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Claudius II Gothicus

(214-270 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Claudius II Gothicus

Marcus Aurelius Claudius

Ruled as

Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Claudius Augustus


268-270 CE


214 CE


270 CE

Coin of Claudius II Gothicus

Conqueror of the throne after the death of Galienus, Emperor – a soldier from Illyricum. His short reign went down in golden letters in the history of Rome. He ended the usurpation of Aureulos, defeated the Alamans, and finally became famous for crushing the Goths, hence his nickname – Gothic. The first emperor in many years to die a natural death instead of swords. He was remembered so well that the entourage of the future emperor Constantine tried to derive their princeps from his family.

Marcus Claudius

Born on May 10, 214 (most likely annual date). He was from Illyricum. He started the line of several emperors – soldiers coming from this province. Thanks to his dedicated service, as a very talented officer, he achieved the highest dignities in the army.

He reigned as Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius from 268 to 270 CE.

Death of Galien

As a higher commander in Galien’s army, he participated in the siege of Milan, in which the usurper Aureulos locked himself. When the emperor was murdered as a result of a conspiracy of the highest-ranking officers, it was Marc Claudius who was entrusted with the purple. According to many researchers, including Professor Aleksander Krawczuk, Claudius at least knew about the plot against Galien, and probably even participated in it. However, when the conspirators realized that the murdered emperor enjoyed much greater esteem among the soldiers than previously expected, they put a lot of work to create the image of the new emperor as a person completely in a conspiracy and unaware of the threat to Galien. In order to strengthen this message, Claudius suspended the self-judgments against the family and supporters of his predecessor in Rome and forced the senate to deify him (which must have been a considerable achievement, due to the sheer hatred that the senators had towards the murdered).

Claudius ended the siege of Milan through negotiations. Aureulos, a previously distinguished commander in the Alps defending access to Italy against enemies, surrendered his arms in exchange for guarantees of personal safety. However, the usurper died as a result of the riots that broke out in the besieging camp.

The Alaman invasion

Alarming news reached the emperor near Milan – the Germanic Alamans took advantage of the Roman army’s involvement in suppressing the rebellion in Italy and, breaking the limes on the upper Danube, broke into the lands of the Empire, defeating Roman troops trying to resist the invaders. Taking advantage of their success, the Germans crossed the Alpine passes and entered northern Italy. There, on Lake Benacus (now Lake Garda), Claudius caught them, inflicting a severe defeat.

Against the Alamans, Claudius set out straight from Mediolanum, so he entered Rome as emperor only in the fall of CE 268 and did not stay in the capital for more than a few months.

Empire Divided

The reign of Claudius II found the Empire divided into 3 parts: the first encompassed Italy, the Balkan provinces and the Roman “Africa”, then the Imperium Galliarum the usurper Postumus and the third – the East, from Asia Minor to Egypt, ruled by the ruler Palmyra Odenat. Claudius withdrew from military actions against usurpers in the East and West, especially since they did not pose a threat to the emperor at that moment: Odenat was killed, he was formally replaced by his son – Wabalat, and in fact his wife – Queen Zenobia, and from the Gallic Empire it was seriously weakened: first the Spanish provinces separated from it, returning to the authority of the rightful emperor, and then the rebellious territory was shaken by a rebellion (in fact there was a usurpation against the usurper), Postumus was killed in the fight, and his place was taken by co-ruler with him for some time, Marcus Piawonius Wiktoryn.

War with the Goths

Claudius postponed the deal with the old usurpers for a better time – in early 269 in the north, a new threat had crystallized. Great hosts of Goths and Herulas related to them gathered at the Black Sea, at the mouth of the Dniester. The barbarians have gathered to launch the most powerful seagoing expedition to date against the Roman lands. According to Zosimos, the Goth fleet was to be 6,000 units, on board of which were carried 320,000 people.

The Romans learned about the enemy’s plundering intentions and secured themselves very well. Cities on the Black Sea coast, incl. Tomi and Martianopolis in Moesia were strongly fortified, so that the Gothic fleet, despite its power, was unable to sack any of them. The invaders attacked Byzantium, but also to no avail. With no intention of returning without booty prey, the armada moved south along the shores of the Aegean Sea. Storms and strong winds tugged at the barbarian ships, sending many of them to the bottom, and many of them sank as a result of collision damage and rocks. The still strong army landed at Thessalonica and besieged the city. Even siege engines were used. It is not known whether the siege had a chance of success, because the attackers, as soon as they learned about the Roman army marching against them, led by the emperor himself, withdrew from the walls.

Indecisiveness in the Gothic camp resulted in the division of the barbarian horde into two groups – the first, unhappy with the results of the expedition, boarded ships and continued south, determined to get the loot of her dreams; the other, on the other hand, went north overland, with the intention of reaching the Danube and returning to its own lands. The emperor decided to counter both threats. So he divided the army into two corps, sending Aureliano at the head of his cavalry to respond to the actions of the barbarian fleet, while himself, at the head of mainly foot forces, he blocked the path to the Danube.

Gothicus Maximus

The decisive battle against the land-marching barbarians was fought at Naissus in Upper Moesia. Roman troops led personally by the emperor, less numerous than their opponents, massacred the Goths. The victory was really great – according to reports, there were 50,000 dead barbarians left on the battlefield. The rest scattered in the nearby mountains, and it took the Romans a long time to catch them.

The Gothic fleet, on the other hand, continued south along the Little Asian shores. It ravaged the coasts, but the cities, aware of the threat, strengthened the defenses and remained intact. Eventually, they were overtaken by the Roman fleet led by Probus, governor of Egypt. The Romans crushed a barbaric armada and its scattered ships were methodically intercepted and completely destroyed.

The victory over such a mighty expedition of the Goths and Heruls was complete. It took many years for them to recover from such a miserable defeat, successfully securing this part of the limes. After such a brilliant victory, largely a personal success of the emperor, Claudius assumed the – fully deserved – nickname Gothicus Maximus.


After defeating the Goths, Claudius II marched to Sirmium. There, in a large military camp, death found him, most likely as a result of a plague that had been ravaging the lands of the Empire for decades. It was the first, since Septimius Severus, the natural death of a wearer of the purple. Claudius was succeeded by his brother, Quintillus, whom the emperor left in Aquileia to guard the Alpine passages to Italy; he was chosen by the enate. The successor took the title of Marcus Aurelius Claudius Quintillus. The one, however, abandoned by the soldiers after the army had chosen Aurelian as emperor, committed suicide, most likely after only a few months of reign.

Author: Krzysztof Kaucz (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Maria Jaczynowska, Historia Starożytnego Rzymu
  • Aleksander Krawczuk, Poczet Cesarzy Rzymskich. Dominat
  • Zosimous, Nowa historia
  • Zdjęcie monety: ⒸSanglierFSE

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