Posted by Powee Celdran
Welcome back to another article from The Byzantium Blogger! It’s been a long time since I last posted something and you wonder if I’m still alive or what, but here I am with a new article for all of you to read. This here will be another article on Roman and Byzantine emperors except unlike the many previous ones I made, this one will not focus on the emperors we know like Augustus Caesar, Trajan, Constantine the Great, and Justinian the Great but of those whose named are never really found in the history books. This article will rather focus and mention names of the Roman and Byzantine emperors that we never heard of or aren’t considered legitimate emperors in the history books. The emperors here will mostly be either men who were named emperors including family members who were co-emperors but aren’t heard of that much as they are not so vital in history, emperors who were actually in power but were not considered legitimate rulers as they were enemies of the state, emperors who actually took power but remain to be usurpers, and would be usurpers against reigning emperors who came so close to ruling the empire but were defeated before they could take the throne. This article will be written simply and in a list format going by names of emperors which begins in the time of the early days of the Roman Empire after its formation by Augustus in 27BC and ending in the year 695 in the Byzantine era. Take note, this article will be a 2-part series as it will be too long to mention all the names of unknown and would-be emperors from 27BC to 1453. On the other hand, this list would not go on for so long because not all emperors of Rome and Byzantium had another person challenging them or being crowned emperor at the same time but this article will also try its best to name emperors you have never heard of and some others you might have heard of but are not given so much attention to like for example Lucius Verus who was emperor Marcus Aurelius’ co-emperor for the longest time and the rest will include sons or brothers of emperors who were made co-emperors of their fathers or brothers and rebel leaders who tried to claim the throne or if not already were proclaimed emperor by their troops. This article too will feature emperors of the Roman Empire and of its successor empires the Eastern and Western Roman Empires other Roman emperors who did not rule from Rome such as the Gallic emperors from 260-274AD, the rulers of the breakaway Roman Empire of Palmyra at the same time, other co-rulers of the Roman Tetrarchy between 286 and 325, puppet emperors of the Western Roman Empire, and Roman and Byzantine usurpers, but not rulers of Roman successor states like Soissons in the 5th century as it was just an independent Roman state that was born out of the empire but not one ruled by an actual emperor. In addition, other records like the Historia Augusta mention some names of usurping emperors who may have not existed so these names will not be mentioned in this article. This article too will be divided into sections each with a list of lesser known and would be emperors of that period which will begin with the early Principate exactly at the year 42AD with the first would-be but failed Roman emperor. The list then goes on but will have more volume when getting to the Crisis of the 3rd Century era wherein the Roman Empire had numerous usurpers and pretenders and also in the 5th century Western Roman Empire and Byzantine period after the 6th century as from then on there would be many to challenge the power of the emperor. Again, before starting, the Byzantine Empire though being located in the east with Constantinople as its capital and becoming culturally and linguistically Greek overtime is still considered the continuation of the Roman Empire as the capital moved east to Constantinople and so did the seat of the Roman emperor.
To learn more the emperors of the Roman Empire including lesser known ones, please follow Roman Emperors on Instagram, some images in this article come from there as well.
Also subscribe to Dovahhatty on Youtube to learn more about the Unbiased History of Rome in which many of its videos will be linked in this article. Some information in this article and many of the images of different characters of ancient Rome which are rare online were taken from this channel. Also, the finale of Unbiased History has just been released, so to not spoil you about it, nothing of that episode is featured here. Watch it here if you want to see the finale The Fall of Rome.
Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:
I. The Early Principate (27BC-235AD)
Camillus Scribonianus (42AD)- In 41AD, Caligula the 3rd emperor of the Roman Empire was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard in a plot led by the Praetorian commander Cassius Chaerea who proceeded to kill Caligula’s wife and child but another division of the Praetorian Guard instead of wanting to finish off the imperial family wanted to replace Caligula with his uncle Claudius who they found hiding behind a curtain and there they proclaimed him emperor. Claudius I at first did not want to become emperor as it was never planned for him but he had to accept it anyway otherwise civil war would break out and as emperor, Claudius’ main goal was to restore order from the bloody and decadent reign of Caligula. Meanwhile in the Roman province of Dalmatia in 42AD, its governor who was the Roman senator Lucius Arruntius Camillus Scribonianus who was considered to be emperor following the assassination led a rebellion against Claudius with his troops in Dalmatia aiming to march on Rome and take over seeing Claudius would not succeed as emperor and as emperor Camillus planned to restore the old authority of the senate. Claudius when hearing of Camillus’ revolt considered abdicating in favor of Camillus but was dissuaded by the senate so Claudius sent an army to Dalmatia to deal with Camillus’ rebellion which was on the other hand made up of new and inexperienced soldiers. Within 5 days in the year 42AD, the legions loyal to Claudius were able to crush Camillus’ rebellion, yet it was never recorded if both forces met in battle or if Camillus just decided to give up on rebelling. However, what actually happened was that after 5 days of rebelling, Camillus’ soldiers refused to obey his orders so Camillus fled to the island of Issa in the Dalmatian coast committing suicide to avoid capture. Now if Camillus actually had the strength and a disciplined army, he would have actually marched against Claudius and overthrow him, thus ending the Julio-Claudian Dynasty in 42AD.
Nymphidius Sabinus (68AD)- The Julio-Claudian Dynasty that ruled Rome lasted until 68AD with Nero as its last emperor. First of all, Claudius I ruled until his death in 54AD and was succeeded by his adopted son Nero who in 68AD was made an enemy of the state turned against by the Praetorian Guard and senate and the commander of the Praetorian Guard at this time was Nymphidius Sabinus who persuaded the Praetorian Guard to turn against Nero which they did and without support from anyone, Nero fled Rome and committed suicide to avoid capture. With Nero dead, the army and senate proclaimed Galba, the governor of Hispania as a candidate for the throne so Galba marched from Hispania to Rome but when Nymphidius heard of this, he acted quick and instead declared himself the new emperor and Nero’s successor claiming to be the illegitimate son of Emperor Caligula (born in 35AD), Nero’s uncle, thus being Nero’s cousin, although others say Nymphidius may have been the son of a gladiator and a freedwoman. Nymphidius came close to already becoming emperor as he took Nero’s wife, a man named Sporus who Nero had castrated but the Praetorians instead did not agree with their leader as their emperor and instead switched their support to Galba who was marching on Rome and due to this, they killed Nymphidius before Galba arrived in Rome becoming Rome’s 6th emperor. Galba however did not last long as in the following year (69AD) he was assassinated by his general Otho who took over as emperor but within 3 months he was defeated by the rebel general Vitellius who initially rebelled against Galba forcing Otho to commit suicide, and also in 69AD Vitellius was overthrown and executed by the forces of the new emperor, Flavius Vespasian who founded the Flavian Dynasty.
Terentius Maximus (79-81AD)- During the reign of Vespasian’s son Titus (79-81AD), a usurper came out of nowhere in the east, possibly Syria claiming to be the late emperor Nero reborn, though this man was actually someone named Terentius Maximus but he resembled Nero in appearance and actions and like Nero also sang and played the lyre. Terentius Maximus gained his followers in Asia Minor and set off east marching across the Euphrates River into the Parthian Empire to gain their support to put him on the throne. At first, the Parthian king Artabanus III who was an enemy of Titus chose to support Terentius believing him to be Nero who he would help restore to the Roman throne but when Terentius’ true identity was discovered, he was executed by the Parthians.
Lucius Antonius Saturninus- (89AD) He was a Roman senator and general in Germania during the reigns of the Flavian emperors Vespasian (69-79AD) and his sons Titus (79-81) and Domitian (81-96), but was personally angry at Domitian making him lead a revolt against him in 89AD. In January of 89AD, Saturninus started his revolt against Domitian allying with the Germanic tribes across the Rhine River expecting them to come to his aid. As the Germans attempted to cross the partially frozen Rhine, an accident happened as the river thawed drowning them so without much support, the forces loyal to Domitian arrived in Germania and crushed Saturninus’ revolt executing him. Not much is known about Saturninus as Domitian afterwards had his letters burned.
Lucius Verus (161-169)- Emperor Lucius Verus may not be someone who should be on this list as he was a legitimate emperor but since he is not given that much attention to as Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ co-ruler, he is on this list as for the early part of the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the last of Rome’s 5 good emperors, he shared power with his adoptive brother Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustus who would be the 6th of the 5 good emperors. Both Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius though came from different families and Lucius Verus was born in 130AD, 9 years after Marcus, though both Marcus and Lucius were recognized for their talent by the Roman emperor Hadrian before his death. Hadrian (r. 117-138) had no children to name his heir and it was a challenge for him to find the rightful heir until discovering the young Marcus Aurelius who was already a stoic philosopher at an early age but was still too young to succeed Hadrian so instead Hadrian found another man of talent named Lucius Aelius who however died shortly after being named Hadrian’s successor so instead Hadrian chose to name both Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Aelius’ son Lucius Verus as his successors but both were too young so Hadrian chose to instead adopt a highly skilled Roman senator named Antoninus as his direct successor to serve as a placeholder for the young Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as they mature. As Hadrian died on July 10, 138 Antoninus Pius became emperor on the condition that he adopted both Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as his heirs which he did and Antoninus Pius ruled 23 years of peace until his death. Antoninus Pius then died in 161 and senate at first only wanted to name Marcus Aurelius as the emperor but Marcus obeying the plan of Hadrian and Antoninus would only accept his claim as emperor if he ruled with his adoptive brother Lucius Verus so the senate named both co-emperors making this the first time Rome would be ruled by multiple emperors which, which would be very common later on. In 161, the same year both co-emperors came to power, the king of Parthia Vologases IV declared war on Rome and Marcus Aurelius sent Lucius Verus east to deal with the Parthians though Lucius in the east spent most of his time remaining in cities like Antioch enjoying life sending his legions commanded by generals like Pertinax and Avidius Cassius to battle the Parthians. The war with Parthia had ended in 166 with Rome winning a decisive victory forcing Vologases IV to cede Western Mesopotamia to Rome but as the soldiers returned west, they brought back the Antonine Plague or outbreak of smallpox with them spreading it across the empire. Back in Rome, Marcus Aurelius spent time managing the empire and being dedicated to knowledge while Lucius Verus was the opposite enjoying life by hosting games and parties but still carried out his job in running the empire well. In 168 however, the Macromanni Germanic tribes north of the Danube allied together and invaded Roman borders as the frontier was left undefended with soldiers dying of the plague and in response to this, both Marcus and Lucius decided to head north and push back the Germanic tribes. However, before both co-emperors headed north, Lucius fell ill and died in 169 contracting the Antonine Plague and dying a victim of it leaving the empire for Marcus Aurelius to rule alone.
Avidius Cassius (175)- Following the death of Lucius Verus in 169, Marcus Aurelius had to rule the empire alone and for most of the time, he was in the Danube frontier fighting off Germanic invasions in what was known as the Macromannic War while the Antonine Plague was spreading across the empire. At this time, the Roman-Syrian Gaius Avidius Cassius who previously served as a general under Lucius Verus when campaigning against Parthia became the governor of Egypt. In 175, as Marcus Aurelius was busy at war against the Germanic tribes in the Danube frontier, Avidius Cassius in Egypt received fake news that Marcus Aurelius was dying, though others say Marcus’ wife Faustina the Younger delivered this news to Cassius in Egypt fearing that Marcus would die and her son with him Commodus was too young to rule. Believing Marcus to be already dead, Avidius Cassius also claiming that the Danube legions Marcus commanded chose him as the successor made himself emperor. The eastern provinces of Egypt, Syria, Syria Palaestina, and Arabia Petraea too supported Cassius’ claim and for 3 months Cassius was the unofficial emperor ruling from Alexandria until Marcus Aurelius who was still in the Danube received news of Cassius’ usurpation forcing him to conclude a truce with the Germanic tribes ending the war in order to march to Egypt. When news of Marcus Aurelius being alive reached Cassius in Egypt, a centurion possibly sent by Marcus killed Cassius ending his 3-month rebellion. Marcus Aurelius then ruled until his death in 180 naming his son Commodus as his co-emperor in 177, and it would be Commodus that would succeed his father.
