. Mentions in later panegyrics and a poem by Ausonius testify that, after a siege of seven months, Victorinus suppressed a rebellion by the denizens of Augustodonum (Autun, in east central France). Victorinus was:

… a man of great energy; but, as he was abandoned to excessive licentiousness, and corrupted other men’s wives, he was assassinated at Agrippina [Cologne] in the second year of his reign …
Eutropius Breviarium Ab Urbe Condita IX, 9

Extremely rare coins indicate that, for only a very short time, one Domitianus was Gallic Emperor. Numismatists place his brief rule after Victorinus, but it is not mentioned in the literary sources.[*] Aurelius Victor says:

… Victoria, after the loss of her son Victorinus, bought the approval of the legions with a large sum of money and made Tetricus emperor. He was of a noble family and was serving as governor of Aquitania, and the title and trappings of Caesar were bestowed upon his son, Tetricus.
Aurelius Victor Liber De Caesaribus §33
… [Tetricus] was chosen emperor in his absence, and assumed the purple at Burdigala [Bordeaux]. He had to endure many insurrections among the soldiery.
Eutropius Breviarium Ab Urbe Condita IX, 10

It was probably about mid-271 that Tetricus became ruler of the Gallic Empire. Meanwhile, in the legitimate Empire (sometimes called the Central Empire), Claudius Gothicus had died of natural causes – a plague – in 270. Claudius was succeeded by his brother Quintillus. Aurelian, one of the officers involved in the plot that had brought Claudius to power, soon declared against Quintillus. The dispute didn't come to warfare however. Quintillus was either killed or committed suicide, and Aurelian was undisputed emperor:

That man was not unlike Alexander the Great or Caesar the Dictator; for in the space of three years he retook the Roman world from invaders …
Epitome de Caesaribus §35

In 274 Aurelian turned his attention to the Gallic Empire:

He overthrew Tetricus at Catalauni [Châlons-sur-Marne] in Gaul. Tetricus himself, indeed, betraying his own army, whose constant mutinies he was unable to bear; and he had even by secret letters entreated Aurelian to march towards him, using, among other solicitations, the verse of Vergil:
“Unconquer'd hero, free me from these ills.”
Eutropius Breviarium Ab Urbe Condita IX, 13

Tetricus was displayed, in Rome, at Aurelian’s triumph, but, in a final twist:

This Tetricus was afterwards governor of Lucania [in southern Italy], and lived long after he was divested of the purple.
Eutropius Breviarium Ab Urbe Condita IX, 13

The Gallic Empire was no more. Britain had been loyal to it throughout.[*]

Aurelian was murdered in 275. There followed a short interregnum before Tacitus (said to be seventy-five years old) was chosen as his successor. Tacitus reigned for some six months before he too was murdered (probably), and his half-brother, the Praetorian prefect Florian, assumed the purple. The army in the East, though, hailed their commander, Probus, emperor. The opposing factions met at Tarsus. Apparently, Florian’s army, being mainly composed of Europeans, suffered from the extreme heat. Only a few skirmishes were fought; Florian was killed by his own soldiers,[*] having reigned for just a couple of months.

Probus ruled from 276 to 282:

… a man rendered illustrious by the distinction which he obtained in war. He recovered Gaul, which had been seized by the Barbarians, by remarkable successes in the field.
Eutropius Breviarium Ab Urbe Condita IX, 17
… [Probus] fought some fierce battles, first against the Longiones, a German nation, whom he conquered …
Another of his battles was against the Franks, whom he subdued through the good conduct of his commanders. He made war on the Burgundians and the Vandals.… All of them that were taken alive were sent to Britain, where they settled, and were subsequently very serviceable to the emperor when any insurrection broke out.
Zosimus New History I, 67–68
He also suppressed, in several battles, some persons that attempted to seize the throne, namely Saturninus in the east, and Proculus and Bonosus at Agrippina.[*]
Eutropius Breviarium Ab Urbe Condita IX, 17
He likewise suppressed an insurrection in Britain, by means of Victorinus, a Moor, who had persuaded him to confer the government of Britain upon the leader of the insurgents. Having sent for Victorinus, and rebuked him for his advice, he sent him to appease the disturbance; who going presently to Britain, took off the traitor by a stratagem.
Zosimus New History I, 66

In 282, Probus was killed at Sirmium (his birthplace; then in Pannonia Inferior; now Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia) by his own men, who had, seemingly, switched their support to, his Praetorian prefect, Carus.


