This page cannot be viewed in frames

Go to page

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Usurpations in Roman Empire throughout history

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Vitellius Dragged through the Streets by the People of Rome, Georges Rochegrosse
Vitellius Dragged through the Streets by the People of Rome, Georges Rochegrosse

The Roman Empire existed from 27 BCE1 until 476 CE. During this time, the emperors had to deal with numerous usurpations, conspiracies and rebellions by ambitious leaders or politicians.

Sometimes the speeches were successful, and the new candidacy was approved by the Senate, the army or the Roman people; however, most of the speeches ended tragically for the rebels. We also had to deal with conspiracies that were discovered in time or were simply announced in public for political purposes, for example to eliminate inconvenient people.

Below I have listed other conspirators or usurpers who either decided to oppose the emperor during his reign, but did not receive legitimacy and did not maintain full power over the Empire, or were accused of treason. The list is certainly incomplete, but it is a considerable compendium of information.

Reign of Octavian Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE)

Statue of Octavian of Prima Porta.
Author: Till Niermann | Under the Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

The death of Marcus Antony and Cleopatra in 30 BCE and the subjugation of Egypt marked Augustus’ victory in battle for power in Rome. Octavian returned to the capital with his general Marcus Agripa in 29 BCE, making the magnificent triumphal entry. The winner of the civil war and the strongest man in the state now faced a difficult choice. He had to choose either a republic and hand over his de facto power to an inept senate or seize power himself, which, however, would be met with clear opposition from the people. To this end, maintaining all the appearances of the republic, he began to transform the state and introduce reforms that gradually and quietly handed over to it more and more powers.

Conspiracy of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus the Younger

Marcus Aemilius Lepidus the Younger was the son of a triumvir and the commander of Julius CaesarMarcus Aemilius Lepidus. Lepidus the Younger was a Roman senator who in 30 BCE, that is, after Octavian defeated his rivals to power, was accused of conspiring against him. His plans were to kill Octavian upon his return to Rome.

Velleius Paterculus claims that his wife, Serwilla, on the news of her husband’s execution, committed suicide by gulping down hot coal2.

The unfriendly Lucius Licinius Varro Murena

Lucius Licinius Varro Murena was a Roman politician who was accused of plotting against Octavian Augustus and was sentenced to death in 22 BCE after a trial. We know about the event thanks to the historian Cassius Dio3.

Murena came from a well-to-do family – his father was consul in 62 BCE, his sister became the wife of Gaius Patronas, a friend of the Emperor, and his half brother became consul for 23 BCE. Murena was the legate of Syria from 24-23 BCE.

Murena was not favored by Augustus after in a court case he accused the “first citizen of Rome” of persuading former Macedonian proconsul Marcus Primus to attack the befriended kingdom of Thrace without Senate approval. Augustus did not like the daring attitude of Murena, especially when he later asked him direct questions in front of the court.

In 22 BCE, Augustus received news of a conspiracy against him led by a certain Fannius Caepio. Among the conspirators, the name of Murena was given, who fled the city upon learning of the threat. In his absence, a trial began with Tiberius, son of Livia. The sentence was condemning both to Caepio and Murena, who were caught outside Rome.
The inability to defend himself and the controversial circumstances suggest an accusation of treason on Augustus’ orders.

The Dangerous Actions of Egnatius Rufus

Velleius Paterculus4 mentions how in 19 BCE, on his return to Rome, Augustus learned of a new plot on his life.

The initiator was to be a certain Marcus Egnatius Rufus, who in 20 BCE created a fire brigade for the city, which in fact became his gang. Rufus, ignoring Augustus, accepted the office of praetor, and then applied for the post of consul, omitting the required cursus honorum. His actions were opposed by the incumbent consul Sentius Saturninus, which led to clashes in the streets of Rome between the two camps. Rufus, first of all, sought to gain the support of the commoners and inflate the situation in the city.

August, having returned to the capital, learned from the incumbent consuls about Rufus’ activities and, on his orders, was killed as a threat to public order.

Reign of Tiberius (14 – 37 CE)

On August 19, 14 CE, at the age of 76, Augustus, the first emperor and creator of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, which ruled until 68 CE, Augustus was deified, as was Julius Caesar. Tiberius automatically assumed the office of Emperor of Rome at the age of 55.

Plot of Praetorian Prefect Sejanus

In 15 CE, Sejanus – an Equestrian descendant – became the praetorian prefect of Rome, and succeeded his father Strabo, who in turn was appointed governor of Egypt.

Sejanus, showing great ambition, immediately undertook the reform of the formation and established it as a powerful tool in the era of the principate. In in 20 CE he moved all the scattered garrisons to a single barracks, outside Rome. In addition, he increased the number of cohorts from nine to twelve, one of which was on permanent duty in the palace. The divisibility of the prefect’s office was abandoned – there was to be one commander of the Praetorian Guard from now on – and his powers were increased: from now on he personally appointed centurions and tribunes. Through these changes, Sejan took full authority over a unit of approximately 12,000 soldiers that was ready to obey any order. During the reign of Emperor Tiberius, the strength of the guard was often presented at all kinds of parades, which only emphasized the end of the republic’s facade.

Arrest of Sejanus

After making these reforms, Sejanus became a trusted and strong advisor to the emperor himself. By 23 CE he had a significant influence on the decisions made by Tiberius, who called him “Socius Laborum” (“my partner in my hardships”). During this time, Sejanus was given a praetor position, which was not normally intended for an equite person. A monument was built in his honour in the Pompey’s Theater, and over time his supporters, performing public and managerial functions, joined the Senate. The growing power of Sejanus and his important position in the state gradually began to arouse outrage among members of the imperial family and senators. The most hostile, however, was Drusus Julius Caesar, son of Tiberius, called the Younger Druzus , who was predicted to be the heir to the throne. At Sejanus’ command, Drusus was poisoned, and he was dying slowly to make it look like a natural death.

Remains of the villa of Tiberius in Sperlonga, a Roman center halfway between Rome and Naples.

The emperor, paranoid, retired to a country estate in Campania and then to the island of Capri in 26 CE, where he spent his remaining years of life (he died in 37 CE). During Tiberius’s stay outside Rome, Sejan easily controlled all correspondence between the emperor and the capital. His birthday was publicly celebrated, statues were erected and he was honoured. Sejanus believed that after removing all opposition, his position was unchallenged.

Sejanus finally made the decision to prepare a coup d’etat, wishing to gain undivided power for himself. Warned in time by Antonia the Younger, Tiberius with the help of Macron arrested Sejanus on October 18, 31 CE and asphyxiation following the motion of the Senate. After Sejanus was executed, Quintus Sutorius Makron succeeded him as Praetorian Prefect.

Reign of Caligula (37-41 CE)

After Tiberius’ death, Caligula became the new emperor. The deceased recommended that Caligula and Tiberius Gemellus (his grandson) rule together. However, his will did not come true. Thanks to Macron, the Senate annulled his will and made Gaius emperor.

The beginnings of the reign of the young (25-year-old) new emperor looked great; Caligula’s rule did not indicate terror. Caligula ruled in harmony with the senate and gained great popularity.

However, in November 37 CE the emperor developed a rather serious illness, possibly encephalitis. When Caligula recovered, he was a different man.

Statue showing Caligula naked on his horse Incitatusie
Author: Dominotic | Flickr

The rebellion of Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus

Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus was a Roman senator and leader. In 26 CE, he held the office of consul, in exchange for the support he gave to the ambitious praetorian prefect – Sejanus. After his death in 31 CE, Gaetulicus, despite accusations of collaborating with Sejanus, received the governorship of Upper Germania, which he held until the death of Tiberius in 37 CE. Gaetulicus enjoyed great popularity among soldiers in the province.

Two years after assuming the throne, Caligula travelled to Moguntiacum (now Mainz, Germany), where Gaetulicus was sentenced to death for conspiracy. A similar fate awaited the husband of Caligula’s sister Livilla – Aemilius Lepidus. Caligula’s sisters, Livilla and Agrippina the Younger were exiled to the Pontine Islands, off the coast of Italy5.

In the course of Caligula’s later reign, reports began to come to him of further plots on his life. Hatred of senators and fear for life led to numerous executions of people who were slandered or spoke badly about the emperor. Caligula showed ruthlessness and, for example, ordered the father of one of the prisoners to look at the death of his son6.

Reign of Claudius (41-54 CE)

Claudius went down in history as a ruler with some degree of disability, but high intelligence. According to his family, his physical flaws disqualified him from holding public functions, especially the role of emperor.

With the death of Tiberius in 37 CE and the accession to the throne by Claudius’ nephew, Caligula, his life changed. The young emperor saw some benefits in the person of Claudius. To honour his late father, Germanicus, in 37 CE, Caligula appointed Claudius, next to himself, the second consul. The young emperor, however, was not kind to his uncle. He often insulted him, made fun of him and made fun of his flaws in public. Claudius, on the other hand, was intelligent enough to use his handicap to manoeuvre among the intrigues and conspiracies that were everyday life at the imperial court. Thanks to his seemingly harmless form, he survived the times of his nephew’s terror.

