Europe 271: Challengers of Aurelian
The Juthungi defeat of Aurelian at Placentia created panic in Rome which, combined with Aurelian’s attempts to curb corruption, led to large scale riots. At about the same time, new usurpers rose against him in the empire, the Goths crossed into the Balkans, and Zenobia invaded Asia Minor. Aurelian swiftly crushed the Roman riots, the new usurpers, and the Goths, then readied his forces to take on Zenobia.
The rival Roman regime led by Postumus and his successors in Gaul (260–274) is often referred to as the Gallic Empire by modern historians. This term has no real historical basis; identity-wise, the Gallic emperors were simply Roman usurpers who successfully held out in Gaul for 14 years, but lacked the strength to take Rome.
The region controlled by the Palmyrene queen Zenobia in the name of her son Vaballathus (267–273) is often called the Palmyrene Empire by modern historians. This term was not used at the time and, despite her expansionism, Zenobia continued to officially recognize the authority of Rome—with her son as a king under the Roman emperor—up until Aurelian’s move against her domain in late 271. After this, Zenobia openly rebelled, declaring Vaballathus emperor and herself an empress, but here she was probably acting as a usurper challenging Aurelian rather than a secessionist attempting to create an independent empire.
Jun 271 Revolt of Felicissimus▲
The Juthungi invasion caused panic in Rome, inspiring the mint master Felicissimus—who had been accused of debasing the coinage for his own gains—to provoke a riot among the mint workers that soon destabilized the city. Forced to race south from his campaign against the Juthungi, Aurelian suppressed the rebellion in a battle over the Caelian Hill that allegedly saw some 7,000 combatants killed. After executing several senators complicit in the revolt, the emperor ordered the construction of the Aurelian Walls—19 km in length, 3.5 m thick, and 8 m high—to protect the capital from future hordes.
271 Zenobia’s invasion of Asia▲
In late spring 271, although still officially loyal to Aurelian, the forces of Zenobia of Palmyra marched westward into Asia Minor and seized control of Ancyra in Galatia. They then advanced as far as Chalcedon, but were repulsed by locally raised Bithynian troops and forced to withdraw. In the province of Asia, Virius Lupus, Odaenathus’ governor of Syria Coele, took power, although by 272 his allegiance had shifted to Aurelian.
271 Battle of Ticinum▲
In the aftermath of the Battle of Fano, Aurelian rejected Juthungi requests to be allowed to return north with their plunder. Instead, he chased them down as they withdrew, attacking and utterly defeating them near Ticinum (Pavia) some days later. Although a remnant force managed to escape through the Alps, it was later caught and destroyed in Raetia.
271 Tetricus I▲
Tetricus, governor of Aquitania, accepted Victoria’s request to take power in Gaul and was acclaimed emperor by his troops in Burdigala (Bordeaux) in the spring of 271. He set out for the Gallic capital Augusta Treverorum (Trier), but was delayed by having to fight Germanic invaders and only established himself at the end of the year. The next year proved equally trying, and it was only in late 272 that he put an end to the Germanic threat.
271 Domitian II▲
In 271 Domitianus, probably a former general of the usurper Aureolus, proclaimed himself emperor in Gaul. It is uncertain whether his revolt was against Aurelian or the so-called Gallic emperors, but he briefly gained control of a mint—presumably either Lugdunum, if it had an operable mint at this time, or a city in northeast Gaul—as two of his coins have been found (in hoards in western France and England). He was quickly defeated by his enemies, including forces loyal to Aurelian.
In 271 the officer Septimius declared himself emperor in Dalmatia, possibly inspired by the multitude of threats facing Aurelian at this time. Little else is known of his rebellion, except that he was soon put to death by his own troops.
271 Aurelian’s Gothic War▲
In the summer of 271 the Goths crossed the Danube and proceeded to ravage Roman territory as far as Thrace and Illyricum. They were intercepted by Aurelian as he marched eastward to fight Zenobia, then chased back across the Danube. Fighting the Goths in their own territory, Aurelian killed the Gothic leader Cannabaudes and 5,000 of his followers, bringing an end to Gothic invasions of the Roman Empire for many years.