Europe 275: Assassination of Aurelian

Political map of Europe & the Mediterranean on 25 Sep 275 (The Crisis of the Third Century (II): Assassination of Aurelian), showing the following events: Restitutor Orbis; Sol Invictus; Aurelian’s Vindelician campaign; Assassination of Aurelian; Interregnum of Severina.

Aurelian’s victory in Gaul restored unity to the Roman Empire, a feat the Senate acknowledged by granting him the title Restitutor Orbis (“Restorer of the World”). The emperor then set his sights on Persia only to be assassinated by some of his staff in September 275. His sudden death shocked the army, who turned to the Senate to select a new emperor. Over the ensuing 2–3 months of consultation, there was an interregnum, during which Aurelian’s widow Ulpia Severina seems to have continued to preside as empress.


Agri Decumates

The Agri Decumates was lost to the Romans in c.262, regained by Aurelian and Probus in 275–8, and lost again sometime between 290 and 310. The losses here seem not so much due to any rise in power of the local Alemanni tribe, but Roman internal division. When rival Roman factions controlled Gaul and Raetia, as was the case in 262–274 and 306, the limes of the Agri Decumates were no longer defensible and had to be abandoned.

Main Events

274 Restitutor Orbis

Following his victory in Gaul, Aurelian returned to Rome, where he was given the honorific Restitutor Orbis (“Restorer of the World”) by the Senate. In a magnificent triumph, Zenobia, Tetricus, a Gothic king, and many captives and wild beasts were advanced before his chariot in a procession that lasted until nightfall. Zenobia was afterwards granted a pension and married to a senator, while Tetricus was awarded governorship of the Italian province of wikipedia

25 Dec 274 Sol Invictus

In late 274, probably on its festival date of 25 December, Aurelian pronounced Sol Invictus one of the official religions of Rome and dedicated a new temple for Sol. The origins of Sol Invictus, the cult of the “Unconquered Sun”, are uncertain, but it may have been a fusion of the eastern cult of Elagabalus with the ancient Latin cult of Sol, created in a bid to bring unity to the empire. Sol Invictus would continue to be favored by Roman emperors for the next 50 years, until Constantine’s adoption of wikipedia

275 Aurelian’s Vindelician campaign

In early 275 Aurelian returned to Gaul to suppress an uprising, possibly in Lugdunum. He then marched to Raetia, where the Vindelici tribe had been overrun by barbarians (generally believed to be the Alemanni, but possibly the newly-arrived Longiones). After expelling the invaders, he may have briefly restored the frontier of the Agri wikipedia

Sep 275 Assassination of Aurelian

In the summer of 275 Aurelian mobilized his army to march against Persia and by September was approaching Byzantium. Here his private secretary Eros—who feared Aurelian’s retribution for some misdeed—forged letters to persuade a number of officers that the emperor wanted them dead. Convinced, the officers ambushed and killed Aurelian on the road at wikipedia

Sep–Nov 275 Interregnum of Severina

Aurelian’s assassination at the hands of officers so shocked the Roman army that they asked the Senate to select a new emperor, placing the empire into an interregnum while consultations took place. During this period, Aurelian’s widow Ulpia Severina seems to have been acknowledged as empress, with coins being minted in her name. The interregnum lasted for 2–3 months, ending when the Senate proclaimed M. Claudius Tacitus as wikipedia