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Trebonianus Gallus and Aemilianus, Emperors of Rome

The years 251 to 253 have been reckoned as among the worst in the whole of Roman imperial history. This was a time of utter chaos, when major cities were sacked by invading tribes, armies were destroyed, and emperors came and went with considerable rapidity.

This article concerns two such emperors, of whom relatively little can be said because they emerged from nowhere and played only minor roles in the story of Rome’s sorry decline.

Trebonianus Gallus

<a href="https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/247117" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Source</a>

Emperor Decius was killed at the Battle of Abrittus in June 251, the enemy being an invading army of Goths. He had previously indicated that his preferred successor was Publius Licinius Valerianus, but it was Gaius Vibius Trebonianus Gallus who was declared emperor when the time came.

Born in about the year 206, of aristocratic stock, Trebonianus Gallus had been governor of the province of Moesia Superior, which was one of the provinces being threatened by the Goths. He appears to have been a loyal and trusted follower of Decius, and a perfectly suitable successor. Valerianus (usually known as Valerian) seems to have accepted the situation and not to have been anxious to challenge Gallus for the throne. Given the track record of emperors of the time – in terms of short reigns and violent deaths – this was understandable.

The first act of Gallus as emperor was to conclude a peace treaty with the Goths. His second was to adopt the younger son of Decius to rule jointly with him, but this plan fell through when the young man died of the plague soon afterwards. Gallus then appointed his own son, Volusianus, to fill this position.

Trebonianus Gallus’s short reign was marked by a continuation of Decius’s persecution of the Christians, although this was not pursued with any great energy and consisted of expulsions rather than executions; and further efforts to defend the empire from barbarian incursions, which was by far the more pressing problem.

The troublesome tribes included the Franks and the Alemanni, the latter of whom managed to cross the Rhine and pillage as far as Spain before heading for home. In 252 the Goths claimed that the Romans had not fulfilled their side of the peace treaty and resumed their attacks in Greece and Asia Minor. They launched seaborne attacks from the Black Sea, burst through the Dardanelles and sacked a number of cities around the Aegean, including Ephesus.

The Sassanids also made a reappearance, with Shapur advancing up the Euphrates and crushing a Roman army at Barbalissos (northern Syria) in 253.

Rome and its emperor were in deep trouble.

Aemilianus

<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Aemilianus" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Source</a>

Marcus Aemilius Aemilianus was born in around 207, probably in Libya and of Moorish stock. As a general he had a measure of success in countering the Gothic incursions in the Danube region, and was considered by his troops to be a better bet than Trebonianus Gallus. They therefore declared him to be emperor and he set out towards Italy to stake his claim.

Gallus called on Valerian, who was commanding troops on the Rhine, to come to his aid, but he was too late. Gallus was killed by his own troops in August 253 before Valerian arrived.

Aemilianus may now have thought that he was home and dry, as long as he could see off the army led by Valerian when it turned up. However, the troops that had acclaimed him on the Danube had second thoughts now that they were in Italy. Valerian looked to be a much more acceptable prospect as emperor, and he was also likely to be approved by the Senate, which was not the case with Aemilianus.

Aemilianus therefore suffered the same fate as Trebonianus Gallus, just one month later.

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  1. I really enjoy reading your posts. They all seem concentrated on Romans. Are you going to write on the Greeks or Egyptians or any other ancient civilizations if I might ask? Keep up on entertaining and educating. Thank you.

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