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Marcus Aemilius Aemilianus (ca. July - ca. September, 253)

Thomas Banchich
Canisius College

Coin image of Aemilius Aemilianus  (c)2002, VCRC The anonymous late 4th-century Epitome de Caesaribus sets the birthplace of Aemilianus (PIR2 A330) "on the island Meninx, which is now called Girba," modern Gerba, off the coast of western Tunisia and calls him a Moor (31.1-2, ed. Pichlmayer, p. 159), while John Zonaras styles him a Libyan (12.21, ed. Büttner-Wobst, p. 590). On the basis of another detail provided by the Epitome (31.3, p. 159) -- that at the time of his death Aemilianus had lived "fifty less three years"--, his birth-date can be situated ca. 207. However, Zonaras (12.22, p. 592) and anonymous 13th-century Chronological Survey [hereafter Syn. Sath.], often identified as the work of Theodore Scutariotes (SUNOCIS XRONIKH, ed. Sathas, p. 38), both make him forty (i.e., in his fortieth year) when he met his end in 253. The assertions of Eutropius' (Breviarium 9.6, ed. Droysen, p. 152) that he was "from a very insignificant family," and of Paeanius, who (ca. 380) translated into Greek and expanded Eutropius that "Aemilianus, not being able to trace himself back to illustrious ancestors, but, rather, having been born from entirely insignificant ones, having ruled for three whole months, died" (9.6, ed. Droysen, p. 153) may be nothing more than baseless defamation of a failed usurper. On the other hand, John of Antioch's claim that Aemilianus used his ancestry to justify his grab for imperial power (Fr. 150, ed. Müller, FHG IV, p. 598 = Excerpta de Insidiis 60, ed. de Boor, p. 110) may reflect fabricated self-promotion rather than accurate information about Aemilianus' lineage. His wife was C. Cornelia Supra (PIR2 C1502), whom an inscription from Cuicul, Algeria (Dessau, ILS 9498), styles Augusta, and who is otherwise known only from numismatic evidence.The date of their union is a mystery, but her African origin suggests a time before Aemilianus left his native province.

Sometime during the reigns of Gallus and Volusianus (ca. June 251 - ca. August 253), Aemilianus was sent to the Balkans, his position variously described as archon of Moesia (John of Antioch fr.150, p. 598 = Excerpta de Insidiis 60), "being in command of the Pannonian units" (Zosimus 1.28, ed. Paschoud, I, p. 27), "being in command of Paeonians" (Syn. Sath., p. 38), "in command of the army in Moesia" (Symeon the Logothete = Leo Grammaticus, ed. Bekker, p. 77), and " commander of the army of Moesia" (Zonaras 12.21, p. 590).
John of Antioch, either independently or under the influence of his sources, attributes to Aemilianus envy and seditious intentions which preceded the deaths of Gallus and Volusianus and also implies serious discontents on Aemilianus' part with the Senate of Rome. In his translation of Eusebius, Jerome, mirrored by Jordanes, gives no motive but states that Aemilianus "was plotting revolution in Moesia" (Chronicon, Ol. 258, ed. Helm, p. 219: "in Moesia res novas machinabatur;" Jordanes Romana 285, ed. Mommsen, p. 37: "in Moesia res novas moliebatur"). Zosimus and Zonaras offer the fullest account of what transpired in the summer of 253.

The former, perhaps echoing a point of view of inhabitants of Asia that he found in his ultimate or intermediate source, is unqualified in his praise of Aemilianus: "Meanwhile, the Scythians who had taken over the whole of Europe quite unhindered now crossed into Asia and plundered as far as Cappadocia, Pessinus, and Ephesus. Aemilianus, commander of the Pannonian legions, did his best to encourage his troops, who did not dare resist the successful barbarians, and reminded them of their Roman honor. He then made a surprise attack on the barbarians in the district and killed most of them. Next he crossed over into the enemy territory, destroyed every obstruction and, contrary to every expectation, freed Rome's subjects from their tormentors. For this he was chosen emperor" (1.28.1-2, pp. 26-27; trans. Ridley, slightly adapted).

For his part, Zonaras maintains that Scythians, i.e., Goths, who had been charged with the collection of a payment promised them by the Romans, alleged that they had not received the agreed-upon amount and departed in anger. Despite comments to the contrary in several influential modern accounts, neither Zonaras nor any other ancient source attributes this to some change in Roman policy or to the specific initiative of Aemilianus. Indeed, Zonaras implicitly leaves open the possibility that the Goths' allegations may in fact have been a ploy aimed at extorting more of Moesia's wealth. What Zonaras does say is that after the departure of the Goths: "A certain Aemilianus, a Libyan man, commander of the army of Moesia, promised that he would give to the soldiers all that had been given to the Scythians, if they would engage in war with the barbarians. Catching the Scythians by suprise, they killed all but a few and collected much booty from them, overrunning their territory. Afterwards, Aemilianus, having become haughty in his success, canvassed the soldiers under him. They proclaimed him emperor of the Romans" (12.21, p. 590).

The rough parallel of Syn. Sath. 38 -- "And a certain Aemilianus, being in command of Paeonians, emboldening the troops under him and having attacked the barbarians there, destroyed many, and was recognized sovereign by the troops there." -- is probably of no independent value. Jordanes (Getica 105, ed. Mommsen, p. 85), on the other hand, has Aemilianus and his troops plundering Moesia after the example of the Goths rather than, as Zonaras maintains, recovering through victory the bribes paid to them (i.e., to the Goths). Brief notices in several other sources (Eutropius 9.5, p. 152; Paeanius 9.5, p. 153; Aurelius Victor 31.1, ed. Pichlmayr, p. 107; Epitome de Caesaribus 31.1, p. 159) add nothing. It is impossible to decide if the claim of Symeon ( = Leo Grammaticus, pp. 77-78) that Aemilianus had the support of an army in Libya reflects reality or a garbling of sources.

As Aemilianus entered Italy with an army of uncertain size and proceeded southward along the Flaminian Way, the Emperors Gallus and Volusianus moved against him.[[1]] Their action makes the most sense if the usurper's forces were not overly imposing. Indeed, Aemilianus could never have contemplated investing Rome, and, given what had just transpired in Moesia, it seems doubtful that he would have chosen to leave that province denuded of defenders or that his troops would have acquiesced in such a move. His best hope would have been a rapid advance facilitated by modest numbers in order to bring matters to a head before his rivals could assemble a force sufficient to destroy him.[[2]]   Whatever their size and the intentions of their commanders, the opposing sides met at Interamna Nahars, near the southern terminus of the eastern branch of the Flaminian Way, with Aemilianus emerging the victor (Eutropius 9.5, p. 152; Paeanius 9.5, p. 153; Aurelius Victor 31.1, ed. Pichlmayr, p. 107). In the aftermath, Gallus and Volusianus apparently retreated northward up the western branch of the same road, only to be murdered at the Forum Flaminii by their own men - motivated, according to Aurelius Victor (31.2, pp. 107-108), by the hope of rewards - , who then went over to Aemilianus. John of Antioch (Fr. 150, FHG IV p. 598 = Excerpta de Insidiis 60, p. 110) refers to the killers as  domestici, i.e.,members of a regiment of imperial guards or simply officials or retainers--, which may suggest that Gallus and Volusianus fled with only a relatively small force of guardsmen. Their betrayal also militates against the notion that Gallus and Volusianus had marched against Aemilianus in the expectation of the imminent arrival of large numbers of reinforcements.

Aemilianus, in turn, marched toward Rome where - though, despite the testimony of Syn. Sath. 38, he may never have actually entered the city - formal recognition was forthcoming from an initially recalcitrant Senate (Aurelius Victor 31.3, p. 108). Zonaras (12.22, p. 591) says that Aemilianus "wrote to the Senate, promising that he would rid Thrace of barbarians, that he would campaign against Persia, and that, having turned the realm over to the Senate, he would do everything and fight as their general." A fragment of the so-called Anonymous Continuator of Cassius Dio (Fr. 2, FHG IV, pp. 190-199 = Excerpta de Sententiis158, ed. Boissevain, p. 264), perhaps to be identified with Peter the Patrician, reflects this same tradition: "After he had been acclaimed sovereign, Aemilianus wrote to the Senate: 'I leave the realm to you, and I strive in every way as your general." Aurelius Victor (31.3, p. 108) calls his reign modestum, "moderate" or "mild;" the titulature on coins and inscriptions probably reflects, for the most part, honors formally granted by the Sentate.

The first -- and the last -- challenge to Aemilianus' rule came from the future emperor Publius Licinius Valerianus, whom Zosimus (1.28.3, p. 28) unconvincingly alleges had been dispatched by Gallus and Volusianus from Rome to bring to their aid legions from Gaul and Germany. More likely, he was already in command of those forces (perhaps being readied for an eastern campaign), began to move toward Italy after learning of Aemilianus' elevation, and resolved to battle Aemilianus for imperial power after the deaths of Gallus and Volusianus.[[3]]

Zonaras (12.22, pp. 591-592), records that Valerian: "commander of the forces beyond the Alps, when he had learned about Aemilianus, himself also became a usurper. After he had concentrated the forces under him, he hastened toward Rome. Then, in fact, those who served with Aemilianus, when they had recognized that they were no match in battle for the army of Valerian, judging that it was not pious that Romans destroy and be destroyed by one another, that wars be joined between men of the same race, and otherwise reckoning, too, that Aemilianus was unworthy of the realm both as ignoble and groveling, and, to be sure, considering that [592] Valerian was better suited for the rule because he would, for certain, assume affairs in a more authoritative fashion, killed Aemilianus, who had not yet reigned four months and was forty years of age. They submitted themselves to Valerian and entrusted the empire of the Romans to him without a fight."

Aside from Aurelius Victor (31.3, p. 108) who has Aemilianus die of an illness - an error possibly due to confusion as a result of records of plague under Gallus and Volusianus - the ancient sources agree with Zonaras that he was killed by his troops. Indeed, Syn. Sath. 38 is nothing but a close parallel:  "Valerianus, general of the one beyond the Alps, rebelled against this one, and moved with a force upon Rome, planning to attack Aemilianus. And the army, seeing Aemilianus weaker with respect to the war, and Valerian a better leader for affairs of state, killed Aemilianus, who happened to be forty years old and gave the power to Valerian."

The Epitome de Caesaribus (31.2, p. 159) has him "defeated near Spoletium or a bridge which is said to have taken its name from his destruction of the Sanguinarii, between Oriculum and Narnia, positioned in the middle of the area between Spoletium and the city Rome." The Chronographer of 354 (ed. Mommsen, p. 148) likewise places Aemilianus' death at the Sanguinarian bridge, while Zosimus (1.29.1, p. 28), without naming a location, merely comments that Aemilianus' troops "seeing him behaving more like a common soldier than a general, and considering him unfit to be emperor, killed him" (trans. Ridley). Epigraphic and papyrological evidence point to between late July and mid-September of 253 as the time of his death.[[4]]

In the Latin source tradition, Eutropius (9.6, p. 152), Aureliius Victor (31.3, p. 108), Orosius (7.21, ed. Zangemeister, p. ), Jordanes (Romana 286, p. 37) and Jerome (Chronicon, Ol. 258, p. 219) give three months, while the Chronographer of 354 (p. 148, line 3) specifies eighty-eight days. In the Greek tradition, only Paeanius, mirroring Eutropius, assigns to Aemilianus three months (9.6, p. 153), though George Syncellus' three years (Ecloga Chronographia 715, ed. Mosshammer, p. 465) may be an error linked to that figure. The Latin Epitome de Caesaribus (31.2, p. 159) almost certainly reflects a Greek source in its report of a reign of four months, the same duration recorded by Zonaras - "he had not yet reigned four months (12.22, p. 592) - , the Syn Sath. 38, and John of Antioch (Fr. 150, FHG IV p. 598 = Excerpta de Insidiis 60, p. 110). The one year allotted him by George the Monk (Chronicon, ed. de Boor, Vol. II, p. 467) and Cedrenus (ed. Bekker, Vol. I, p. 454) - both of whom have him killed "in the palace" - need mean more than "in the first year of his reign," which is reconcilable with Symeon's (Leo Grammaticus, p. 78) figure of two months. These durations probably all in some way reflect a calculation of the length of Aemilianus' reign beginning with acclamation in Moesia rather than with his recognition by the Senate. By any measure, for believers events would have confirmed the Sibyl's prediction (13.146, ed. and trans. Potter, p. 174) that after Gallus "again another man will rule bearing the first letter in his names; but swiftly in his turn he will fall before powerful Ares, smitten by gleaming iron."

The epigraphic and numismatic evidence for Aemilianus' reign is unremarkable. Numerous erasures from inscriptions testify to an official damnatio memoriae, perhaps reflected in John of Antioch's comment ( Fr. 150, FHG IV p. 598 = Excerpta de Insidiis 60, p. 110) that Aemilianus "disappeared from mankind."[[5]]  Aemilianus' historical importance may simply be that his rise and fall offers a signal example of some systemic problems involving the interrelationships between troops, commanders, senate, and emperors that define in part the so-called "Crisis of the Third Century." On a specific level, the sequence of events subsequent to his usurpation brought to power the ill-fated Valerian. To students of Roman historiography, Aemilianus is an important "trace element" whose presence contributes to the critical analysis of the traditions from which much of our most important literary evidence for the events of the Third Century derive.


[[1]]Potter, p. 322, with n. 341, estimates that Aemilianus' march to Italy would have taken about two months.

[[2]]The later betrayal of Aemilianus by his soldiers  when faced by the numerically superior forces under Valerian also supports this hypothesis.

[[3]]This seems the most reasonable explanation for Valerian's clash with Aemilianus about a month after the latter's victory at Interamna. See Potter, p. 322.

[[4]]For the evidence, critical discussion, and references to additional scholarship, see Peachin, pp. 36-37, and Potter, pp. 320-321. On the setting of the battle, see Talbert, Map 42, D3.

[[5]]Cf. Peachin, pp. 36-37, and Kienast, pp. 212-213.


I. Ancient Sources and Translations. Unless otherwise noted, translations are the author's. The translation of Zonaras is by Banchich and Eugene N. Lane.

Anonymous Continuator of Cassius Dio. Fragmenta historicorum graecorum. Edited by
K. Müller. 5 vols. Paris: Firmin Didot, 1841-1883. Vol. IV, pp. 191-199.

Aurelius Victor, Sextus. De Caesaribus. Edited by F. Pichlmayr and R. Gruendel.
Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1970.

_______ . Translated by H. Bird. Translated Texts for Historians. Vol. 17. Liverpool:
Liverpool University Press, 1994.

Cedrenus, George. Chronographia. Edited by I. Bekker. 2 vols. Corpus Scriptorum
Historiae Byzantinae. Bonn: Weber, 1838-1839.

Chronographer of 354. Edited by T. Mommsen. Monumenta Germaniae
Historica. Auctores Antiquissimi IX. Chronica Minores Saec. IV, V, VI. VII. Vol. 1. Berlin: Weidmann, 1892.

Epitome de Caesaribus. Edited by F. Pichlmayr and R. Gruendel. Leipzig: B. G.
Teubner, 1970.

_______ . Translated by T. Banchich. Canisius College Translated Texts. No. 1.
Buffalo: Canisius College Classics Department, 2000. <http://www.roman-emperors. org/epitome.htm>.

Eutropius. Breviarium ab urbe condita. Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Auctores
Antiquissimi II. Edited by H. Droysen. Berlin: Weidmann, 1879.

_______ . Breviarium. Translated by H. Bird. Translated Texts for Historians 14.
Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1993.

