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Laelianus ( A.D. 269)

Michel Polfer

Centre Universitaire de Luxembourg

Image of the Emperor Laelianus (c) 1999, Princeton Economic Institute

Laelianus ( A.D. 269)

Laelianus, usurper against Postumus, the first emperor of the so-called “Gallic Empire”, is a shadowy figure. His date of birth and his origin are unknown. While most literary sources have his name wrong [[1]], only one of the earliest of his coins gives his full name as ULPIUS CORNELIUS LAELIANUS [[2]]. There is no direct written or epigraphic evidence for the office that Laelianus held at the time of his revolt against Postumus. Many possibilities have been discussed on the basis of the numismatic evidence [[3]], but it seems most likely that he held office either as legatus legionis XXII Primigenia [[4]] or governor of Germania Superior [[5]]. A strong argument in favor of this hypothesis is the fact that the literary sources clearly show his revolt to be centered on Moguntiacum (Mainz), the provincial capital of Upper Germany [[6]].

If at the moment of his revolt against Postumus, Laelianus was indeed governor of Germania Superior, he would thus have commanded the loyalty of Legio XXII Primigenia at his provincial capital and possibly also that of Legio VIII Augusta at Argentorate (Strasbourg). In any case, Laelianus' attempt to seize power is best understood in the light of the growing political and military difficulties which Postumus had to face and, especially, the dissatisfaction of the troops on the Rhine frontier with their emperor [[7]]. It is possible that Laelianus' usurpation took place after a successful military campaign against Germanic invaders, which the Historia Augusta attributes to his reign [[8]].

The literary sources do not indicate the exact beginning or end of Laelianus' usurpation, but most likely he rebelled against Postumus in February or March of 269 A.D.[[9]]. Judging from the number of coins which were issued in his name, Laelianus' rebellion can be estimated to have lasted for two to three months at the most. If we assume that his revolt started at the latest in the beginning of March 269 A.D., his reign came to an end in May or June of the same year. Laelianus was defeated and most probably killed in Mainz by the troops of Postumus.[[10]] No sooner had Postumus taken the city, then he himself was murdered by his own troops (for refusing to let them sack Laelianus' former capital) and replaced by Marius.


1) Primary Sources :

Aurelius Victor, Liber de Caesaribus (33-35), ed. F. Pichlmayr, Leipzig, 1911 (reprinted 1970)

Pseudo-Aurelius Victor, Epitome de Caesaribus (32-35), ed. F. Pichlmayr, Leipzig, 1911 (reprinted 1970)

Eutropius, Breviarium (9.7-9.15), ed. C. Santini, Leipzig, 1979.

Scriptores Historiae Augustae (Tyranni triginta), ed. E. Hohl, Leipzig, 1927.

Zonaras, Annales (12.23-12.27), ed. M. Pinder (Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae), Bonn 1844.

Zosimus, Historia Nova (1.29-1.62), ed. L. Mendelssohn, Leipzig, 1887.

Orosius, Historiarum adversus paganos libri VII, ed. C. Zangenmeister, Leipzig, 1889.

John of Antioch, Historica chronica, FHG IV, 1851, 535-562.

Polemius Silvius, Laterculus (45), (Mommsen [ed.], Chron. minor., MGH, AA, 9.1.521).

2) Secondary Sources :

Besly/Bland 1983 : E. Besly and R. Bland, The Cunetio Treasure : Roman Coinage of the Third Century A.D., London, 1983.

Drinkwater 1987 : J. F. Drinkwater, The Gallic Empire. Separatism and Continuity in the North-Western Provinces of the Roman Empire A.D. 260-274, Stuttgart, 1987 (= Historia Einzelschriften Heft 52).

Eck 1985 : W. Eck, Die Statthalter der germanischen Provinzen vom 1.-3. Jahrhundert, Bonn, 1985.

Elmer 1941 : G. Elmer, "Die Münzprägung der gallischen Kaiser von Postumus bis Tetricus," in Bonner Jahrbücher 146, 1941, 1-106.

Gilljam 1981 : H. H. Gilljam, Antoniniani und Aurei des Ulpius Cornelius Laelianus, Köln, 1981.

Kienast 1990 : D. Kienast, Römische Kaisertabelle. Grundzüge einer römischen Kaiserchronologie, Darmstadt, 1990.

König 1981 : I. König, Die gallischen Usurpatoren von Postumus bis Tetricus, München 1981.

Lafaurie 1975 : J. Lafaurie, "L’Empire gaulois. Apport de la numismatique," in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II, 2, Berlin, New York, 1975, 853-1012.

PLRE 492.

PIR V 546.

RE Suppl. XIV 1974, 936ff., nr. 32 ( W. Eck).

Schulte 1983 : B. Schulte, Die Goldprägung der gallischen Kaiser von Postumus bis Tetricus, Aarau, Frankfurt a. M., Salzburg, 1983.

Schulzki 1996 : H.-J. Schulzki, Die Antoninianenprägung der gallischen Kaiser von Postumus bis Tetricus (AGK) : Typenkatalog der regulären und nachgeprägten Münzen, Bonn, 1996 ( = Antiquitas 3, 35).


[[1]]Only Aur. Vict. Caes. 33.8 gives his correct name, Laelianus. The SHA calls him Lollianus (SHA Tyr. trig. 3.7; 4.1; 5.1, 4, 5, 8; 6.3; 8.1; 31.2), as does Joh. Ant. fr. 152. Orosius 7.22.11 has him as Aemilianus while Eutrop 9.9.1 and Epit. De Caes. 32.4 give his name as L. Aelianus and Aelianus.

[[2]]See Elmer 1941, no. 621; all other coins only have IMP C LAELIANVS PF AUG . For the gold coinage of Laelianus, see Schulte 1983; for his silver coinage, see Schulzki 1996, 70-7; for his coinage in general Gilljam, 1981. On the grounds of this name, some scholars have suggested Spanish connections for Laelianus, which allowed him to claim a relationship with the second century emperor Trajan, but this seems unlikely. Of course Laelianus might have taken propagandistic advantage of a fortuitously similar name.

[[3]]E.g., governor of Germania Inferior on the grounds of a unique aureus of Laelianus showing the figure of Germania as Virtus Militum and holding a flag inscribed XXX, a reference to the legio XXX Ulpia Victrix stationed in Germania Inferior (Lafaurie 1975, 894).

[[4]]König 1981, 134.

[[5]]Eck 1985, 98-99; Drinkwater 1987, 176-177. The aureus showing the flag inscribed XXX, mentioned in note 3, is rather to be seen as an attempt to win over the legio XXX, but it stayed loyal to Postumus (see König 1981, 135).

[[6]]There has been much debate recently on the extent of the territory controlled by Laelianus during his rebellion. It is clear that the rebellion was centered on Mainz capital of Germania Superior. It is possible that Laelianus also gained control over Cologne, thus allowing him to seize the secondary mint of his rival Postumus and to transfer it to Mainz for his own use (Besly/Bland 1983, 58 and 64; Drinkwater 1987, 143). As coins of Laelianus are only very rarely found in Augusta Treverorum (Trier), it is sure that he never succeeded in winning this important city to his cause(König 1981, 135-136).

[[7]]Drinkwater 1987, 34.

[[8]]SHA. Tyr. trig. 5,4.

[[9]]Kienast 1990, 241-242. The discussion of the chronology of Laelianus' rebellion is based mainly on the numismatic evidence. See König 1981, 132-133 and Drinkwater 1987 139-144.

[[10]This is theversion given by most literary sources. It has been accepted by modern scholars because it fits well with the numismatic evidence: the second Gallic mint, which had produced coins for Laelianus during his rebellion, did not resume production in the name of Postumus, but immediately struck antoniniani for Marius. This indicates that the fall (and probably the death) of Laelianus, the murder of Postumus, and the accession of Marius followed each other in a very short period of time. The Scriptores Historiae Augustae give a different version according to which Laelianus outlived Postumus and was finally killed by Victorinus or his own troops.

Copyright (C) 1999, Michel Polfer. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

Comments to: Michel Polfer.

Updated: 24 June 1999

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