Once again, there is a difference between the Greek-writers and the Latin-writers. Zonaras (XII, 29) says that Carus, “who was in command of portions of Europe”, realized the troops under his command wanted to proclaim him emperor. He told Probus this, and asked to be removed from his command. Probus refused. An unwilling Carus was compelled by his men – the army in Raetia and Noricum, says, 7th century chronicler, John of Antioch (Müller, fragment 160) – to assume the purple. Probus sent out an army, but they surrendered themselves to Carus. When Probus’ guards heard about the army’s defection, they killed Probus. No doubt Zosimus told a similar tale, but this section of the manuscript is lost. However, Latin-writers, Eutropius (IX, 17) and the anonymous author of the Epitome de Caesaribus (§37) say Probus was killed, at Sirmium, in an iron tower – Eutropius noting “during an insurrection of the soldiery”. Aurelius Victor (§37), though, doesn’t mention any iron tower. He says that Probus had made the troops dig drains at Sirmium. This irritated the already disgruntled men, who promptly killed him. The whole story is brought together by ‘Flavius Vopiscus of Syracuse’:
When he [Probus] had come to Sirmium, desiring to enrich and enlarge his native place, he set many thousand soldiers together to draining a certain marsh, planning a great canal with outlets flowing into the Save, and thus draining a region for the use of the people of Sirmium. At this the soldiers rebelled, and pursuing him as he fled to an iron-clad tower, which he himself had reared to a very great height to serve as a look-out, they slew him there …
Historia Augusta ‘Probus’ 21
Once again, ‘Flavius Vopiscus’ also knows the Greek story:
I am not unaware that many have suspected and, in fact, have put it into the records that Probus was slain by the treachery of Carus. This, however, neither the kindness of Probus toward Carus nor Carus’ own character will permit us to believe …
Historia Augusta ‘Carus, Carinus & Numerian’ 6
 [Carus] was clothed in the imperial robe and his sons, Carinus and Numerian, became Caesars. And since all the barbarians had seized the opportunity to invade once they had learned of the death of Probus, he sent his elder son to defend Gaul and, accompanied by Numerian, he straightway proceeded to Mesopotamia because that land is, so to speak, a customary cause of war with the Persians.
Aurelius Victor Liber De Caesaribus §38

In 283, during a successful campaign against the Persians, Carus suddenly died. Carinus and Numerian continued to rule, as co-emperors. Carinus (or an officer despatched by him) apparently had military success in Britain, since both he and his brother acquired the title Britannicus Maximus.[*] Numerian was murdered, on the journey back to Europe, in 284, and the army declared a Dalmatian guards officer called Diocles emperor. Diocles took the name Diocletian. Carinus, pausing to suppress the rebellion of one Julianus, at Verona, marched against Diocletian. The two armies met, in 285, in modern-day Serbia. Carinus’ larger army was apparently at the point of victory when he was murdered by his own men, leaving Diocletian as the undisputed emperor.