Excerpta de Insidiis. Edited by C. de boor. Vol. III of Excerpta historica iussu Imp. Constantini Porphyrogeniti. Edited by U. Boissevain, C. de Boor, and Th. Büttner-Wobst. Berlin: Weidmann, 1905.

Excerpta de Sententiis. Edited by U. Boissevain. Vol. IV of Excerpta historica iussu Imp. Constantini Porphyrogeniti. Edited by U. Boissevain, C. de Boor, and Th. Büttner-Wobst. Berlin: Weidmann, 1906.

George the Monk. Chronicon. Edited by C. de Boor and P. Wirth. 2 vols. Corrected
Reprint of 1904 ed. Stuttgart: B. G. Teubner, 1978.

John of Antioch. Fragmenta historicorum graecorum. Edited by K. Müller. 5 vols.
Paris: Firmin Didot, 1841-1883. Vol. IV, pp. 535-622, and V.1, pp. 27-38.

Jerome. Chronica. Edited by R. Helm. Die Chronik des Hieronymus. Eusebius Werke.
Vol. VII. 2nd ed. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1956.

Jordanes. Romana et Getica. Edited by T. Mommsen. Monumenta Germaniae
Historica. Auctores Antiquissimi 5.1. Berlin: Weidmann, 1882.

Jordanes. The Gothic History. Translated by C. Mierow. 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1915.

Leo Grammaticus. Chronographia. Edited by I. Bekker. Corpus Scriptorum Historiae
Byzantinae. Bonn: Weber, 1842.

Orosius, Paulus. Historiarum Adversum Paganos Libri VII. Edited by C. Zangemeister.
Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum. Vol. V. Vienna: C. Geroldi Filium Bibliopolam Academiae, 1887.

_______ . Seven Books of History Against the Pagans. Translated by I. Raymond. New
York: Columbia University Press, 1936.

Paeanius. METAFRASIS. Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Auctores Antiquissimi II.
Edited by H. Droysen. Berlin: Weidmann, 1879.

Peter the Patrician. Fragmenta historicorum graecorum. Edited by K. Müller. 5 vols.
Paris: Firmin Didot, 1841-1883. Vol. IV, pp. 181-191.

Scutariotes, Theodore = Synopsis Sathas.

Symeon the Logothe = Leo Grammaticus.

Syncellus, George. Ecloga Chronographica. Edited by A. Mosshammer. Leipzig: B. G.
Teubner, 1984.

Synopsis Sathas. ANONYMOU SUNOCIS XRONIKH. Edited by K. N. Sathas.
MESAIVNIKH BIBLIOYHKH. Vol. 7. Paris: Jean Maisonneuve, 1894.

Zonaras, John. Annales. Vol. II. Edited by M. Pinder. Corpus Scriptorum Historiae
Byzantinae. Bonn: Weber, 1844.

Zosimus. Histoire Nouvelle. Livres I-II. Edited by F. Paschoud. Paris: "Les Belles
Lettres," 1971.

Zosimus. New History. Translated by R. Ridley. Sidney: Australian Association for
Byzantine Studies, 1982.

II. Modern Studies.

Baldini, Antonio. Storie Perdute (III seculo d.C.). Bologna: Patron editorè, 2000.

Bleckmann, Bruno. Die Reichskrise des III. Jahrhunderts in der spätantiken und
byzantinischen Geschichtsschreibung. Munich: Tuduv-Verlagsgesellschaft, 1992.

Christol, Michel. L'Empire Romain du IIIe Siècle. Paris: Editions Errance, 1997.

Kienast, Dietmar. Römische Kaisertabelle. 2nd ed.; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche
Buchgesellschaft, 1996.

Peachin, Michael. Roman Imperial Titulature and Chronology, A.D. 235-284
Amsterdam: J. C. Gieben, 1990.

Potter, David S. Prophecy and History in the Crisis of the Roman Empire. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1990.

Southern, Pat. The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine. London and New York:
Routledge, 2001.

Talbert, Richard. The Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2000.

Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. Translated by Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1988.

Copyright (C) 2002, Thomas Banchich. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

Comments to: Thomas Banchich
Updated: 21 July 2002

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