Pescennius Niger (193-194) and Clodius Albinus (193-197)- In the last day of 192, Emperor Commodus was assassinated ending the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty of Rome and the year 193 began with a succession crisis which would be known as the “Year of the 5 Emperors”. The first emperor of the year was the general Pertinax who previously campaigned against the Parthians under Lucius Verus though Pertinax was only named emperor by the Praetorian Guard who he promised bribes to but when discovering the treasury was drained, Pertinax could only pay half to the Praetorians making them demand a full pay, though Pertinax persuaded the Praetorians there was not enough to pay them, the Praetorians out of anger stabbed Pertinax to death ending his only 3-month reign. Looking for a replacement emperor, the Praetorians sold off the throne to the rich Didius Julianus who bought the position of emperor though this action of Julianus triggered a rebellion by 3 Roman generals: Septimius Severus in Pannonia, Clodius Albinus in Britain, and Pescennius Niger in Syria thinking it a joke for someone to buy off the throne. The first of the generals to make it to Italy was Septimius Severus as he was the closest and it was him who deposed and ordered the execution of Julianus also within the year and became the rightful emperor, though both Albinus and Niger still held the claim ending the year 193 with 3 emperors. The 2 rebel emperors’ names were contrasting to each other as the name “Niger” meant black in Latin and “Albinus” meant white in Latin and their nicknames were given to them because Pescennius Niger was born with a black neck and Clodius Albinus had a pale complexion. The Roman-African Septimius Severus now the emperor could not fight both Albinus and Niger at once so immediately after claiming the throne in Rome, Severus at first allied with Albinus and decided to head east and finish off Niger’s rebellion which he knew he could easily defeat as Severus had 16 legions and Niger only having 6 though Niger was already securing the support of eastern governors and had even taken over the port town of Byzantium. The forces of Severus and Niger clashed at the Battle of Issus in the southern coast of Asia Minor on May of 194, the same site where Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in 333BC, though in 194 Severus’ forces defeated Niger’s forces forcing Niger to flee to Parthia but before reaching Parthia, Niger was caught and executed by Severus’ men sending Niger’s head to Severus who was then besieging Byzantium from Niger’s forces which took 2 years for Severus to finally capture the town; Niger’s family too was executed by Severus’ orders. Back in Britain, Clodius Albinus had the support of the British and Hispanic legions, though Severus cut ties with Albinus leading to a war between them. In 196, Albinus marched with his legions across the channel from Britain to Gaul meeting with Severus commanding his massive army at the Battle of Lugdunum in today’s Lyon in February of 197 which would be one of the largest Roman civil war battles. Albinus and Severus though had the same amount of forces but Severus ended up victorious crushing Albinus’ army forcing Albinus to flee and kill himself. With Albinus dead, Severus humiliated him more by riding on his horse across Albinus’ dead body and back in Rome, Severus made sure to damn the legacy of both Niger and Albinus by executing anyone loyal to them, confiscating their property, and giving them to the soldiers.
Geta (211)- Septimius Severus became the sole emperor of the Roman Empire in 197 after defeating Clodius Albinus and set out his ambitions to found a dynasty, the Severan Dynasty naming his eldest son Bassianus also known as Caracalla with his wife Julia Domna as his heir, although Severus and Domna had a younger son Publius Septimius Geta, born in 189, a year after Caracalla’s birth. Geta however, should not be on this list as he was a legitimate Roman emperor although his name is forgotten as he only ruled for a year with his older brother who eliminated him and focused on erasing his memory. With Caracalla named their father’s heir, Geta feeling left out wanted the throne too leading to conflicts with his older brother ever since an early age and as both grew up, they would be so distant from each other that their mother had to constantly mediate their conflicts. To settle the hatred between both brothers, their father Septimius Severus in 209 took both sons to Britain in his campaign against the Picts of Scotland and here Severus decided to name Geta as his successor too to rule together with Caracalla as co-emperors the same way Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus ruled so that a civil war would not break up between the brothers. In early 211, Septimius Severus died in Eboracum (today’s York) making the army proclaim both Geta and Caracalla as co-emperors but on their journey back to Rome both were suspicious with each other travelling their own ways and never staying in the same place and back in Rome, both brothers had the imperial palace divided in two sections and setting barricades between each other, and in fact it was even suggested that both brothers would split the empire in half with Caracalla taking the west and Geta taking the east. To settle the hatred again, their mother organized a peace meeting on December 26, 211 where Caracalla had actually plotted his brother’s death having the Praetorian Guard stab Geta who died in his mother’s arms. Caracalla then as sole emperor damned Geta’s memory erasing his face from every image of his and purged all of Geta’s supporters though Caracalla would be stuck with guilt for killing his brother as he did not hate Geta as much as Geta hated him also making Caracalla not wanting to be reminded of Geta’s murder.
Macrinus (217-218) and Diadumenian (218)- Caracalla ruled for the next 5 years and in his reign he granted citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire so that they could pay taxes but in April of 217, Caracalla’s Praetorian Prefect Marcus Opellius Severus Macrinus, a Berber native of the Roman province of Mauretania (today’s Algeria) masterminded a plot to assassinate Caracalla using a disgruntled soldier who was denied the rank of centurion to stab Caracalla while he stopped to urinate in a road in Syria. The soldier though was shot dead and without anyone for Macrinus and the Praetorians to sell off the throne to, Macrinus declared himself emperor temporarily ending the Severan Dynasty. As emperor, Macrinus could not make it back to Rome as Caracalla earlier had left many conflicts unresolved especially with Parthia, Armenia, and Dacia and since Caracalla broke the peace with the Parthians betraying them, Macrinus had to face the Parthian army at the Battle of Nisibis (217) which did not have a decisive conclusion, instead Macrinus and the Parthian king Artabanus V concluded a peace treaty wherein Macrinus paid off Artabanus instead. Caracalla too had deposed the Armenian king and Macrinus as emperor restored the Armenian king to power, then returned hostages from Dacia back to Dacia but while Macrinus was resolving the conflicts Caracalla created, Caracalla’s aunt Julia Maesa in Emesa (Homs), Syria who was Julia Domna’s older sister was plotting to restore the Severan Dynasty by making her grandson Elagabalus her puppet emperor and getting the 3rd legion to support her cause while Macrinus thinking of establishing his own dynasty elevated his 9-year-old son Diadumenian as his co-emperor in 218. Both forces of Elagabalus and Macrinus clashed outside Antioch where Macrinus’ forces were defeated forcing him to flee to Cappadocia where he was executed, while his son Diadumenian was found nearby in the city of Zeugma (Gaziantep) and executed too. Macrinus would be the first emperor to never set foot in Rome while in office and within only a year, the Severan Dynasty was restored.
Gellius Maximus and Verus (219)- In 219, a year after Elagabalus came to power, the general Gellius Maximus in Syria declared rebellion against Elagabalus as he was ignored by the emperor even if he had captured and executed Macrinus’ son and co-emperor Diadumenian the previous year. At the same time as well and also in Syria, the centurion Verus of the 3rd legion that put Elagabalus in power the previous year also declared rebellion against Elagabalus, after Verus was promoted to the rank of Roman senator. Elagabalus ruling from Rome when discovering these rebellions quickly crushed them and had both Gellius Maximus and Verus executed.
Seius Sallustius (227)- Elagabalus would only reign for 4 years as in 222 his grandmother tired of his degenerate behavior had the Praetorian Guard assassinate Elagabalus and his mother replacing him with Elagabalus’ younger cousin Alexander Severus who was someone easier to manipulate. Alexander was married to Sallustia Orbiana, the daughter of the senator Seius Sallustius who in 227 in Rome attempted to kill Alexander Severus and take the throne from him but when his plot was discovered, his son-in-law the emperor had him executed and his daughter who was the emperor’s wife banished to Libya.
II. Crisis of the 3rd Century (235-285)
Gordian I and Gordian II (238)- The Severan Dynasty would come to an end in 235 never to return again, thus beginning the Crisis of the 3rd Century when the army murdered Emperor Severus Alexander and his mother in their camp in Germania then proclaiming the senior centurion Maximinus Thrax as the new emperor who would spend his 3 year reign never stepping foot in Rome and ruling brutally to raise funds from taxes to pay the army as he spent all his reign campaigning against the Germanic tribes in the north. The senate in Rome would not accept Maximinus Thrax as their emperor so they plotted to kill him twice which failed making Thrax hate the senate even more and down in North Africa in early 238, the people of Carthage rose up in rebellion against the procurator who following Thrax’s order was demanding high taxes from them. The people killed the procurator and turned to their governor, an old man named Gordian- who was born back in 159 during the reign of Antoninus Pius and even married Antoninus’ great-granddaughter- and forced him to be proclaimed emperor to get rid of Thrax, though Gordian feeling he was too old for the job initially did not accept until his son also named Gordian decided to share power with his father, so both were proclaimed co-emperors Gordian I and Gordian II. Both emperors however never set foot in Rome and instead ruled from Carthage but were acknowledged as legitimate emperors by the senate when the senate heard of it, which was what they needed to do in order to challenge Thrax’s authority. Both Gordian I and II would however only rule for 21 days in 238 as the governor of Numidia in North Africa who was loyal to Thrax marched with his legion east to crush the emperors at Carthage and Gordian II was easily defeated and killed in battle on April 12 outside Carthage, and later that day when Gordian I heard of his son’s death, he hanged himself to death.
Pupienus and Balbinus (238)- The emperor Maximinus Thrax was in the German frontier the whole time when Gordian I and II were emperors at Carthage but when hearing that the senate named Gordian I and II co-emperors to challenge him, Thrax thought of marching to Rome to massacre the senate so out of fear, the senate chose to elevate 2 senators, Pupienus and Balbinus as co-emperors again in 238 to challenge Thrax but the people of Rome were unhappy with the two co-emperors so they rioted forcing the two to make Gordian I’s grandson Gordian III who was living in Rome their co-emperor making there be 4 emperors at the same time, the 4th being Thrax who was still away. As the co-emperor Pupienus was preparing to head north to face off Thrax in May, the forces stationed in the city of Aquileia at the entrance of Italy denied Thrax entry making Thrax besiege the city but when food ran out for his soldiers, they killed him out of anger. With Thrax dead, Rome itself descended into chaos as Balbinus failed to maintain public order and the co-emperors began distrusting each other and constantly blaming each other while anarchy and a fire broke out in Rome giving the Praetorian Guard the opportunity to kill them both. In July of 238, the Praetorians seized both Pupienus and Balbinus, dragged them to their camp, and tortured and killed them there leaving Gordian III as the sole ruler at the end of the year of 6 emperors.
Sabinianus (240)- In the year of the 6 emperors (238), the young Gordian III was the only one to survive it but in 240, the new governor of Carthage Marcus Asinius Sabinianus led a revolt against Gordian III even proclaiming himself emperor but his rebellion was crushed by the governor of Mauretania surrendering Sabinianus to imperial authorities, though it is unclear what happened to Sabinianus afterwards.
Pacatianus and Iotapianus (248)- Gordian III though would only last until 244 as he was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard in Syria proclaiming their commander Philip the Arab as Emperor Philip I who in 248 back in Rome celebrated Rome’s 1000th founding anniversary and also made his son Philip II his co-emperor or Caesar but while festivities were ongoing in Rome, the Goths from the north invaded the empire’s Danube frontier for the first time. At the same time as the Goths invaded 2 usurpers rose up against Philip I, the first being the army officer Pacatianus in Moesia along the Danube and the eastern native Iotapianus in Syria who was actually rebelling against Philip I’s brother Priscus who was the military commander of the east that put Philip I in power having Gordian III assassinated, though Priscus was known to impose brutal taxes in the east. Facing two usurpers at the same time, Philip I considered to abdicate telling it to the senate but the senator Decius told Philip those rebellions would fail in no time. Sure enough, Pacatianus’ rebellion failed as he was killed by his own men and Iotapianus though making Antioch his capital ended up losing the next year (249). Philip I however would not last as in 249 he sent Decius to command the troops in Illyria where the troops captured him and dragged him back to Italy in order to overthrow Philip I and his son and when Philip I hearing of this marched his army to face Decius thinking Decius betrayed him, though Decius wanting to reason with Philip was left with no choice but to battle Philip in Italy where Philip and his son were killed making Decius the new emperor. With Decius in power, Iotapianus was eventually killed and Priscus disappeared from the historical record.
