The crisis of the empire  

20 march 235 - march 285

20 March 235 - May 238

Maximinus Thrax

Maximinus Thrax
Maximinus Thrax

The tumults, occasioned by the death of Alexander, being appeased, Maximin, who had been the chief promoter of the sedition, was chosen emperor, A. D. 235.

This extraordinary man was the son of a poor herdsman of Thrace. He followed his father's humble profession. His ambition increasing, he left his employment, and enlisted in the Roman army, where he soon became remarkable for his great strength and courage. This gigantic person was no less than eight feet and a half high. His wife's bracelets served him for a thumb ring : and his strength was so great that he was able to draw a carriage which two oxen could not move.

He could strike out a horse's teeth with a blow of his fist, and break its thigh bone with a kick. He ate forty pounds of flesh every day, and drank six gallons of wine. With a frame so athletic, he possessed a mind undaunted in danger, neither fearing nor regarding any man. He was one of the greatest monsters of cruelty that ever disgraced human nature; and fearful of nothing himself, he seemed to sport with the terrors of all mankind.

His cruelties did not retard his military operations, which were carried on with a spirit becoming a better monarch. He overthrew the Germans in several battles, wasted all their country with fire and sword for four hundred miles together. In an engagement, wherever the conflict was the hottest, Maximin was always seen fighting there in person, and destroying all before him; for, being bred a barbarian, he considered it as his duty to combat as a common soldier, while he commanded as a general.

His cruelties had so alienated his subjects, that several conspiracies were aimed against him. None of them succeeded, till his own soldiers, being harassed by famine and fatigue, and hearing of revolt on every side, resolved to terminate their calamities by the tyrant's death. His great strength was the principal motive to deter any from assasinating him; but having made his guards accomplices in their design, they set upon him while he slept at noon in his tent, and slew him and his son, whom he had made his partner in the empire. Thus died this most remarkable man, after an usurpation of three years, and in the sixtyfifth year of his age.

22 April - 29 July 238

Pupienus and Balbinus

The tyrannical Maximin being dead, and his body thrown to dogs and birds of prey, Pupienus and Balbinus continued for sometime emperors without opposition, A. D. 238.

But differing between themselves, the praetorian soldiers, who were the enemies of both, set upon them in their palace, when the guards were amused with seeing the Capitoline games, and dragging them from the palace towards the camp, slew them both, leaving their dead bodies in the streets.

22 April - 29 July 238


In the midst of sedition, as the mutineers were proceeding along, they by accident met Gordian, grandson of him who was slain in Africa; whom they declared emperor on the spot, A. D. 238.

This prince was but sixteen years old when he began to reign, but his virtues seemed to compensate for his want of experience. His principal aim was to unite the opposing members of the government, and to reconcile the soldiers and citizens to each other.

The army began as usual to murmur, and their complaints were artfully fomented by Philip, an Arabian, who was praetorian prefect. Thus proceeding from bad to worse, Philip was at first made equal in the command of the empire; shortly after he was invested with sole power; and finding himself capable of perpetrating his long meditated cruelty, Gordian was, by his order, slain in the twentysecond year of his age, after a successful reign of six years.

February 244 - September 249

Philip the Arab

Philip, having murdered his benefactor Gordian, was immediately acknowledged emperor by the army, A. D. 243. Upon his exaltation, he associated his son, a boy of six years of age, as his partner in the empire; and in order to secure his power at home, made peace with the Persians, and marched his army towards Rome. The army revolted in favor of Decius. His general, and one of the sentinels, at a blow cut off his head, or rather clave it asunder, separating the upper jaw from the under. He died in the fortyfifth year of his age, after a reign of five years, Decius being declared his successor.

September 249 - June 251


The activity and wisdom of Decius, seemed to stop the decline of the Roman empire, The senate thought so highly of his merits, that they voted him not inferior to Trajan; and he seemed to consult the dignity and welfare of the people.

But no virtues could now prevent the downfall of the state; the obstinate disputes between the Pagans and the Christians within the empire, and the increasing irruptions of the barbarous nations from without, enfeebled it beyond the power of remedy.

Decius was killed in an ambuscade of the enemy, in the fifteenth year of his age, after a reign of two years and six months.

June 251 - August 253

Trebonianus Gallus

Trebonianus Gallus
Trebonianus Gallus

Gallus, who had betrayed the Roman army, was declared emperor by that part of it which survived the defeat, A. D. 251. He was forty five year old when he began his reign, and was descended from an honorable family in Rome. He was the first who bought a dishonorable peace from the enemies of the state, agreeing to pay a considerable annual tribute to the Goths whom it was his duty to repress.

Gallus was regardless of every national calamity. The Pagans were allowed the power of persecuting the Christians in all parts of the empire. These calamities were followed by a pestilence from heaven, that seemed to have spread over every part of the earth, and which raged for several years; a civil war followed between Gallus and his general AEmilianus, who having gained a victory over the Goths, was proclaimed emperor by his army. Gallus roused from the intoxications of pleasure, and prepared to oppose his dangerous rival; he was slain with his son, by AEmilianus in a battle fought in Maesia. His death was merited, and his vices deserve the detestation of posterity. He died in the fortyseventh year of his age, after an unhappy reign of two years and four months.

