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.


(218 - 268 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)


Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus

Ruled as

Imperator Caesar Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus Augustus


253 – 268 CE


218 CE


268 CE

Coin of Gallienus

Gallienus was born in 218 CE as Publius Licinius Egnatius. He was the son of Valerian I, with whom he co-ruled from 253. In 260 CE he took over the independent rule after his father got into Persian captivity during the Battle of Edessa. According to ancient sources, the Persian king – Shapur – used the captured emperor as a footstool when mounting a horse. 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.

His first wife – Pipa was the daughter of the Marcomanni king. With his wife, Salonina he had sons: Valerian II (murdered around 257 CE; co-ruled in 253-257 CE) and Saloninus (murdered 260 CE; he co-ruled in the years 258 – 260 CE). The marriage with Salonina is, among imperial marriages, an uncommon example of the spouses’ exceptional fidelity and compatibility. During his reign, chaos reigned in the empire, but the emperor tried with all his strength to control it. Gallienus was keenly interested in philosophical issues, being a friend of Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism.

Background of events

In the 60s of the 3rd century CE, the crisis of the empire reached its apogee. The empire that was attacked from many sides was practically at the mercy of the Persians and of the increasingly repeated expeditions of the Germans for spoils. Shapur’s bold moves and the chaos on the Germanic border favoured the emergence of new usurpations, which erupted with even greater force after Valerian was taken prisoner. The empire was at the stage of the most profound decay of military structures in many provinces as a result of the Severan reforms (the Severus dynasty). 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 Septimius Odenat counted primarily on the separation of their provinces from the rest of the state, which was to give them broad economic independence in a short time. and military.


In 253 CE, legionaries proclaimed 58-year-old Valerian I emperor. At the end of 253 CE, the Senate confirmed the election of Valerian as emperor. Valerian appointed his son Gallienus (he was 35) as a co-emperor in charge of the western part of the empire. Its main task was to protect the European provinces from barbarian invasions from across the great border rivers. However, he was not very successful in this field. He managed to some extent to secure the Rhine line, where he defeated the Alamans. He took the nickname Germanicus Maximus, and the inscription Restitutor Galliarum (“Restorer of the Gallic Provinces”) was stamped on the coins. In the summer of 257 or 258 CE, the Alamans broke the Danube line and reached the area of Mediolanum, where many packs were prowling and spreading panic. Gallienus defeated the barbarians at the battle of Mediolanum, where the new cavalry formations (comitatus) introduced by Gallienus proved useful; they outnumbered traditional infantry. Comitatenses were heavy cavalry that became the main tactical force of the imperial Roman army. A large role in the battle was also played by Marcus Acylius Aureolus, who was one of the most talented commanders of the emperor.

Self reign

During one of the wars with Persia, when the Persians occupied Mesopotamia, Valerian went against their leader, King Shapur I. According to chroniclers, in 260 CE, the emperor was captured during the battle of Edessa, captured by Shapur during truce negotiations. From that moment on, Gallienus was the single ruler of the empire. In 260 CE he issued an Edict of Tolerance to end the persecution of Christians. Following this document, the emperor issued a letter to the bishops of Egypt in 262 CE, in which he addressed the clergy. The edict granted the clergy the right to proclaim the word of God and to have their own cemeteries. The issuance of such ordinances came as a big surprise to Christians, who expected Gallienus to continue the policy of his father, who had issued two edicts on the persecution. By issuing these ordinances, Gallienus was looking for a way to alleviate the bad attitude of society towards Christians, as well as to attract a Christian recruit. Moreover, Gallienus argued that one cannot force religious beliefs.

The main problem that the emperor had to deal with throughout his reign was usurpations in various parts of the Empire. Particularly strong separatist tendencies appeared in the Danubian provinces, where contenders began to emerge at the end of the joint reign of Valerian and Gallienus. In 258 CE the governor of Pannonia Ingenuuswas proclaimed emperor. The revolt of his subordinate troops probably also affected the inhabitants of Pannonia and Moesia, outraged by insufficient protection against invasions of foreign tribes. The imposition of Ingenuus on the emperor by the soldiers of these provinces was a pretext for the people of these provinces to express their views through the support of the usurper. The reasons for such assumptions are the circumstances in which Gallienus dealt with the usurper. As the description in “Historia Augusta” shows, the emperor very quickly came to Pannonia to suppress the usurpation. In the battle of Mursia or Sirmium issued to the usurper, the emperor defeated the pretender, and then: “He exerted his fury on all the Moesians, both soldiers and ordinary inhabitants”.