Titus Julius Priscus (251)- Decius though was only emperor for 2 years (249-251) but in it he led a large persecution of Christians but his main challenge was facing the Goths that had invaded the Danube. In 251, the Goths reached as far as Philippopolis in Thrace sacking and destroying it while the governor of Thrace Titus Julius Priscus, though not the same Priscus who was Philip I’s brother proclaimed himself emperor probably by conspiring with the Goths in order to challenge Decius. Although right before Priscus could usurp the throne, the senate declared him a public enemy and had him executed.
Herennius Etruscus and Hostilian (251)- In 250, Decius prepared in his campaign against the invading Goths in the Balkans led by their king Cniva and by 251, Decius elevated his older son Herennius Etruscus as his co-emperor who fought alongside his father against the Goths. In June of 251, Decius with his son Herennius led the charge against the Goths confronting them at the Battle of Abritus in today’s Bulgaria though Herennius was shot and killed with an arrow and without time to react, Decius told his men “do not mourn as the death of one soldier is not a great loss to the Republic” in order to keep up his men’s morale but Decius was betrayed by his general Trebonianus Gallus who made a deal with the Gothic king Cniva leaving Decius to be surrounded and killed by the Goths. Gallus was proclaimed emperor by his troops and with the support of Cniva thus paying off Cniva and back in Rome, Gallus as the new emperor made Decius’ younger son Hostilian his co-emperor to mask his betrayal of Decius but in November of 251, Hostilian died of a plague.
Volusianus (251-253) and Aemilian (253)- With Trebonianus Gallus as emperor, he first made Decius’ son Hostilian his co-emperor and his son Volusianus as Caesar but when Hostilian died later in 251, Gallus’ son was made co-emperor. As both Gallus and his son Volusianus ruled, the Goths broke the peace treaty and began invading the Balkans again and the Sassanid Empire which replaced the Parthians raided the east in 252 going as far as capturing Antioch. In the Balkans, the general Aemilian or Aemilianus defeated the Goths becoming popular with his troops that they named him emperor and marched to Italy to depose Gallus and his son. When hearing of Aemilian’s rebellion, Gallus and Volusianus called for the general in the Rhine frontier, Valerian to help them but there was not much time for Valerian to join them so Aemilian arrived in Italy to battle the co-emperors and Gallus’ troops being afraid to face off Aemilian’s larger force killed both Gallus and Volusianus in Umbria and defected to Aemilian. For only 3 months, Aemilian who was a native of North Africa was emperor in Rome as in 3 months, Valerian finally arrived in Italy with an even larger army and with Aemilian’s forces not loyal to him and fearing defeat by Valerian’s forces, they killed Aemilian and defected to Valerian.
Valerian II (256-258)- As Valerian came into Rome proclaimed emperor by the senate in 253 after defeating the usurper Aemilian, his son Gallienus was shortly after made co-emperor to rule the west as Valerian had to head east to deal with the Sassanid threat. In 256 while Gallienus was ruling the west, he made his young son Valerian II Caesar in the Danube to represent the imperial family there as Gallienus had to take care of the Rhine situation as more Germanic tribes, particularly the Franks were invading. However, nothing much is recorded about Valerian II as he was still only 15 or less, so he was placed under the supervision of the governor of the Illyrian provinces Ingenuus, and in 258 Valerian II died out of mysterious circumstances which his father Gallienus blamed it on Ingenuus demoting him.
Saloninus (258-260)- With Valerian II dead, Gallienus made his younger son Saloninus his new Caesar based in Gaul and since Gallienus had to move around the western half of the empire fighting against invasions, Saloninus was based in Cologne to represent the imperial family and under the supervision of the Praetorian Prefect Silvanus and Postumus, a Roman commander who was of Batavian Germanic origin. In 260, Postumus crushed an invading Germanic horde in Gaul and Silvanus demanded that Postumus return the stolen gold back to its owners but instead Postumus used it to pay his legions in rebellion against Saloninus and Silvanus and besieged Cologne. As Postumus’ troops broke into Cologne, they killed both Saloninus and Silvanus leaving Gallienus in a troubled state as both his sons were dead and his father the senior emperor had been captured by the Sassanids.
Ingenuus (260)- In the Danube frontier, its governor Ingenuus who was said to have assassinated Valerian II in 258 led a revolt against Gallienus in 260 proclaiming himself emperor in Sirmium with the support of his legions using the capture of Gallienus’ father Valerian by the Sassanid Persians as his opportunity. Gallienus though who was in Germania at the time headed south to Illyria to face Ingenuus’ forces in battle where with the use of his new cavalry force, Gallienus and his general Aureolus defeated Ingenuus’ forces. Ingenuus died after the battle by drowning himself in a nearby river to avoid capture.
Regalianus (260)- Shortly after Ingenuus tried to seize power but failed, a general in Pannonia named Regalianus rose up in rebellion against Gallienus with his own legions as the Sarmatian hordes were invading Pannonia. Regalianus’ reign however did not last long as he was defeated and killed by the Sarmatians that invaded Pannonia who proceeded to the border of Italy where Gallienus defeated them.
Macrianus Major, Macrianus Minor, and Quietus (260-261)- As Gallienus ruled the west, his father Valerian the senior emperor immediately headed east in 253 to deal with the Sassanid invasions under their king Shapur I, though Valerian’s army would be struck hard by the plague known as the Cyprian Plague but even when struck by the plague, Valerian led his men against the Sassanids at the Battle of Edessa in 260 where they were heavily defeated and Valerian captured and brought into Sassanid territory made into Shapur’s slave. Valerian though left behind his finance officer Macrianus Major and Praetorian Prefect Ballista in Samosata but when hearing of Valerian’s capture and loss of the throne, Macrianus Major used this as his opportunity to make himself emperor and rebel against the sole ruler of the empire, Gallienus and with the support of Ballista, Macrianus Major made his 2 sons Macrianus Minor and Quietus his co-emperors. The Sassanids after defeating Valerian’s forces still remained in the east until the forces of the Roman loyalist ruler of Palmyra Septimius Odaenathus out of nowhere beat the Sassanids driving them back. Meanwhile, Macrianus Major and Minor left Syria to head west and face off Gallienus leaving Ballista and Quietus in Syria and when arriving in Thrace, Macrianus Major and Minor were defeated and killed in battle by Gallienus’ cavalry led by Aureolus. Back in Syria, Ballista and Quietus convinced Odaenathus to join them in betraying Gallienus but being loyal to the both Valerian and Gallienus, Odaenathus executed both Ballista and Quietus for treason. Proving his loyalty, Odaenathus was named the independent ruler of the east by Gallienus tasked with guarding the Roman borders against the Sassanids.
Postumus (260-269)- The Roman commander of Batavian origin Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus came to power in 260 after defeating and killing off Gallienus’ son Soloninus and Praetorian Prefect Silvanus in Cologne, thus capturing it and making it his capital declaring his new Gallic Empire separating from Imperial Rome ruled by Gallienus. The provinces of Gaul, Germania, Britain, and Hispania all joined Postumus’ Gallic Empire as Postumus as these provinces needed protection against the Frankish invasions from the Rhine which Gallienus was slow to respond to but when hearing of Postumus separating from Rome, Gallienus set off to face off Postumus but with too much problems to deal with all over the empire especially after his father’s capture and possible death by around 264, all Gallienus could accomplish in his campaign against Postumus was taking back Raetia. Postumus however ruling his Gallic Empire established its own senate in Cologne but in early 269, one of his top military commanders Laelianus rebelled against him even usurping the Gallic Empire in Mainz, although within only a few months, Postumus was able to capture Mainz and kill Laelianus but Postumus was unable to control his own troops who wanted to sack the city which Postumus did not permit them to do so, this then made his troops turn on him and kill him.
Aemilianus (261-262)- In 261, Gallienus yet again faced another usurper but not in the Rhine or Danube this time, but in Egypt, this usurper was the Prefect of Alexandria Lucius Mussius Aemilianus who shared the same name with the usurping emperor Aemilian in 253 who Valerian defeated. Between 261 and 262, Aemilianus proclaimed himself emperor in Egypt but Gallienus quickly dealt with this rebellion by sending his fleet to Alexandria with an army to defeat Aemilianus who was then captured and strangled in prison in 262.
Aureolus (268)- The Roman commander of Dacian origin Aureolus came into the picture serving under Emperor Gallienus, first defeating the rebel forces of Ingenuus in 260 in Illyria and of Macrianus Major and Minor in 261 in Thrace, then had joined Gallienus in his campaign against Postumus’ Gallic Empire which succeeded in taking back Raetia. In the campaign against Postumus however, Aureolus instead of capturing Postumus allowed him to escape as Aureolus was actually planning to usurp Gallienus who when finding about Aureolus’ actions, removed Aureolus from command of the cavalry replacing him with the Illyrian Claudius; Aurelous was then moved to Raetia to be in charge of the garrison. In 268 while Aureolus was in Raetia, he switched his support from Gallienus to Postumus rising up against Gallienus feeling that Gallienus was more interested in protecting Italy rather than Aureolus’ homeland of Dacia. Aureolus then marched south into Italy taking Mediolanum (Milan) while Gallienus rushed to face him off besieging Milan as well but as the siege was happening, Gallienus was tricked by his Praetorian Guard telling him that Aureolus was preparing to leave Milan and attack Gallienus’ camp. As Gallienus was about to leave and lead the attack, the Praetorian Guard murdered him and proclaimed the cavalry commander as Emperor Claudius II. Aureolus though was still active at this point and when hearing of Gallienus’ death he continued asking for Postumus’ support but when ignored by Postumus, Aureolus instead surrendered to Claudius II and while Claudius was deciding on what to do with Aureolus, the Praetorian Guard simply killed off Aureolus.
Marius (269) and Victorinus (269-271) of the Gallic Empire- As Claudius II was ruling the main empire by 268, Postumus was still in charge of the Gallic Empire from Cologne but in 269 he defeated the usurper Laelianus in Mainz where Postumus was killed by his troops. Following Postumus’ death, the army elected Marcus Aurelius Marius, a soldier who was a blacksmith by trade as the new Gallic emperor and in return he allowed the troops to sack Mainz as Postumus did not allow it. Marius’ reign however only lasted for 2-3 months in 269 while some sources say it was only 2-3 days but within this time, the Gallic Empire’s capital was moved to Trier where Marius would be killed by Postumus’ Praetorian Prefect Marcus Piavonius Victorinus, a native of Gaul who took over as emperor of the Gallic Empire. During Victorinus’ 2-year reign (269-271), Hispania deserted the Gallic Empire proclaiming support for Claudius II rejoining the main empire while Claudius II too took back parts of Gaul up to the Rhone River for the main empire. In early 271, Victorinus was assassinated in Cologne by Attitianus, an officer whose wife he seduced and since Attitianus’ motive was personal and not political, he did not claim the throne so instead Victorinus’ mother Victoria held power for a while until having the legions appoint the governor of Gallia Aquitania Tetricus as the new emperor.
Quintillus (270)- The younger brother of Claudius II Gothicus, Marcus Aurelius Claudius Quintillus is one of the few Roman emperors never heard of or recorded as his reign was very quick although he is still a legitimate Roman emperor and not a usurper. Claudius II died in Sirmium (today’s Serbia) in 270 and with his death, the army with the approval of the senate in Rome elected Claudius’ brother Quintillus as the new emperor who was in Italy at that time. The length of Quintillus’ reign though is unclear as some sources say he ruled for about 6 months but some say he was only emperor for 17 days but as emperor, the task to restore order to the empire was impossible for Quintillus as the Gallic Empire remained separate and Palmyra was declared its own empire too while plague was still spreading across the empire which killed Claudius II and in the Danube, the legions proclaimed their general Aurelian, Claudius’ second-in-command as the new emperor though he allowed the senate to have things their way in this short time period. As Aurelian marched into Italy, his army defeated and deposed Quintillus and some say Quintillus died in battle against Aurelian while some say he committed suicide when defeated.