22 October 253 - spring 260


The senate refused to acknowledge the claims of AEmilianus; and an army that was stationed near the Alps, chose Valerian, their commander, to succeed Gallus. This emperor set about reforming the state with a spirit that marked a good intention.

But reformation seemed almost impracticable. The Persians, under their king, Sapor, invaded Syria, and advancing into Mesopotamia, took the unfortunate Valerian prisoner, as he was making preparations to oppose them. Nothing can exceed the cruelties that were practised upon this unhappy monarch, thus fallen among his enemies. Sapor used him as a footstool, for mounting his horse; and usually observed, that an attitude like that to which Valerian was reduced was the best statue that could be erected in honor of his victory. This horrid life of insult and suffering continued seven years, and was at length terminated by the cruel Persian's commanding his prisoner's eyes to be plucked out and causing him to be flayed alive.

22 October 253 - September 268


When Valerian was taken prisoner, Gallienus, his son, promising to revenge the insult, was chosen emperor, A. D. 259, being about forty-one years old.

Gallienus sought rather the splendors than the toils of empire. After having overthrown Igenus, a commander in Pannonia, as if fatigued with conquest, he gave himself up to ease and luxury. It was at this time that no less than thirty pretenders were striving for the dominion of the state, and adding the calamities of civil war to the miseries of the empire. These are called in history the thirty tyrants.

In this calamity, Gallienus was obliged, for his own security, to take the field, and led an army to besiege the city of Milan, which had been taken by one of the thirty tyrants. It was there he was slain by his own soldiers; Martian, one of his generals, having conspired against him.

September 268 - January 270

Claudius Gothicus

Claudius Gothicus being nominated to succeed Gallienus, A. D. 268, he was joyfully accepted by all orders of the state.

This emperor was a man of great valor, having performed the most excellent services against the Goths, who had long continued to make their irruptions into the empire; but on his march against that barbarous people, he was seized with a pestilential fever and died, to the great regret of his subjects, and the irreparable loss of the empire.

September 270 - September or October 275


Upon the death of Claudius, Aurelian was acknowledged emperor, A. D. 270, and assumed the command with a greater share of power than his predecessors had enjoyed for some time before.

This active monarch was born of mean and obscure parentage, in Dacia, and was about fiflyfive years old at the time of his coming to the throne. He had spent the early part of his life in the army, and had risen through all the gradations of military duty.

He was of unshaken courage and amazing strength; he, in one engagement, killed forty of the enemy with his own hand, and above nine hundred at different times. He was compared to Julius Caesar, and in fact only wanted mildness and clemency to be every way his equal.

Among the number of those who were compelled to submit to his power, we may reckon the famous Zenobia, queen of Palmyra. He subdued her country, destroyed her city, and took her prisoner. Longinus the celebrated critic, who was secretary to the queen, was by Aurelian's order put to death. Zenobia was reserved to grace his triumph, and afterwards allotted such lands, and income, as served to maintain her in almost her former splendor.

His severities at last were the cause of his destruction. He was slain in the sixtieth year of his age, after an active reign of almost five years.

September 25, 275 - June 276

Marcus Claudius Tacitus

After some time, the senate made choice of Tacitus to succeed Aurelian, A. D. 275, a man of great merit, and no way ambitious of the honors that were offered him, being at that time seventyfive years old.

A reign begun with much moderation and justice, only wanted continuance to make the empire happy; but after enjoying the empire about six months, he died of a fever in his march to oppose the Persians and Scythians, who had invaded the eastern parts of the empire.

276 - September/October 282



Upon the death of Tacitus, the whole army cried out that Probus should be emperor. He was fortyfour years old when he ascended the throne; was born of noble parentage, at Sirium, in Pannonia, and bred a soldier from his youth.

He began early to distinguish himself, being the first man, that, in besieging towns, scaled the walls or burst into the enemy's camp. He was equally remarkable for single combats, and saving the lives of many eminent citizens; nor were his activity and courage, when elected to the empire, less apparent than in his private station. Every year produced new calamities to the empire, and fresh irruptions on every side threatened universal desolation. Finally, his own mutinous soldiers, taking their opportunity, as he was marching into Greece, slew him, after he had reigned six years and four months, with general approbation.



Carus, who was praetorian praefect to the emperor Probus, was chosen by the army to succeed hiin, A. D. 282; and he, to strengthen

Carus was, shortly after his exaltation, struck dead by lightning in his tent. Numerian, who accompanied his father in this expedition, was inconsolable for his death, and brought such a disorder upon his eyes with weeping, that he was obliged to be carried along with the army, shut up in a close litter. The peculiarity of his situation, after some time, excited the ambition of Asper, his father-in-law, who supposed that he could now, without danger, aim at the empire.

He hired a villain to murder the emperor in his litter; and to conceal the fact, gave out that he was still alive, but unable to endure the light. The offensiveness of his smell soon discovered the treachery, and excited an universal up roar throughout the whole army. In the midst of this tumult, Diocletian, one of the most noted commanders of his time, was chosen emperor, and with his own hand slew Asper.

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