The long and cruel reign of Caligula led to the despot being finally murdered on January 24, 41 CE After Caligula was murdered, in the ensuing confusion some of the soldiers of the Praetorian Guard decided to proclaim Claudius, the only adult representative Julio-Claudian Dynasty.

Roman Emperor, Claudius, Lawrence Alma-Tadema.
The painting shows the moment of discovery of Claudius hidden behind a curtain. Then he is proclaimed emperor by the praetorians.

Rebellion of Lucius Arruncius Camillus Scribinianus

Lucius Arruncio Camillus Scribbonianus was born Marcus Furius Camillus Scribbonianus and was a Roman senator who wanted to overthrow Claudius and seize power in 41 CE.

He came from the honorable family of Fury to which the great Roman belonged – Marcus Furius Kamillus. He was later adopted by Lucius Arruncius and took his name. In 32 CE, he became consul, and his position on the Roman political scene grew. During the reign of Caligula, he was the governor of Dalmatia; in 41 CE, his candidacy was considered for the imperial throne after Caligula’s death. He had great support from the senators, but their decision was preceded by the proclamation of Caligula’s uncle – Claudius as emperor by the praetorians.

In 42 CE, the Roman senator Lucius Annius Vinicianus was interested in driving out the frail Claudius and seizing the throne. He gained the support of Camillus and his legions and proclaimed a desire to restore the former role of the Senate in the Roman state, thus gaining some support.

Claudius, hearing of the rebellion, was ready to surrender and hand over power to Camillus. Ultimately, however, Camillus’ army rebelled and did not want to follow his orders. Suetonius states that this was due to the bad omens that were noticed in the camp – the soldiers reportedly could neither decorate the legionary eagles nor raise banners from the ground7. Camillus himself fled to the island of Vis, off the coast of present-day Croatia, and committed suicide.

Plans for Valeria Messalina

Valeria Messalina was the third wife of Emperor Claudius. They had two children with him: Octavia (born 40 CE) and Britain (born 41 CE). Messalina was Claudius’ worst and most beloved wife. Ancient sources portray Messalina as a nymphomaniac organizing orgiastic games and condemning ex-lovers or those who dare to refuse her promotions to death.

Georges-Antoine Rochegrosse, Death of Messalina

She was eventually lost by the formal ceremony of marriage with Gaius Silius, held in the absence of Claudius, who was in the port of Ostia. Narcissus, the emperor’s liberator, revealed this to Claudius, presented a possible conspiracy to seize power, and ensured the execution of Messalina in 48 CE. Claudius did not fully believe all the charges against her8.

Reign of Nero (54 – 68 CE)

Bust of Nero. Contrary to the generally prevailing opinion (from the historian Tacitus), the emperor had great poetic and acting talent.

Nero assumed power at the age of 17 after Claudius was poisoned on the orders of his mother Agrippina the Younger. Nero was personally not interested in politics, and all decisions were made by his mother and Seneca. For days he played the lute, sang, and drove chariots.

Over time, the influence of the advisers on the emperor decreased. Nero became independent, and his madness led to murders and conspiracies.

The plot of Gaius Calpurnius Piso

Lucius Calpurnius Piso was a Roman politician and orator; he was famous for his appearances in courts. He had a very good reputation in Rome; He was distinguished by good appearance and character. He had no ties to the Julio-Claudian dynasty. During the reign of Nero, he became a senator and was respected by the college.

In 65 CE, Nero had a reputation as a madman and tyrant among the senators and equites who ruined Rome and ridiculed the office of emperor. A conspiracy was developed and many joined; not only from the senatorial and equestrian circles but also from the Praetorian Guard.

The secret was revealed to the emperor by the liberator Milichus, under the care of one of the praetorian tribunes. After the conspiracy was discovered, a total of 19 people were sentenced to death and 13 to exile. Death reached not only Piso, but also Seneca the Younger, Nero’s teacher; Lucan, a Roman poet or Gaius Petronius9.

Reign of Galba (68 – 69 CE)


During the reign of Nero, Galba was the governor of the Hispania Tarraconensis province. In the spring of CE 68, Galba was informed that Nero planned to eliminate him. He also learned about the uprising of Windex in Gaul. At first, he was inclined to follow the example of the commander of the Rhine armies, but the defeat and death of the Gallic governor renewed his hesitations. However, Galba’s eagerness was enlivened by the news that he was supported by the praetorian prefect Nymphidius Sabinus. Until then, he only dared to call himself the legate of the senate and the Roman people, but after Nero’s suicide, he assumed the title of Caesar and marched on Rome. CE)

The rebellion of Gaius Nymphidius Sabinus

Gaius Nymphidius Sabinus came from a low-ranking family. His mother was a freed woman, and his father was perhaps a gladiator. The purges carried out after the discovery of the Piso plot gave people like Nymphidius a chance for social advancement. He made friends with the soldiers of the Praetorian Guard. He was quickly promoted and became one of the praetorian prefects in CE 65 after he served Nero in questioning the conspirators. Three years later, in CE 68, he sided with the Roman politician and leader Galba, who came out against Nero. Nymphidius persuaded his subordinates to refuse obedience to the emperor and promised that Galba, upon his arrival in Rome, would give each of the praetorians 30,000 sesterces.

Galba, however, underestimated the actions of Nymphidius and dismissed him from office, in the meantime appointing his man. The embittered Nymphidius rebelled and wanted to proclaim himself emperor before his arrival. In order to legitimize his right to the throne, he claimed to be an illegitimate descendant of Caligula. The prefect, however, did not receive the support of the guards and died at their hand before arriving in the capital of Galba10.

Reign of Titus Flavius ​​ (79 – 81 CE)

When his father Vespasian died in CE 79, it became clear that he would become the new emperor as he was the eldest. Apparently, there was a fear then that he would be the second Nero. This conviction, however, briefly reigned. After ascending to the throne, however, he turned out to be a gentle and understanding ruler.

The Triumph of Tytus, Lawrence Alma-Tadema
The painting shows the Flavian family in a triumphant procession in CE 71. Vespasian is at the front of the family, dressed as pontifex maximus. Behind him is Domitian with Domicja Longina and Tytus in religious clothes.

The self-proclaimed Terentius Maximus

Terentius Maximus was the person who claimed to be the miraculously surviving Nero. Apparently, he resembled the former ruler in appearance and behaviour; what’s more, he could play the lyre and sing.

He carried out his activities in order to gain power in Asia, and then went to the Party and sought support for his right to the throne there. Terentius reportedly persuaded King Artabanus III with a debt that the Parthians should pay for returning Armenia to their sphere of influence during his reign.

The Parthian leader planned the operation of placing Terentius on the Roman throne, but finally sentenced him to death after his true identity was revealed11.

Reign of Domitian (81 – 96 CE)


Domitian ascended the throne on September 14, 81 CE after the death of his brother Titus. The beginning of his reign was promising. He continued to promote equites by introducing them to the senate, sat at the Tribunal to control the operation of the judiciary. He condemned unjust sentences and the judges who issued them. He also increased the legionaries’ pay by three gold pieces.

In 89 CE a civil war broke out with Lucius Antony, who declared himself emperor.

Rebellion of Lucius Antony Saturninus

Lucius Antony Saturninus was a Roman senator and commander who, motivated by hatred for Domitian, rebelled in January 89 CE as governor of Upper Germania. He hoped to receive support from the Germanic allies; these, however, were unable to cross the Rhine where the ice melted12.

The rebellion was quickly crushed by the emperor’s loyal commanders: the future Emperor Trajan and Lucius Appius Macysmus Norbanus.

Ultimately, however, the conspiracy resulted in more victims, for Domitian, fearing for his life, saw plots and guilty everywhere. He decided to get rid of political opponents.

Reign of Marcus Aurelius (161 – 180 CE)

Marcus Aurelius

At the will of Antoninus Pius, the Senate, on the day of his death, March 7, 161 CE, transferred all titles and rights to Marcus Aurelius. It was widely known what a great character Marcus is. He was hard-working, modest, devoted and patient. His brother Lucius Verus was known as a reveller devoting his full attention to feasting.

Marcus, however, to general surprise, asked that his younger brother, Lucius Verus, be appointed co-ruler. Thus, for the first time in the history of the Roman Empire, two equal people sat on the throne. The joint rule did not last long as Lucius Verus died in CE 169 after suffering a sudden attack of apoplexy.

Marcus Aurelius proved to be an efficient administrator and a sensible ruler. Despite his calm nature, he was forced to wage wars at the borders and to counteract revolts.

Rebellion of Avidius Cassius

Avidius Cassius during the rule of Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius served in the war with the Parthians as a legate of the 3rd Gallica legion. Avidius Cassius proved his leadership skills by defeating the Parthians at Dura-Europos around 164 CE and the capture of the cities of Selucia and Ctesiphon. For his achievements, Cassius was entered on the senatorial lists.