Vaballathus and Zenobia (267-272) of Palmyra- In 267, Odaenathus the ruler of Palmyra loyal to the empire was mysteriously killed together with his son with his first wife and it is most likely that his second wife Zenobia plotted their deaths to make her son with Odaenathus, Vaballathus the ruler of Palmyra. Since Vaballathus was too young, Zenobia was the de facto ruler of Palmyra and unlike her late husband, she had no loyalty to Rome and instead wanted an independent Palmyrene Empire making the eastern governors switch sides to her in which most did. In 270, Zenobia’s forces conquered Eastern Asia Minor, Arabia, and Egypt from the empire thus declaring the Palmyrene Empire independent from Rome using Claudius II falling ill from the plague for her advantage, even finding common ground with the Sassanid Persian king Shapur I. Shortly after, Aurelian became emperor of Rome and set out to destroy the Palmyrene Empire and restore the east to Rome so in response to Aurelian’s campaign, Zenobia declared herself “empress of the east” and her son “king of kings”. Aurelian’s forces which included the future Roman emperors Probus, Diocletian, and Constantius I defeated Zenobia’s forces led by the general Zabdas outside Antioch in May of 272 and the next day Zenobia’s forces were defeated again outside Emesa. Zenobia with her son then tried to flee to the Sassanid Empire but before that, they were caught and captured by Aurelian’s forces and kept in captivity.
Septimius Antiochus (273) of Palmyra- Although Zenobia and her son Vaballathus were captured by Aurelian, Palmyra being left untouched rose up again in rebellion in the next year (273) led by the nobleman Septimius Antiochus, though when Aurelian heard of this, he returned to Palmyra having the city destroyed and restoring the whole area back to Roman rule, Antiochus though was spared by Aurelian.
Tetricus I and Tetricus II (271-274) of the Gallic Empire- In 271, the Gallic emperor Victorinus was assassinated by an angry husband whose wife Victorinus tried to seduce though the husband did not try to claim the throne as his motive was personal, instead Victorinus’ mother Victoria held power for a while until appointing the governor of Gallia Aquitania Gaius Pius Esuvius Tetricus as the new Gallic emperor. Tetricus I as emperor made his young son Tetricus II his co-emperor while Aurelian being the emperor of the main empire was finishing off the Palmyrene Empire in the east. Once Palmyra was restored to the Roman Empire in 273, Aurelian headed west to finish off the Gallic Empire and in early 274, the forces of Tetricus I and Aurelian met at the Battle of Chalons in France where Tetricus was easily defeated and surrendered to Aurelian making the whatever remained of the Gallic Empire including all of Gaul, Germania, and Britain return to Roman rule. Together with Zenobia and her son, Tetricus and his son were paraded in Rome during Aurelian’s triumph. Zenobia though was either executed by Aurelian or allowed to live peacefully in Rome but Tetricus was surely allowed to live peacefully though dying in the same year but the fate of his son Tetricus II remains unknown.
Ulpia Severina (275)- With the Palmyrene and Gallic Empires destroyed and restored to the Roman Empire, Aurelian received the title of Restitutor Orbis or “Restorer of the World” but what is lesser known is that he had a wife named Ulpia Severina, a descendant of Roman emperor Trajan (r. 98-117) ruling as his empress. In 275, as Aurelian was heading east again, while stopping in Thrace he was assassinated when his secretary revealed false information to his soldiers killing Aurelian in a panic but when the soldiers found out the document was forged, they had the secretary tied up in the woods to be eaten by wolves feeling anger and guilt for killing Aurelian. None of the commanders of the army felt worthy to take the throne leaving the job to the senate to choose the next emperor and while Rome was left without an emperor, Aurelian’s wife ruled for a couple of months in 275 as the regent empress. There is not much record of what Ulpia Severina did when ruling the empire except that coins with her image minted in it shows evidence that she ruled the empire for a time until the senate chose a candidate for the throne, the old senator Marcus Tacitus being the last emperor chosen by the senate, and with Tacitus as emperor, Ulpia abdicated and disappeared from history.
Florianus (276)- With Tacitus made emperor by the senate in 275, he appointed his half-brother Marcus Annius Florianus as his Praetorian Prefect sending him to Pannonia to fight off a Germanic invasion while Tacitus travelled east where in the next year (276) he died and although the army with Tacitus named the general Probus emperor, Florianus in Pannonia being supported by the senate usurped power and marched east to Asia Minor to face off Probus. In the hot climate of Cilicia, the legions of Florianus suffered from the heat while Probus used the desert and the hot climate to his advantage defeating Florianus’ forces. Florianus’ forces growing sick of the hot weather chose to defect to Probus killing Florianus in the process.
Julius Saturninus, Proculus, and Bonosus (280-281)- As emperor, Probus successfully put an end to the chaos of the Crisis of the 3rd Century pacifying Rome’s borders and crushing revolts all over the empire and 3 of them happened between the years 280 and 281. The first of the rebels to proclaim himself emperor was Probus’ friend Julius Saturninus, either a Moor from North Africa or a Gaul who was made governor of Syria by Probus in 279 but as Probus left Syria for the Rhine in 280, the people and army of Alexandria proclaimed Saturninus their emperor who refused it at first but when reaching Palestine he accepted the title but before Probus could respond to this threat, the troops loyal to Probus killed Saturninus. At the same time in Lyon in Gaul, the people rebelled against Probus choosing to make the military commander Proculus their emperor who took the throne together with the Hispanic commander Bonosus in Cologne. Proculus tried to get support from the Franks against Probus but was betrayed by them as the Franks handed him over to Probus who executed him in the next year (281) while Bonosus was defeated by Probus in Cologne where he hanged himself to avoid capture.
Carinus (283-285) and Numerian (283-284)- In 282, Emperor Probus was assassinated by his army in Sirmium when he forced them to dig trenches there since they needed to do something even when not at war but the soldiers hating civic duty simply mutinied and killed Probus then proclaiming the Praetorian Prefect Carus as emperor. Being too old to rule alone, Carus named his sons Carinus and Numerian his co-emperors in 283 leaving Carinus behind in Rome while Carus and Numerian headed east to fight a war against the Sassanids where Carus was killed by a lightning bolt in 283. In Rome, Carinus proved to be a scandalous ruler throwing non-stop parties and trashing the imperial palace, executing people he did not like, and marrying a divorcing 9 different women and when his father heard of this, he thought of removing Carinus from power and substituting him with his newly appointed governor of Illyria Constantius Chlorus. After Carus was struck by lightning and killed in 283, the soldiers thought it was a warning from the gods that they had to retreat so it was left to Numerian as emperor to lead the retreat wherein he was guided by his Praetorian Prefect Aper who ended up hiding Numerian away from the troops claiming Numerian had an eye infection, though later the officers Diocles, Maximian, and Galerius discovered Numerian was actually dead and killed by Aper, now realizing too that Carinus was the sole ruler of the empire which they could not accept so the army agreed to elect Diocles as their new emperor. Being proclaimed the new emperor, the Illyrian Diocles renamed himself “Diocletian” and executed Aper, thus moving west to deal with Carinus. In 285, Diocletian’s forces met Carinus’ forces in Illyria and with the support of Constantius Chlorus and his forces, Diocletian defeated Carinus’ forces and in the defeat, a commander whose wife Carinus seduced killed him. With Carinus dead, Diocletian was the sole ruler of the empire, thus ending the Crisis of the 3rd Century by 285.
III. The Age of the Dominate (286-476)
Carausius (286-293) and Allectus (293-296)- In 285, Diocletian became the sole ruler of the empire and no longer as the Princeps as the emperors of before were but as the Dominus meaning “lord and master” beginning the age of the Dominate but the whole empire was too large for Diocletian to rule alone so in 286 he divided the empire and east west taking the east with Nicomedia as his capital while Maximian took the west with Milan as his capital making them both co-Augusti. In the west however, Frankish pirates were raiding the coasts of Gaul and Britain so Maximian entrusted the imperial fleet to the naval commander, a native of Roman Belgium named Carausius, though being a skilled sailor Carausius was in it for the gold that he allowed the pirates to raid coastal towns so that he could intercept their ships and take the stolen gold for himself. When hearing of Carausius’ treachery, Maximian demanded he come to him to face execution but to protect himself, Carausius stole the fleet for himself and used the stolen gold to bribe the people of Britain to support him as emperor which they did, and at the same time he allied himself with the Franks too. Diocletian when hearing of Carausius’ rebellion headed west to help Maximian and in 289 Maximian tried to cross over to Britain to crush Carausius but failed blaming it on the weather so Diocletian had to reform his system increasing the number of emperors from 2 to 4 creating the Tetrarchy. In the west, Maximian was given Constantius I Chlorus, their veteran friend as his junior emperor or Caesar in 293 and it was Constantius I who based in Gaul was able to defeat Carausius by first capturing the ports in northern Gaul from the Franks, then building a large fleet there in which he used to sail to Britain. Carausius too would remain ruling his “Britannic” Empire until 293 when he was assassinated by his treasurer Allectus who took over for 3 years until being defeated and killed in battle by Constantius I’s forces.
Domitius Domitianus (297)- By 293, the Roman Empire had 4 emperors, 2 senior ones called Augustus which were Diocletian and Maximian and 2 junior ones or Caesars which were Galerius and Constantius I. In the east Diocletian was its Augustus with Galerius as its Caesar but in Egypt in 297, a usurper named Lucius Domitius Domitianus rose up against Diocletian and Galerius for a new tax reform even claiming the throne. Diocletian and Galerius began quelling the rebellion at Alexandria by 297, although Domitius died later that year and was succeeded by his second-in-command Achilleus. In March of 298, the rebellion was defeated, Alexandria re-conquered, and Achilleus executed.
Domitius Alexander (308-311)- In the beginning of the 4th century, the Roman Empire was divided in 4 ruled by 4 different rulers who would all battle each other for control of the empire. In 305, both Augusti Diocletian and Maximian retired making their Caesars Constantius I in the west and Galerius in the east the new Augusti while Severus II was made the new Western Caesar and Maximinus Daia the new Eastern Caesar. In the east things were more stable with Galerius as Augustus and Daia as Caesar but in the west Constantius I died in 306 and his son Constantine was immediately made Augustus by his troops, although Severus II being the Caesar was automatically made Augustus and Constantine back to Caesar but the retired Maximian and his son Maxentius ended up proclaiming themselves rulers of the west executing Severus II in 307 but in 308 Diocletian coming out retirement settled the issue forcing Maximian to step down again and Maxentius as not a legitimate ruler while Constantine and another general named Licinius would be in charge of the west. Maximian’s son Maxentius in Rome however did not want to let go of power considering himself a legitimate emperor and to do this, in 308 he forced the governor of Africa Lucius Domitius Alexander to send his son to Rome to prove his loyalty, Alexander however refused and had his soldiers proclaim him emperor. Alexander who was in control of some provinces in North Africa and Sardinia though was loyal to the legitimate emperor in the east Galerius and allied himself with the legitimate emperor of the west Constantine I but Maxentius to secure his own legitimacy had to get rid of Alexander first who was the easiest obstacle to quell so he sent his Praetorian Prefect in 311 to North Africa to quell the rebellion which he did and finished off by executing Alexander himself by strangulation.
Valerius Valens (316-317)- The Tetrarchy soon enough was a failed experiment and brought even more chaos to the empire. In 310 after Maximian proclaimed himself emperor again, he was put to death by the legitimate western emperor Constantine I, then in 311 Galerius died leaving his Caesar Daia as the new eastern Augustus who would be challenged by the other western Augustus Licinius while Diocletian committed suicide later that year when in retirement seeing that his plans for a bright future all failed. Maxentius still ruled in Rome until 312 when Constantine I marched into Rome and defeated and killed Maxentius in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge while in the east Licinius defeated and killed Daia in 313 becoming the east’s sole ruler while Constantine was sole ruler of the west. Constantine and Licinius however did not remain at peace with each other as in 316 both of their forces clashed at the Battle of Cibalae in the Balkans where Constantine defeated Licinius’ forces forcing Licinius to flee to Adrianople where he got the support of the general in charge there, Valerius Valens who Licinius made his co-emperor and together both Licinius and Valens’ forces surrounded Constantine in 317. Constantine however, decided to stop their war and make peace again with Licinius which Licinius agreed to, though forcing him to execute Valens. With the new peace, Constantine made his sons Crispus and Constantine II his Caesars while Licinius made his son Licinius II Caesar as well.
