Europe 273: Revolt of Firmus
No sooner had Aurelian crossed into Europe after his defeat of Zenobia, than Palmyra rebelled again. Racing back east, the emperor sacked the city in retribution, only to face a pro-Palmyrene uprising in Egypt. This too Aurelian crushed, although in the fighting the Brucheion quarter of Alexandria, which housed the famous Great Library, was almost entirely destroyed.
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.
Although the 273 revolt in Alexandria is well attested, the only ancient source to name its leader (Firmus) is the unreliable Historia Augusta. This has led some modern historians to consider Firmus a fabrication, suggesting that he was probably based on either Claudius Firmus, the official Egyptian governor at the time, or a 4th century Berber rebel also called Firmus. However, the Historia Augusta specifies that there were two other people called Firmus—one a prefect of Egypt, the other a proconsul of Africa—who were contemporaneous with, but different from, the rebel Firmus. It also provides a motive—supporting Palmyrene allies—and a description that matches a larger-than-life Greek merchant in Egypt more than a Berber prince in Northwest Africa (e.g., he had a pale body and sun-burnt face, swum with crocodiles, mounted a hippopotamus, rode ostriches, and traded with India and the Blemmyes). On balance, we’re inclined to accept the Historia Augusta on this one.
272–273? Aurelian’s Carpic War▲
While returning to Europe after his campaign against Zenobia, Aurelian discovered that the Carpi had taken advantage of his reduction of the Danube garrisons to raid Moesia and Dacia. Aurelian defeated the invaders in the winter of 272/273, then resettled many of the surviving Carpi south of the Danube. This began a Roman policy of population transfer which would see the entire Carpi people moved into the empire over the course of ninety years.
?? 272?–Mar 273 Septimius Antiochus▲
While Aurelian was in the Balkans, he received word that the Palmyrenes had risen up, massacred their Roman garrison, and proclaimed Septimius Antiochus—another son of Zenobia and presumably only a young child—as emperor. Aurelian immediately turned about and sped back east, effortlessly recapturing Palmyra. This time he had the city plundered, its walls razed, and its people killed or driven out; despite later rebuilding, Palmyra would never fully recover.
Not long after the 272/273 rebellion in Palmyra, the wealthy Greek merchant Firmus instigated an uprising in Egypt in support of the Palmyrenes and cut off the supply of grain to Rome. Marching south from Syria, Aurelian swiftly crushed the revolt and, by September 273, had Firmus tortured to death. In the conflict, the Brucheion quarter of Alexandria, which housed the famous Great Library, was almost entirely destroyed. (The name ‘Firmus’ comes only from the unreliable Historia Augusta—other sources just mention the revolt— leading some historians to speculate that his name was later appropriated from Claudius Firmus, the governor of Egypt at the time . However, the Historia Augusta specifies that these were two separate men.)