Postumus’ Mutiny

Arch of Gallienus was dedicated to him rather than erected by him.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

More serious problems for Gallienus appeared in Gaul, which from 258 CE was formally administered by his son, Publius Licinius Cornelius Salonin. The emperor settled him in Cologne on the Rhine and left him in the care of the praetorian prefect Silvian, who was in charge of the province on behalf of the young Caesar. In connection with the ongoing battles at the front in Mogontiacum, another ambitious officer, Marcus Cassianus Latinius Postumus, made himself known. Probably in the summer of 260 CE, a conflict broke out between Postumus and Sylvian over the division of the spoils captured from the conquered Germans. Postumus believed that they should be divided among the soldiers, while his opponent was in favour of sending them to the treasury. In this situation, Postumus easily aroused a revolt among his troops and led them to Cologne. After conquering the city, he immediately murdered Gallienus’s son – Salonina – and his guardian.

It turned out that the next usurpation would be slightly different from the previous ones. The emperor’s anxiety could have been caused by the area that was subject to Postumus, because, apart from Gaul, the Spanish and British provinces immediately surrendered to him. Postumus decided to prevent the instability of his rule, and to this end, he attached great importance to the expansion of the administration. When Gallienus led to a “little revolution” in the staffing by depriving them of senators, Postumus continued to trust and favour the legates of the curia. An example of such practices was the official Octavius ​​Sabinus, governor of Great Britain in 260-266 CE. In addition, Postumus appointed his own consuls. The centre of his power became Trier, where he established his residence. Much about the policy pursued by Postumus can be explained by coins minted mainly in Lugdunum, Cologne and Trier. On their backs are legends such as ROMA AETERNAE and PAX AVG, which suggest that the usurper strives to emphasize his concern for the empire’s power and to ensure the security of its citizens.

Compared to other usurpers who appeared on the border with the Germans, Postumus distinguished two features. First, the usurper decided not to march with the army to Italy, or to show hostility to Gallienus. His power was primarily of a local nature, which the changeling tried to preserve as long as possible. The second factor was the support of the population. None of the predecessors gained such broad acceptance of the inhabitants, who knew that Postumus was a guarantee of safety for them. How important for the usurper was the support of the people of Gaul is the coin with the legend INDVLG PIA POSTVMI AVG, showing a usurper in a toga sitting on a throne, stretching his hand towards the kneeling figure. In order to gain as much support as possible, Postumus devoted himself to the defence of the Rhine areas. In 261 CE the ruler took the nickname Germanicus Maximus. He was very successful in fighting the Franks, whose plundering expeditions reached deeper and deeper into the area of ​​the Gallic provinces. The barbarians even reached the Levantine coasts of Spain, ravaging the province of Tarragona. According to ancient sources, in 262 they also captured Tarragona itself.

Postumus made propaganda through coins. On the one hand, they expressed the usurper’s love of senatorial traditions, which is primarily related to the coins on the reverse of which he placed legends describing the offices he held. Another important element on the coins he minted were references to mythology through the images of Hercules or Diana on the reverse of the coins. At the beginning of his reign, Gallienus was forced to tolerate the rule of Postumus in the western provinces. Although this posed a major threat to the central government, Gallienus took considerable advantage of the situation. Thanks to Postumus, the emperor did not have to rush to defend Gaul from the Franks and could devote his attention to the eastern and Danube provinces, which could not free themselves from the ferment of self-proclaimed rulers appearing there.