Martinian (324)- The peace between Constantine and Licinius once again was broken and in 324 both Constantine and Licinius’ forces clashed outside Adrianople where Licinius fearing Constantine’s army and Christian Chi-rho standard fled the battle east to the Asian coast of the Marmara Sea, this time to make his general Martinian his co-emperor to have more support against Constantine. Licinius and Martinian held themselves in Byzantium and being too impossible for Constantine to besiege, he had his fleet led by son Crispus attack Licinius’ fleet at the Marmara which he defeated; thus, Constantine took Byzantium forcing Licinius and Martinian to flee to Asia Minor where Constantine defeated both of them again in battle. Licinius though would be spared as Constantia, Licinius’ wife and Constantine’s half-sister persuaded Constantine to spare him so instead Licinius was imprisoned in Thessalonica and Martinian being deposed was imprisoned in Cappadocia. In 325, Licinius’ son Licinius II however freed his father from prison conspiring to take back power and overthrow Constantine who when hearing of it had both Licinius and his son as well as Martinian executed making Constantine I the sole ruler of the Roman Empire making Byzantium renamed “Constantinople” the new capital.
Calocaerus (334)- In 324, Constantine I the Great became the sole ruler of the empire and proceeded to build up Byzantium as Constantinople, the new capital and the rest of his reign till his death in 337 would remain peaceful except for one time in 334 when a usurper rose up in Cyprus. At some point in 334, the cavalry commander of Cyprus Constantine appointed named Calocaerus rose up in rebellion against Constantine with his small army there proclaiming himself emperor though Constantine quickly dealt with the rebellion by sending his half-brother Flavius Dalmatius to Cyprus to crush the rebellion. Calocaerus though never got any real military support as he was only a low-ranking commander so as Dalmatius arrived in Cyprus, the revolt was crushed and Calocaerus was taken to Tarsus to be executed by being burned alive.
Magnentius and Decentius (350-353)- Constantine I died in 337 and with his death, the empire was split in 3 among his 3 sons Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans I though they would eventually fight each other for complete control of the empire. The eldest son Constantine II was not content with ruling the least important western provinces of Britain, Gaul, and Hispania so he declared war on his youngest brother Constans I who was in charge of Italy and the middle part of the empire but when marching into Italy in 340, Constantine II was defeated in battle and killed leaving the whole west to Constans I who however proved to be a useless ruler that his senior palatine legions or imperial guard led by the general of Frankish origin Magnus Magnentius who gained support from the people of Britain, Gaul, and Hispania usurped power in 350 making the army desert Constans I who fled to the city of Helena in the border of Gaul and Hispania where he was found and killed. Now proclaiming himself the western emperor, Magnentius married the child Justina who was a relative of Constantius II and named his brother Magnus Decentius his Caesar who would be based in Trier while the middle son of Constantine, Constantius II was still in power in the east deciding what to do with the western usurpers.
Vetranio (350)- With Magnentius taking power in the west, Constantius II in the east was busy defending the borders against the Sassanids so to take care of the problems in the west, his sister Constantina asked the aged governor of Illyria, Vetranio to usurp power to challenge Magnentius to avenge her brother Constans I. Vetranio, a native of Moesia was proclaimed emperor by his troops though it was unclear at first if he was on the side of Magnentius or Constantius II but at the end he chose to support Constantius II as co-emperor against Magnentius to protect the east as Constantius was on his way back from the Sassanid border; Vetranio’s name as emperor never really comes out in history as he was quite unimportant except that he was a legitimate Roman emperor based in Illyria as Constantius II’s co-emperor. Meanwhile Constantius II’s cousin Julius Nepotianus usurped power as well in Rome to challenge Magnentius gathering an army of gladiators and taking over Rome for 28 days in 350 until Magnentius’ army led by the general Marcellinus defeated and killed Nepotianus. At the end of 350, Constantius II arrived in Illyria where Vetranio having served his term as emperor just as a placeholder gave up his claim, surrendering to Constantius II, and abdicating. Vetranio then was allowed to retire in peace in Asia Minor where he died in 356. Constantius II then faced off Magnentius in battle in 351 defeating Magnentius and forcing him to flee to Gaul while Italy defected to Constantius II. In 353, Magnentius and Constantius II’s forces clashed again at the Battle of Mons Seleucus in Gaul where Magnentius was defeated and committed suicide. The people of Gaul meanwhile revolted against Magnentius and his brother Decentius who was based in Trier proclaiming their support for Constantius II and when hearing of his brother’s death, Decentius also killed himself to avoid capture by Constantius II.
Claudius Silvanus (355)- Constantius II was able to defeat Magnentius with the help of Magnentius’ general of Frankish origin Claudius Silvanus who defected and while Constantius II was ruling as Augustus in the west, he appointed his cousin Gallus as his Caesar in the east, although Gallus proved to be untrustworthy that Constantius II grew suspicious of him having him called over to Milan where he would answer to Constantius but on the way to Milan in 354, Gallus was captured and executed by his general Barbatio even if Constantius did not order it. In 355, Constantius’ advisors were making him believe that Silvanus who was commanding the Rhine legions in Cologne was starting a rebellion against Constantius and being suspicious, Constantius who was in Milan believed Silvanus was rebelling, however it was not true. Finding out he was falsely accused, Silvanus actually rebelled and proclaimed himself emperor to avoid capture so to deal with this, Constantius sent his general Ursicinus to Cologne to pretend he did not know anything of it but when arriving in Cologne, Ursicinus’ men cornered and killed Silvanus ending his rebellion.
Jovian (363-364)- In 355, Constantius II made his cousin, Gallus’ brother Julian his Caesar who in 360 after winning many victories against invading Germanic tribes was proclaimed Augustus by his army in Paris which Constantius II again was suspicious of but before they clashed in a civil war, Constantius died in 361 leaving Julian as the sole ruler of the empire but only for 3 years as Julian marched his army east to Sassanid territory to battle the army of the Sassanid king Shapur II. Julian however was mortally wounded in battle in June of 363 dying of his wounds shortly after at only 32 and without any heir, the army elected the commander of the imperial guard, the young Flavius Jovianus or Jovian who was an Illyrian and the same age as Julian as the new emperor while in Persian territory. As emperor, Jovian’s first act was to sign a humiliating peace treaty with Shapur II which gave back all the lands the Romans conquered from the Sassanids in Mesopotamia as well as Armenia back to the Sassanids in order to be allowed to return to the empire peacefully. When returning back to the empire, Jovian and the retreating army of Julian first arrived in Antioch where Jovian was mocked by the people with graffiti in the walls insulting him as he was a nobody soldier from the Balkans who had no claim to the throne. Jovian may be a legitimate Roman/ Byzantine emperor but his reign was so short being only 8 months to be remembered but as emperor, he restored Christianity which his predecessor Julian tried to remove to bring back Paganism. From Antioch, Jovian headed west back to Constantinople and when in Asia Minor, he had Julian’s body brought back to Constantinople for burial and appointed one of the generals named Valentinian to be in command of the fort of Ancyra while Jovian was about to name his young son Varronianus as his heir. However, in February of 364 as Jovian was in an army camp on the way back to Constantinople, he died in his sleep suffocating from the toxic fumes of the newly painted room as he slept next to a lit brazier that was next to the wall. Without an emperor, the army quickly elected the nearest competent general, Valentinian as the new emperor who when arriving back in Constantinople named his brother Valens as the eastern emperor while he headed west. The brothers then ordered Varronianus blinded to secure their claim.
Procopius (365-366)- As Julian was preparing for his Sassanid campaign in 363, he put his maternal non-Constantinian cousin, Procopius who was a Greek native of Cilicia in charge of the other army division in the invasion and as Julian invaded through the Euphrates River, Procopius and his men were to invade from the north. Procopius however who was invading north from Armenia never arrived on time so Julian and his forces were cornered near the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon where Julian was killed. With Julian dead, Jovian was proclaimed the new emperor who decided to wait for Procopius to arrive which never happened, so instead Jovian surrendered to Shapur II in order to return to the empire and only back in the empire did Procopius meet up with Julian’s forces commanded by Jovian. Since he was Julian’s cousin, Procopius revealed Julian named him his heir but fearing punishment by Jovian, Procopius went into hiding and continued to do so even with Jovian’s death and Valentinian I and Valens’ ascension to the throne in 364. In 365, as Valens was ruling the east, he marched with his army east to battle Shapur II but just as he left, Procopius came out of nowhere, revolted against Valens, and proclaimed himself emperor claiming again that Julian named him his successor. Procopius came to power bribing 2 legions to his side and marched into Constantinople even taking over Thrace and as Valens who was away at that time heard of Procopius’ takeover, he was unsure of what to that he even thought of giving up the east to Procopius or killing himself but Valentinian who was in the west thought of marching east to help his brother but decided not to as Germanic tribes were invading Gaul. Valens however, after listening to his generals in 366 marched to Constantinople and took it back from Procopius by making Procopius’ legions betray him, executing him afterwards.
Firmus (372-375)- As Valens was in charge of the east, his older brother Valentinian I was in charge of the west which included North Africa and there, a Roman army officer who was also a Berber prince named Firmus in 372 rebelled against the governor of Africa and Valentinian even proclaiming himself emperor with the support of the Berber tribes. The governor who Firmus rebelled against had also neglected his job which made Valentinian send an army led by his Hispanic general Count Theodosius to depose the governor and crush Firmus’ revolt in 375. Count Theodosius first arrested the governor and went on a hunt for Firmus who he was unable to find in the desert until another Berber prince turned on Firmus and brought him to Count Theodosius as a captive. Firmus though killed himself before he was brought to Count Theodosius so instead Firmus’ body was delivered on the back of a camel as proof and only when dead was it revealed that Firmus rebelled because he was supporting the Donatist Christians against the official Nicene Christians which made Valentinian I issue laws against the Donatists afterwards. Valentinian however died of burst blood vessel caused by his own anger on the Germanic tribes later in 375 and was succeeded in a joint rule of his sons Gratian and Valentinian II in the west. Count Theodosius though was still in Africa when Valentinian died and in early 376, Count Theodosius was arrested, brought to Carthage, and executed there for being accused of conspiring to take the throne from Valentinian’s sons.
Magnus Maximus (383-388)- In 378, the empire fell in chaos after the eastern emperor Valens was killed in the Battle of Adrianople against the Goths leaving the east without an emperor since Valens had no heirs while in the west, Gratian who was ruling it together with his younger brother Valentinian II could not handle the pressure of ruling both east and west so to find a quick replacement in the east, he appointed the governor of Moesia Theodosius, the son of Count Theodosius as the eastern emperor as he was the closest person Gratian could find. Not expecting to be emperor, Theodosius I came to Constantinople in 379 to rule the east while in the west Gratian as an ineffective young ruler was challenged in 383 by a Hispanic general in Britain named Magnus Maximus who was proclaimed emperor by his troops. Magnus Maximus had turned out to be a friend of Theodosius for a long time as both were from Hispania and joined their fathers in quelling the Great Conspiracy in Britain between 367 and 368 and while Theodosius was assigned to Moesia, Magnus Maximus remained in Britain where he would be known as a Welsh legend years after his death with the name Maxen Wledig believed to be the founding father of many medieval Welsh dynasties as he was said to marry a local Celt from the area of Wales and had children with her. In 383, Magnus Maximus usurped the western throne through a negotiation with Theodosius I wanting to rule the empire with his friend which made Maximus have to betray Gratian in the process; Maximus too named his son Flavius Victor his co-emperor. Maximus then crossed from Britain to Gaul where he met Gratian’s forces outside Paris where Gratian’s Frankish general Merobaudes betrayed him and defected to Maximus forcing Gratian to flee to Lyon where he was killed by Maximus’ orders. Maximus continued to march to Italy which was still under the control of the 12-year-old Valentinian II though Theodosius in the east decided to support Valentinian II instead and did not allow Maximus to cross to Italy so he had the Alps defended by the Frankish general Flavius Bauto and to delay Maximus, Valentinian II’s mother Empress Justina, the former wife of the usurper Magnentius sent the bishop of Milan St. Ambrose to Gaul to watch over him which did not work. In 387, Maximus broke through the Alps and invaded Italy forcing Valentinian II with his mother and sister to flee to Theodosius at Constantinople and though Theodosius at fist would not anything against Maximus as they were friends, Justina persuaded him to head west and depose Maximus to get the throne back for Valentinian II, and in the process Theodosius married Valentinian II’s sister Galla. Theodosius then marched west in 388 with his Frankish general Arbogast, the son of Bauto and cornered Maximus and his army at the entrance to Italy. Maximus was then found in Aquileia where he was executed by Theodosius, Merobaudes too was killed in battle, but Maximus’ son Victor was still in Trier so Theodosius sent Arbogast to Trier later in 388 to execute Victor. Valentinian II was then restored to the western throne in Milan with Arbogast as his top general or Magister Militum while Theodosius headed back to Constantinople.
Flavius Eugenius (392-394)- After 388, Theodosius I returned to the east and under the influence of the bishop of Milan St. Ambrose, Theodosius began a Christian extremist crusade against any trace of Paganism while in the west as Valentinian II ruled, he would be ignored and betrayed by his Frankish general Arbogast who stopped following his orders making Valentinian II ask for Theodosius’ help to depose Arbogast which Theodosius did not respond to which made the helpless Valentinian II kill himself by hanging in 392 in the palace at Milan. With Valentinian II dead, Arbogast elevated a grammar and rhetoric teacher in Gaul named Flavius Eugenius as his puppet emperor. Eugenius and Arbogast though being Nicene Christians gained the support of the Pagan people of the west who were being oppressed by Theodosius’ anti-Pagan policies. In Constantinople, Theodosius at first did not want to do anything about Arbogast’s rebellion in the west but when finding out Eugenius and Arbogast were attempting to restore Paganism which Theodosius was suppressing and with Theodosius’ wife Galla pressuring him to head west and avenge her brother Valentinian II’s death, Theodosius marched west once again with his general the half-Roman half-Vandal Flavius Stilicho and on the way west, Theodosius needing a larger army including barbarian mercenaries recruited the Gothic leader Alaric and his men to his army. In September of 394, Theodosius and his forces fighting under the Christian faith clashed with Arbogast and Eugenius and their forces fighting under Paganism with the banner of Hercules at the Battle of the Frigidus again at the entrance to Italy, which is in today’s Slovenia and at first Theodosius’ side was losing but with the help of Alaric and his men, some of Arbogast’s men defecting to Theodosius, as well as a sudden Alpine wind storm, the arrows and spears Arbogast’s army threw were thrown back at them thus defeating them. A few days after the battle, Eugenius was captured and executed and Arbogast who fled killed himself to avoid capture. Theodosius then won and would once again unite the whole Roman Empire under his rule but only for 4 months as when he returned to Milan later in 394 he fell ill and in January of 395 with his sons Honorius and Arcadius summoned to Milan, Theodosius I died as the last ruler of a united empire splitting the empire east and west with Honorius taking the west and Arcadius in the east.
Constantine III (407-411) and Constans II (409-411)- Following the death of Theodosius I in 395, the east was left to his older son Arcadius in which the situation was more stable than in the west which was ruled by his younger brother Honorius. In the chaotic western empire, the most chaotic story would be in Roman Britain which was slowly falling out of Roman control and into the hands of usurpers and barbarian invaders. In 406, the army in Britain named one of the soldiers named Marcus their emperor but when unhappy with him they killed him months later and replaced him with another soldier named Gratian who the army was unhappy with again killing him in early 407 replacing him with another common but more competent soldier named Flavius Claudius Constantine who was proclaimed Emperor Constantine III named after Constantine I the Great. Since the army and some people of Britain were in fear of a massive Germanic invasion as thousands of Germanic people invaded the frozen Rhine in the last day of 406, they needed a strong military emperor to rule Britain which was too far for the imperial authorities in Italy to care about. Within 407, Constantine III decided to just leave Britain abandoning it and cross with his army to Gaul where the legions there and in Hispania proclaimed support for him. At first Honorius based in Ravenna, Italy sent his general Stilicho to expel Constantine III but in 408 Stilicho was accused of treason and executed by Honorius and without a strong general on his side in a chaotic time, Honorius had no choice but to recognize Constantine III as his co-emperor who based himself in Arles in Southern Gaul. In 409, Constantine III made his son Constans II his co-emperor and this may be a bit confusing as in the eastern empire centuries later there was also an Emperor Constantine III whose son was Emperor Constans II which will be discussed later. Constantine though would eventually turn on Honorius as the people wanted a more capable ruler with Honorius being a weak one especially with Italy now being under attack by the Gothic army of Alaric. In 411, Honorius decided he did not want to share power with Constantine anymore and instead found a new general named Constantius who he sent to Gaul to defeat Constantine; Constantine in Arles was however besieged by counter-rebels who captured and killed his son Constans II and with Constantius’ arrival, the rebels were defeated with some defecting to Constantius who then captured and executed Constantine III.
Maximus of Hispania (409-417)- In 408, Constantine III in Arles was recognized as Honorius’ co-emperor while Hispania too was under Constantine III’s control though there, his general Gerontius fearing he would be fired by Constantine III made his son Maximus his puppet emperor there in 409. Maximus though remained in power in Hispania until 417 while his father was the one who led the counter-rebels against Constantine III in Gaul killing Constans II in 411, though Gerontius was killed by his soldiers who defected to the general Constantius while nothing much is said about Maximus’ reign in Hispania except that he may have usurped power again between 419 and 421.
Priscus Attalus (409-410/ 414-415)- In 409, the Gothic leader Alaric who was once in Theodosius I’s army invaded Italy demanding land and to be in command of all Roman armies making him blockade Rome with his army forcing the senate there to release the Gothic hostages and return them to him which they did even increasing Alaric’s army. Honorius who was ruling from Ravenna refused to give Alaric command of the armies so to challenge Honorius, Alaric elevated a senator in Rome, the Greek Priscus Attalus as his puppet emperor though Attalus being emperor for a few months refused Alaric’s orders and was deposed in 410 and with Attalus not following Alaric’s orders and Honorius not giving into all his demands, Alaric entered and sacked Rome in 410 making it the first time Rome was attacked in over 800 years. In 414, with Attalus being taken as a hostage of the Goths to Gaul, he was again proclaimed the Goth’s puppet emperor by Athaulf, Alaric’s successor in Burdigala (today’s Bordeaux) as Honorius’ general Constantius after defeating Constantine III in Arles met up with Athaulf’s invasion of Gaul which Constantius tried to contain by blockading the Mediterranean ports to cut the Goth’s food supply. The blockade was successful by 415 making the Goths flee south to Hispania killing Athaulf out of starvation. With Athaulf dead, Attalus lost support and was captured by Constantius but spared and exiled to the Aeolian Islands in Italy. Many would know Julian the Apostate (r. 361-363) as the last Pagan Roman emperor but in fact it was Attalus that was the last Pagan to rule the empire.
Jovinus (411-413) and Sebastianus (412-413)- Following the death of the usurper soldier emperor Constantine III in 411, the Burgundian tribes that had settled in Gaul needing their own puppet emperor made the Roman senator living in Gaul, Jovinus emperor based in Mainz. Giving into the Burgundians’ demands, Jovinus allowed the Burgundians to settle in Eastern Gaul at the left bank of the Rhine although in 412, the Goths under Alaric’s successor Athaulf invaded Gaul from Italy. Jovinus though was supported by Honorius’ Goth general Sarus who was then killed by Athaulf and although Athaulf tried to ally himself with Jovinus, instead Jovinus made his brother Sebastianus his co-emperor and feeling insulted, Athaulf allied himself with Honorius’ general Constantius against Jovinus. Athaulf’s army succeeded in defeating Jovinus’ forces and killing off Sebastianus but Jovinus fled to Southern Gaul where he was captured and executed by the governor there who was loyal to Honorius.
Heraclianus (412-413)- Among the many usurpers against the western emperor Honorius, the senator and governor of Carthage Heraclianus was one of them who however at the beginning was loyal to Honorius being the one who even ordered and oversaw the execution of the general Stilicho for Honorius in 408. In 412 however as Jovinus usurped power in Gaul and Maximus in Hispania, Heraclianus usurped power in Carthage for the smallest of reasons as he saw the probability that he would not be appointed consul that year. Proclaiming himself emperor in Carthage, Heraclianus cut the grain supply to Italy and gathered his army sailing to Italy. Honorius in Ravenna then declared Heraclianus an enemy of the state and sent an army south to crush Heraclianus in 413 which was successful with Heraclianus killed and with him dead, all his properties and wealth was given to Honorius’ general Constantius.
Constantius III (421)- Having defeated Constantine III in 411, Jovinus in 413 with the help of the Goths, and blockading the Goth’s food supply in 415, Honorius’ Illyrian general Constantius came out successful and after forcing the Goths to flee south to Hispania where their king Athaulf was killed in the process, Constantius freed Honorius’ sister Galla Placidia who had married Athaulf by force from the Goth’s captivity returning her to Ravenna. When returning to Ravenna, Constantius was made a hero being the next competent general on Honorius’ side ever since Stilicho who was executed in 408. To get him closer, Honorius made Constantius consul 3 times and married him to Galla Placidia to secure an alliance and in 421 when needing a co-ruler, Honorius made Constantius his co-emperor Constantius III. As emperor, Constantius III ruled more effectively than Honorius and planned to finish Stilicho’s legacy in driving off the barbarians from the empire but within only 7 months in 421, he caught a fever and died leaving Honorius to rule alone again but with Galla Placidia, Constantius III’s son would be Honorius’ successor Valentinian III.
Joannes (423-425)- Honorius though an ineffective ruler ruled the Western Empire for 28 years ever since he was a 10-year-old in 395 succeeding his father Theodosius I, though Honorius despite being married to Stilicho’s daughter had no heir so with Honorius’ sudden death in 423, the western empire which was already falling apart due to barbarian invasions had a succession crisis too as no heir was named. The most possible heir, Honorius’ nephew and Constantius III and Galla Placidia’s son Valentinian III fled with his mother to the court of the eastern empire in Constantinople but in western capital which was Ravenna, the senate finding a solution made the palace secretary Joannes emperor of the west though he was not considered a legitimate emperor as he was not recognized by the eastern emperor who was the superior of the western one. By 423, the eastern emperor was Theodosius II, the son of Arcadius who succeeded his father in 408 though despite Joannes thinking he would be recognized by Theodosius II, in Constantinople Theodosius II instead named his young cousin Valentinian III his western co-emperor sending him back to Italy with an army commanded by the Goth general Aspar. Joannes however did not accept Theodosius II’s choice and instead decided to fight back by having his young general Flavius Aetius go north and get the support of the Hun army but it was too late as the eastern forces commanded by Aspar arrived in Aquileia at the entrance to Italy in 425 and with the help of a shepherd Aspar and his men were led across a marsh to Ravenna where he convinced the garrison to betray Joannes which they did bringing him to Aquileia where his hands were cut off and there he was paraded in the city and beheaded right after. Aetius only arrived back in Italy after Joannes’ death and with his ally dead, he instead made an agreement with Galla Placidia to be her son’s regent with her.
Petronius Maximus (455)- For an emperor of the Western Roman Empire to be considered a legitimate one, he had to be recognized by his superior, the Eastern Roman or Byzantine emperor in Constantinople and in the case of Valentinian III, he was appointed emperor of the west by his cousin, the eastern emperor Theodosius II. Valentinian III ruled the west for 30 years until his assassination in 455 and although he was mostly under the regency of his mother Galla Placidia, she died in 450 but Valentinian III was still heavily influenced by his successful general Flavius Aetius who defeated the Huns’ invasion of the western empire in 451. In 454, the senator Petronius Maximus convinced Valentinian that Aetius was too dangerous to be kept alive so Valentinian killed Aetius with his own hands for everyone to see, though with Aetius dead Maximus who had actually tricked the emperor to do it asked to be given the position of Aetius, which was Magister Militum or “Master of the Army” but the emperor refused as it was too dangerous for Maximus to hold the position. Feeling angry about it, Maximus convinced Aetius’ Scythian bodyguards that Valentinian was the only one behind Aetius’ murder so in early 455 the Scythian bodyguards killed Valentinian III in Rome under Maximus’ orders. Valentinian III’s robe and crown was delivered quickly to Maximus and to prevent a power struggle as Aetius’ second-in-command Majorian also laid his claim to throne, Maximus quickly took the throne by marrying Valentinian III’s widow Licinia Eudoxia, the daughter of the late Theodosius II. In the east meanwhile, the new emperor Marcian who succeeded Theodosius II in 450 did not recognize Maximus as the western emperor so Maximus instead turned to the Visigoths occupying Gaul for their support sending his newly appointed general Avitus to make an agreement with them. Valentinian and Eudoxia’s daughter Eudocia however arranged to be married to the Vandal king Gaiseric’s son but Maximus cancelled the marriage and instead married her to his son Palladius who was made Caesar making Gaiseric angry and preparing to invade Italy from Carthage with his fleet. When news reached Rome that Gaiseric was preparing to invade Italy, the people panicked and fled the city while Maximus did the same except in the panic, his guard abandoned him and when escaping Rome, he was stoned to death by an angry mob dumping his body in Tiber River while his son Palladius was executed shortly after. Maximus though only ruled for less than 3 months and as emperor he never set foot in the capital, Ravenna but instead stayed in Rome, the old capital. On June 2, 455 just 3 days after Maximus’ death, Gaiseric’s Vandal army arrived in Italy and captured Rome but agreeing to the terms of Pope Leo I, the Vandals did not kill anyone or burn Rome, rather they just looted everything they found even taking the widowed empress Eudoxia and her daughters to Carthage.