Faustina the Younger

In mid-175 CE, Avidius Cassius received false reports saying that Marcus Aurelius had died as a result of an illness (the so-called the Antonine plague) brought by Roman troops returning from the war Lots. Upon hearing of this, Cassius proclaimed himself emperor and stated that it was the legionaries who took part in the Marcomannic War in Pannonia who elected him as their new ruler. There are also rumors that Marcus Aurelius’ wife Faustina the Younger was persuaded to usurp Cassius, who was afraid that in the event of her husband’s death, usurpers would fight for the throne in the face of their son’s young age Commodus. Cassius was to be a guarantee that a person close to her husband and family would sit on the throne.

Marcus Aurelius was forced to suspend hostilities against the Iazyges and head east. Interestingly, the emperor received offers of military support in his campaign against the rebel by the border barbarian peoples; Aurelius, however, rejected all. Marcus Aurelius ‘army was much more numerous, and rumors that the emperor was about to attack Egypt first terrified Cassius’ army. In late July 175 CE, the centurion and Cassius’ decurion killed him and sent his head to Aurelius. The emperor, however, did not want to see the remains and had the deceased buried. On July 28, 175 CE, Egypt re-recognized Aurelius as emperor13.

Reign of Septimius Severus (193 – 211 CE)

The rebels of Gaius Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus

In 191 CE, Severus received from Emperor Commodus command of the legions in Pannonia. However, in 192 CE, the Emperor was assassinated, and Pertinax was declared the new ruler in early 193. CE he was murdered by the Praetorian Guard. In response to this disgraceful act, Severus’ soldiers proclaimed him Emperor at Carnuntum on the Danube, from where he then hurried off to Italy.

Pertinax’s successor in Rome was Didius Julianus, who outbid the praetorian prefect, Aemilius Letus, who also wanted to buy power from his subordinates, offering each soldier of the guard 25,000 sesterces. Ultimately, however, after briefly holding the imperial office, Julianus was sentenced to death by the Senate and killed. Severus took power over the capital without any problems. He executed the murderers of Pertinax and disbanded the rest of the Praetorian Guard, supplementing it with his men.

Gajus Pescennius Niger

Meanwhile, however, legions in Syria proclaimed Gaius Pescennius Niger as emperor. There was also another rival to the throne, a former supporter of Didius Julianus, Clodius Albinus, governor of Britain. Septimius decided to give him the rank of Caesar to satisfy his thirst for power, and he went east to deal with Niger. In 194 CE, he destroyed the usurper’s army in the Battle of Issus and went to Byzantium (Byzantion), which ordered to be razed to the ground for the fact that the inhabitants decided to support the usurper. After a few years, however, Severus decided to rebuild it, and it is Septimius Severus who is credited with starting the construction of a typical Roman metropolis on the ruins of a Greek city. After a hundred years, his project was continued by Constantine the Great.

The following year, Sever dedicated himself to suppressing Mesopotamia and the other Party vassals who had supported Niger. After defeating the enemy in the east, the emperor appointed his son Caracalla as the official heir to the throne, which meant a declaration of war on Albinus in Britain. He was proclaimed Emperor by his soldiers and went to Gaul. Severus, after a short stop in Rome, headed north to meet his opponent in the open field.

Five emperors after the death of Commodus

On February 19, 197 CE, Septimius Severus defeated the usurper Clodius Albinus in the Battle of Lugdunum (now Lyon). His army ranged from 70,000 to 90,000 soldiers (sources also indicate the number of about 75,000 men) and was composed mainly of Illyrian, Mezzan and Dak legions. Eventually, Albinus was killed, Severus ended the civil war and took full power over the empire.

Plot of Plautianus

Lucius Fulvius Plautianus was a high-ranking Roman, who in 203 CE was a consul. Earlier, in 197 CE, thanks to Septimius Severus, he took the office of the praetorian prefect and achieved enormous influence at the court. The proof of his high position in the Empire was the fact that there was a marriage between the son of the emperor – Caracalla and his daughter Publia Fulvia Plautilla. It should be mentioned, however, that the relationship was not successful, and Caracalla hated his wife and father-in-law.

Plautianus, like Sejanus under Tiberius, began to conduct his own bold actions to eliminate private enemies. He led to the death of many citizens, and his bold actions disturbed Severus’ wife – Julia Domna. Plautianus tried to find compromising information about the empress; to this end, he tortured many of her servants.

In 205 CE a conspiracy led by Plautinaus was discovered. His property was confiscated and he was murdered. Plautilla was forced to leave Rome and went to the Aeolian Islands, near Sicily. After taking the throne in 212 CE, Caracalla ordered her murdered.

Reign of Elagabalus (218 – 222 CE)


Elagabalus was born as Warius Avitus Bassjanus and had ties to the lineage of Septimius Severus. Initially, his father belonged to the equities, but then he was promoted and became a senator. Grandmother (Julia Maesa), in turn, was the widow of the consul Julius Avitus, sister of Julia Domna and sister-in-law of Emperor Septimius Severus. His mother, in turn, was the cousin of the former Emperor Caracalla.

The boy came from the family of the high priests of the sun god Baal, known in the Semitic dialect of “Elah-Gabal” – hence his later nickname.

In 217 CE, Emperor Caracalla was murdered, and was taken over by the Praetorian Prefect Macrinus, which did not enjoy much public support. Elagabalus’s mother and grandmother convinced the troops stationed in the East that he was in fact the son of Caracalla. In the end, Macrinus’ army was defeated, and the new ruler was 14-year-old Elagabalus.

The young emperor quickly showed evidence of his emotional imbalance and cruelty. Despite the opposition of the townspeople, he introduced the cult of the sun god in Rome. The ruler ordered senators and senior officials to participate in rituals in honour of the oriental deity, which he officially set before Capitoline Jupiter. Moreover, he insulted the imperial office with his behaviour and orgiastic games.

The rebellion of Gellius Maximus

Gellius Maksymus was the son of a physician at the court of Caracalla, who, in return for his good service, obtained the office of procurator, i.e. a tax collector and manager of one of the provinces. Gellius linked his career with the army for a change. He served the ruler of 219 CE, Elagabalus by “catching” the son of the former Emperor Macrinus – Diadumenian. To his surprise, an unknown centurion of the IV Scythica legion was rewarded when he was omitted from the award. This was probably the cause of the rebellion.

Gellius went against the emperor in the Roman province of Celesyria; his rebellion, however, was quickly crushed by the legion of the XVI Flavia Firma legion, and he was killed on the orders of Elagabalus.

Rebellion of Verus

Verus was the commander of the III Gallica legion that helped Elagabalus rise to power. However, the growing aversion to the emperor and his behaviour caused a rebellion. Verus proclaimed himself emperor but was quickly defeated and the legion disbanded.

It is worth adding that during the reign of Elagabalus, other figures, related either to the court or to the aristocracy, such as Castinus, Alexianus and Carus, also opposed his rule. Sources also mention a certain Seleucus.

Reign of Alexander Severus (222- 235 CE)

Aleksander Sewer

Alexander Sever on the throne of Rome replaced his cousin Elagabalus, who died as a result of a conspiracy. Even after reaching the age of majority, Aleksander was strongly influenced by his guardians and advisers. They tried to change the domestic policy of the country, sharing power with the senate, and taking away numerous privileges from the then raging military.

The end of Alexander’s reign marks a new period in the history of Rome – the crisis of the third century – almost 50 years of civil wars, invasions and the collapse of the economy.

The plot of Saius Sallustius

Lucius Sejus Herennius Sallustius was the father-in-law of Alexander Severus and was promoted by him to the office of Caesar (co-ruler). This probably happened in the year 225 CE, when Alexander married his daughter Sallustia Orbiana.

For reasons unknown to us, Sallustius decided to kill Alexander, but unsuccessfully. Sallustius was murdered and his daughter banished14.

Taurinius Rebellion

Taurinius was a Roman commander who was stationed with the army in Mesopotamia during the Sassanid invasion of 232 CE. The legions revolted and proclaimed Taurinus emperor. On the news of the rebellion, Aleksander Severus came with an army and defeated the rebels. Taurinius ran away and drowned in the Euphrates15.

Owinius Camillus

Ovinius Camillus is considered by historians to be a fictional character. According to The History of Augustus, Camillus was supposed to be a usurper but was spared by the emperor.

Reign of Maximinus Thrax (235 – 238 CE

Maximinus Trax

Maximinus Trax was at the head of the legionaries who fought against Alexander Severus in Germania. Maximinus is considered the first barbarian (non-Roman) to wear Imperial purple. Moreover, he was the first emperor who never appeared in Rome and the first in a series of so-called soldier-emperors. His rule is considered to be the beginning of the crisis of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century CE

Sabotage of Gaius Petronius Magnus

Magnus was a Roman senator who, like the majority of the Senate, did not like the election of Emperor Maximinus Thracus. Magnus headed a conspiracy in 235 CE to overthrow and kill Maximinus Trax. To this end, a plan was undertaken to destroy the bridge over the Rhine, so that the emperor and the army would remain on the Germanic side and had to rely on the mercy of the Germans. However, the sabotage was discovered in time and the conspirators killed.

Announced Emperor Quartinus

Quartinus was a Roman senator, a friend of the murdered Alexander Severus, and the commander of the Mesopotamian archers. Unexpectedly, the auxiliary soldiers proclaimed him emperor, which he initially did not want to agree to. Apparently, the archers had a grudge against Maximinus Trax for the murder of the former ruler. Ultimately, however, Quartinus was betrayed by his own soldiers and killed16.

Reign of Gordian III (238 – 244 CE)

Bust of the young Gordian III in the Capitoline Museums' collections

Gordian III was the grandson of Gordian I and nephew of Gordian II. The sudden and unexpected death of the Gordians (father and son) in Carthage in March 238 and Maximin Trak marching to Italy at the head of the Danube legions forced the senate to act quickly and choose successors, killed emperors who would remedy the crisis situation. The choice fell on the mature nobles – Pupien and Balbin, who were to co-rule on the same rights.

As the new rulers travelled to the Capitol to make their usual sacrifices to the Gods, a hostile mob threatened them. The hatred of the commoners was caused primarily by the election of Pupien to the highest office, who previously, as the prefect of Rome, treated the lowest masses of the capital sharply. An armed escort did not help – the emperors could not get into the temple, at some point the situation became very dangerous – stones started to move. Then someone in the crowd pointed out that the grandson of Gordian I was in the city, and a member of such an illustrious family would improve the image of the new government. The emperors, to resolve the difficult situation, agreed to appoint the boy as a co-ruler.

Sabinian’s Brief Revolt

Sabinian was a Roman proconsul in Africa. In 240 CE he rebelled against the authority of Gordian III, whom the Senate hastily proclaimed. The Sabinian, however, was quickly defeated by the governor of Mauritania and then released by his supporters.

Reign of Philip the Arab (244 – 249 CE)

Filip Arab

Filip Arab from 243 CE served as the praetorian prefect. In 244 CE, Gordian III died or was killed. Due to the fight against Persia, it was decided to elect the new emperor Philip, which some explained with his participation in the conspiracy. Filip Arab, in order to remove his suspicions, ordered to erect a magnificent tomb at the place of Gordian’s death.

Philip, wanting to strengthen his power, wanted to return to Rome as soon as possible. To this end, he concluded an unfavourable truce with the Persians. The poor economic and political situation of the country meant that Philip started to deal with the lack of public trust.

Usurpation of Jotapian

Jotapian belonged to the aristocracy in the Eastern Empire, and he was certainly respected. Around 249 CE, at the end of Philip Arab’s reign, he revolted in Syria against the excessive tax burden. Antioch became the capital of rebellion and the seat of Jotapian. Ultimately, the rebellion ended with the murder of Jotapian by his own soldiers during the reign of Decius.

Pacatianus‘ rebellion

Tiberius Claudius Macrinus Pacatianus was a usurper from the Danube. There he also served as a legionary officer. Decius, Emperor Philip’s trusted man, was sent to suppress the revolt; earlier, however, Pakacjan died at the hands of his own soldiers.

Based on the surviving Roman coins from Romania, it can be assumed that a certain Sponsianus rebelled against the emperor Philip. However, some researchers believe that coins may be a form of counterfeit or a product of a later era.

Reign of Decius (249 – 251 CE)


Decius was the victorious Roman commander on the Danube. He was proclaimed emperor by his legions in 249 CE, and he set out for Italy. He defeated Philip Arab’s army at Verona. Emperor Philip was killed; just like his son. Decius’s usurpation was approved by the Senate.

The reign of Decius consisted mainly in defending the borders of the Empire in Dacia and coordinating the activities of the army.

Usurpation of Julius Valens Licinianus

Licinianus was a Roman senator who, like the Senate and the Roman people, did not like Emperor Decius, who lost his trust after further defeats in 250 CE at the hands of the Goths. He was proclaimed emperor when Decius resisted the Goths. Finally, Licinianus died in 250 CE, after several days of fighting with Valerian – the later emperor and the subordinate of Decius17.

Priscus Rebellion

Titus Julius Priscus was governor of Thrace and at the end of 251 CE, he stood against the rule of Decius. The reasons for the decision of the Roman leader are unknown; Regardless of this, the Roman Senate did not recognize the usurper, and he himself was soon killed.

Reign of Gallienus (253 – 268 CE)


Gallienus’ reign is one of the most volatile periods in Roman history. Gallienus is a controversial figure because many historians (especially from the senatorial circle) talk about his role in bringing Rome to ruin. The reality, however, was different. Gaul belongs to one of the most outstanding rulers of Rome, but historians unfavourable to the emperor distorted the image of his rule during the period of the peak crisis of Roman statehood.

In the 60s of the 3rd century CE, the crisis of the empire reached its apogee. The Empire, under attack from many sides, was practically at mercy of the Persians and the more and more frequent repeated expeditions of the Germans for spoils. Shapur’s bold moves and the chaos on the German border favoured the emergence of more and more usurpations. The empire was at the stage of the most profound disintegration of military structures in many provinces as a result of the Severine reforms (Severus dynasty). The soldiers, fused with their provinces, showed more and more arbitrariness resulting from the lack of discipline in the army.

In the years 260-275, successive usurpers such as Postumus or Zenobia counted primarily on separating their provinces from the rest of the state, which was to give them broad economic and economic independence in a short time. military.

Ingenuus’ Rebellion

Ingenuus was the Roman governor of Pannonia during the reign of Emperor Valerian (253-260 CE). When the ruler was captured by Shapur, king of the Persians, the legions made Ingenuus emperor in 260 CE. Ingenuus was a good commander, and the reason for the self-proclaimed emperor was regional instability, continual barbarian invasions of borders, and lack of central government support.

Valerian’s son – Gallienus – reacted quickly to the situation, summoned troops from Gaul and Germania and moved against the usurper. During the Battle of Mursa, Gallienus’ troops dominated the enemy using a large amount of manoeuvrable driving. Ingenuus drowned in the river while escaping.

The rebellion of Regalianus

After defeating Ingenuus, Gallienus withdrew to Italy to repel the Alaman invasion. At that time, Panonia again had to deal with attacks by barbarians (including Sarmatians). The local community appointed Emperor Regalianus, a Roman of Dacian origin, who earned his position during the reign of Valerian.

Regalianus’ reign was not long, however; after repulsing the barbarians, an internal coalition formed, and the usurper was killed in 260 CE

Revolt of Fulvius Macrian

Macrian was a trusted man of Emperor Valerian and participated in his unfortunate expedition against Shapur in the east. According to ancient sources, he was supposed to control finances, but the “Historia Augusta” states that he was the commander of Valerian.

Macrian avoided defeat at the hands of the Persians at Edessa because he stayed in Samosata. Upon the news of the capture of the emperor, the son of Valerian, Gallienus, became the ruler automatically, but he had to deal with the problems of the Empire in the west. Due to the difficult situation in the east, the troops proclaimed Macrian the emperor, which he probably did not agree due to his serious age and leg problems. However, an agreement was reached and, with the support of the Praetorian Prefect of Ballista, power was given to the sons of Macrian: Macrian the Younger and Quietus.

The rebels gathered an army and moved to Thrace, where they were also defeated by Aureolus, the leader of Galien, in 261 CE. Both father and sons perished. Death must have reached Ballista as well.

Creation of the Gallic Empire

Coin of the first Gallic emperor Postumus.
Author: Rasielsuarez | Under the Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

The Gallic Empire (Imperium Galliarum) was a self-proclaimed empire founded between 259 and 260 CE in the Western Roman Empire by usurper Postumus. The organism survived until 274 CE. The state consisted of parts of the Roman provinces: Gaul, Spain, Betica, and Britain.

A series of military revolts in the Danubian provinces of Pannonia led to the unveiling of the Rhine line defended by Postumus. Postumus had Upper and Lower Germania under his management and was considered a capable governor. He proved this in the summer of 260 CE, among other things, when he repelled the Frankish invasion of the Rhine. His victory was so successful that for the next 10 years there were no further invasions from this side. In this way, Postumus became one of the most influential and decision-makers in the western part of the Empire with time.

Around 260 CE, Postumus, who had been viceroy of the province of Germania, took advantage of the weakening of the army against Emperor Galien’s underage son, Saloninus, and his guardian, Silvanus. Both Salonina and Sylvanas ordered to be murdered. He soon mastered all of Gaul too. His sovereignty was also recognized by Spain and Britain. In the territory he conquered, Postumus created an empire independent of Rome, with his own senate and consuls (according to numismatics, Postumus held the office of consul five times) and with his own coin more valuable than the official one. The Gallic Empire also had its own Praetorian Guard. He announced his capital city either in Colonia Agrippina or in Augusta Treverorum (present-day Trier). An important city in his country was also Lugdunum (now Lyon).

Unexpectedly, in 268 CE his own soldiers killed Postumus when he refused to plunder the city after defeating another usurper – Lelian – inside his state creation. After his death, a few more people took power.

The Gallic Empire existed in a separate way until the reign of Emperor Aurelian. This capable commander first had to deal with the Kingdom of Palmyra in order to focus his attention on the war with the Gallic Empire. Eventually, he defeated Tetricus and his son, and the lands of the Gallic Empire were incorporated back into the Empire.

Aureolus instance

Aureolus was Galien’s trusted and distinguished chieftain. Thanks to him, some usurpers were overthrown and he took part in the battles against the separatist Gallic Empire. At one point, Aureolus was about to plan a revolt against Galien with the other two officers, but the plot was discovered early; Aureolus kept his life, but began to harbour a clearer dislike of the emperor.

Despite his distrust, Galien decided to send Aureolus at the head of part of his army to protect the Danube from the Goths in 268 CE. Over time, Aureolus lost his command of the elite cavalry which often made him very successful. Aureolus, feeling humiliated, decided to officially go against Gallienus and took Milan. Moreover, he offered an alliance to Postumus in the fight against Galien; the latter, however, rejected the offer. On his own, he defeated Add’s hand.

Unexpectedly, Galien was murdered by his soldiers during the siege of Milan. Aureolus received an offer from the conspirators to surrender in exchange for a guarantee of safety. However, he soon died at the hands of his own soldiers.

The kingdom of Palmyra is established

Zenobia, author of the painting unknown

Septimia Zenobia was the wife of the king of Palmyra – Odenatus, after the death of whom in 267 CE she tried to strengthen the position of her minor son Vaballat. Palmyra was a city under the control of Rome for over two hundred years and part of the province of Phenicia.

In 267, when Zenobia was about 20-30 years old, Odenatus and his eldest son were murdered on their return from a war expedition. According to The Story of Augustus, Odenatus was murdered by his cousin Meonius. The handover of power had to be smooth, because one day passed from the death of Odenatus to the making of Zenobia queen by the army. Nor is there any evidence that she handed over power to her son, ten-year-old Waballat, although she has never admitted to ruling alone and has officially served as her son’s regent. Zenobia exercised actual power in the kingdom, and Wabbalat remained in the shadow of his mother and never exercised his own rule of power.

Thanks to skilful politics, Zenobia led to a strong expansion in the region and gained full power in the eastern territories of the Roman Empire.

In late 271, Egyptian grain receipts equaled Aurelian and Vaballat, calling them both emperors. Eventually, Palmyra severed all ties to Rome, and the mints of Alexandria and Antioch ceased minting coins with the image of Aurelian in April 272, replacing him with the image of Zenobia. Both the mother and her son were titled emperor and empress.

Zenobia’s adoption of the imperial title meant usurpation of power, the declaration of Palmyra’s independence, and an open rebellion against Aurelian. It is not known why Zenobia proclaimed herself empress just then.

In May 272, Aurelian marched to Antioch. About forty kilometres north of the city, in the Battle of Immae, he smashed the Palmira army led by Zabdas. Zenobia was captured, and her fate is shrouded in mystery, except that she took part in the chief’s triumph. Interestingly, when the senators rebuked Aurelian that he had triumphed over a woman, the emperor was to reply, “Yes, but what a woman she was!”

Map of the Roman Empire in 271 CE Kingdom of Palmyra to the east covered most of Rome’s eastern provinces (yellow in color). In the west of the Empire, there was a self-proclaimed empire, the so-called The Gallic Empire, established between 259 CE and 260 CE by the usurper Postumus. It existed until 274 CE.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

Other revolts

During the reign of Galien, other revolts were to take place. Sources mention, among others Valens of Achaia, who was said to have proclaimed himself emperor; it is suspected that he was hailed by soldiers, or it was an act of consolidating power and opposing the incoming armies of Macrian and his sons from the east.

The figure of Lucius Calpurnius Piso also appears, who was sent by Macrian to murder Valens and clear the way before the invasion of Italy. Finally, Pizon was killed by Valens’ soldiers, and he himself shared such a fate in the near future.

Support for Macrian and his sons was expressed by Lucius Mussius Emilian, the prefect of Egypt, who had been in office from 256 CE. Upon hearing of the defeat of Macrian, he decided to declare emperor and fight for his life. Galien sent his trusted commander Aurelius Theodotus to Africa, who defeated him at Thebes and sent the rebel to Galien. The emperor had him killed.

We also know the name of a certain Memorial, who was an officer in the Roman army in North Africa and was responsible especially for securing grain supplies to Rome. He acted on the side of Emilian and when he was captured, he tried to declare himself emperor, but in the meantime his own soldiers killed him.

Reign of Claudius II (268 – 270 CE)

Claudius II Gocki
Author: Lotho2 | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Much contradictory information about Claudius II has survived to our day. He was certainly associated with the military and enjoyed the full confidence of Emperor Galien. Eventually, Galien was killed near Milan, and it is possible that he took part in the plot of Claudius, who was proclaimed Emperor in 268 CE. In order to secure his position in the army, he had to promise a generous salary.

During his reign, he was practically involved only in affairs in the Balkan Peninsula and therefore could not go against the Gallic Empire or Zenobia.

The rebellion of the Cenzorinus

Appius Claudius Censorinus was a Roman usurper, mentioned only in “The History of Augustus” – hence his existence is usually not recognized by historians. According to the aforementioned source, his soldiers proclaimed him emperor in around 269 CE, but due to strict discipline, they finally killed him after a few days.

Reign of Aurelian (270 – 275 CE)

Lucius Domitius Aurelian was a Roman emperor who went down in history as an outstanding commander and governor, eliminating threats and usurpations in many places of the Empire. Thanks to his hard hand, the divided state finally regained full control over the borders, and with his reign we can talk about the end of the “crisis of the third century”. It is not without reason that his contemporaries gave him the title of Restitutor Orbis, meaning “Restorer of the World”.

Rebellion Domitianus

Domitianus was a usurper from Gaul in 270-271 CE, previously earning a position of worthy chieftain during the reign of Galien. We know about its existence from sources and preserved coins; however, we do not have a certain biography. It is suspected that the revolt took place in southern Gaul and was crushed by Aurelian.

The rebellion of Felicissimus

Felicissimus was the rationalis imperial official responsible for the state treasury. In 271 or 274 CE he initiated a revolt of slaves who worked at the state mint in Rome. The revolt was supposed to be caused by concerns about the consequences of introducing counterfeit coins into circulation. The rebellion was suppressed and Felicissimo was killed, however, according to Aurelius Wiktor, as many as 7,000 soldiers died18. Moreover, several senators were sentenced to death, which suggests that they may have been involved in counterfeiting coins.

The Rebellion of Septimius

Septimius was a usurper in Dalmatia in 271 or 272 CE. The autocracy did not last long and the man was killed at the hands of his soldiers. The reason for the speech is not clear; it is suspected that this could be related to the threat of a Goth invasion.

Reign of Probus (275 – 282 CE)

Marcus Aurelius Probus was an effective commander and was associated with the army from an early age. During the reign of Emperor Tacitus in 275-276 CE he was a consul. Following the Emperor’s death or assassination, Probus was proclaimed the new Emperor in the East. As it turned out, he was one of the best emperors of the 3rd century CE.

The rebellion of Bonosus and Proculus

In 280 CE there were several riots against Probus’s rule. A certain Bonosus, who commanded the Roman river fleet, rebelled on the Rhine. Once, the Germans managed to set fire to and destroy the boats. Bonosus, fearing the consequences, decided to proclaim the emperor in present-day Cologne (Germany).

At the same time, in Lugdunum (now Lyon, France) the townspeople disobeyed the emperor. The new ruler was Prokulus, who agreed with Bonosus on cooperation. But Probus’s response was quick and effective. Proculus’ army was pushed north, and, unable to count on the support of the Franks, the rebel surrendered and was killed. Bonosus, in turn, decided to commit suicide.

Another usurper in 280 CE was Sextus Julius Saturninus, who served as governor of Syria. He was forced to become purple by the community of Alexandria and the military. Reluctant to be elevated to the throne, he was finally killed by soldiers.

Reign of Carus, Carinus, Numerian (282 – 284 CE)

Marcus Numerius Carus was a Roman senator who became Praetorian Prefect in 282 CE. After the Emperor was murdered by rebel soldiers or by himself, he became the new ruler. Due to his already serious age (he was over 60), he decided to appoint his sons as co-ordinates: Karinus and Numerian.

Julian rebellion

In 284 CE there was a revolt of Marcus Aurelius Sabinus Julian in Pannonia, on news of the death of Carus. Carinus faced Julian’s army and defeated him in Italy at the beginning of 285 CE.

Probably another usurper with a similar name – Sabinus Julian – the praetorian prefect, revolted at the same time in Italy. Carinus defeated the usurper Sabinus in a heavy campaign, supported by the Praetorian Guard.

Reign of Diocletian (284 – 305 CE)


After Numerian’s death in 284 CE, Diocletian was appointed his successor by the army, despite the fact that the late Emperor’s brother Carinus still held power.

In the winter of 284-285 CE, Diocletian, at the head of his army, crossed the Balkans and fought several skirmishes with Carinus’ forces, which retreated to Sirmum. Around July 285 CE he met Carinus’ troops on the Margus River (Great Moravia) in Moesia (Battle in the Morava River Valley), where he was victorious. Carinus was murdered by his own command, thus ending the civil war. Diocletian took the oath of Carinus’ soldiers and went to Italy to consolidate his power.

Diocletian realized that sovereignty in the Roman Empire, a country that spreads over vast territories, was an inadequate system of government. Sooner or later, there is a usurper and civil wars in the far corners of the Empire: Gaul, Egypt, Syria, the lower Danube. To this end, Diocletian made the decision to appoint a sort of accomplice/deputy to help him run the country. In 285 CE at Milanum, Italy, he appointed a certain Maximian Caesar, officially a co-regent, but in practice a junior.

Then another agreement was reached that created the tetrarchy which in Greek means “rule of four”. It was the result of growing problems in the state and rebellions in various parts of the Empire. The tetrarchy did not formally divide the territory of the empire between the rulers, each of them was the emperor of the entire empire, but the tasks assigned to them concerning specific areas:

  • Diocletian, Augustus of the East, controlled the lands of Asia and Egypt, his capital was Nikomedia;
  • Galerius, Caesar of the East, controlled the Danube area, mainly from Sirmium on the Sava;
  • Maximian, Augustus of the West, dealt with matters of Italy, Africa and Spain, first from Aquileia and then from Milan;
  • Constantius, Caesar of the West, looked after Gaul and Britain from the capital at Trier.

Another change introduced by Diocletian was to limit the duration of the Augustinian rule to 20 years, after which they were to abdicate in favour of their Caesars, and they, in turn, should appoint new Caesars – their future successors.

Rebellion of Carausius and Allectus

Carausius was a Roman commander who declared himself emperor in 286 CE, and under his rule was Britain and northern Gaul (the so-called Empire Britanniarum).

Coin of Carausius – of usurper from Britain. The only images we know come from well-preserved coins.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

During Maximian’s reign, he built a fleet to fight against sea pirates marching off the coast of Gaul and Britain. He used his position for private purposes (he collected the loot taken from pirates), escaped arrest to Britain, where he proclaimed himself Emperor. Realizing that it would not be easy for him to defeat the pretender, Maximian first decided to invade the tribes beyond the Rhine. In the spring of 288 CE, Maximian prepared a fleet against Karauzjus, but the expedition was cancelled due to other problems in the country.

Before 293 CE, Diocletian decided to entrust the command of the fight against Carausius to Flavius ​​Constantius (later Constantius I Chlorus), a former Dalmatian governor and military officer, who had reached the reign of Emperor Aurelian with his service.

Constantius launched a swift offensive and regained Gaul. Carausius was murdered by Allectus (the treasury overseer), who also assumed the imperial title in 293 CE. He was, however, killed three years later by Constantius’s subordinate Julius Asllepiodotus in 296 CE.

Aelianus and Amandus Rebellion

In 285 CE there was a fiscally oppressed rural population in Gaul (the so-called Bagauda). They were headed by Aelianus and Amandus. The rebellion was crushed by Maksymian.

Usurpation of Domitius Domitian

In 297 CE in Egypt, a revolt against Diocletian was sparked by Domitius Domitian, who may have opposed the tax increase. Much of Egypt, including Alexandria, recognized his rule. At the end of the same year, Diocletian suppressed Domitian’s rebellion, and a year later ended his claims to the throne of another rebel, Domitian’s associate, Aurelius Achilleus, who was corrector – an administrative repair clerk. They both died.

As a consequence of the uprising, Alexandria was forbidden to mint coins by itself. Moreover, the Egyptian administration was largely harmonized with the Roman administration (steps to this end were already taken by Septimius Severus).

The rebellion of Eugene

Eugene was a military tribune in Seleucia Pieria (present-day southern Turkey). In 303 CE he was proclaimed emperor. Eugene went to Antioch, where he died in battle.

Reign of Galerius (305 – 311 CE)

Galerius was made the junior co-ordinate of Diocletian in the East. He mainly controlled the Danube areas, mainly from Sirmium on the Sava River.

Alexander’s rebellion in Carthage

Lucius Domitius Alexander was a high-ranking governor in Carthage. Maxentius, the self-proclaimed emperor in Rome, who was bypassed in the power distribution of the tetrarchs, ordered him to send his son hostage to Rome to ensure his loyalty to him. Alexander, not recognizing his authority, refused in 308 CE and proclaimed himself emperor or was proclaimed by the military.

Maxentius sent his trusted praetorian prefect Rufius Volusianus, who ended the rebellion, captured Alexander, who was later strangled. The dates for the end of the revolt are unclear – it took place between 309 and 311 CE

Reign of Constantine I (309 – 337 CE)

Constantine the Great

Constantine I was the son of the Emperor Constantius I Chlorus, co-ruler of Maximian in the western part of the empire.

The unexpected death of Father Constantine on June 25, 306 in Eburakum caused unrest in the army in Britain. The soldiers of the beloved commander and commander showed loyalty to his son by proclaiming him the successor and august of the western part of the Empire. This event was a contradiction of the stabilized and confirmed tetrarchy in 305 CE, because the successor or Caesar could only be appointed by Augustus, who was Constantius. Constantine, realizing the not entirely legal power, asked Augustus in the east, Galerius, to recognize him as his father’s successor. However, Galerius guaranteed him only the title of Caesar of the West, and he named Augustus Severus II.

Constantine in the next twenty years, after a series of internal struggles, incl. with Maxentius or Licinius he gained full power in the Empire.

Calocaerus’ rebellion

In 334 CE, a rebellion broke out in Cyprus, led by a certain Calocaerus. Until now, he held the enigmatic office of magister pecoris camelorum, which could indicate supervision of supplies or veterinary services. The motives for the outbreak of the revolt are not entirely clear, especially when we take into account the fact that the usurper did not have adequate resources to fight Constantine.

Ultimately, the rebellion was suppressed by Flavius ​​Dalmatian, and Calocaerus was murdered.

Reign of Constantius II (337 – 361 CE)

Constantius II

Constantius II was the son of Constantine I. In May 337 CE, his father died, a man who rebuilt the Empire after years of civil wars and restored independent rule. Soon after his father’s death, Constantius ordered probably the massacre of his relatives descended from his grandfather’s second marriage Constantius I Chlorus. The massacres of the deceased ruler’s family were avoided by his two brothers: Constantine II (the elder) and Konstans (the younger) and three cousins: Gallus, Julian (later Apostate) and Nepocjan.

Before long, Constantius II met his brothers in Pannonia in the city of Sirmium to divide the Empire. Eventually, Constantius was given eastern provinces, including: Constantinople (which was the capital from his father’s time), Thrace, Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt and Cyrenaica. His brother Constantine II received: Britain, Gaul, Spain and Mauritania; when Konstans had to be content with: Italy, Africa, Illyria, Pannonia, Macedonia and Achaea.

Magnetius’ revolt

Magnus Magnecjus was the commander of some units under the rule of Konstans. The emperor did not enjoy much support and in 350 CE, Magnitius was proclaimed Emperor, and Konstans was murdered. The magnate immediately appointed his brother Decentius co-ruler to defend Gaul and the Rhine border.

Constantius II, as the only surviving son of Constantine the Great (Constantine II had fallen earlier), considered himself the sole and rightful ruler of the entire Empire. He decided to retake the western lands and unify Rome. He decided to march west, led by 40,000 men, to defeat the usurper Magnentius. However, bearing in mind the good of the East, he decided to appoint Constantius Gallus as the Caesar of the East, so as to ensure the stability of the government. To make sure that his cousin did not decide to go against him, he married his scary sister, Constantine, for him.

Meanwhile, in Rome, Nepotian presented to Constantius II the proposals considered him co-regent, in order to be able to fight the usurper. Constantius’s lack of response meant that Nepotian considered himself emperor, relying mainly on gladiators and criminals. His rule in the city lasted 28 days. Eventually, Magnetius entered the city, captured Rome and killed his rival.

On September 28, 351 CE, Constantius II confronted Magnentius in Pannonia in the Battle of Mursa (today’s Osijek in Croatia), which went down in Roman history as one of the bloodiest and the greatest battles between Roman armies. The balance of power spoke decisively in favour of Constantius (85,000 men), who had 35,000 soldiers against himself. The battle that lasted until the night ended with the total defeat of Magnentius’ troops.

The division of the Roman Empire after the death of Constantine I the Great in 337 CE as the fourth ruler for two years (335-337 CE) Dalmatian – Thrace, Macedonia and Achaea – who was probably murdered by Constantius.
Author: Panairjdde | Under Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

Magnentius fled to northern Italy and then southern Gaul. Ultimately, he decided to take his own life, as he knew the soldiers were planning to hand him over to the rightful ruler. Pushed to the defensive, Decentius also took his own life.

The two-year civil war (also called the usurpation of Magnentius) is over. As a result, tens of thousands of the most valuable soldiers of the Empire died. This situation was later taken advantage of by the barbarian tribes, invading Pannonia, Gaul and the Balkans.

Usurpation of Claudius Silwanus

Claudius Silvanus was a Roman commander of Frankish origin who supported Constantine I in the civil war against Licinius. Through Constantius II, after joining him in 351 CE, he was given a military command in Gaul and was to drive the Alamans out of the Roman territory.

In the meantime, the emperor’s immediate surroundings conveyed information about the conspiracy and betrayal of Silvanus, which at that time he had rather not planned. After a trial and an uncertain outcome in 355 CE, fearing for his life, Silwanus proclaimed himself emperor. As a result of intrigues, he finally died after 28 days.

Reign of Valentinian I (364 – 375 CE)

Valentinian I

Valentinian, the elder son of a certain Gracian, following his father’s example, joined the army, where, at least in the initial period, he benefited from his father’s protection. During the Gallic campaigns, Caesar’s Juliana, known as the Apostate, was a tribune in the elite legion.

When Emperor Jovian died on February 17, 364, the army marched to Nicaea. There, during a conference of commanders and civil dignitaries, it was decided to entrust the purple to Valentinian. He decided to appoint his brother Valens as the co-regent.

Procopius usurpation

At the end of the summer of 365, Valentinian received information about the usurpation of Comes Procopius, a relative and associate of the great Julian, in Constantinople.

Procopius decided to bribe two legions in the vicinity of Constantinople and proclaim him emperor, using his connections with the Constantine family. In a short time, he took control of Bithynia and Thrace. Valens, in charge of the east, was originally forced to come to terms with the rebel. However, with the stabilization of other urgent matters, he decided to intervene. Together with his faithful commanders, he defeated the usurper after Thyatira and Nacolia. Procopius fled to Phrygia, where his soldiers betrayed him.

In 366 CE, Procopius was condemned to death by attaching to two trees which, when released from the hooks, tore him in two.

Marcellus, a Roman officer cooperating with Procopius, who also proclaimed himself emperor, died along with Procopius.

Usurpation of Theodorus

Theodorus was a usurper from Antioch, who, according to the accounts, was to experience a revelation and learn that he was destined to replace Valens. I do not have much information about his actions against legal authority, but he was probably tortured to confess.

Firmus’ revolt

Firmus was a Berber who served in the Roman army. Between 372 and 375 CE he revolted against his disliked African military commander, Romanus. Valentinian decided to send his trusted commander – Theodosius (father of the later emperor of the same name) to Africa to “clarify” the matter. Firmus, upon the news of the incoming commander, offered Romanus a joint revolt and killing Theodosius.

When the plot was revealed, Firmus was forced to flee to the desert. Theodosius, however, did not give way to him and forced him to move from one tribe to another. Finally, one of the Berber kings – Isaflenses – seized Firmus and decided to hand him over to the Romans, fearing the consequences of cooperation with the rebel. Firmus took his own life, before the Romans punished him.

Reign of Theodosius I (379 – 395 CE)

Theodosius the Great

The years 364-375 CE are the reign of the brothers: the aforementioned Valentinian I and Valens. The death of the former in 375 CE brought his sons Valentinian II and Gratian to the throne in the western part of the empire. In 378 CE, after the great defeat of the Roman army at Adrianople, where Valens himself was killed, Gratian decided to summon Theodosius of Spain to took command of the troops in Illyria.

As Valens had no successor, the invitation of Theodosius to assume command in the East was associated with de facto his appointment in August in the East of the Empire. Despite the help from the West and the increased recruitment to the army in the East, it was not possible to oust the Goths, additionally powered by further troops arriving from the Carpathian Basin and the Black Sea steppe. Theodosius resorted to diplomacy – he took advantage of the barbarians’ quarrels, dragged weaker groups to his side and in 382 CE he managed to make peace with everyone. The Goths became foederatiallies of Rome– settlements on the lower Danube, received extensive autonomy but were obliged to provide the empire with soldiers, though only auxiliary troops, fighting under an independent, Gothic, command. These conditions, outrageous for many Romans, allowed to calm the situation on the border and rebuild the imperial army in the East. Theodosius gained great authority among the barbarians, which meant that they kept their commitments until his death.

After Gratian was killed in a rebellion in 383 CE, Theodosius appointed his eldest son, Arcadius, co-ruler in the East. In the struggle for power in the western part of the empire, he backed Valentinian II against Maximus and won victory in 388 CE. After the death of Valentinian II (392 CE), Theodosius became an independent ruler of both the eastern and western parts of the Empire.

Theodosius I was the last emperor to rule both the eastern and western parts of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths settled south of the Danube within the borders of the empire. He was the author of the decrees that recognized Christianity as the state religion in the Roman Empire.

Eugene’s usurp

When, after the death of Valentinian II in 392 CE, the Frankish leader Arbogast appointed a former teacher of rhetoric, a supporter of the pagans of Eugene, to the role of a pretender, Theodosius tightened the prohibition of worshiping any gods, making sacrifices before gods’ images, lighting them with lights, burning incense, and hanging wreaths. He made the examination of the entrails of the sacrificial animals a crime of offending majesty. He ordered all pagan places of worship to be taken over by the state treasury. Any violation of these ordinances was subject to severe penalties: judges, city governors, and city council members were summoned to execute the decree. When the imperial edict was published in the East, Roman senators, encouraged by Eugene, solemnly resumed pagan ceremonies. Then Theodosius decided to undertake an armed expedition against Arbogast and Eugene.

In 394 CE he set out with the eastern army into the field against Eugene, who had manned the passes of the Julian Alps. On September 6, 394, Theodosius was victorious in the Battle of the River Frigidus when a storm suddenly came from the north. Eugenius and Arbogast died.

Theodosius entered Rome victorious, he showed grace to the survivors. He also felt that this was a great time to appoint his second son, Honorius, co-ruler in the West. On January 23, 393, he made a conciliatory gesture to the senate, whom he introduced as the successor to his younger son, Honorius. Of course, the senate accepted the proposal.

Defeating the usurper Eugene in the Battle of the Frigidus River restored peace in the Empire19.

Reign of Honorius (395 – 423 CE)

Flavius ​​Honorius was the son of Theodosius the Great and the brother of Arcadius. In 395, after the death of his father, Honorius became emperor at the age of 10 and, together with his brother Arcadius, divided the empire into a western and an eastern part. Honorius’ guardian was General Stilicho, who over time gained enormous influence at the court. For the first part of his reign, Honorius was very much subordinated to a Roman commander of vandal-Roman roots. In order to strengthen his position, Stilicho gave his daughter Maria to Honorius, and then to the younger Termantia – but the emperor had no offspring with any of them.

For practically the entire reign of Honorius, the Western Empire had to repel attacks by barbarians in Gaul, Italy and Spain. The weakness of the young emperor’s rule also encouraged ambitious politicians and military men to revolt and usurp.

Emperor of the Western Empire, Jean-Paul Laurens. Honorius became Augustus at the age of eight.

Usurpations in Britain

Roman Britain, along with the weakening of the Empire, became more and more alone in defence against barbarian invasions. The oppressed and powerless society sought its own leaders. In 406 CE, the army appointed a certain Marcus, who, however, did not hold power for a long time, because he was killed in the same year by legionaries. His place was taken by Gracjan, who shared the fate of his predecessor.

Usurpation of Constantine III

In 407 CE the usurper was Constantine III, who showed greater achievements than his predecessors. He managed to merge the army in Britain and led the invasion of Gaul, where he was enthusiastically greeted by the defenceless inhabitants. It quickly occupied most of Gaul and successfully resisted the barbarian invasion across the Rhine.

In the same year, Constantine appointed his son, Konstans, as co-governor, who defeated the army of Honorius and attached Iberia to his dominion and father.

Despite his agile and coordinated actions, Constantine did not prevent the movement of huge masses of barbarians (Sweb, Alans, Vandals) around Gaul. The Suebi reached the Iberian Peninsula, where in 410 CE Maximus was forced to power, thanks to the rebellious commander of Constantine – Gerontius. Constantine decided to send his son to intervene, but he was defeated and killed. Moreover, an army faithful to Honorius entered Gaul and defeated Constantine. Both he and his younger son were killed20.

Ascension of Maxim

Maximus, as mentioned above, was brought to power by Gerontius, the leader of Constantine. However, with the invasion of the commander of Honorius – later Emperor Constantius III – on Gaul, Geroncius turned to the side of the legal emperor. However, this did not improve his situation, as the army faithful to him went to the side of Constantius, and he decided to commit suicide.

Deprived of Geroncio’s protection, Maksym fled to the barbarians.

The rebellion of Priscus Attalus

Priscus Attalus was a Roman senator who went down in history as a puppet in the hands of the Visigoths who directly threatened Italy. Alaric first proposed him as a candidate for the Roman throne in 409, when the besieged Rome was not helped by Honorius, who was sheltering in the swamps of Ravenna. Finally, the negotiations with Honorius brought nothing until July 410 and a month later Rome was conquered by the Goths.

Priscus was proclaimed emperor for the second time in 414 CE, when the later leader of the Visigoths – Ataulf – wanted to take revenge on the Romans for the naval blockade. Eventually, Priscus was either abandoned by the Visigoths or captured by Honorius’ men. Priscus was banished from Italy.

Jovian’s rebellion

Jovian was a Roman senator who opposed Honorius in 411 CE. He proclaimed himself emperor on the Rhine and relied mainly on the support of the barbarians: Burgundians, Visigoths and Alans. He was probably a puppet in the hands of barbarian leaders who wanted to weaken the Empire.

During his two years of rule 411-413 CE, he managed to mint his own coins and felt no threat from Honorius. In 412 he recognized his brother Sebastianus as co-ruler. After two years, Jovian lost the support of the Goths under Ataulf, was captured, sent back to Ravenna, and in the meantime killed. A similar fate befell his brother, whose head was sent to the palace of Honorius.

Heraclian’s revolt

Heraclian in sources was famous primarily for bringing Stilicho to death. In 408 CE Honorius awarded him the title of steward in Africa. During the difficult period of the Visigothic invasion of Italy, he remained loyal to the emperor and ensured the supply of grain to the Apennine Peninsula.

However, in 413 CE Heraclian, being sure of his position and seeing the plight of Honorius, decided to proclaim him emperor. He blocked grain deliveries to Rome and made preparations for the invasion of Italy. That same year, he landed on the Peninsula, failed and died.

Reign of Valentinian III (423 – 455 CE)

Valentinian III was the son of Emperor Constantius III and the grandson of Theodosius I. In 423 CE, Emperor Honorius died unexpectedly, who, having no descendants, left the country without an appointed successor. The lack of firm candidates and the fact that the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II delayed the decision whether he would try to take over and unite the Empire himself, caused a struggle for power. Aetius, who supported the usurper John, received the high office (curopalatines) and undertook the operation of drawing the Hun army to help in the fight for the Roman throne. Aetius, however, arrived too late with the barbarian army and had to negotiate with the victorious Emperor Valentinian III his position on the political scene. The bargaining chip was certainly the fact that Aetius was supported by the large forces of the Huns. The emperor offered him the post of leader (comes), and in return he supported Valentinian and his mother Gaul Placidia.

Flavius ​​Aetius was one of the last great Roman leaders, also called “the last Roman.” It was mainly thanks to him that the weakened Western Roman Empire was still able to counteract the barbarian invasions and successfully manoeuvre on the political scene.

War with Bonifatius

Boniface was an influential leader and governor in Africa. He was an opponent of Flavius ​​Aetius and the usurper John, and he supported Valentinian III and his mother Gaul Placidia. In 427 CE Bonifatius lost the trust of Gaul Placidia, who was probably falsely informed that as ruler of Africa he planned to create his own Empire. At the empress’s order, Flavius ​​Constantius Felix set off with his army to defeat Bonifacius and secure the supply of grain. The army consisted of Huns and Romans. The siege of Carthage was broken for a time when the besiegers turned on each other.

Eventually, the city was conquered, but Bonifacius managed to escape with his army and manoeuvre in Numidia. Fortunately, Bonifacio regained the trust of Gaul Placidia, which was probably due to the need to stop the Geyseric Vandals, who were coming from the west.

Reign of Antemius (467 – 472 CE)

Procopius Antemius had a good birth. During the reign of Emperor Theodosius II, he performed military functions. In 453 CE he was an advisor to the emperor and defended the Danube.

After the death of Emperor Libius Severus in 465 CE, the Western Roman Empire was without a ruler for two years. This proves how the state was already weakened and badly managed. Finally, thanks to the emperor in Constantinople, Leo I, Antemius was elected emperor. The choice was the result of an agreement between Knight – commander in chief of the Roman field army (magister militum) in Italy, actually a decisive person in the Empire in the west – and Leo.

Most researchers believe that he was the last capable ruler of the western part of the Empire who sought to improve the defense and situation of the state.

Inciting Arwandus

Arwandus was a Gaul who was given the post of praetorian prefect twice: in 461-465 CE under Libius Severus and in 467 under Antemius. During his first term of office he was respected, but during the reign of Antemius he was met with hostility from the environment. Moreover, he was accused of treason and persuading the King of the Visigoths, Euryk, to divide Roman Gaul between the Visigoths and the Burgundians. It is possible that Arwandus hoped in part to gain power in the divided Roman state.

Finally, despite the impending death penalty, he was expelled from the Empire.

Romanus rebellion

Romanus was a Roman senator and patrician who sided with the ambitious Knight. The alliance with magister militum made Antemius his enemy. In 470 CE Antemius fell ill – possibly due to poisoning. Ricimer tried to take advantage of the situation, wanting to install Romanus on the throne.

Unexpectedly, Antemius recovered and accused Ricimer and Romanus of trying to kill him and seize power. Romanus was shortened by a head, but Ricimer later led to the removal of Antemius from the throne and his death in 472 CE.

Reign of Romulus Augustulus (475-476 CE)

Romulus Augustulus

Flavius ​​Romulus Augustus was the son of Orestes, who came from Pannonia and was his secretary during Attila’s lifetime. Orestes was promoted to the Roman army to become chief of troops (magister militium) in 475 CE, during the reign of Julius Nepos.

The name Romulus was given to his son after his grandfather, who was from Noricum. The nickname, or nickname, Augustulus was given to him because of his youthful age. It means in Latin “little August”.

Romulus was the last Western Roman emperor. Romulus Augustulus’ state included only Italy and part of Narbonne Gaul. The empire in the west was considered subordinate to the Eastern Roman Empire, and the election of a new ruler was originally not recognized at all.

Removal of power by Odoacer

After several months of reign, the mercenary armies of the Heruls and the Skiers, led by Odoacer, demanded the third part of Italy, to which Orestes did not agree. After a short fight, Orestes was captured and killed on August 28, 476 CE. Odoacer then went to Ravenna, where he captured Romulus after a short fight and forced him to abdicate on September 4, 476 CE. From our perspective, this event is symbolic, but at that time it did not cause much shock among the inhabitants of Italy. The barbarians at that time were the decisive force that influenced the fate of the emperors and the Empire itself.

After Romulus’ abdication, the Senate sent a delegation to Constantinople – on behalf of Odoacer – to unite the two Empires, with Odoacer remaining governor of the western part. Emperor Zeno demanded that Julius Nepos be restored to the throne, which he himself did not agree to. Ultimately, Zeno wanted Odoaker to receive official approval from Nepos to officially manage the Empire in the west. Moreover, he bestowed on him the title of patrician. In the meantime, Zeno informed Nepos himself that the empire in the west had ceased to exist, which was largely due to the fact that the emperor had no money and no desire to deal with matters in Italy.

Finally, Romulus was deprived of power by Odoacer, who, however, kept the outgoing emperor alive, endowed him with land north of present-day Naples in Campania, and ordered the payment of an annual annuity of 6,000 solidi (this amount is roughly the annual income of a Roman senator). He lived in the villa Castellum Lucullanum.

Odoacer made himself king and assumed the title of rex, officially assuming command of the troops in the region. He ruled officially under the sovereignty of Constantinople. Julius Nepos, at the turn of 479 and 480, planned an expedition with the support of the Ostrogoths to regain the throne in the west, but his murder thwarted his ambitious plans.

  1. This year, Gaius Octavian receives the titles of Princeps and Augustus, recognizing him as the most important citizen in the state. Some say the beginning of the new regime was 30 BCE, when Egypt became a Roman province, and Octavian no longer had a rival to power.
  2. Velleius Paterculus, Roman history, 2.88
  3. Cassius Dio, Roman history, 54.3
  4. Wellejusz Paterkulus, Roman history, 2.91-92
  5. Cassius Dio, Roman history, 59.20
  6. Suetonius, Caligula, 27
  7. Suetonius, Claudius, 13
  8. Tacyt, Annales, 11.26–38; Kajusz Dion, Historia rzymska 60. 31.1–5
  9. Tacyt, Annales, 15.48–74
  10. Plutarch, Galba, 8-9
  11. Cassius Dio, Roman history, LXVI.19.3
  12. Suetonius, Domicjan, 6
  13. Cassius Dio, Roman history
  14. Herodian, Roman History, 6.1.9-10
  15. Epitome de Caesaribus, 24.2
  16. Herodian, Roman History, 7,1,9-10
  17. Aurelius Victor, Liber de Caesaribus, 29.3
  18. Aurelius Victor, Liber de Caesaribus, xxxv 6
  19. Zosimos, New History
  20. Zosimos, New History
  • Edward Gibbon, Upadek Cesarstwa Rzymskiego na Zachodzie
  • Edward Gibbon, Zmierzch Cesarstwa Rzymskiego, Warszawa 1975
  • Peter Heather, Upadek Cesarstwa Rzymskiego, Poznań 2007
  • Historia Powszechna t. 5. Epoka Augusta i Cesarstwo Rzymskie, kons. prof. dr hab. E. Papuci-Władyka, prof. dr hab. J. Ostrowski
  • Aleksander Krawczuk, Poczet cesarzy rzymskich, Warszawa 2004
  • Ronald Syme, Augustan Aristocracy
  • Ronald Syme, Rewolucja rzymska, Poznań 2009
  • Wikipedia

IMPERIUM ROMANUM needs your support!

If you like the content that I collect on the website and that I share on social media channels I will be grateful for the support. Even the smallest amounts will allow me to pay for further corrections, improvements on the site and pay the server.



Find out more!

Check your curiosity and learn something new about the ancient world of the Romans. By clicking on the link below, you will be redirected to a random entry.

Random curiosity

Random curiosity

Discover secrets of ancient Rome!

If you want to be up to date with newest articles on website and discoveries from the world of ancient Rome, subscribe to the newsletter, which is sent each Saturday.

Subscribe to newsletter!

Subscribe to newsletter

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: