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Emperor of the Roman Empire
Gallienus bust.jpg
Bust of Gallienus
Reign 253-260 with Valerian;
260-268 alone
Full name Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus (from birth to accession);
Caesar Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus Augustus (as emperor)
Born c. 218
Died 268 (aged 50)
Place of death Mediolanum
Predecessor Aemilianus
Successor Claudius II
Wife Cornelia Salonina
Offspring Valerianus, Saloninus, Marinianus
Father Valerian
Mother Egnatia Mariniana
Gallienus depicted on a lead seal

Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus[1] (c. 218 - 268) ruled the Roman Empire as co-emperor with his father Valerian from 253 to 260, and then as the sole Roman Emperor from 260 to 268. He took control of the empire at a time when it was undergoing great crisis. His record in dealing with those crises is mixed, as he won a number of military victories but was unable to keep much of his realm from seceding.




Rise to power

Based on the testimony of John Malalas and the Epitome de Caesaribus that Gallienus was about 50 years old at the time of his death, it is generally considered he was born around 218, son of Valerian and Mariniana, a woman possibly of senatorial rank and possibly a daughter of Egnatius Victor Marinianus, and brother of Valerianus Minor.[2] Inscriptions on coins connect him with Falerii in Etruria and this may well have been his birthplace; it has yielded many inscriptions relating to his mother's family, the Egnatii.[3]

He married to Cornelia Salonina about ten years before his accession to the throne. She was the mother of three princes, Valerian II (who died in 258), Saloninus (who, after becoming co-emperor, died in 260 by the hand of his general Postumus), and Marinianus[4] (killed in 268, shortly after his father was assassinated).

When his father Valerian was proclaimed emperor on 22 October 253, he asked the Senate to ratify Gallienus' elevation to Caesar and Augustus, in order to share the power between two persons. He was also designated Consul Ordinarius for 254.

As Marcus Aurelius and his adopted brother Lucius Verus had done a hundred years before them, Gallienus and his father divided the Empire; Valerian struck for the East to stem the Persian threat and Gallienus remained in Italy to repel the Germanic tribes on the Rhine and Danube. This policy made sense not simply because the unhappy fates of several Emperors previous to this duo had made it clear that one man simply could not rule a state this size; equally, a 'barbarian' enemy suing for peace in this time tended to demand that they be allowed to apply to the 'chief' or 'king' of the victorious side. Therefore, an Emperor had to be available to negotiate if such a situation arose.

Early reign and Ingenuus' revolt

While spending most of his time in the provinces of Rhine area (Germania Inferior, Germania Superior, Raetia, Noricum), it is almost certain that, during 253 to 258, Gallienus visited Danube area and Illyricum. According to Eutropius and Aurelius Victor, he was particularly energetic and successful in keeping off the Germanic invaders from the German provinces and Gaul, after the weakness caused by Valerian's march on Italy against Aemilianus in 253.[5] Indeed, according to numismatic evidence, it seems that he won many victories there[6] and a victory in Dacia might also be dated to that period. Even the hostile Latin tradition attributes him success at this time.[7]

In 255 and 257 he was made Consul again; this perhaps indicates that he briefly visited Rome on that occasions, although no record has been left of it.[8] During his Danube sojourn (Drinkwater suggests in 255 or 256) he proclaimed his elder son Valerian II Caesar and thus official heir to himself and Valerian I; the boy probably now joined Gallienus on campaign and when Gallienus moved west to the Rhine provinces in 257 remained behind on the Danube as the personification of Imperial authority.[9]

However, somewhere between 258 and 260 (the exact date is unclear), Gallienus had to face the first major revolt in his reign. Ingenuus, governor of at least one of the Pannonias[10], took advantage of Valerian's distraction with the ongoing invasion of Shapur in the East and the preoccupation of Gallienus with his problems in the West and assumed the purple. Valerian II had apparently died on the Danube, most likely in 258,[11] and Ingenuus may have been responsible - or wrongly held responsible - for that calamity. According to another view, Valerian's disaster and capture at the battle of Edessa was the trigger for the subsequent revolts of Ingenuus, Regalianus and Postumus.[12] In any case, Gallienus reacted with great speed. First, he left his son Saloninus as Caesar at Cologne, under the supervision of Albanus (or Silvanus) and the military leadership of Postumus. Then he hastily crossed through the Balkans, taking with him the new cavalry corps (comitatus) under the command of Aureolus[13] and defeated the usurper at Mursa[14] or Sirmium.[15] The victory must be attributed mainly to the cavalry and its brilliant commander. Ingenuus was killed by his own guards or committed suicide by drowning himself after the fall of his capital, Sirmium.[16]

Invasion of the Alamanni

A major invasion of the Alamanni and other Germanic tribes occurred somewhere between 258 and 260 (it is hard to fix the precise date of these events[17]). The reason probably was the vacuum left by the withdrawal of troops for supporting Gallienus in the campaign against Ingenuus.

First Franks broke through the lower Rhine, invading Gaul. A band of them reach as far as southern Spain, sacking Tarraco (modern Tarragona).[18] Then Alamanni broke in, probably through Agri Decumates (an area between the upper Rhine and the upper Danube)[19], probably followed by the Juthungi.[18] After devastating Germania Superior and Raetia (parts of southern France and Switzerland), they entered Italy. It was the first invasion of the peninsula, apart from its remotest northern regions, since the days of Hanibal, 500 years before. When invaders reached the outskirts of Rome, they were repelled by an improvised army assembled by the Senate. That army consisted of local troops (probably praetorian guards) and the strongest of the civilian population.[20] On their retreat through the northern Italy, they were intercepted by the Gallienus' army near present day Milan and defeated in the battle of Mediolanum. He had advanced from Gaul, after dealing with the Franks[20] or came from the Balkans. Juthungi managed to cross the Alps with their booty and captives from Italy[18][21] but, in any case, the victory at the battle of Mediolanum was decisive. Alamanni didn't bother the Empire for the next 10 years.

An historian in the 19th century suggested that the initiative of the Senate gave rise to the jealousy and suspicion of Gallienus, thus contributing in the exclusion of senators from military commands.[22]

Regalianus' revolt

At some time before or after the Alamannic invasion, Regalianus, a military commander of Illyricum assumed the purple. The reasons for his usurpation are unclear and Historia Augusta, our almost sole resource for the events, does not provide a credible story. It is possible that the usurpation can be attributed to the discontent of the civilian and military provincials, when they felt that that defense of the province was neglected.[23]

Nevertheless, it seems that Regalianus held power for some six months and issued coins bearing his image. After some success against the Sarmatians, his revolt was put down by the invasion of Roxolani into Pannonia and Regalianus himself was killed when the invaders took the important city of Sirmium.[24] There is a suggestion that Gallienus invited Roxolani against Regalianus but other historians dismiss the accusation.[25] It is also suggested that the invasion was finally checked by Gallienus near Verona and he directed the restoration of the province, probably in person.[26]

Postumus' revolt

One more consequence of the catastrophe at the battle of Edessa was that Gallienus lost control over the two provinces of Germania, Britain, Spain and a large part of Gaul, when another general, Postumus, had declared his own realm (typically known today as the Gallic Empire). The revolt partially coincided with that of Macrianus in the East.

The circumstances of the usurpation were, once more, dramatic. In Cologne, Gallienus son, Saloninus, and his supervisor Silvanus were installed by Gallienus in 258. Postumus, a general in command of the troops on the banks of the Rhine, took possession of the booty which some raiders were carrying, after defeating them. Instead of returning it to the original owners, he preferred to distribute it amongst his soldiers. When these news reached Silvanus, he demanded that the spoil be sent to him. Postumus made a show of submission but, as expected, his soldiers mutinied and proclaimed him Emperor. Under his command, they besieged Cologne and, after some weeks, the defenders of the city opened the gates and handed Saloninus and Silvanus to Postumus who had them killed.[27] Again, the dating of the events is not safe but perhaps all these happened just before the end of 260.[28] After their death, Postumus claimed the consulship for himself and one of his associates, Honoratianus but, according to D.S.Potter, he never tried to unseat Gallienus or invade Italy.[29]

On the news of the killing of his son, the enraged Gallienus started gathering forces to face the usurper. However, the invasion of the Macriani forced him to dispatch Aureolus with a large force against them, leaving him with insufficient troops. He suffered some initial defeats before the victorious army of Aureolus joined him again. Postumus was defeated and the pursuit was entrusted to Aureolus. The latter deliberately allowed Postumus to escape and gather new forces.[30] Gallienus returned in 263[31] or 265[32] and, as even Historia Augusta admits, was entirely successful, finally besieging Postumus in an unnamed Gallic city. However, during the siege, he was severely wounded by an arrow and had to leave the field. Then there was a standstill until the end of Gallienus reign.[33] The Gallic Empire remained independent until 274.

Capture of Valerian, Macrianus' revolt

On the Eastern part of the Empire, Valerian was confronted with serious troubles. A band of "Scythians" set a naval raid against Pontus, in the northern part of modern Turkey. After they ravaged the province, they move to the south, into Cappadocia. Valerian led troops to intercept them but failed, perhaps because of a plague that gravely weakened his army and the contemporary Iranian invasion of northern Mesopotamia by Shapur I, ruler of the Sassanid Empire. In 259 or 260, during the battle of Edessa, Valerian was taken prisoner by Shapur. After its victory, Shapur's army raided Cilicia and Cappadocia (in present day Turkey) sacking, as Shapur's inscriptions claim, 36 cities. It took a rally by an officer Callistus (Ballista), a fiscal official named Fulvius Macrianus, the remains of the Eastern Roman legions and one Odenathus and his Palmyrene horsemen to turn the tide against Shapur.[34] In 261 Gallienus became Consul for the fourth time.

The Persians were driven back but then Macrianus proclaimed his two sons Quietus and Macrianus (sometimes wrongly spelled Macrinus) as emperors towards the end of the summer of that year.[21] Coins struck for them in major cities of the East show the acknowledgement of the usurpation. The two Macriani left Quietus, Ballista, and, presumably, Odenathus to deal with the Persians while they invaded Europe with an army of 30,000 men, according to the Historia Augusta. At first they met no opposition. [35][36] The Pannonian legions joined the invaders, being resentful of the absence of Gallienus. However, the latter sent his successful commander Aureolus against the rebels. The decisive battle was fought in the spring or early summer of 261, most likely in Illyricum, although Zonaras locates it in Pannonia. In any case, the army of the usurpers surrendered and their two leaders were killed.[37]

In the aftermath of the battle, the rebellion of Postumus had already started, therefore Gallienus had no time to deal with the rest of the usurpers, namely Ballista and Quietus. He came to an agreement with Odenathus who had just returned from his victorious Persian expedition. The latter received the title of dux Romanorum and besieged the usurpers who were based at Emesa. Eventually, the people of Emesa killed Quietus and Odenathus arrested and executed Ballista about November 261.[38]

Aemilianus' revolt

In 261, the mint in Alexandria started again to issue coins for Gallienus. This shows that, after suppressing the revolt of Macriani, Aegypt had returned to Gallienus' control. However, in spring of 262, the city is reported to be rent by civil tumult, as a result of a new usurpation. This time, the rebel was the prefect of Aegypt, Lucius Mussius Aemilianus who had already given support to the revolt of Macriani. The correspondence of bishop Dionysius of Alexandria provides a colourful commentary on the sombre background of invasion, civil war, plague and famine that characterized this age.[39]

Gallienus, knowing that he could not afford the loss of control on the vital Egyptian granaries, sent his general Theodotus against Aemilianus. The expedition was probably naval. The decisive battle probably took place near Thebes and the result was a clear defeat of Aemilianus.[40] In the aftermath, Gallienus became Consul three more times in 262, 264 and 266.

Herulian invasions, Aureolus' revolt, conspiracy and death

In the years 267-269, Goths and other barbarians invaded Balkans in great numbers. Sources are extremely confused on the dating of these invasions, the participants, and their targets. Modern historians are even not able to tell with enough certainty whether there were two or more of these invasions or a single prolonged one. It seems that, at first, a major naval expedition was led by Heruli, starting from northern Black Sea and leading in the ravaging of many cities of Greece (among them, Athens and Sparta). Then another, even more numerous, army of invaders started a second naval invasion of the Balkans. Romans defeated the barbarians on sea at first, then a battle in Thrace was won by Gallienus army and the emperor kept pursuing the invaders. According to some historians, he was the leader of the army who won the great Battle of Naissus, while the majority believes that the victory must be attributed to his successor Claudius II.[41]

In 268, at some time before or soon after the battle of Naissus, Gallienus' authority was challenged by Aureolus, commander of the cavalry stationed in Mediolanum (Milan), who was supposed to keep an eye on Postumus. Instead, he acted as Postumus deputy until the very last days of his revolt, when he seems to have assumed the purple for himself.[42] The decisive battle took place at what is now Pontirolo Nuovo near Milan. Aureolus was clearly defeated and driven back to Milan.[43] Then Gallienus laid siege to the city, but he was murdered during the siege. There are different accounts of the murder but the sources agree on the fact that most of Gallienus' officials wanted him dead.[44] According to the Historia Augusta, an unreliable source compiled long after the events it describes[45], a conspiracy was led by the commander of the guard Aurelius Heraclianus and one Marcianus. Cecropius, commander of the Dalmatians, spread the word that Aureolus was leaving the city, and Gallienus left his tent without his bodyguard, only to be struck down by Cecropius[46]. One version has Claudius selected as emperor by the conspirators, another chosen by Gallienus on his death bed; the Historia Augusta was concerned to substantiate the descent of the Constantinian dynasty from Claudius, and this may explain its accounts which do not involve Claudius in the murder. The other sources (Zosimus i.40 and Zonaras xii.25), report that the conspiracy was organized by Heraclianus, Claudius and Aurelian.

According to Aurelius Victor and Zonaras, on hearing the news of Gallienus death, the Senate at Rome ordered the execution of his family (including his brother Valerianus and son Marinianus) and their supporters, just before receiving a message from Claudius to spare their lives and deify his predecessor.[47]


One of the key characteristics of the Crisis of the Third Century was the inability of the Emperors to maintain their hold on the Imperium for any marked length of time. Gallienus' reign was an exception to this rule. The fact that he served as junior Emperor with his father from 253 to 260 may have had something to do with his successes. Father and son did each wield authority over about half of the empire, thus allowing for more flexible control. Another, more probable reason, lay in Gallienus' success in convincing Rome that he was the best man for the job. However, Gallienus still had to handle many rebellions of the so-called "Gallienus usurpers".

Little time was allowed this emperor for anything but the defence of the realm, but unlike some who occupied the throne before and after him, Gallienus appeared to understand that the Empire's history had to be preserved if it were to have been worth fighting for. Culture and the ancient humanities required promotion, and Gallienus was up to the task when he was allowed a breath. Traveling to Attica in Greece, he had himself initiated into the mystery-cult of Eleusis[48] and encouraged others to do the same.[citation needed] His coin series (further elucidated below), in which he was depicted in the disguise of several Greek deities, powerfully reminded ordinary Romans of the Hellenic side of their own culture.[citation needed] And Plotinus of Lycopolis, referred to as 'the last man of antiquity' by German historian Ivar Lissner, was encouraged and patronized by the Roman royal family during this time. Given Plotinus' Neo-Platonist beliefs and their concentrated nature centering about an ur-Soul or nous, it is very possible that Gallienus, in an attempt to counter Christianity, sought to curb its growth via some method other than persecution.[citation needed] For this he is well spoken of in Eusebius' Historia Ecclesiastica, just as he is not as fondly recalled for losing Gaul in Eutropius' Breviarium.

Arch of Gallienus in Rome, 262 - dedicated to, rather than built by, Gallienus.

Gallienus's chief method of reinforcing his position is seen in the coinage produced during his reign. The coins provide clear evidence of a successful propaganda campaign in a time previous to television or newspapers.[citation needed] Quite a few of the Roman mints' issue had images of soldiers and the legend FIDES MILITVM ("loyalty of the soldiers") as well, despite the constant usurper problems. Gallienus took pains to make sure that he was regularly represented as victorious, merciful, and pious. The peasants and merchants who used these coins on a daily basis saw these messages and, with little evidence to the contrary, remained supportive of their Emperor. Word of mouth, one hoped (and Rome's rumor mill was second to none in the ancient world[citation needed]), did the rest.


Gallienus has not been dealt with well by ancient historians, partly due to the secession of Gaul and his inability to get it back. According to the modern scholar Pat Southern, however, some historians now see him in a more positive light. Gallienus was the father of some useful reforms. His contribution to military history was the first commissioning of a cavalry only unit which could be dispatched anywhere within the empire within short order. This reform arguably created a precedent for the future emperors Diocletian and Constantine I. The biographer Aurelius Victor also reports that Gallienus forbade senators from becoming military commanders[49]. This policy undermined senatorial power, as more reliable equestrian commanders rose to prominence. In Southern's opinion, these reforms and the decline in senatorial influence not only helped Aurelian to salvage the Empire, but they also make Gallienus one of the emperors most responsible for the creation of the dominate, along with Septimius Severus, Diocletian and Constantine I. In portraying himself with the attributes of the gods on his coinage, Gallienus began the final separation of the Emperor from his subjects. A late bust of Gallienus (see above) shows him of largely blank face and gazing heavenward as we see on the famous stone head of Constantine I. One of the last rulers of Rome to be theoretically called "Princeps" or First Citizen, Gallienus' shrewd self-promotion assisted in paving the way for those who would be addressed with the words "Dominus et Deus" (Lord and God).


  1. ^ Gallienus' full title at his death was IMPERATOR CAESAR PVBLIVS LICINIVS EGNATIVS GALLIENVS PIVS FELIX INVICTVS AVGVSTVS GERMANICVS MAXIMVS PERSICVS PONTIFEX MAXIMVS TRIBUNICIAE POTESTATIS XVI IMPERATOR I CONSUL VII PATER PATRIAE, "Emperor Caesar Publius Licinus Egnatius Gallienus Pious Lucky Unconquered Augustus Germanic Maxim Persic Tribunicial Power 16 times Emperor 1 time Consul 7 times Father of the Fatherland".
  2. ^ It is generally accepted that he was 35 years old when he was raised to the throne in 253, see J. Bray (1997), p.16
  3. ^ R. Syme, Historia Augusta Papers (Oxford, 1983), p. 197.
  4. ^ J. Bray (1997), pp.49-51
  5. ^ A. Watson (1999), p.33
  6. ^ Andreas Alfoldi mentions five: see his The Numbering of the Victories of the Emperor Gallienus and of the Loyalty of his Legions, Numismatic Chronicle, 1959, reprinted New York, Attic Books, 1977, ISBN 0 915018-28-4.
  7. ^ J. Bray (1997), pp.56-58
  8. ^ J. Bray (1997), p.56
  9. ^ J. Drinkwater, The Gallic Empire (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1987, ISBN 3-515-04806-5), pp. 21-22.
  10. ^ J. Bray (1997), p.57; Drinkwater (1987), p.22 suggests he also had responsibility for Moesia.
  11. ^ Drinkwater (1987), p. 22.
  12. ^ For a very thorough presentation of the contrasting views, see J. Bray (1997), p.72-73. Also A. Watson (1999), p.230, note 34
  13. ^ J. Bray (1997), pp.74-75
  14. ^ Aurelius Victor, 33,2, Orosius, Historiae adversus Paganos 7.10, Eutropius 9.8
  15. ^ Zonaras, 12.24
  16. ^ J. Bray (1997), p.76. J. Fitz, INGENUUS ET REGALIEN, p.44.
  17. ^ J. Bray (1997), p.47
  18. ^ a b c A. Watson (1999), p.34
  19. ^ J. Bray (1997), p.78
  20. ^ a b J. Bray (1997), p.79
  21. ^ a b D.S.Potter (2004), p.256
  22. ^ Victor Duruy, History of the Roman Empire, vol VI, part II, p.418, London, 1886
  23. ^ J. Bray (1997), pp.82,83
  24. ^ J. Bray (1997), p.83
  25. ^ T. Nagy, Les moments historiques de Budapest, vol.II, 1962, for the former and J. Fitz, INGENUUS ET REGALIEN, p.50 for the latter, as cited in J. Bray (1997), p.83
  26. ^ J. Fitz, LA PANNONIE SOUS GALLIEN, Latomus, vol.148, Brussels, 1976, pp.5-81, as cited in J. Bray (1997), p.83
  27. ^ J. Bray (1997), p.133
  28. ^ Andreas Älfoldi, The Numbering of the Victories of the Emperor Gallienus and of the Loyalty of his Legions, Numismatic Chronicle, 1959, reprinted New York, Attic Books, 1977, as cited in J. Bray (1997), p.359, note 5
  29. ^ D.S.Potter (2004), p.260
  30. ^ J. Bray (1997), pp.136-137
  31. ^ Andreas Älfoldi, The Numbering of the Victories of the Emperor Gallienus and of the Loyalty of his Legions, Numismatic Chronicle, 1959, reprinted New York, Attic Books, 1977, as cited in J. Bray (1997), p.359, note 27
  32. ^ D.S.Potter (2004), p.263
  33. ^ J. Bray (1997), p.138
  34. ^ D.S.Potter (2004), pp.255-256
  35. ^ J. Bray (1997), p.142
  36. ^ Historia Augusta, The two Gallienii, II.6
  37. ^ J. Bray (1997), pp.143-144
  38. ^ J. Bray (1997), pp.144-145
  39. ^ J. Bray (1997), p.146
  40. ^ J. Bray (1997), p.147
  41. ^ J. Bray (1997), pp.279-288, Pat Southern 2001, p.109. Also see Alaric Watson 1999, p.215, David S. Potter 2004, p.266, Herwig Wolfram, History of the Goths (transl. by Thomas J. Dunlap), University of California Press, 1988. ISBN 0-520-06983-8, p.54
  42. ^ J. Bray (1997), pp.290-291
  43. ^ J. Bray (1997), p.292
  44. ^ D.S.Potter (2004), p.264
  45. ^ R. Syme (1968)
  46. ^ Historia Augusta, The two Gallieni, XIV.4-11
  47. ^ J. Bray (1997), pp.307-309. A. Watson (1999), pp.41-42
  48. ^ The Cambridge Ancient History, vol.12, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p.46. ISBN 0-521-30199-8
  49. ^ Aurelius Victor, De Caesaribus, 33-34


Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

  • Lukas de Blois. The policy of the emperor Gallienus, Brill, Leiden, 1976, ISBN 9004045082
  • Bray, John. Gallienus : A Study in Reformist and Sexual Politics, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, 1997, ISBN 1-862-54337-2
  • Drinkwater, John F. The Gallic Empire. Separatism and Continuity in the North-Western Provinces of the Roman Empire A.D. 260-274. Franz Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden, 1987. ISBN 3-515-04806-5
  • Lissner, Ivar. "Power and Folly; The Story of the Caesars". Jonathan Cape Ltd., London, 1958.
  • Potter, David S. The Roman Empire at Bay AD 180–395, Routledge, Oxon, 2004. ISBN 0-415-10058-5
  • Southern, Pat. The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, Routledge, London and New York, 2001.
  • Syme, Ronald. Ammianus and the Historia Augusta, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1968.
  • Syme, Ronald. Historia Augusta Papers, The Clarendon press, Oxford, 1983. ISBN 0-19-814853-4
  • Watson, Alaric. Aurelian and the Third Century, Routledge, Oxon, 1999. ISBN 0-415-30187-4

See also

External links

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Roman Emperor
Served alongside: Valerian (253–260) and Saloninus (260)
Succeeded by
Claudius II


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