Northern Africa 253: Quinquegentiani
By the 250s the Roman Empire was in crisis: two emperors had been killed in foreign wars (Gordian III against the Persians in 244 and Decius against the Goths in 251); plague, first reported in northeast Africa, was ravaging the empire; and inflation was spiraling out of control. Amidst this chaos, a confederation of Mauretanian tribes—the Quinquegentiani or ”five peoples”—rose up against Roman rule in 253, and held out for almost a decade.
244 Battle of Misiche▲
After his victory over the Persians in 243, the Roman emperor Gordian III invaded the Persian Empire, where he advanced on the capital Ctesiphon. However, in early 244 Shah Shapur I met the Romans at Misiche, just north of Ctesiphon, and decisively defeated them. Gordian died in the battle or shortly thereafter, and his successor Philip the Arab paid a ransom of 500,000 denarii and renounced Roman protection of Armenia in return for peace.
249?–260? Wars of Karibil Ayfa’▲
From the end of the 240s until around 260 the Himyarite Kingdom was ruled by Karibil Ayfa’, who engaged in war in Yemen against Yada’il Bayyin and his son Ilriyam Yadum of Hadramawt, against Aksum, and against Ilsharah Yahdub and Yazzil Bayyin of Saba’. Little else is known about these conflicts except that at one point Aksumite troops unsuccessfully attacked Zafar.
Apr 250–?? 270 Plague of Cyprian▲
In around Easter 250 a new plague—possibly a viral hemorrhagic fever like Ebola—appeared in Ethiopia and soon spread to Egypt, devastating the population of Alexandria. By mid 251 it was in Rome, where it reportedly killed as many as 5,000 people a day at its peak. Lasting for perhaps 20 years, the plague claimed the lives of the emperors Hostilian and Claudius Gothicus, compelled people to flee the cities for the countryside, and led to the collapse of trade and agricultural production. Among the few beneficiaries of the disaster was the nascent Christian church, which provided care for the ill and spoke of rewards in the afterlife.
250? Kingdom of the Blemmyes▲
According to the 7th century Chronicon Paschale, the Blemmyes—a northeast African people identified with the modern Beja—mounted their earliest recorded raid into Roman Egypt during the reign of Decius (249–251). In this rather dubious account, Decius made use of snakes and hermaphrodites to drive off the invaders. Whatever the truth of the matter, by the second-half of the third century the Blemmyes had emerged as a regional power and were soon making incursions into Egypt.
Jun 251 Battle of Abritus▲
In June 251 the Roman emperor Decius successfully intercepted Cniva and his Goths near Abritus, Lower Moesia, as they withdrew north with plunder from the sack of Philippopolis. However, when he pursued the Goths through marshy terrain, Decius and most of his men were ambushed and killed—the first death of a Roman emperor at the hands of foreign invaders. Proclaimed Emperor by the survivors, Trebonianus Gallus quickly made peace with the Goths, paying them to withdraw from the Empire with their loot (which now included Decius’ substantial treasury).
251–270 Post-Decian currency crisis▲
From the time of Nero (54–68 AD) to Decius (249–51) the precious metal content of Roman coins had gradually declined, most notably with the silver content of the denarius/antoninianus falling from 98% to 41%. Following Decius’ death—and the possible loss of the entire imperial treasury—at Abritus, inflation went rampant, with the antoninianus plummeting by one-seventh to 35% purity in just the two years of Trebonianus Gallus’ reign (251–53) and continuing to fall over the next two decades. By the advent of Aurelian (270–75) the antoninianus had reached a low point of 2.5% silver—one-tenth of its value under Decius—where it finally settled until replaced by the aurelianianus in 274.
In 253 the Quinquegentiani (“five peoples”), a confederation of Berber tribes in the highlands of Kabylia, revolted against Roman rule in Mauretania Caesariensis and began attacking Roman settlements as far as Numidia. The threat from these tribes forced Valerian to reform the Legio III Augusta (it had been disbanded in 238 for supporting Maximinus Thrax). Despite this, the war lasted for almost a decade and it was not until the early 260s that order was restored in the province.