Avitus (455-456)- When Petronius Maximus was only western emperor for less than 3 months in 455, he sent his general Eparchius Avitus, an old man who was a Gallic Roman citizen from Clermont in Gaul to his homeland of Gaul to secure an alliance with the Visigoth king Theodoric II which he did. In June of 455, news reached the Visigoths of Gaul that Petronius Maximus was killed and the Vandals under Gaiseric attacked Rome and with the Visigoths being mortal enemies with the Vandals, Theodoric II in the Visigoth’s capital of Toulouse named Avitus the western emperor. When Avitus arrived in Italy, he was recognized as emperor by the Roman senate but was not considered a legitimate emperor as he was not recognized by the eastern emperor Marcian; Avitus too did not have support of most of the western empire’s army commanded by Majorian and Ricimer as well as the support of the Vandal king Gaiseric. Avitus however turned out to be unpopular with the people of Italy as he was a foreigner being from Gaul and was not able to solve the destruction and food shortages caused by the Vandals. In 456, the army of Majorian and Ricimer rebelled against Avitus marching into Italy whereas Avitus headed north to Piacenza where he faced off Majorian and Ricimer but was defeated. Avitus fled after his defeat but was found although spared by Ricimer and forced to become the Bishop of Piacenza dying the next year. With Avitus deposed, there was no emperor until the next year (457) as the eastern emperor Marcian did not recognize either Majorian or Ricimer but in 457 as well, Marcian died and was succeeded by the soldier Leo Marcellus who eventually recognized Majorian as the western emperor as he was forced to so by Ricimer.
Libius Severus (461-465)- Majorian though would be one of the few western emperors recognized by the eastern emperor but in 461 after a 4-year reign of success, Ricimer being the manipulative general of barbarian origin betrayed and killed Majorian and replaced him with the senator Libius Severus who Ricimer thought he could easily manipulate. The eastern emperor Leo I however did not recognize Libius Severus (or Severus III) as western emperor and so did the Vandals so instead Severus III turned to the Visigoths of Gaul for support even giving the city of Narbonne to them and giving the rebel general Aegidius Northeast Gaul as his own kingdom to settle peace. Severus III though ruled from Ravenna and in 465 he died most possibly from natural causes, though some say Ricimer who was in control of him all this time poisoned him.
Romanus (470)- In the 2 years between 465 and 467, the western empire had no emperor so in the east, Leo I was once again a Roman emperor ruling both east and west or what was at least of the west which at that time was basically under the control of Ricimer. In 467 however, Leo I with the consent of Ricimer appointed Procopius Anthemius, a Byzantine noble and son-in-law of the previous eastern emperor Marcian as the western emperor but in his reign, he failed to defeat the Vandal navy in North Africa in 468 even if he battled them together with the eastern empire’s fleet. Anthemius however distrusted and even hated Ricimer, so in 470 using Anthemius’ sudden illness to his advantage, Ricimer installed the senator Romanus as his puppet emperor in Rome while Anthemius was in Ravenna. Anthemius though recovered and blamed his illness on Ricimer’s supporters including Romanus accusing them of sorcery. Anthemius then had Romanus beheaded to secure his place in the throne but this just made Ricimer even more furious. In 472, Anthemius came into conflict with Ricimer and being surrounded by Ricimer’s men, Anthemius was killed.
Olybrius (472)- Anicius Olybrius was a nobleman from Rome in the Western Empire who was married to Valentinian III’s daughter Placidia and a candidate for the throne twice, first in 461 after Majorian’s death considered for the position by the Vandal king Gaiseric and again after Severus III’s death in 465 again supported by Gaiseric. After Anthemius was killed in 472, Ricimer who had Anthemius killed made Olybrius his puppet emperor, although within 472 Ricimer died and was succeeded in his position by his nephew Gundobad. By October of 472, Olybrius died as well leaving the western throne in Ravenna vacant until the next year.
Glycerius (473-474)- For the next 4 months after Olybrius’ death in 472, there was no western emperor until in early 473, the general Gundobad taking the place of Ricimer named the palace guard commander, the Illyrian Glycerius as the new emperor. The eastern emperor Leo I however did not recognize Glycerius as emperor and instead nominated another Illyrian named Julius Nepos as the western emperor but during his short reign, Glycerius was able to stop an Ostrogoth invasion of Italy from the east by bribing them, though in 474 Leo I sent Julius Nepos with an army to invade Italy and depose Glycerius. For Glycerius though, he was left alone with no more allies as Gundobad abandoned him as he was named king of his people, the Burgundians in Gaul so as Nepos arrived in Italy, Glycerius was left with no choice but to surrender to him, though Glycerius was spared and made bishop of Salona in Dalmatia where he died in around 480.
Julius Nepos (474-480)- The governor of Dalmatia who was the Illyrian native Julius Nepos came to power in what was left of the western empire (basically just Italy and Dalmatia) with the support of the new eastern emperor the Isaurian Zeno with Leo I having died in early 474, and when arriving in Italy in 474, the emperor Glycerius surrendered to Nepos without a fight and was made bishop of Salona. Nepos’ reign over the western empire however only lasted for a year as in 475 his Pannonian general Orestes turned on him with his barbarian troops. As Orestes was heading towards Italy, Nepos fled Ravenna sailing across the sea back to Dalmatia thinking he would temporarily stay there until getting support from Zeno to overthrow Orestes, but instead when Orestes reached Ravenna, he named his son Romulus the western emperor, though Romulus did not get the support from the east since in 475 Zeno was overthrown by Basiliscus. Romulus Augustus though would only be the puppet emperor of his father and only ruling for a year as in 476, the barbarian general of the western empire’s federate troops Odoacer of the obscure Germanic tribe of the Scirii demanded land in Italy which Orestes refused leading Odoacer to kill Orestes in battle and when marching into Ravenna, Odoacer forced Romulus to surrender which he did, thus ending the Western Roman Empire. Whatever happened to Romulus afterwards is unknown but Odoacer just chose to not be called emperor anymore since all that was left of the empire was Italy so instead, he called himself “King of Italy” pledging his allegiance to the eastern emperor Zeno who returned to power in 476. Meanwhile, Nepos was still ruling in Dalmatia only as the de jure western emperor and though an ally of Zeno, Nepos was not helped in taking back Italy since Zeno had already recognized Odoacer as king. Nepos though plotted to take back Italy trying to get the support of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric who was settled in the Balkans but in 480, Nepos was assassinated in Dalmatia, and it is suggested that the bishop who was the former emperor Glycerius was behind it. With Nepos dead, the whole region of Dalmatia and Pannonia were absorbed into Odoacer’s kingdom.
Leo II (474)- In the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire which was the superior of the Western Roman Empire, back on 457 a Thracian soldier named Leo Marcellus became emperor, known as Leo I the Great who ruled for more than 16 years until his death in 474 at age 73. In his reign Leo I appointed the leader of the primitive and semi-barbarian Isaurian tribes from the mountains of Asia Minor named Tarasis Kodisa as his top general renaming him Zeno and married him to his daughter Ariadne. Zeno and Ariadne’s son Leo was named after his grandfather and named his grandfather’s co-emperor and heir in 473. Leo I died in early 474 and was succeeded by his grandson Leo II who being too young to rule alone had to make his father Zeno with the approval of the senate his co-emperor to sign official documents which Leo II could not and together both Leo II and Zeno appointed Julius Nepos as the western emperor. Leo II may be a legitimate Roman emperor but his name is never really mentioned as many would think that Zeno was emperor directly after Leo I but in fact there was a child emperor between them. Leo II however never experienced a full reign as he died later in the same year (474) at only age 7 from an epidemic that broke out in Constantinople as children were more at risk to die from sickness, he was then succeeded by his father Zeno making it the first time in Roman history that a father succeeds his son as emperor. Some say Leo II did not actually die but had to abdicate due to his young age and be kept in a monastery but it is still very likely that he died.
IV. The early Byzantine Era (476-695)
Marcian (479)- In the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) there had been no usurper who would be emperor until 479 except for once in 475 which was Emperor Leo I’s brother-in-law Basiliscus who took the throne from the current emperor Zeno. Zeno though being an Isaurian which the Byzantines saw as primitive barbarians was not accepted by the society of Constantinople so in early 475, Zeno’s mother-in-law Verina who hated him plotted to remove him from power to make her lover emperor, but instead the army named her brother, the incompetent Basiliscus as emperor who made his son Marcus his co-emperor. Zeno with his wife fled to his native Isauria where after getting an army there returned west to Constantinople to overthrow Basiliscus which he did in 476 and when returning to power, Zeno got news of Odoacer overthrowing Romulus in the west, thus recognizing Odoacer as King of Italy. Basiliscus and his son Marcus were then banished to Cappadocia where they were locked up and starved to death in a cistern in 477. In 479 however, someone would come to challenge Zeno again, and this was Marcian, the son of the former western emperor Anthemius and grandson of the former eastern emperor Marcian (r. 450-457), his mother’s father who he shared the same name with. The usurper Marcian also married to Leo I’s other daughter Leontia but felt he had more of a claim to the throne being the grandson of the former emperor seeing Zeno as a nobody barbarian. Marcian and his 3 brothers led a large mob of angry people in Constantinople to the imperial palace attempting to burn it down and almost came close to capturing Zeno until Zeno’s Isaurian general Illus gathered his Isaurian forces and cornered the mob giving time for Zeno to flee the palace. Marcian though got support from the Gothic general in the Byzantine service Theodoric Strabo but with Strabo not able to arrive in time, Marcian sought refuge in a church where Zeno’s forces found and arrested his brothers banishing them to Cappadocia. Marcian and brothers tried to escape imprisonment there by bribing some monks though Marcian failed to escape and was forced to become a monk.
Leontius (484-488)- In 484, Zeno would eventually be betrayed by his Isaurian general Illus who refused to release Zeno’s brother Longinus from imprisonment and as Illus fled Constantinople, Zeno sent Leontius, another Isaurian general to hunt down Illus though when Leontius confronted Illus, Illus persuaded to turn Leontius against Zeno. With Leontius on his side, Illus decided to give up his claim on the throne and instead supported Leontius’ claim and in Tarsus, Illus had Leontius crowned emperor. Zeno only found out about Leontius taking over in the east when seeing coins of him minted making Zeno march an army mostly made up of Ostrogoths led by the future king of Italy Theodoric against Illus and Leontius. Zeno’s forces managed to surround Illus and Leontius to a fortress in Asia Minor where they were held in for 4 years and being impossible to besiege, Zeno returned to Constantinople leaving his army to continue besieging the rebels until the rebels were betrayed by their troops and both Illus and Leontius were beheaded in 488 and their heads sent to Zeno.
Longinus (491-492)- After crushing Illus and Leontius’ rebellion in 488, Zeno was able to rule without anyone challenging him again and died in 491 now being more accepted by Byzantine society. In 485, Zeno released his brother Longinus from imprisonment by Illus and in 486 and 490 Longinus held the position of consul while before Zeno’s death in 491, he gave up supporting the king of Italy Odoacer and had Theodoric march to Italy to depose Odoacer. For Zeno, both his sons with his wife empress Ariadne died before he died in 491 and without a named heir, Longinus was considered to succeed his brother as emperor and marry his wife but Ariadne refused as having another Isaurian emperor would cause more problems again so instead, Ariadne chose to marry Zeno’s finance minister Anastasius, a rich Roman-Illyrian. Longinus was in Isauria at this time and when finding out Anastasius I was made emperor and not him, he rose up in rebellion claiming to be emperor. This rebellion then started the Isaurian War and in 492, Anastasius’ forces were able to defeat Longinus’ forces, Longinus though was spared but exiled to Egypt by Anastasius where Longinus died, though the Isaurian War was only finished in 497 with Anastasius winning.
