270 - 275 CE
|Aurelian was one of Claudius II's co-conspirators in the murder of Gallienus. Whether for political expediency or out of actual loyalty, he seemed content to allow Claudius II to take the reins of empire. However, when Claudius II died abruptly and his brother Quintillus was declared the new Emperor, Aurelian decided to act.|
|About this coin: This is one of the finest examples I've seen of a style of Imperial portraiture that began with Gallienus and survived until the reforms of Diocletian. In this period, lifelike portraiture seems to have been mostly abandoned. Much of the portraiture of this period is of limited artistic merit as well, but not all. This portrait, though not realistically proportioned, is still quite artistically satisfying.|
Aurelian had been an active conspirator against Gallienus. The idea to trick him into coming out unarmed by a false alarm in the middle of the night was his. Nonetheless, he did not press his own claim on the Imperial purple at that time, supporting Claudius II instead. However, when Claudius died of plague and the Senate elevated his brother Quintillus, Aurelian allowed his troops to declare him a rival emperor to Quintillus. This inspired Quintillus to commit suicide, and the Senate then declared in his favor, rather than risking the wrath of the fellows with swords.
Not that his reign was completely uncontested. There were at least three would-be usurpers in the first year or so of his reign, but all three were quickly and efficiently dealt with. He also was finally able to decisively push back the Germanic invaders and secure that frontier. But there were still two big chunks of the former empire that had broken away during the reign of Gallienus, the western "Gallic" empire that had seceded under their governor Postumus and the eastern territories that had fallen under the control of the Palmyrene ruler Zenobia.
Aurelian first took back the eastern territories, pushing Zenobia back to her capital city of Palmyra. She seems to have thought that the Romans wouldn't be able to mount a successful seige against this oasis city in the middle of harsh desert, but she was wrong. She tried to escape eastward, but was captured and brought back to Rome to be put on display in a "triumph". By some accounts, she died on the way to Rome; but others say she was put on display as planned, then given a villa near Rome, where she died soon afterwards. Aurelian treated the Palmyrans rather well initially, but when they again rose in revolt, he gave his soldiers free rein to trash the place, and it never recovered.
The end of the Gallic Empire is a bit odd. It was now under the control of Tetricus I. But Tetricus was falling prey to the same sorts of opposition that had led to the untimely death of his predecessor, and it's possible he and Aurelian may have struck a deal. In any case, after one quick victory by Aurelian, Tetricus surrendered, and control of the west was back in the hands of Rome. Adding credence to this theory of complicity, after Tetricus was paraded through the streets of Rome in a mandatory "triumph", he was allowed to settle down in southern Italy, where he was given a cushy government job. Unusual treatment for conquered enemy of Rome, to say the least!
Next, Aurelian turned his attention to the crumbling Roman monetary system. He made bitter enemies of the Roman moneyers (far more powerful than you'd probably guess) by calling in the debased coinage and ordering it to be reissued with higher silver content. He may also have accused the moneyers of embezzlement, of debasing the coinage for their own personal enrichment. In any case, they then rose in open rebellion, and possibly as many as 7,000 Roman soldiers were killed before the moneyers were subdued.
Then it was off to deal with some more border incursions, both to the north and to the east. He was successful in the north, defeating the Juthungi. But in the east, he was murdered by his private secretary and several praetorian guards, for reasons that remain unclear, but may have been due to his punishing his officials that were caught using their position to extort money. But he left an Empire restored at last, with relatively secure borders, and he was quickly deified by the Senate.