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Postumus (A.D. 260-269)

Michel Polfer

Centre Universitaire de Luxembourg

Coin with the image of Postumus(c)2000 Princeton Economic Institute

Postumus is the first emperor of the so-called "Gallic empire", which lasted from his rebellion against Gallienus in 260 AD to the surrender of Tetricus I to the central emperor Aurelian in 274 AD.

In 260 AD, the general situation of the Empire was favorable to usurpations: Valerian I,father of and coemperor with Gallienus, had been made prisoner by the Persian king Shapur I . The news shook the Empire and in the following months, the position of his heir Gallienus became very difficult, as he had to face rebellions in several parts of the Empire. While the inner situation was thus more than unstable, the barbarians, sensing the opportunity, poured across the northern frontier. The Franks entered into Gaul, devastating Germania Inferior and Belgica. Some frankish warrior groups pressed on as far as Spain, where they destroyed Tarragona (Aur. Vict. 33.3; Eutrop. 9.8.2; Oros. 7.22.7ff.). The Alamanni broke through the limes in Germania superior and Raetia, overran the agri Decumates, sacked the city of Aventicum and begun to extend their destructions to the interior of Gaul. Italy itself was exposed to them, as Gallienus had withdrawn most of the troops to fight the usurper Ingenuus on the Danube. After his victory over Ingenuus, Gallienus returned to Italy and was able to defeat the Germanic invaders at Milan in midsummer 260 AD( Aurel. Vict. 33.3; Eutrop. 9.8.2.; Oros. 7.22.7; Zonar. 12.24). That the resulting peace was short-lived, as a new rebellion on the Danube, led by Regalianus, and the great Sarmatic invasions of 260 exposed the northern frontier. Moreover, Gallienus had to face the revolt of Macrianus and Quietus in Egypt, which removed this important province from his control.

Thus it is not surprising that Gallienus was unable to take swift and effective military actions, when - probably in the summer of 260 AD[[1]]- an other usurper, M. Cassianius Latinius Postumus, rebelled on the Rhine frontier. The exact position of Postumus on the moment of the revolt is not known, but the context makes it clear that he was commanding troops on the Rhine frontier . The direct reason for his rebellion seems to have been a quarrel about booty taken from a barbarian raiding-party destroyed on its way home by Postumus and his soldiers. While Postumus had distributed the booty to his men, the praetorian prefect Silvanus ordered him to surrender the booty to himself and the Caesar Saloninus, the son of Gallienus, whom his father had left behind as his representative in the town of Cologne, under the guardianship of Silvanus. Postumus troops rebelled and proclaimed their commander imperator. They marched against and laid siege to Cologne. The garrison in the town was compelled to hand over Saloninus and Silvanus, both were put to death (Epit. De Caes 32.3; Aur. Victor 33.8; Eutropius 9.9; HA trig. tyr. 3.2ff.; Zosimus 1.38.2; Zonaras 12.24.10-12).

The area controlled by Postumus after his rebellion in 260 AD consisted of Germania inferior and Germania superior as well as of Raetia and the whole of Gaul (except for the southern parts of Lugdunensis and perhaps also Narbonensis). From 261 AD on, it also included Britain and the Spain[[3]]. Neither he nor his successors made any attempt to extend the Gallic Empire further to the south or the east.

According to the literary sources at our disposal, the first "Gallic" emperor Postumus reigned well[[4]]. They praise him for his military success against the Germanic invaders, thus crediting him with the restoration of the western provinces which had been on the verge of collapse (Aur. Victor 33.8; Eutropius 9.9). That Postumus undertook heavy fighting against Germanic tribes is also confirmed by his coinage and by the fact that he assumed -before the 10th of December 261 AD - the title of Germanicus maximus.

In 265 AD, the central emperor Gallienus tempted to crush the usurper, but twice failed to do so[[5]]. On the first occasion, the fugitive Postumus owed his life only to the carelessness of Gallienus' cavalry commander Aureolus, on the second occasion, the emperor, besieging the usurper in a Gallic town, was wounded by an arrow and had to break of the assault (Zonaras 12.24.13-18). It seems that thereafter Gallienus made no other serious attempt to overcome this usurpation, devoting his attention to the political and military problems in the eastern part of the Roman empire.

He could do so, because Postumus took no actions at all to march on Rome (Hist. Aug. Tyr. Trig. 3.3, 3.7, 5.2)[[6]]. Right from the beginning of his usurpation, Postumus thus had made it clear that he had no intentions to make a bid for Rome, that his thoughts were only for Gaul. Even when in 268 AD Aureolus, the cavalry commander of Gallienus stationed in Milan - who had succeeded to recover Raetia for the central empire (Aurel. Vict. 33.17) - entered into rebellion and declared himself for Postumus did the later not take up the implied invitation to invade Italy, finally abandoning Aureolus to his fate[[7]].

But on the other hand there is no evidence at all to support the theory that he had the intention to create a separate "Galliarum imperium"[[8]]. On the contrary: Postumus - ass well as his successors - avoided in his propaganda every hint to the limited extension of his reign. He put himself clearly in the tradition of the central Roman emperors, clearly underlining the universal claim of his rule, taking all the traditional titles of the Roman emperors, including those of pontifex maximus and pater patriae[[9]], proclaiming senators and nominating his own consuls. His coins show the same universal claims, giving preference to types like Roma aeterna or pacator orbis, to salus and fides.

By the end of 265 AD, Postumus' coins joyfully proclaimed his victory, the festivities celebrating his quinquennalia continued into the following year. But while the coinage of Postumus of the years 267-268 underlined the peace and prosperity brought to his reign by the guiding hand of the emperor, the sudden deterioration of his billon coinage in 268 AD shows that Postumus was facing more and more difficulties. It is very likely that his repeated refusal to march on Rome had disturbed many of his soldiers, since only his recognition of sole ruler of the Empire might have legitimized their rebellion of 260 AD and provided them with adequate reward for their support[[10]]. So the debasement of 268 was probably occasioned by Postumus' need to buy the loyalty of his men, thus forcing him to mint beyond the silver supplies which the area under his control could provide. Nevertheless he was able to celebrate in late 268 AD the commencement of his tenth year in power as well as his entry into his fifth consulship on 1st of January 269[[11]].

These festivities were cut short early in 269 AD by the rebellion of Ulpius Cornelius Laelianus at Moguntiacum (Mainz). There is no direct written or epigraphic evidence for the office Laelianus held at the time of his revolt against Postumus, but it seems most likely that he held an office in Germania Superior, either as legatus legionis XXII Primigenie or as governor of Germania Superior. His rebellion can be explained only on the grounds of a growing dissatisfaction of the troops of the Rhine-army with their commander in chief and emperor Postumus. How deep these tensions had become became apparent after the successful action against the usurper: no sooner had Postumus taken Moguntiacum and thus ended the ephemerous rebellion of Laelianus than he was murdered by his own troops for refusing them to sack the city (Aur. Vict. 33.8; Eutrop. 9.9.1). In his place, the troops raised to the purple a simple soldier, Marcus Arelius Marius, shortly afterwards killed and replaced by Marcus Piav(v)onius Victorinus.


1) Primary Sources :

Aurelius Victor, Liber de Caesaribus, ed. F. Pichlmayr, Leipzig, 1911 (reprinted 1970)

Eutropius, Breviarium, ed. C. Santini, Leipzig, 1979.

Scriptores Historiae Augustae, ed. E. Hohl, Leipzig, 1927.

2) Secondary Sources :

Der Kleine Pauly IV 1588 Nr. 2 (H. Volkmann)

Drinkwater 1987 : J. F. Drinkwater, The Gallic Empire. Separatism and Continuity in the North-Western Provinces of the Roman Empire A.D. 260-274, Stuttgart, 1987 (= Historia Einzelschriften Heft 52).

Eck 1985: Die Statthalter der germanischen Provinzen vom 1.-3. Jahrhundert. Köln, 1985.

Elmer 1941 : G. Elmer, Die Münzprägung der gallischen Kaiser von Postumus bis Tetricus in Köln, Trier und Mailand, in : Bonner Jahrbücher 146, 1941, 1-106.

Kienast 1990 : D. Kienast, Römische Kaisertabelle. Grundzüge einer römischen Kaiserchronologie, Darmstadt, 1990, p. 240-241.

König 1981 : I. König, Die gallischen Usurpatoren von Postumus bis Tetricus, München 1981, p. 43-136.

Lafaurie 1975 : J. Lafaurie, L'Empire gaulois. Apport de la numismatique, in : Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II, 2, Berlin, New York, 1975, 853-1012.

PIR2 C 466

PLRE 720 Nr. 2

RE III 2 1899, 1656ff. Nr. 1 (A. Stein)

Schulte 1983 : B. Schulte, Die Goldprägung der gallischen Kaiser von Postumus bis Tetricus, Aarau, Frankfurt a. M., Salzburg, 1983.

Schulzki 1996 : H.-J. Schulzki, Die Antoninianenprägung der gallischen Kaiser von Postumus bis Tetricus (AGK) : Typenkatalog der regulären und nachgeprägten Münzen, Bonn, 1996 ( = Antiquitas 3, 35).

[[1]] There has been extensive debate on whether the fall of Valerian I and the usurpation of Postumus took place in 259 or 260 AD. Se exhaustively König 1981, p. 4-19 as well as Drinkwater 1987, p. 95-102. Current orthodoxy is to date both events to 260 AD. See also K. W. Harl, Civic coins and civic politics in the Roman east AD 180-275. Berkeley, 1987, p. 112f. and K. Strobel, Das Imperium Romanum im "3. Jahrhundert". Modell einer historischen Krise ? Stuttgart, 1993 (= Historia Einzelschriften 75), p. 245. For a good survey on the literary and archaeological evidence available to establish the chronology of this period see M. Jehne, Überlegungen zur Chronologie der Jahre 259-261 n. Chr. im Lichte der neuen Postumus-Inschrift aus Augsburg, Bayrische Vorgeschichtsblätter 61, 1996, p. 185-206.

[[2]] The epigraphic and numismatic evidence suggests that Postumus had already before his usurpation been awarded ornamenta consularia, which would of cause point to high standing at the imperial court of Gallienus. See König 1981, p.52 and p. 66. Concerning Postumus' position immediately before the rebellion, perhaps that of dux ripae or dux limitis (Hist. Aug. Tyr. Trig. 3.9: transrhenani limitis dux), see Drinkwater 1987, p. 25f. and Eck, 1985, p. 222f., who thinks that he occupied the position of praeses provinciae Germaniae inferioris.

[[3]]It is unkown, at what exact date Postums gained control of Spain, Gaul and Britain, but it is likely that this took place rapidly after the successful rebellion in summer of 260 AD . According to Drinkwater, he controlled the entire west already from 261 AD. See König 1981, p. 54ff and Drinkwater 1987, p. 27-28 and 116ff.

[[4]]But one has to be aware of the fact that the Latin sources of senatorial origin represented by the Historia Augusta, Aurelius Victor and Eutropius, in trying to give an image as negative as possible of the central emperor Gallienus, may well have overemphasized the real merits of Postumus.

[[5]] The datation of his campaign to 265 AD is not absolutely certain, but the most likely hypothesis. See Drinkwater 1987, p. 30, 105f and 171f. .

[[6]] There has been much debate on whether Postumus was in control of Raetia and thus of the passes through the Alps perhaps already since late summer 260 AD. New evidence has been provided by an inscription discovered in 1992 in Augsburg. See L. Bakker, Raetien unter Postumus - das Siegesdenkmal einer Juthungenschlacht im Jahre 260 n. Chr. aus Augsburg, Germania 71, 1993, p. 369-386. But see also König 1981, 106f against the hypothesis of Postumus reign including control of the alpine passes as well I. König, "Die Postumus-Inschrift aus Augsburg," Historia 46, 1997, p. 341-354, where he underlines that at the present state of our knowledge the inscription from Augsburg can not be dated with certainty to the year 260 AD.

[[7]] Aureolus was besieged in Milan by Gallienus, when the central emperor was murdered by senior officers. The following elevation of Claudius II in late-summer or early autumn of 268 proved of no benefit to him. After having assumed the title of emperor, he finally surrendered to Claudius II (Gothicus), only to be killed by the imperial guard (Zosimus 1.41; Zonaras 26.1f.)

[[8]]Among the literary sources, only Eutropius IX 9,3 gives this expression. For it's interpretation see König 1981, p. 182ff. .

[[9]] His full title, as given by some inscriptions, being Imperator Caesar Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus pius felix invictus Augustus, pontifex maximus, Germanicus maximu,s tribuniciae potestate consul, pater patriae, proconsul. See Drinkwater 1987, p. 125f.

[[10]] See König 1981, p. 132.

[[11]] See Drinkwater 1987, p. 31-35 and 174.

Copyright (C) 2000, Michel Polfer. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

Comments to: Michel Polfer.

Updated:3 June 2000

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