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Marcus Aemilius Aemilianus (Girbamarker, c. 207/213 - 253), commonly known in English as Aemilian, was Roman Emperor for about three months in 253.

Commander of the Moesian troops, he obtained an important victory against the invading Goths and was, for this reason, acclaimed emperor by his army. He then moved quickly to Italy, where he defeated emperor Trebonianus Gallus, only to be killed by his own men when another general, Valerian, proclaimed himself emperor and moved against Aemilian with a larger army.


Origins and military career

Aemilian was born in the Roman province of Africa. According to the 4th century source Epitome de Caesaribus he was born at Girba (modern Djerbamarker, an island off the coast of Tunisiamarker) and was a Moor; a reference in the same source hints that he was born around 207. The 12th century historian Joannes Zonaras, who calls him a Libyan (that is, coming from western Egypt-eastern Libya) rather than a Moor, and another chronicle of the 13th century hold that he was forty at the time of his death in 253. As regards his lineage, there are two different versions, both exaggerated: while Eutropius and his translator Paeanius probably defamate a failed usurper when they tell that he was from an insignificant family, John of Antioch may refer bits of Aemilian's propaganda when he tells that the usurper used his ancestry to take the power. Aemilian married Cornelia Supera, a woman of African origin; the year of their marriage is unknown, but being both from the same place, it is possible they married before Aemilian left Africa.

During the reign of Trebonianus Gallus and his son Volusianus (251-253), Aemilian was sent to the Balkans, where he was commander of some army. His primary responsibility was to assure peace along the Danube frontier, which had been subject in the previous years to several attacks of the Goths led by king Cniva. Gallus had secured the throne after the death of emperor Decius at the hands of Cniva in the battle of Abrittusmarker (251), and later had to manage an outbreak of plague that devastated the city of Rome. He was not popular with the army, mainly due to the humiliating treaties signed in 251 with the Goths and to the attack of King Shapur I of Persia against Syria. According to John of Antioch, at the time of his appointment to the Moesian command, Aemilian was already envious of Gallus and plotted sedition against him, while being at the same time an opponent of the Roman Senate; his seditious plans are confirmed by Jerome and Jordanes.

Victory against the Goths, overthrow of Gallus, short rule and death of Aemilian

In 253 the Goths, led by king Cniva, protested they had not received the tribute due by the Romans according to the peace treaty of 251, and crossed the border, attacking Cappadociamarker, Pessinusmarker, and Ephesusmarker; the opinion of modern historians is that this missing payment was not a change in Roman policy, and probably the Goths were only trying to capitalize their military prowess. Aemilian was the commander of the army responsible of the attacked area; as his men were discouraged to win the enemy after the bloody defeat in the battle of Abrittusmarker, he did what he can to encourage them, reminding them the Roman honour (according to Zosimus) or promising them the money of the tribute for the Goths (according to Zonaras). The Romans took the Goths by surprise and killed most of them, entering enemy territory, capturing booty and freeing their prisoners. The Roman soldiers, gathered by Aemilian, acclaimed him Emperor. Jordanes claims, however, that Aemilian's troops plundered Roman territory, rather than keeping the tribute for the Goths.

With his few men, Aemilian could hardly wait for the legitimate emperor Gallus to gather his forces, so he left his province unguarded and, with all his men, moved quickly towards Romemarker, to meet his opponent before he could receive reinforcements. While Aemilian descended upon Rome along the Flaminian Way, Trebonianus Gallus and his son and colleague Volusianus had him proclaimed "enemy of the State" by the Roman senate, then exited Rome to meet the usurper; this strategy is a clue that Aemilian army was smaller than theirs, as it is probable that they did not expect the reinforcements to come in time, but trusted their larger army to win the clash. The two armies met at Interamna Naharsmarker (modern Ternimarker), at the southern end of the eastern branch of the Flaminia, and Aemilian won the battle; Gallus and Volusianus fled with few followers towards north, probably to gather time before the arrival of the reinforcements, but at Forum Flaminii (modern San Giovanni Profiamma), on the western branch of Flaminia, they were killed by some of their own guards, who thought that their betrayal could earn them a reward.

Aemilian moved towards Rome; here the Roman senate, after a short opposition, decided to recognize him emperor. According to some sources, after his recognition Aemilian wrote to the Senate, promising to fight for the Empire in Thrace and against Persia, and to relinquish his power to the Senate, of which he considered himself a general. Aemilian received the titles of Pius, Felix and Pater Patriae, the tribunicia potestas, and was elevated to the rank of pontifex maximus; however, he was not elevated to consulate (possbily a hint of his non-senatorial birth). His coinage shows that his propaganda was centred around his capability as military commander; he had been able to defeat the Goths while nobody even believed this possible, and thus he was the right man for the job of restoring the power of the Roman Empire.

However, Valerian, the governor of the Rhine provinces, was on his way southwards with the Rhine army. According to Zosimus, he had been called as a reinforcement by Gallus, but modern historians rather think that his army, maybe mobilized for an incumbent campaign in the East, had moved only after Gallus' death, to support its general's bid for power. When Valerian descended upon Italy with his army, which outnumbered Aemilian's, the soldiers of the emperor, considering the difference in strength and the unworthiness of Aemilian for the role, avoided the civil war killing Aemilian at Spoletiummarker or the Sanguinarium bridge, between Oriculum and Narniamarker (half way between Spoletium and Rome), and recognised Valerian as the new emperor. After his death, which happened between late July and mid-September, a damnatio memoriae against Aemilian was declared.

It is possible that the usurper Silbannacus was an officer left by Aemilian in Rome before moving against Valerian, who later tried to become emperor but then was killed.

The troubled administration of this emperor was perhaps best summed up by Eutropius:


  1. Epitome de Caesaribus, 31.1-2.
  2. Epitome de Caesaribus, 31.3.
  3. Joannes Zonaras, Epitome Historiarum, 12.21.
  4. Joannes Zonaras, Epitome Historiarum, 12.22.
  5. Eutropius, Breviariun ab Urbe condita, 9.6; Paeanius, 9.6.
  6. John of Antioch, fr. 150.
  7. Banchich.
  8. John of Antioch says he was archon of Moesia (fr. 150), Zosimus puts him at the head of the Pannonian units (New History, i.28), while Joannes Zonaras claims he was commander of the Moesian army (12.21).
  9. Jerome, Chronicon, Ol. 258; Jordanes, Romana, 285.
  10. Zosimus, New History, i.28.1-2.
  11. Jordanes, Getica, 105.
  12. Varner, Eric, Mutilation and Transformation, Brill Academic Publishers, 2004, ISBN 9004135774, p. 209.
  13. Eutropius, 9.5; Paeanius 9.5, p. 153; Aurelius Victor 31.1
  14. Aurelius Victor, 31.1
  15. Aurelius Victor, 31.3.
  16. Anonymous Continuator of Cassius Dio, fr. 2.
  17. Richard Beale, "Roman Imperial Coins of 249-253 A.D."
  18. Zosimus, i.28.3.
  19. Potter, David S., Prophecy and History in the Crisis of the Roman Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 322.
  20. Potter (2004), p. 252
  21. Zonaras, 12.22; Epitome de Caesaribus, 31.2; Zosimus, i.29.1; Chronographer of 354. Only Aurelius Victor reports Aemilianus' death for illness (31.3).
  22. Estiot, Sylviane, "L'empereur Silbannacus. Un second antoninien", in Revue numismatique, 151, 1996, pp. 105-117.


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