Coins of Roman Egypt
Greek Dates





The reign of Aemilian is one of the most obscure episodes in the dark third century of our era. 'Obscurissime natus obscurius imperavit,' wrote Eutropius of him, and the epigram has not lost its point today. But on one vexed question—the date of his reign—the coins, studied in connexion with the literary traclition, will yield an answer at least approximately certain, and from that answer results follow, which are of vital importance to the chronology of the whole succeedng period.

The duration of the reign of Aemilian was about three months.* At Alexandria, where the year began on August 29th, Aemilian has not uncommon coins of year Β, none of year Α. This should imply that his rule did not extend far back behind the end of August. An inscription of Gemellae in Numidia* shows Valerian and Gallienus as Emperors on October 22nd, 253; a detachment of Legio III Augusta, demobilized and sent home from Raetia, makes a dedication 'pro salute Augg.' to Victoria Augusta. We have here three pieces of evidence—all equally trustworthy. If we can succeed in combining them, we should be very near the truth.

Let us first try the most obvious solution. Aemelian was Emperor in July, August, and September, 253 : his Alexandrian coinage was slow to commence, but could still run for several weeks before his death at Spoletium near the end of September : the detachment of Legio II Augusta has just time to reach Numidia from Raetia and make its dedication on October 22nd. A very little reflection, however, will lead us to mistrust this solution. There is barely enough time for the Alexandrine coinage in September; there is definitely not time left for demobilization and repatriation of the 'Numidian detachment. We must seek a less obvious, but more satisfying answer.

Can we determine the months of Aemilian's rule in Rome?

(a) The inscription quoted above (ILS 531) should imply a victory of Valerian over Aemilian not later than c. July, 253. Demobilization is a matter of months, not weeks.

(b) Aurelius Victor, Liber de Caesaribus, 29 ff. records the offer of the Empire to Valerian and the appointment of Gallienus as Caesar 'adulta aestate.' That cannot be applied to September. His two years for Gallus, Volusian and Aemilian should end c. July Ist, 253.

(c) The mint of Viminacium begins its year somewhat earlier than the date (August 29th) in use at Alexandria.* But in year xiiii (A.D. 252-253), ending perhaps July-August, Valerian already succeeds Aemilian.

(d) The mint of Amisus has the following dates that concern our immediate purpose:

169 L. Aelius Caesar A.D. 137-138.
283 Trajanus Decius A.D. 251-252.
284 Aemilian A.D. 252-253.*

As Decius was certainly dead by the beginning of July, A.D. 251, the year 283 begins before that date : the year 284 then begins before that date in A.D. 252, ends before that date in A.D. 253. Aemilian, in fact, has coinage at Amisus in advance of July, A.D. 253, the date that according to our first hypothesis is the earliest possible for his rule in Rome—perhaps, even earlier, in A.D. 252.

Putting these indications together, we conclude that Aemilian cannot have reigned beyond July, A.D. 253, at the latest possible, and that in all probability his reign was over some time before that date. If we assign to him the months of April, May and June, we shall not be far wrong. He might begin a little earlier, he cannot possibly continue much later.

Let us go back to our coins of Alexandria. We see now that, as Aemilian was dead well before August 29th 253, it is ridiculous to assign to him after death a coinage denied to him in his lifetime The Alexandrian coins of year Β remain : but year Β is A.D. 252-253 not A.D. 253-254,* and Aemilian's theoretical year 1 takes us back behind August 29th, 252. Aemilian's rising, in fact, was like that of Trajanus Decius. It began in the provinces many months before it reached success in Rome.

We can now interpret the reign of Aemilian with some confidence in the light of the narrative of Zosimus and Zonaras.* Zosimus (i, ch. 26 ff.) records that the peace patched up by Gallus with the Goths did not last. They raided the Balkans, while the Persians overran Syria. Aemilian rallied the Roman forces in Moesia, defeated the Goths and invaded Italy to take Gallus unaware. Gallus, τον χατα την εωαν πραγματων ανηχοος ων, made such counter preparations as he could and sent Valerian to Raetia to bring up the armies of Germany. Gallus fell, but Aemilian did not long survive him. Valerian marched south against him, and his own friends, θεωρουνες (αυτον)…στρατιωτιχως μαλλον η αρχιχως προσιοντα τοις πραγμασιν, made an end of him. Zonaras xii, 20 ff. gives a similar account. The Scythians swept over Macedonia, Thessaly, Greece and even Italy, the Persians overran Armenia. Aemilian, a Λιβυς ανηρ, αρχων του εν Μυσια στρατευματος, promised his men the subsidies due to the barbarians, if they could conquer them. The soldiers responded, defeated the barbarians and proclaimed Aemilian Emperor. His fall is then recorded much as by Zosimus. Zonaras adds the interesting detail that Aemilian proposed to the Senate to let it govern, while he fought its wars against Goths and Persians. Our Latin authorities give us the Western tradition, which neglects the earlier phase of Aemilian's career and concentrates on his raid on Italy and his three months' rule at Rome. We can see now how unjust this summarized version is. As early as the summer of A.D. 252 Aemilian was recognized in Alexandria. His great victory over the barbarians will have been already won. The mint of Dacia, which did not strike at all in year vi, A.D. 251-252, now resumes and strikes for Aemilian in years vii and viii, A.D. 252-253, 253-254, passing to Valerian in the last-named year. Aemilian's invasion of Italy will have taken place as early as possible in A.D. 253. The mission of Valerian to Raetia must in all probability be placed before the enc of A.D. 252. With the campaigning season of A.D. 253, Aemilian struck first. Whether or not helped by any deliberate delay on the part of Valerian, he overthrew Gallus, who was unassisted by the German armies. Valerian in Raetia continued his preparations. By June-July, if not earlier, he was ready, and at the mere threat of his invasion Aemilian collapsed without a blow.*

Aemilian, then, is one of the honourable line of 'restitutores orbis terrarum,' sprung from the Balkan lands, who strove to make good by valour and enterprise the defects of the government at Rome. His work in the Balkans at least was well done, and, even if he was too much soldier and too little statesman to fit the times, a glance at the fate of Valerian will remind us that to sacrifice Aemilian for Valerian was possibly no such wise choice after all.

The importance of our results for general chronology is best seen if we study the mint of Alexandria. In A.D. 249-250 we have Trajanus Decius, Α : in A.D. 250-251 we have Trajanus Decius, Β.

It is usual now to mark a complete interval of over a year for Trebonianus Gallus's years, Α and Β, in which no coins were struck,

A.D. 251-252 blank (Trebonianus Gallus—Β)
        and to continue:
A.D. 252-253 Trebonianus Gallus Γ
        Aemilian Α (no coins struck)
A.D. 25 3-254 Aemilian Β
        Valerian and Gallienus Α

We now see that Aemilian had replaced Trebonianus Gallus before the beginning of the Alexandrine year, A.D. 252-253, and must emend thus:

A.D. 251-252 Trebonianus Gallus, Γ, using the count of Trajanus Decius, as colleague of his son Hostilian
        Aemilian Α (no coins struck)
A.D. 252-253 Aemilian Β
        Valerian and Gallienus Α

A.D. 253-254 Valerian and Gallienus Β

These conclusions are not yet generally accepted and do in fact run counter to the system very ably expounded by A. Stein in the Archiv fur Papyrusforschung vii and viii.* But they rest on unimpeachable evidence and must be made the basis of our future dating.*


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