7 Aurelian vs Zenobia


  1. Claudius II

  • Lack of coherent logic in politics; why are particular emperors chosen at particular points?
  • Obvious candidates passed over for less capable individuals; less easily to explain why/what is going on
  • Gallienus declared to be usurper
    • Historia Augusta: usurpation against Gallienus, new regime paid off soldiers and claimed Gallienus himself was a usurper (despite following on from his father)
    • Flexibility of memory; how easy is it to rewrite the legacy of previous emperors?
  • Claudius Gothicus comes to the throne
    • Numerous accounts of his accession
    • Remembered positively; coins with symbol of peace; 
  • Claudius appears to be one of the better emperors of 3rd century, always with reference to Constantine’s father
    • Constantine plucks Claudius Gothicus from obscurity to legitimise his reintroduction of the principate and removal of tetrarchy 
    • Only reason Claudius Gothicus is of interest?
  • Name suggests from family with recent citizenship (Caracalla’s edict) - Marcus Aurelius Claudicus
  • Deifies Gallienus - again, reversal of memory
    • Doesn’t reach all provinces - some areas where he receives damnatio memoriae and others where he is deified
    • Why deify? Difficult to get idea of Gallienus as usurper to stick, so change of motive?
  • Focuses on Danubian frontier - not unusual, being am military emperor
    • Ignores east; epigraphy of military officials from this year showing many come from Danubian frontier suggests this is why he was put in power and Gallienus was removed
    • Suggested Gallienus abandoned Danubian frontier to deal with other usurper, angering Danubian military officials and so LOCAL INTEREST put in an emperor who was willing to pay attention
  • Claims victory over the Goths
  • Death from plague - only soldier emperor to die in bed

2. Quintillus and Aurelian

  • Succession plan in place for Claudius’ brother (Marcus Aurelius Quintullus) to succeed
    • Quintillus minor figure; procurator in Sardinia
    • Only emperor for 17 days
    • Has time to mint coins
  • Army in Sirmium acclaim another individual, Marcus Aurelius Aurelianus, emperor (270-275)
    • Claudius’ own army support Aurelian, rather than Claudius’ brother Quintillus
    • Quintillus dies; murder or suicide unclear
  • 270/271- Aurelian cleans up northern frontier
  • Gothic invasion stemmed and seems to happen muchness in this period
    • Why? Aurelian more competent emperor? Building on success of his predecessor, Claudius Gothicus? Were the Goths themselves less interested in raiding in Rome if resistance was stronger?
  • Abandons Transdanubian Dacia,and creates a new province called Dacia to mask the lost of the first area
    • Manipulation of memory
  • Fortification of cities, including Rome
    • Aurelian Wall increases territory of city of Rome
    • Why? Raiding groups getting further into Roman territory
    • Roman refortifying suggest Rome itself was at threat; violent of frontier crept ever closer and the heartland of empire was at threat
    • Augustan period; conflict getting further and further from Rome
    • Reversal of this; conflict getting closer, city of Rome at threat
  • Fragmentation of empire - Gallic and Palymrene empires


  1. Postumus’ empire

  • Postumus established new state beyond Alps
  • Ten year reign, unchallenged and without conflict
    • Resources of central government had been spread to thin; local elites were able to provide for citizens that which central government could no longer 
    • Roman ideology - titulature, coins, etc
    • No desire for independence?
  • Usurper can’t be put down, Gallienus just has to live with him
    • At what point does a continuous usurper become an emperor?
    • Seen as being so established that someone else wants to be in his place, and is usurped
    • Ulpius Cornelianus Laelianus (288) defeated in battle
      • This story rhetorical trope? Reign begins and ends with stories of military blunder
  • Central government was still unable to do anything, so we see succession the Gallic empire
    • Authority passes from one individual to another, thus becoming an empire in itself
  • Victorinus defeats Marius and becomes emperor in Gallic empire, who is then defeated by Tetricus 
  • At point at which there is civil war, a number of regions declare authority to central Roman authority, Claudius Gothicus
    • Suggests it was precisely the political stability offered by Postumus that made him an attractive ruler to these regions 
    • Postumus rules at a time where instability is centrla, some emperors reigning for only 17 days
    • Clear why this might be attractive to local magistrates; allows individuals to get on with local life, trading, etc without constant political disturbance 
    • To what extent are individuals aware of central recognition?
      • What are the mechanisms by which individuals can check who has legitimately claimed power?
      • If nobody challenges Postumus for 10 years, what reason would one have for viewing him as illegitimate?
      • To what extent do individuals pay attention to the close details of central authority?


  1. Odaenathus’ role

  • De-facto control over Western side of empire
  • Claiming other titles
    • King of kings in; corrector totes Orients
  • Odaenathus’ accepted overture from Gallienus
  • A working relationship… that stopped working
  • Moments of succession which mean the basis of power and legitimacy are brought into light and questioned 
  • Odaenathus dies

2. Zenobia’s empire

  • Wife of Odaenathus viewed his position as one which should be inherited, by his son Vaballathus, aged >10
  • Zenobia engineers succession of her son 
    • Inscriptions indicate her own agency; claiming position that was given to the father; ‘mother of the king’
    • Attempt to claim magistracy for the son
  • Zenobia’s ambitions exceeded those of her husband; he was happy with bounds of power given to him in the position of corrector totius orientis
    • Envisages Palmyrene empire
    • Begins minting coins - something Odaenathus had never done
    • Coins claim authority over the Romans; claiming Vaballathus and Aurelian as co-emperors, uses language of emperors 
    • Uses central imperial imagery - crowned and in style of Augustus
    • Coins of Vaballathus dressed as Hercules; cf. Commodus 
    • Coinage also produced for Zenobia - indication for her own ambition?
  • Starts as king of kings, already disputed by central government, and then claims more and more, co-emperor with Aurelian 
  • Backdating of Vaballathus 3 years; claiming he is the senior emperor with Aurelian - changing of memory
  • Instability creates space for individuals to push boundaries 


  1. Defeat of the Palmyrene Empire

  • 273: Aurelian advances towards Palmyra
    • 2 quick defeats
    • Besieges Palmyra, Zenobia captured and taken as a prisoner to Rome

2.  Defeat of Gallic Empire

  • 274 Aurelian approaches
  • Tetricus negotiates own surrender 
  • Sacrifices army to need for a victory
  • Both victorie anti climactic
    • Discovering problems of original empire
    • Once they have to place the problem of succession -THE FUNDAMDENTLA PROBLEM OF TH E ROMAN EMPIRE WHICH IS NEVER FACE/RESOLVED - those empires themselves become too weak to continue

3. The image of victory

  • Double triumph; first in many years
  • Aurelian presenting as victory over foreign barbarians, rather than reclaiming of territories; cf. Flavian attitudes to Jewish War
  • Zenobia marries senator; Tetricus becomes senator
    • Interesting because you can see the distinction between reality of events and the image Aurelian attempts to present