Macrianus’ Raid

Wife of Emperor Gallienus – Salonina. Their marriage is, among imperial marriages, an uncommon example of the spouses’ exceptional fidelity and compatibility.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

Soon after the death of Ingenuus, another usurper Regalian appeared in Illyricum, carried out by soldiers serving until recently Ingenuus. According to the author of “Historia Augusta”, the usurper even won several victories over the Sarmatians but was soon killed by the inhabitants of Moesia, who feared another pacification by Gaul. A more complicated situation took place in the eastern provinces of the Empire, systematically subordinated by Shapur. The Persian king captured Tarsus and Antioch, but his further march was stopped by a new usurper Macrianus, who managed to rush his troops. Macrianus even began preparations for an expedition against the emperor. He proclaimed his two sons as co-ordinates: Macrianus and Quietus. Hoping that he would easily defeat the emperor hated by society, Macrianus left Syria with his namesake son and entered Europe through Asia Minor.

The empire was once again on the brink of civil war, and the only rightful heir to power was earnestly seeking supporters in the coming battle. The chieftain who sided with Gallienus was the aforementioned Illyrian cavalry commander, Aureolus. He organized a defence against the incoming Macrianus. Usurper along with 40 thousand. After invading Thrace, he immediately joined the fight with the troops of Aureolus. Macrianus was finally defeated in a battle fought in an unspecified location on the border between Thrace and Illyria. The trusted commander of Aureolus, Domitian, earned merit in these fights.

In the east, however, two usurpers Quietus and Ballista remained. In addition to them, on the eastern fringes of the Empire, another, much stronger contender appeared, Septimius Odenat. However, the ruler of Palmyra, who came from a high line, maintained an ambiguous position. As a result of the defeat of Valerian, he decided to ally himself with the Persian king. To this end, in 260 CE he sent a message to him, which was met with hostility. Shapur, indignant that he would deal with the Roman emperor’s subject, refused to make any deals and ordered Odenat to submit to him. In this situation, the rulers of Palmyra had no choice but to remain loyal to Gallienus.

On the news of the persisting usurpations of Quietus and Ballista, probably in the fall of 261 CE, Odenat set out against them and defeated them at Emesa. Following these successes, Septimius undertook the liberation of Mesopotamia and the unblocking of trade routes to the Persian Gulf. To this end, he began an expedition to Mesopotamia in 262 CE. According to the account contained in the “Historia Augusta”:

He was accompanied by his wife Zenobia, an elder son named Herodes, and younger sons Herenian and Timolaus. First he conquered Nisbis and much of the east along with all of Mesopotamia, then conquered the king himself and forced him to flee. Eventually, pursuing Sapor himself and his sons to Ctesiphon, he captured the concubines, won great loot, and returned to the East.

Informal division of the empire

The country is informally split into three parts: Gallic provinces governed by Postumus; Italy and the African provinces under Gallienus, and East under Odenat’s control. Raising his own prestige Odenat owed in part to Gallienus, who for his merits gave him several titles such as: corector totius Orientis – “repairmen of the whole East”, or in 262 CE: emperor and dux Romanorum. In the case of the ruler of Palmyra, economic and military independence was under the control of the emperor. In 265 CE, the emperor confronted Postumus, which ended in the defeat of Gallienus. The protracted campaign gave no results, and during the siege of one of the Gallic cities, the emperor was wounded by an arrow. The discouraged ruler gave up further fighting with Postumus and returned to Rome waiting for the favourable development of events in Gaul.

The years CE 264-266 were the best time for Gallienus to solve many problems of the state and to shape his image in the best possible way in the eyes of citizens. The most characteristic of Gallien’s reign was military reform. It consisted of fundamental changes in administration. Revoked senators command positions in the military and provinces and then transferred to equites. The emperor also set up large cavalry units (vexillationes), which were to be more effective in the fight against the enemy. The coins with the legends EQVIT, EQVITUM prove how much the emperor believed in the strength of the cavalry serving in the reserve army. The commanders of equitas units gained an extremely high position in the state. Among them were many outstanding commanders who in the future achieved imperial dignities, such as Aurelian, Karus or Probus.

