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(c. 210 - October 253 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Emperor Aemilianus

Marcus Aemilius Aemilianus

Ruled as

Imperator Caesar Marcus Aemilius Augustus


253 CE


c. 210 CE.


October 253 CE

Coin of Aemilianus

Marcus Aemilius Aemilianus was born around 210 in the province of Mauritania. Most likely he was a professional soldier. And that’s pretty much all we know about the life of the later usurper before 253 CE.


During the reign of Trebonian Gallus Scythians, Goths, Carpi, Borani and Urugundi rushed into the borders of the Empire, ravaged provinces, murdering the population or kidnapping them into slavery. As per Zosimos, they captured every city without fortifications and most of the cities were secured by walls. The eastern provinces were invaded by the Persian army. And all this with the passivity of the emperor who did not leave Rome. As if the war wasn’t enough, a terrible plague fell on the population, sowing death in towns and villages for several years.

In 253, Marcus Aemilius Emilian has placed governor of Moesia, a position he received from Trebonian Gallus as his successor, after Trebonian was hailed as emperor by the army following his death of Decius at the Battle of Abrittus. Emilian’s commander was gifted, he managed to persuade his subordinate soldiers (Zosimos described them as timid) to an increased effort and to face the barbarians. He defeated the Goths on Roman soil and then was to cross them to the banks of the Danube, destroying everything he encountered there. Thus, he drove the aggressors beyond the borders of the Empire.


In recognition of his services, the soldiers presented him with the purple. Certainly not without significance here was the passivity of the Trebonian at a time when the state was plunging into crisis. Emilian reigned as Emperor Caesar Marcus Aemilius Augustus. When news of this event reached Rome, the Senate declared him a public enemy.

The changeling could only count on the legions under his command so far because the armies of the Rhine and the Upper Danube were hostile towards him, and the troops in Pannonia waited for the outcome of the struggle for the throne in Rome. Aware of the weakness of his forces, Emilian decided without delay to go to Italy and overthrow the emperor before he could consolidate his faithful forces. August 253 found him on the western side of the Alps.

When news of Emilian’s usurpation reached the High Rhine, loyal to the legitimate emperors Publius Licinius Valerian headed the Legions of Retia and Germania to Rome to defend the rightful rulers. However, he was not given the time to help him.

Trebonian and his son Volusian, having learned about Emilian’s entry into Italy, and having gathered all available forces, blocked his way. However, due to the fact that at that time Italy was not stationed with too serious troops, the disproportion between the armies of the legal emperors and the usurper must have been significant. The meeting took place near the town of Interamna. However, before the armed clash took place, the soldiers of Trebonian and Volusian, aware of Emilian’s advantage, killed both emperors and went over to the usurper.

Victory in the Short Term

The Senate gave the winner all the powers, but his joy could not last long – soon Valerian’s enormous army entered the Italian lands, intending to avenge the murdered emperors. Emilian, at the head of his troops, set off to meet the intervener. When in October 253 the two armies met at the Spolecjum, the recent history repeated itself – Emilian’s soldiers, aware of the enemy’s advantage, killed their leader and went over to the victor’s side – this is how Emilian’s 88-day reign ended.

Author: Krzysztof Kaucz (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Aleksander Krawczuk, Poczet Cesarzy Rzymskich: Dominat, Warszawa 1991
  • Zosimos, Nova Historia
  • Photo of the coin: CoinArchives, LLC

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