A common thread amongst our main sources is that Carus, in camp by the Tigris, was killed by a lightning strike. Zonaras (XII, 30), though, notes “some say” – this version is given by, famously untrustworthy 6th century Byzantine chronicler, John Malalas (XII, 34) – that Carus was killed in a subsequent campaign “against the Huns”. Even if the term ‘Huns’ is being used as loose shorthand for ‘a barbarian hoard from beyond the Danube’ (Zonaras mentions the Sarmatians, who Carus had defeated at the very beginning of his reign – it would be the best part of a century before the actual Huns made their presence felt), this story is plainly wrong – Carus never returned from the Persian campaign. ‘Flavius Vopiscus of Syracuse’ (Historia Augusta ‘Carus, Carinus & Numerian’ 8) says that “according to some” he died “by disease”. ‘Vopiscus’ then concocts a story, backed up by an invented official letter, which proposes that the sick Carus died during a terrific thunder storm – the emperor’s attendants “grieving for the death of their prince, fired his tent”, so a rumour began that he had been killed by lightning. Many modern scholars, unsurprisingly, suspect that Carus was assassinated.
The story of Numerian’s murder is even more bizarre (told in greatest detail by Aurelius Victor (§§38–39) and ‘Flavius Vopiscus of Syracuse’ (Historia Augusta ‘Carus, Carinus & Numerian’ 12–13). Numerian was suffering from an eye condition, and was being carried in a litter. In a plot instigated by his father-in-law, the Praetorian prefect Aper, he was surreptitiously murdered. It was not until the body started smelling that the deed was discovered. Diocletian was hailed emperor by the army. During his first address to the assembled troops, Diocletian swore that he had not been complicit in Numerian’s murder, and personally ran Aper through with his sword. In a charmingly whimsical flourish, ‘Vopiscus’ places his own grandfather at the scene:
… and he used to say that Diocletian, after slaying him, shouted, “Well may you boast, Aper, “’Tis by the hand of the mighty Aeneas you perish” [Virgil Aeneid X, 830].”
Historia Augusta ‘Carus, Carinus & Numerian’ 13
Once again, Zonaras (XII, 30) also offers an alternative, plainly wrong, version of Numerian’s demise, that “some record” – John Malalas (XII, 35) gives this version – Numerian’s forces were defeated by the Persians; Numerian was captured; he was flayed, and his skin made into a bag. Clearly a confusion between Valerian and Numerian.
None of the sources has a good word to say about Carinus. Aurelius Victor:
… when Carinus reached Moesia he straightway joined battle with Diocletian near the Margus [now Morava], but while he was in hot pursuit of his defeated foes he died under the blows of his own men because he could not control his lust and used to seduce many of his soldiers’ wives.
Liber De Caesaribus §39
Eutropius notes that Carinus was the object of “the utmost hatred and detestation”, and in his “great battle” against Diocletian he was:
… betrayed by his own troops, for though he had a greater number of men than the enemy, he was altogether abandoned by them between Viminacium and mount Aureus.
Breviarium Ab Urbe Condita IX, 20
‘Flavius Vopiscus of Syracuse’ alleges that, after the deaths of his father and brother, Carinus “committed acts of still greater vice and crime”, but makes no mention of any treachery by Carinus’ own men:
… he fought many battles against Diocletian, but finally, being defeated in a fight near Margus, he perished.
Historia Augusta ‘Carus, Carinus & Numerian’ 10
The anonymous Epitomator doesn't mention any battle, but says that Carinus, who “defiled himself with all crimes”:
… was tortured to death chiefly by the hand of his tribune, whose wife he was said to have violated.
Epitome de Caesaribus §38
Oddly, Zonaras writes that Carinus:
… living in Rome, presented a menace to the Romans, since he had become brutal, cruel and vindictive. He was killed by Diocletian, who had come to Rome.
Epitome of Histories XII, 30
Incidentally, John Malalas (XII, 36) has Carinus conducting a successful campaign against the Persians, to avenge his brother’s death, during which he dies of natural causes!
New Empires
Alexander was killed during a campaign on the Rhine. The contemporary source, Herodian, says (VI, 9) he, with his mother and retinue, was killed in his quarters, but doesn’t say where those quarters were. The later sources Jerome and Orosius (VII, 18) say Alexander was in Mainz when he was killed. Aurelius Victor, however, makes the, plainly confused, statement that:
… the soldiers … cut him down in a British village named Sicilia where he happened to be operating with a small retinue.
Liber de Caesaribus §24
(Victor is paraphrased by the Historia Augusta: ‘Alexander Severus’ 59.) Alexander wasn’t killed in Britain, and Sicilia is not known. It is widely asserted that Alexander was killed at Bretzenheim, near Mainz. This is, though, far from certain – depending on a linguistic argument that Bretzenheim originated as Vicus Britannicus (indicating it was a settlement of Britons), and a suggestion made in 1883 by Hermann Schiller (Geschichte der Römischen Kaiserzeit Vol. 1) that Victor’s “British village” (i.e. a village in Britain), vicus Britanniae, should be Vicus Britannicus, which Schiller unquestioningly accepts as being Bretzenheim. Incidentally, Zosimus tells a unique story (I, 13), presumably based on a misunderstanding of his source material, which has Alexander killed in Rome.
Aurelius Victor (§32) places Valerian’s capture and death, after being “cruelly mutilated”, in the same year. The other sources, though, indicate Valerian had been held captive for some considerable time before his death – Eutropius (IX, 7) says he “grew old in ignominious slavery”. Valerian was probably in his mid-60s at the time he was captured – Victor notes that he was “still a robust old man”.
A grouping of Germanic tribes along the lower Rhine. Their first mention in history is during this period.
A grouping of Germanic tribes along the upper Rhine. The Alamanni are first mentioned in connection with a campaign carried out against them, by Caracalla, in 213. Aurelius Victor notes:
He [Caracalla] crushed the Alamanni, a populous nation who fight wonderfully well from horseback, near the River Main.
Liber de Caesaribus §21
According to their own tradition (as recorded by Jordanes, in the mid-6th century), this Germanic group originated on the island of Scandza, which would seem to be the southern end of the Scandinavian peninsula. Be that as it may, by this time they were occupying territory adjacent to the Black Sea, between the Danube and the Don. They later split into two factions – the Ostrogoths (Eastern Goths) and the Visigoths (Western Goths).
Persia was once again under Persian rule (the Sassanid dynasty) – the Parthians having being overthrown in 224.
Pannonia – bounded on its north and east by the Danube – comprised modern western Hungary, and parts of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia. At this time, Pannonia was divided into two provinces: Pannonia Superior and Pannonia Inferior. The Historia Augusta says that:
… Ingenuus, then ruler of the Pannonian provinces, was acclaimed emperor by the legions of Moesia, and those in Pannonia assented thereto.
‘Thirty Tyrants’ 9
Zonaras agrees (XII, 24) that it was the Moesian legions who proclaimed Ingenuus emperor.
Moesia comprised parts of modern Bulgaria and Serbia. Moesia was also divided into two provinces: Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior. Illyricum was a general term for the Pannonia/Dalmatia/Moesia region. Mursa was in Pannonia Inferior.
The inscription on the reverse of this coin (type: RIC V 276) is:
(Indulgentia Pia Postumi Augustus).
A supplicant is kneeling before a seated Postumus, who is holding out his hand in a gesture of clemency or magnanimity.
The land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates – roughly equivalent to modern Iraq.
Taken together, the testimonies of Victor and Zonaras paint a coherent picture: Aureolus rebelled in Raetia, and, with the legions under his command, he invaded Italy and took control of Milan. Zosimus (I, 40), though, seems to have got the wrong end of the stick, saying that Aureolus “was commander of the cavalry posted in the neighbourhood of Mediolanum to watch the motions of Postumus”. In fact, Aureolus had been commander of all Gallienus’ cavalry, and had been instrumental in overthrowing the usurpers Ingenuus and Macrianus. He had, however, blotted his copy book by, as we have seen, failing to capture Postumus (with the implication that he didn’t try very hard). At any rate, he was evidently no longer in command of the cavalry, and so did not go to the Balkans with Gallienus.
… Valerian, as soon as he had seized the power, ordered the Christians to be forced by tortures into idolatry, the eighth emperor alter Nero to do so. When they refused, he ordered them to be killed, and the blood of saints was shed throughout the length and breadth of the Roman Empire.
Historiarum Adversus Paganos Libri Septem VII, 22
‘Trebellius Pollio’ makes no mention of Silvanus/Albanus.
Mention was made earlier of an inscription from Augsburg, the capital of Raetia, celebrating the victory by Roman forces over a band of Juthungi (L’ Année épigraphique 1993, 1231). The date of the battle is given as 24th and 25th April, and the inscription is dated 11th September of “the year when our master the Emperor Postumus Augustus and Honoratianus were consuls”. (In fact, although they can be made-out, the names of Postumus and Honoratianus have been erased.) To which year this applies is a matter of opinion, but, assuming the chronology espoused on this webpage is correct, 261 seems probable. It wasn’t until the discovery of this inscription, in 1992, that it became apparent Raetia had accepted Postumus as emperor. How long Raetia remained in the Gallic Empire is unclear.
In the Historia Augusta, ‘Trebellius Pollio’ twice asserts that it was seven years. Postumus would appear to have ruled 260–269.
Comprising parts of: Austria, Switzerland, Germany.
According to an anecdote told in a fragment of the Anonymus post Dionem (Anonymous Continuator of Dio – continues the history of Cassius Dio to the time of Constantine – sometimes equated to, the 6th century, Peter the Patrician), in order to prevent the spilling of Roman blood, Gallienus offered to fight Postumus in single combat. Postumus declined, saying:
“I am not a one-on-one fighter, nor have I ever been. But when those provinces you assigned to me were being ruined, I saved them. I have been acclaimed sovereign by the Gauls, and I am content to rule those who have willingly chosen me. If there is anything I can accomplish, through my counsel and power I shall assist them.”
Translation by Thomas M. Banchich, The Lost History of Peter the Patrician (2015) F182.
By this time, then, Raetia had been detached from the Gallic Empire.
In what would clearly seem to be an allusion to the Thirty Tyrants of Athens, the Historia Augusta, in the guise of Trebellius Pollio, contrives to list thirty tyrants – meaning usurpers or pretenders – during the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus. In order to make up the numbers, ‘Pollio’ includes in his list: pretenders who do not fall within the timescale, persons who were not pretenders at all, and individuals who are thought to be total fabrications. Out of the thirty, perhaps as few as nine truly fit the bill.
Victor (§33) and Eutropius (IX, 9) allow Marius two days. In the Historia Augusta, ‘Trebellius Pollio’ (‘Thirty Tyrants’ 8) goes one better, giving him three days: “on the first day was made emperor, on the second seemed to rule, and on the third was slain.”  According to the inventive ‘Pollio’, Marius was killed, by a disgruntled soldier who had previously worked in Marius’ smithy, with a sword of his own manufacture. Orosius (VII, 22) says: “Marius seized the supreme power there [at Mainz], but was immediately killed.”
The Epitome de Caesaribus (§36) says Florian committed suicide.
‘Caesar’ was the title conferred on an emperor’s junior colleague and intended heir. The emperor himself was titled ‘Augustus’. When Valerian assumed power, he raised his son, Gallienus, to the same rank as himself, i.e. Augustus. Subsequently, Gallienus’ son, also called Valerian, was raised to the rank of Caesar. On Valerian Junior’s death, in 258, Gallienus’ younger son, Saloninus, became Caesar. 258 is also the year that the Historia Augusta says Ingenuus rebelled. Some scholars, accepting the Historia’s date, suggest Valerian Junior was killed in the rebellion.
Presumably this was the story told by the Kaisergeschichte. According to Aurelius Victor (§33) Gallienus had enemies in the senate, and it is widely believed that hostile senators were the source of the, in all likelihood unwarranted, slur on Gallienus.
It is widely suggested that the Longiones equate to the Lugii, whom Tacitus (Germania §43) seems to place, at the end of the 1st century, about Silesia (southwestern Poland).
The testimony of Zosimus, regarding the invasion of Italy, presents something of a conundrum though. It would seem to make more sense if Gallienus had intercepted the Alamanni on his way back from Illyricum, rather than from “the German war” – which would suggest that Gallienus travelled all the way from Illyricum to the lower Rhine; the Alamanni then invaded (which, with Gallienus’ forces back in place, might seem unlikely); Gallienus then doubled back “to relieve Italy”. Perhaps Zosimus simply made an assumption, since he makes no mention of Ingenuus.
Panegyrici Latini:
‘V. Speech of Thanks to Constantine’ §4 (Anonymous, written c.311);
‘IX. For the Restoration of the Schools’ §4 (Eumenius, written c.298).
Parentalia IV (written c.380).
At time of writing (August 2020) there are three known coins of Domitianus (frequently referred to as Domitian II) - one found in western France, one in England (Oxfordshire), and one in northwestern Bulgaria. ‘Trebellius Pollio’ (Historia Augusta: ‘The Two Gallieni’ 2; ‘Thirty Tyrants’ 12 & 13) names Aureolus’ “bravest and most active” subordinate Domitianus. Also, Zosimus (I, 49) mentions that Aurelian (who, as we shall see, acquired the purple of the main, Roman, empire in 270) “apprehended and punished [executed?]” a person named Domitianus for “suspected” plotting. The latter Domitianus (is he the same as the former?), though, hardly seems to fit the bill for someone who secured the throne of the Gallic Empire – it seems reasonable to suppose that this Domitianus would have been swiftly disposed of by the supporters of the next recorded incumbent, Tetricus.
Postumus, Victorinus and Tetricus all feature in British inscriptions – mainly on milestones. Worthy of note, however, are inscriptions on altars from the fort at Birdoswald, on Hadrian’s Wall, in two of which (RIB 1883 & 1886, both these altars are now lost) the 1st Aelian Cohort of Dacians is styled Postumiana (Postumus’ Own), and in another (RIB 1885) Tetriciana (Tetricus’ Own). The Sebosian Wing of cavalry is also titled Postumiana, on a building dedication-slab from Lancaster (RIB 605) – Postumus’ names and the title Postumiana were later, i.e. when Rome had regained control, erased.
Zonaras Epitome of Histories XII, 28.
Zosimus New History I, 64.
According to Zosimus (I, 63) and Zonaras (XII, 28), Tacitus was murdered by soldiers, who had already murdered a kinsman of his, to escape punishment. However, Aurelius Victor (§36) and Eutropius (IX, 16) say that Tacitus simply died, whilst the Epitome de Caesaribus (§36) adds “from a fever”. The Historia Augusta, now in the persona of Flavius Vopiscus of Syracuse (‘Tacitus’ 13), knows of both versions of Tacitus’ death, but doesn’t venture an opinion as to which is correct.
… [Victorinus] departed [for Britain] – ostensibly fleeing the emperor – and was gladly received by the usurper. After he had murdered him in the night, he returned to Probus.
Zonaras Epitome of Histories XII, 29
In the Historia Augusta, ‘Flavius Vopiscus of Syracuse’ asserts that Proculus and Bonosus:
… proceeded to claim all of Britain and Spain and the provinces, also, of farther Gaul [bracatae Galliae] …
‘Probus’ 18
Elsewhere (‘Four Tyrants’ 14) ‘Flavius Vopiscus’ says that Bonosus’ father was a British teacher. It is likely that both of these assertions are fabrications.
Literally ‘trousered Gaul’ (after the bracae worn by the native population). A jocularly disparaging reference to the more distant (from Rome), and hence less civilized, parts of Gaul.
The Vandals were one of the Germanic peoples against whom Marcus Aurelius had fought, on the Danube, a century earlier (in the, so-called, Marcomannic Wars). In 271 Aurelian defeated Vandals who had invaded Pannonia. As part of the ensuing treaty, the Vandals supplied 2,000 cavalrymen to the Roman army.
Pliny the Elder, writing in the 1st-century, includes the Burgundians and the Goths (Gutones) as constituent parts of the Vandal nation.
Gaius Plinius Secundus, better known as Pliny the Elder, was the author of Natural History, a thirty-seven book encyclopedia, to which he was putting the final touches in 77. Pliny discusses Germany in Book IV, Chapter 28.
Eastern Germanic people, possibly having Scandinavian origins. This is the first recorded military encounter between the Burgundians and the Romans.
South of the Danube, sandwiched between Raetia and Pannonia. Modern Austria, more or less.
On an inscription (CIL XIV, 126) from near Ostia (port of Rome, at the mouth of the Tiber), both emperors, Carinus and Numerian, are accorded the titles Germanicus Maximus, Britannicus Maximus and Persicus Maximus.
It is thought that the contemporary poet Nemesianus (Cynegetica, lines 69–70) may well be referring to Carinus’ victory in Britain, when he talks of the “wars under the North Star” (bella sub arcto) that Carinus had recently successfully concluded.
In 380/81, St Jerome (Hieronymus) translated chronological tables – a summary of world history, beginning with Abraham’s birth and finishing in the year 325 – composed by Eusebius of Caesarea, into Latin from Greek (the original Greek text no longer exists), but making additions from Roman history in the process. Jerome also continued the Chronicon (Chronicle) to 378.
Paulus Orosius wrote his Historiarum Adversus Paganos Libri Septem (Seven Books of History Against the Pagans), at the request of St Augustine of Hippo, in about 417.
In the first half of the 12th century, John Zonaras, after holding offices in the court of, Byzantine emperor, Alexius I Comnenus, became a monk, and compiled his Epitome of Histories – an eighteen book universal chronicle, written in Greek, extending from the Creation to the death of Alexius in 1118. Zonaras is, perhaps, best known for preserving, albeit in abridged form, the first twenty-one books of the Roman History of Cassius Dio. His record of the 3rd and 4th centuries, taken from now lost sources, is also important.
To explain resemblances – the selection of facts, shared errors and similar phraseology – evident in these Latin sources, Alexander Enmann (in 1884) named a proposed, no longer extant, Latin work, that began with Augustus and concluded in the year 357, the Kaisergeschichte (History of the Emperors). That this phantom work did exist is still generally accepted, though its date of conclusion has been contested – some scholars preferring 337.
Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum
Roman Imperial Coinage
Roman Inscriptions of Britain online.