Europe 280: Proculus and Bonosus
Following his victories over the Germanic tribes, Probus headed east to confront the Persians. However, as he approached Syria in 280, news of renewed unrest in the west forced him to turn back. This time two usurpers, Proculus and Bonosus, had risen up in Gaul. It’s unclear as to whether or not the two were aligned; either way, Probus defeated them both by 281.
Usurpers of Probus
There is a lot of debate among modern historians about when each of the usurpers that faced Probus revolted.
We place Saturninus and the unnamed British usurper at the beginning of Probus’ reign, because that is what Zosimus says in his New History and no significant evidence seems to contradict this.
We follow the majority of historians by putting Proculus and Bonosus in 280–281. The only two coins to have been found of Proculus were in northern Britain and Upper Germania, so we put him in control of both these regions, plus Lugdunensis (where his revolt started), and the provinces in between. As the coins do not regard him as a co-emperor, we make him separate from Bonosus, who we put in Lower Germania (where his revolt started) and neighboring Belgica.
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.
278 Probus’ Illyrian campaign▲
Following his Germanic campaign, Probus traveled back east to confront the Persians. While passing through Illyria (Pannonia), he repelled an invasion by what contemporaries regarded as Sarmatians, but a number of modern historians think were probably Hasdingi Vandals. From there he marched on into Thrace, where he accepted the friendship of all the tribes of the ‘Getae’ (either a reference to the ancient Getae—often associated with the Dacians—or a later name for the Goths).
While traveling east through Asia Minor, Probus turned his army on the Isaurian bandit leader Lydius, who had been ravaging Lycia and Pamphylia. Lydius withdrew to the fortified mountain town of Cremna, where he was besieged by the Romans. Eventually, after a long siege, a skilled marksman defected from the bandits and, using his knowledge of Lydius’ habits, mortally wounded him with a scorpion bolt thrower. With Lydius’ death, the remaining bandits quickly surrendered.
279?–280? Probus’ Blemmyan War▲
In the late 270s the major Egyptian city of Ptolemais revolted against Probus. In support, the Blemmyes of Nubia overran much of southern Egypt and captured the town of Coptos. Both Ptolemais and the Blemmyes were defeated by local Roman forces in about 280.
In c.280 Proculus was declared emperor by the disgruntled people of Lugdunum and soon claimed authority over Gaul, Britain, and Spain. However, as soon as Probus returned west, Proculus’ support seems to have collapsed and he fled to the Franks. The Franks in turn promptly betrayed him to Probus, who had him executed.
In c.280 Germanic raiders managed to burn a fleet of Roman galleys on the Rhine. Fearing he would be punished for negligence over this attack, the regional Roman commander Bonosus proclaimed himself emperor at Colonia Agrippina (Cologne). Probus soon arrived to suppress this uprising and in late 280 or early 281, after a desperate defence, Bonosus hanged himself.
280?–281? Probus’ Frankish revolt▲
Receiving news of the revolts in Gaul, Probus made a truce with the Persians and returned west, resettling a large number of Bastarnae who submitted to him in Moesia or Thrace. Meanwhile, some Franks that he had also resettled rose up in revolt and gained control of a fleet of ships. After raiding Greece and Syracuse, and suffering a repulse outside Carthage, they successfully sailed back to their homeland on the Rhine Delta.