Areobindus (512)- Anastasius I Dicorus was Byzantine emperor for quite a long time ever since he succeeded Zeno in 491 and although he was a successful emperor, Anastasius’ religious policies were controversial as he supported Miaphysite doctrines while the population of Constantinople was mostly made up of Orthodox Chalcedonian Christians. In 512, the people of Constantinople started to riot against Anastasius’ religious policies and proclaimed the ex-consul Areobindus as their emperor. Areobindus who was consul back in 506 was fine with his retired life and refused to accept his claim as emperor from the people so he fled the city never to be heard from again.
Julianus ben Sabar (529-531), Hypatius (532), John Cottistis (537), and Stotzas (541-545)- Anastasius I died at the age of 87 in 518 and was unsure in naming his heir so without a named heir, the commander of his palace guard, the old man Justin bribed his men and was proclaimed emperor. Justin I as emperor though originating as a peasant in Illyria had already established a dynasty adopting his nephew Flavius Petrus Sabbatius and making him his heir. In 527, Justin I died and was succeeded by his nephew who renamed himself as emperor Justinian I and his reign would be the greatest in Byzantine history but in the early part of his 38-year reign, he was faced with 4 different usurpers. The first of the usurpers was a Samaritan Jew in Judea named Julianus ben Sabar who rose up in rebellion against Justinian I against his religious policies against the Samaritans in 529. Ben Sabar between 529 and 530 was able to capture a few cities in Judea and declared himself “King of Israel” but in 531, his rebellion was defeated by Justinian’s forces and Ben Sabar was beheaded. The next usurper was in Constantinople named Hypatius who was the nephew of Anastasius I who was a consul in 500 and considered to succeed his uncle in 518 but he never wanted the position of emperor. In 532, the people of Constantinople rose up against Justinian I in the bloody Nika Riot dragging Hypatius out his house and proclaiming him emperor, though Hypatius did not want feeling forced by the people but as he was carried through the streets, he changed his mind and played the full part of emperor. The riots were eventually quelled by the imperial guard with many rioters slaughtered and Hypatius being framed as the mastermind was brought before Justinian who thought of sparing Hypatius but Justinian’s wife Empress Theodora did not agree and just had Hypatius executed. In 537 at the military fort of Dara in the Byzantine-Persian border, a soldier named John Cottistis suddenly broke out in rebellion against Justinian I even declaring himself emperor and ruling the fortress in a tyrannical way until only 4 days after he began his rebellion, soldiers loyal to Justinian killed him. Back in 534, Justinian’s army under the general Belisarius conquered North Africa from the Vandals but in 536, a military revolt broke out and named a soldier named Stotzas their leader who proclaimed himself emperor and with the defeated Vandals he almost took back Carthage until Belisarius returned and defeated him forcing him to flee to Mauretania. Stotzas though returned in 541 having married the daughter of a local prince and became king of that small Berber kingdom in Algeria turning against Byzantine rule in North Africa but in 545, Stotzas was defeated and wounded in battle by Justinian’s forces dying shortly after.
Theodosius (590-602)- The 6th century was a short-lived era of Byzantine greatness as the empire by the death of Justinian I the Great had control over Italy, North Africa, and Southern Spain again defeating the Ostrogoths and Vandals. At the end of the 6th century, the empire was ruled by the military emperor Maurice (r. 582-602) though recently reconquered lands in Italy were slowly being lost. A year after Maurice became emperor, his wife gave birth to their son Theodosius who would be the first imperial heir to be born while their father was emperor since Theodosius II born in 401 during the reign of his father Arcadius, and Maurice’s son Theodosius too was named after Theodosius II; in 587 Theodosius was made Caesar and his father’s heir and in 590 co-emperor, though he would not be known as Theodosius III as he was never the full emperor himself. In 602 however, the army of the Danube border forced to stay there for the winter rebelled against Maurice marching to Constantinople and at first the army when forcing Maurice to resign revolted in favor of Theodosius or his father-in-law Germanus. The army however ended up electing the centurion Phocas as emperor and Maurice fled Constantinople with his family and when crossing the Bosporus, he sent Theodosius to flee east to the Sassanid Empire to get support from the Sassanid king Khosrow II. Maurice and his other sons though were caught and executed by Phocas while Theodosius never made it to Persia as he was also caught and executed by Phocas’ orders, though some years later it was rumored Theodosius was still alive.
Comentiolus (610-611), Eleutherius (619), and John Athalaricos (635)- The usurper emperor Phocas would eventually be overthrown and executed in 610 by the Byzantine exarch of Africa’s son Heraclius who became emperor but in his long reign (610-641), Heraclius faced 4 different usurpers to the throne. The first usurper rose up against Heraclius in 610, the year he came into power and this usurper was Comentiolus, the brother of the late emperor Phocas who was Phocas’ general in the war against the Sassanids. Comentiolus refused to accept Heraclius as emperor and planned to attack Constantinople naming himself emperor to avenge his brother but before Comentiolus could attack, in early 611 Heraclius had him assassinated. Meanwhile over in Italy in 619 as Heraclius was busy fighting against the Sassanids in the east, the situation of Byzantine rule was unstable and to protect Italy further, the exarch of Ravenna or Byzantine governor of Italy Eleutherius using Heraclius’ war in the east to his advantage proclaimed himself emperor despite being a eunuch. Eleutherius thought of setting up his capital in Rome and as he was heading to Rome to convince Pope Boniface V to crown him emperor in Rome, his soldiers who were actually loyal to Heraclius killed him and sent his head to Heraclius. Many years later in 635, the old Heraclius faced a rebellion from his own illegitimate son John Athalaricos who was never heard from before that as he was never thought of to succeed his father until discontent Armenian residents of Constantinople all of a sudden rebelled against Heraclius and named John their emperor. Before a rebellion could have happened, court officials informed Heraclius that his son was staging a rebellion so Heraclius had everyone involved in the scheme arrested including his son who he had his hands and nose cut off and exiled to the Princes Islands in the Marmara Sea.
Maurikios (642-643), Valentinus (644), Gregory (646-647), Olympius (650-652), and Saborios (667-668)- Heraclius died in 641 and a short power struggle followed his death after his son and immediate successor Constantine III died after only 3 months, possibly poisoned by his stepmother Martina who came into power as regent for her son with Heraclius named Heraklonas who was later on in 641 deposed and mutilated when Constantine III’s loyalist forces seized power and made Constantine III’s young son Constans II emperor, and this is when there was another Roman emperor Constantine III with a son named Constans II just like in the 5th century. In 642, a year after the young Constans II came to power he was challenged by a rebel in Italy named Maurikios Chartoularios who declared Rome independent from Byzantine rule with him as its ruler, although in 643 the Exarch of Ravenna Isaac under Constans II marched his army to Rome where they caught Maurikios in a church and brought him to Ravenna to be executed. Since Constans II when coming to power was only a boy, he ruled under the regency Valentinus who was of Armenian origin and Constans too was married to Valentinus’ daughter Fausta. Valentinus was practically the most powerful man in the empire but did not have the title of emperor so in 644 he gathered outside Constantinople with his army demanding to be crowned emperor and overthrow Constans II but the Patriarch of Constantinople Paul II refused and rallied the people against Valentinus who was killed outside the city walls by the mob. In 646, Constans II was again faced by another challenger which was his relative the Exarch of Africa Gregory based in Carthage who declared himself emperor there but in 647 North Africa was faced with an Arab invasion and before setting off to Constantinople to overthrow Constans II, Gregory was killed in battle somewhere in Tunisia by the Arabs making North Africa return to the side of the emperor. Fast-forward to 650, Constans II had the pope Martin I arrested for being elected without Constans’ approval and with the pope’s arrest and exile, the Exarch of Ravenna Olympius switched his side to the exiled pope rebelling against Constans II and declaring himself emperor. In 652, Olympius marched south to Sicily to confront both Arab invaders and Constans II’s army but never succeeded as he and his army was killed by a plague. By 663, Constans II left Constantinople for good choosing to reside in Syracuse, Sicily making it his new capital which gave more opportunity for generals in the east to usurp power and one of them was the general of the Armeniac Theme in Northeast Asia Minor named Saborios in 667. Saborios who was either of Persian or Armenian descent declared himself emperor led his men west to Constantinople and battle the imperial forces but before reaching Constantinople when camped in a town, he heard of an incoming Arab invasion and the imperial forces heading his way so in a rush he got onto his horse, the horse lost control and smashed his head against the gate killing him. Without a leader, the rebel army simply defected to the imperial forces and the rebellion of Saborios itself never did happen.
Mizizios (668-669)- When Constans II remained in Syracuse, he left his wife and sons behind in Constantinople but in 668 while in Syracuse, Constans II was assassinated in his bath by his servant using a soap dish. When in Syracuse, Constans II was accompanied by his general Mizizios who was an Armenian noble and with Constans II dead, the army proclaimed Mizizios emperor against his will despite Constans II having a son, Constantine IV in Constantinople, although it is said that the bishops in Italy pushed Mizizios to rebel because they considered Constans II a heretic. Within a year however, the young Constantine IV led an expedition of the imperial forces from Constantinople to Sicily to confront his father’s assassins and Mizizios. In 669, Constantine IV when arriving in Sicily executed his father’s assassins and Mizizios as well, except it is also said that the loyalist forces of North Africa could have suppressed Mizizios’ revolt and executed him.
Alright, so this is it for the first part of this series on the lesser known and would be Roman and Byzantine emperors and it’s only in 695 where finished, yet there’s still so much more but that’s a story for another time. Earlier on, there hasn’t been any pretender or would-be emperor of the Roman Empire during the reigns of its first emperors Augustus and Tiberius and only in 42AD during the reign of Claudius I was there a would-be Roman emperor. Over time of course, the situation of the empire would not be stable as it was thought to be with many civil wars and claimants to the throne, and this happens when a dynasty is not secured or in the Roman Empire, this instability and succession crisis that created many would-be emperors was due to the ambitious Praetorian Guard and ambitious generals. Those 50 years between 235 and 285 would just be that kind of time wherein anyone if with the support of the army would become emperor and breakaway empires like the Gallic Empire and Palmyra would happen and this was just the beginning as even though this crisis was eventually solved in the late 3rd century and early 4th century, more and more generals would come in to take the throne especially when the previous emperor such as Julian died without an heir. Now in 395, the Roman Empire was fully separated between east and west and never to reunite again, except that they were still one empire in the sense that the west answered to the east and western emperors could only be a legitimate ruler if they had the approval of the eastern emperor though barely any western emperor would be recognized by the east and in 476 the Western empire was gone. The east though survived and remained strong but kept with it the Roman legacy of challengers to the throne. Even though the empire’s location changed moving east, the whole thing of usurpers, co-emperors, and challengers would remain unchanged, and in the next part of this article no matter how many centuries would go by, the authority of the Byzantine emperors would continue to be challenged and one emperor would end up facing multiple usurpers in his reign just like Gallienus (253-268) and Honorius (395-423) did too as mentioned here. At the end, almost all of these would be emperors who usurped power would suffer the same fate either being executed or exiled, blinded, or committing suicide and as the story continues in the Byzantine era, these usurpers still end up having this kind of fate. Also, in this article I have mentioned an independent Roman state in France known as Soissons formed in 461 but their rulers Aegidius and Syagrius were not part of the list as they were never emperors but just independent rulers and soon enough even this state would fall when the Franks come to take over Gaul and establish what would be the Kingdom of France. This article had just ended in 695 which ends the early Byzantine era and at this point the whole Byzantine cultural identity shifts from Roman to Greek and for the next 7 centuries, Byzantium would be the medieval Greek empire till its end in 1453. Lastly, I would want to thank the channel of Dovahhatty for giving such clear though biased information on the story of the Roman Empire which helped me write this which now has its final episode on the Roman Empire, though when making this I haven’t seen it yet, so don’t forget to watch it to see how a Roman would tell the story of the fall of the Western empire. Anyway, this is all for part 1 of this series and see you all next time with part2!