After gaining independent reign in 260 CE, Gallen arranged for his two sons to be consecrated: Valerian II (Divus Valerianus), who died in 258 CE, and Salonin (Divus Saloninus), killed in 260 CE, the Senate also consecrated Father Valerian (Divus Valerianus), which could have been a hasty decision as it was not certain whether the kidnapped emperor died immediately after the abduction. However, on the news of his father’s kidnapping, Gallienus was said to have said: “I knew that my father was a mortal man.”

The emperor often referred to the traditions of the principate and the person of Augustus by means of coins. He emphasized it on coins with the legend of DEO AVGUSTO. There was a religious accent on Princeps’ money related to the deity Sol. The emperor often referred to this deity, implying that he had a special part in his victories. Often on the reverse of the coins, the emperor was depicted next to the figure of the sun. In addition to this cult, the emperor emphasized his piety through other emissions, on which gods and heroes such as Juno, Diana, Jupiter, Hercules and Mars appeared.

The period of several years of “peace” ended in 267 CE. The borders of the Empire were once again crossed by barbarians. Then there was an invasion of the Herul tribe, who crossed the Black Sea and reached the mouth of the Danube. Gallienus mobilized to defend the chieftains Cleodam and Athenaeus, who prepared the cities and fought victorious battles with the barbarians in the area of ​​Pontus. The Empire was also attacked by the Goths, who ravaged almost all of Greece, invaded the Peloponnese, sacked the islands of Lemnos, Skyros and conquered Athens. The organized barbarians decided to concentrate the troops in the territory of Moesia, but the emperor warned them, confronting them in conjunction with commander Marcian. They both gave the barbarians a battle on the Nestos River. It ended with the expulsion of the Goths from the provinces, who then returned to their homes.

In 268 CE there was another usurpation. The emperor was declared to be one of the closest commanders of Gallienusa Acinius Aureolus, who had previously participated in the Emperor’s trial with Ingenuus. After the revolt of his troops, Aureolus took Mediolanum. Upon learning of this, the emperor made a decision to attack the pretender. Upon arrival, the city was besieged, but its capture was a difficult task. A confrontation with Aureolus completed Gallienus’s reign. A conspiracy of higher officers (the prefect of the Herkalian praetorium; officers: Marcian, Claudius, Aurelian and Cecrops) was set up against the emperor, who decided to exterminate him. On the initiative of the Dalmatian leader Cerkopius, it was decided to lure the emperor from his tent with information about the approaching army of Aureolus. Gallienus ran outside in full combat readiness. Then the murderers were sent to kill the ruler.

Died in 268 CE. After death, counted as a god as Divus Gallienus. Gallienus’s reign should be assessed positively. His reign fell during a period of constant revolts, invasions and usurpations. Gallienus tried to rationally resolve conflicts in the state, strengthen internal structures and maintain the relative unity of the empire. He realized that there was no chance of a solution to the problem of the division of the empire by force; therefore he tried to maintain the balance and position of the empire.

Negative grades

Ancient historians, especially Roman historians, who resented the emperor for carrying out reforms that hurt senators, cast a very negative light on Gallienus’ reign. Gallienus deprived the senators of all positions in the army, which was why he was very negatively presented by historians coming from the senatorial layer. However, this move was to bring great results – the uneducated patricians were replaced by professional soldiers. His biographer was particularly unfavourable to the emperor, as he gives in his “Historia Augusta” a number of examples of Gallien’s immoral behaviour. He portrayed him as a libertine basking in luxury. Aurelius Victor, on the other hand, draws attention to the overwhelming influence of women on the emperor and his loss in the arms of the Germanic mistress, Pipa. The rise of women to power in his time was to be synonymous with the collapse of the state. They played a special role at a time when the emperor was becoming crueller and crueller.
Interestingly, Greek historians are not so negative about Gallienus.

  • Iwaszkiewicz Piotr, Łoś Wiesław, Stępień Marek, Władcy i wodzowie starożytności. Słownik, Warszawa 1998
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzowych Rzymu, Warszawa 2001
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzy rzymskich, Warszawa 2004
  • Source of the bust photo: English Wikipedia, original upload 31 March 2005 by ChrisO
  • Coin photo source:

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: