Imperial crisis of the 3rd century

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Maximinus "Thrax" , the first soldier emperor.

As Reich crisis of the 3rd century , the modern referred historians the period from 235 to 284/85 n. Chr. In the Roman Empire , was confronted when the empire with a series of inner and outer crises. This period, often as time soldiers Emperor is called, following the end of the imperial dynasty followed the Severer that had proven once again as a stabilizing factor in the Reich.

Several new large Germanic associations and the aggressive neo-Persian Sāsānid Empire threatened the Roman Empire , which temporarily had to fend off invasions in the north and east and thus reached the limits of its military capabilities. Numerous usurpations , the temporary secession of territories ( Gallic Empire and the partial kingdom of Palmyra ) as well as regional economic problems put additional strain on the empire, which went through the height of the crisis around 260. However, through several far-reaching reforms in the administrative and military areas, the Roman state was finally stabilized again, as was the empire. This final phase of the principate ended with Diocletian's accession to government (284/85), with which the beginning of late antiquity is usually associated.

The Roman history of the third century has been the subject of a lively research discussion for years. Some researchers follow the traditional view and assume that there was a complete decline and a systemic crisis of the empire that affected all areas of life. Others are much more cautious and do not question the various manifestations of the crisis, especially for the years around 260, but see the period more as a phase of transformation from the ancient world to late antiquity, in which there were also promising approaches to overcoming the "crisis"; In addition, several provinces of the empire even experienced a real bloom during this time. Some researchers, on the other hand, fundamentally doubt the applicability of the term “crisis” to the conditions of the 3rd century.

History of the "Imperial Crisis"

From Maximinus "Thrax" to Valerian

The first soldier emperor? Maximinus and the year of six emperors

The expansion of the Roman Empire by the end of the 2nd century AD

After the Roman Empire after the turmoil of the second four-emperor year (193) in the reign of Septimius Severus had been stabilized again slipped later Severans more and more in control. The army, spoiled by high donations , became more and more difficult to control for the emperors. The young, inexperienced and rather weak emperor Severus Alexander was murdered by insurgent troops near Mogontiacum (Mainz) in 235 . In his place the officer Maximinus Thrax was proclaimed the new emperor. Several details regarding Maximinus are unclear as the sources are biased. He was evidently not a senator, but only (like Macrinus ) a member of the knighthood . In addition, he came from a family that had probably only had Roman citizenship for a relatively short time , although his wife apparently belonged to the nobility . His relationship with the Senate was bad as he refrained from moving to Rome and showing the institution more than superficial respect. Although the Senate was de facto powerless during the imperial era, it still enjoyed a high symbolic value. But there was also some unrest in the army, because the sources report attempts to overthrow by troops stationed near Mainz and in the east, although both attempts (if they are historical at all) failed. Maximinus was only able to secure his power little by little and gave gifts of money to the soldiers and the urban population of Rome. 235/36 he finally carried out several successful, quite brutal campaigns against the Germanic tribes on the Rhine. An ancient battlefield near Kalefeld in Lower Saxony, discovered in 2008, can probably be classified in this context ; if this is the case, Maximinus' troops advanced almost as far as the Elbe.

A revolt broke out in the province of Africa in 238 against Maximinus, whose relationship with many senators had apparently not relaxed in the period that followed . Apparently, Maximinus had, out of necessity, increased tax pressure in order to be able to pay the legions, which caused unrest in the provinces. The Senate also took a position against the emperor, especially since the anti-emperor Gordian I , who was proclaimed in Africa, had good contacts in Rome and had Maximinus' followers there (such as the Praetorian and city ​​prefects ) murdered. About half of the provinces also fell away from the emperor. Gordian appointed his son of the same name as co-emperor, but in the spring of 238 he was defeated by loyal troops and was killed; shortly afterwards the desperate Gordian I. committed suicide. The Senate, which had to reckon with punitive measures from Maximinus, who was already on the march, thereupon appointed two of its own "Senate Emperors" in the form of the respected Senators Pupienus and Balbinus - a more than unusual process. However, it then came to riots in Rome, the aim of which was the elevation of an emperor who was related to the Gordiani. Inevitably one raised the very young Gordian III. , the grandson of Gordian I, as Caesar , while Pupienus and Balbinus were to direct the affairs of state.

Pupienus now marched against Maximinus, who was trapped during the siege of Aquileia and was finally murdered by dissatisfied soldiers together with his son. But even after the death of Maximinus there was no calm, rather there were now disputes between Pupienus and Balbinus. The Praetorian Guard , an important power factor in Rome, also threatened the authority of the new government. The guards evidently did not agree with the raising of the new senate emperor, and there might be fears that they would be replaced by a new guard unit. In 238 Praetorians therefore carried out a successful assassination attempt on Pupienus and Balbinus, after which they charged Gordian III. to the new emperor ( Augustus ). This, a very young man from the senatorial nobility, orientated himself more strongly to the Severan principate in his rule.

Rome on the defensive: The first Scythai attacks and the rise of the Sāsānid Empire

Even after the turmoil of the six-imperial year 238, the situation stabilized only temporarily: The economic situation was tense due to the high expenditure for the war against Maximinus, and there was also the threat from outside. On the Rhine , the Alamanni in particular exerted pressure, while the Goths appeared on the Danube and caused unrest there. Although these areas had been threatened for a long time, so basically the situation was not new, the intensity of the attacks appeared to be increasing. Above all, larger tribal confederations ( gentes such as the Alemanni and Franks ) were formed, whose clout was considerable and whose ethnogenesis was probably also driven by the conflict with Rome. In 238 the so-called "Gotensturm" broke out: The Goths began their first attacks on Roman territory and conquered the city of Histros, south of the Danube, while the Carps invaded the province of Moesia inferior (Lower Moesia ).

The history of the struggles against these Germanic invaders, who were called Scythai by the “classical” oriented Greek authors with recourse to traditional ethnography , was described by the historian Dexippus in his (only fragmentary) work Scythica . For Dexippos the year 238 is said to have marked the beginning of the "Scythian War". By 248 the Goths remained calm again, while the Carps continued their attacks.

The defensive struggles that Rome had to endure on the Danube since the 30s of the 3rd century were, however, not comparable to any other threat which the empire arose almost simultaneously in the east. There the New Persian Sāsānid Empire posed a far greater danger to Rome than the - at least initially - isolated advances of Germanic tribes. The Sasanian had 224 and 226, the Arsakiden overthrown. The Sāsānid Empire, which could also look back on an old cultural heritage, was to be Rome's great rival in the east for 400 years (for the fighting in this regard, see the Roman-Persian Wars ). The Persian King Ardaschir I , who probably also wanted to prove his legitimacy through military successes, had already advanced into Roman territory at the time of Severus Alexander, and in 236 the strategically important cities of Nisibis and Karrhai fell to the Persians. It is commonly believed that the establishment of the New Persian Empire had far-reaching consequences for the Romans, but this view has recently been questioned as the aggression (at least later) often came from the Roman side rather than the Sāsānids.

Gordian III.

Gordian III. apparently tried to maintain a good relationship with the Senate and the goodwill of the Roman population. He elevated Timesitheus to Praetorian prefect , who from then on dominated the affairs of government; Gordian married his daughter that same year. In terms of foreign policy, the eastern border of Rome remained a focal point: the Sāsānids had succeeded in 240/41 in conquering the important city of Hatra , capital of the kingdom of the same name. Whether the Sāsānids really, as suggested by Western sources, made claims to territories of the old Achaemenid Empire is questionable and very controversial in research. The Sāsānids cannot be assumed to have a more detailed knowledge of earlier history. It could therefore also be a Roman interpretation. The fall of the Kingdom of Hatra, which had acted as an important buffer state in the Roman-Persian border zone, was the reason for the outbreak of new fighting between Rome and Persia, which was associated with a lot of symbolism: Gordian had the gates of the Temple of Jan in Rome opened, to underline that Rome was at war. He also asked for the assistance of the goddess Athena Promachos , who had assisted the Greeks in the Persian Wars by founding a cult in Rome for the goddess Minerva , identified with Athena . Finally in 243 he went to the east of the empire with Timesitheus. After initial successes, in the course of which Timesitheus died, the Romans suffered a heavy defeat at the Battle of Mesiche (probably in February) 244 against the Persians under their new King Shapur I. Either as a result of the fighting or due to an intrigue of the new Praetorian prefect Philip Arabs , Gordian was killed.

Philip, who was of Arab origin and the son of a sheikh, succeeded Gordian. One of his first measures was to make peace with Persia, apparently at the price of large monetary payments. Philip was very careful to legitimize his rule and apparently had a good relationship with the Senate. He had the late Gordian elevated to divus ; and like this he demonstratively linked to Severan traditions. Nevertheless, there were several uprisings in the course of his reign, which were suppressed relatively quickly (except for the last 249), but nevertheless tied up some forces. In 248 Philip celebrated the 1000th anniversary of Rome at great expense, which was not least of all propaganda value. Presumably in this context, Asinius Quadratus wrote a 1000-year history of Rome, which (apart from a few fragments) has not survived. The foreign policy situation remained tense, but still controllable: In 245/46 Philip successfully waged war against the Carps in the Danube region, which ultimately had to make peace. The Danube border continued to be one of the most endangered border regions, because after the Carps the Skythai , i.e. the Goths, attacked again in 248 and invaded Thrace . They also besieged the city of Marcianopolis , but eventually withdrew. In 249, an army commander was usurped: Decius , who had probably successfully taken action against Teutons on the Danube, had his troops proclaim himself emperor. Philip fell shortly after in battle against Decius.

Aureus of Decius, on which his victories are celebrated

Decius, who as emperor took the programmatic surname Traianus , came from the senatorial upper class. Apparently he was very traditionalist, because he tried very hard to cultivate the traditional gods and proceeded rigorously against Christians . A sacrificial edict issued by him was intended to force all residents of the Reich to show their loyalty by offering a sacrifice to the gods before a commission. In the event of contradiction, arrests and confiscations of property took place, and in fact the first nationwide persecution of Christians developed . It seems unrealistic in recent research that the application of the edict against Christianity was intended from the outset; rather, this reading seems to have arisen only with the first Christians' refusal to sacrifice. A religion like Christianity, which stood in opposition to the traditional cults of gods, had to appear to the traditionalist Decius as a provocation; the gods as protectors of Rome played an important role in the Roman state. At first the Christians were completely surprised. While a large number of them came to terms with the situation and either offered the sacrifice or allowed themselves to be freed from it by bribery ( lapsi ), several also suffered death or died as a result of the conditions of imprisonment, including the eminent scholar Origen . Christianity was hardly affected, if only because of the shortness of the action: Due to the situation in the Danube region, Decius soon saw himself forced to take action against the Goths there, who had already invaded Roman territory under a certain Ostrogotha . In 251 Decius undertook a campaign against them, but was defeated by their king Kniva and died together with his son Herennius Etruscus .

Decius was succeeded by Trebonianus Gallus , one of the few soldier emperors who came from Italy. He had to make very far-reaching concessions to the Goths. Gallus was also confronted with other problems: an epidemic, which probably originated in what is now Ethiopia , spread to North Africa and also seems to have spread to regions further north. In the east, the Sāsānids continued their attacks on the Roman eastern provinces; Persian troops advanced into Roman Mesopotamia in 252 and occupied Armenia. Meanwhile, the Alamanni seem to have become active in the north. Gallus did not have the time to react to these threats, for he was killed in 253 as a result of the usurpation of Aemilianus . Aemilianus could only stay in power for a few weeks; the commander Valerian , whom Trebonianus Gallus had called for help, met him in Italy, and Aemilianus was murdered by his own troops. With the new Emperor Valerian, the situation stabilized for the time being, but the empire was only to experience a massive escalation of problems and the actual time of crisis during his reign.

From Valerian to Claudius Gothicus: External threat and internal unrest

Valerian and Gallienus: The Unsuccessful Attempt at Stabilizing the Empire

Valerian on an aureus with the goddess Fortuna .

Valerian, who came to power in 253 , probably came from a respected senatorial family, but little is known about his relationship with the Senate. He was hardly in Rome either, but immediately turned his attention to the threat at the borders, which, according to some researchers, was actually the real trigger for the crisis. The Balkans continued to represent a particularly threatened part of the imperial border. The Goths tried to operate together with the Boran tribe , and now they even tried to be pirates. In 254 they appeared in the Aegean and landed at Thessalonica . After Pityus in Pontus had been attacked unsuccessfully by the Borans in 254/55, the city fell into the hands of the attacking Borans and Goths, which had a strongly demoralizing effect on the Roman troops in Asia Minor; even Trebizond was sacked by Gothic pirates. Cities that had not needed walls for centuries due to the Pax Romana now had to be fortified poorly.

The situation in the east was even more threatening. The Sāsānids, who had already undertaken several offensives against the Romans in the 30s of the 3rd century, began a major offensive under Shapur I in 253 or perhaps as early as 252, apparently taking advantage of the turmoil in the empire. After the Euphrates line was secured, Shapur defeated a large Roman army at Barbalissos and advanced into Syria. The trilingual report of Schapur's deeds, the so-called res gestae divi Saporis , which is supplemented by Western sources, provides information about these events . Persian troops even managed to briefly capture Antioch , one of the most important and largest cities of the empire; soon afterwards Schapur withdrew for the time being. The Persian offensive had largely led to the collapse of the Roman defenses of the Orient. Apparently, the Roman troops were no longer able to provide a coordinated defense, because the local ruler Uranius Antoninus , the priest-king of Emesa , now organized the defense against the Persians, in which he entered into a (more or less open) competition with the legitimate emperor. Due to the early death of the Priest-King, this had no effect, but this event points to the following development, which led to the formation of the sub-kingdom of Palmyra .

256, in the same year that the Goths invaded the coast of Asia Minor, another Persian army invaded Mesopotamia. The Persians succeeded not only in occupying the fortress of Circesium, but above all in the conquest and destruction of the fortress Dura Europos , which played a key role in the Roman defense of the Orient. A further advance of the Sāsānids could be prevented by Roman troops, which probably forced the Persians to retreat. Nevertheless, external pressure left clear traces: Several legions were literally wiped out on the fronts in the north and east, even if some solutions were found, such as the formation of a mounted intervention reserve that could be deployed at hot spots.

In 257 the borders were stabilized again for a short time. Nevertheless, the empire was in a precarious position, because the external threat had not been removed either on the Rhine and Danube or in the east. In the summer of 257 Valerian initiated a new persecution of Christians, probably out of concern for the “divine protection of Rome” and in connection with the policy of Decius. There were a number of death sentences, as well as banishment and confiscation. This is why research has often also suspected fiscal motives. The sometimes very bloody Valerian persecution fell victim, among others, to Cyprian of Carthage ; however, the Christian communities were not pushed back. The persecution was only ended in 260 by Valerian's son Gallienus .

Gallienus, co-emperor since 253, had been entrusted by Valerian with the task of defending the west. There, too, the situation remained tense, as an incursion of Germanic tribes showed all too clearly: The Franks penetrated into Roman territory in 257 or 259 on the Upper Rhine and reached Hispania , while the Alamanni 259/60 in the context of the so-called Limesfall the Upper Germanic overcame the Raetian Limes after the Roman troops stationed there had probably already largely been withdrawn due to the internal conflicts. The Alemanni advanced as far as northern Italy, where Gallienus defeated them (probably midsummer) in 260 near Milan . In the following years, however, the Romans had to vacate the so-called Dekumatland . A larger group of Juthungen also overcame the Roman border defenses before they were defeated near Augsburg , as the so-called Augsburg victory altar proves.

In Asia Minor the Goths were stirring again. In 258 they attacked several cities in Asia Minor and sacked the conquered cities; Among other things, they fell victim to Chalcedon , Nikaia and Nicomedia . In 259 Valerian met them in the north of Asia Minor, but by then they had already withdrawn. Meanwhile, Valerian was planning further action against the Persians in the east, but Shapur preceded him with an offensive in 260. In the early summer of 260, the Roman army, which Valerian had personally led into the field, was defeated in the battle of Edessa , and Valerian was taken prisoner by the Persians, from which he was no longer to be released. In Schapur's report of the deeds, the capture of Valerian - a unique and deeply humiliating event for the Romans - is noted:

“In the third campaign, when we advanced against Karrhai and Edessa and besieged Karrhai and Edessa, Emperor Valerian marched against us, and with him there was an army of 70,000 men. And on the other side of Karrhai and Edessa, a great battle took place for Us with Emperor Valerian, and We captured Emperor Valerian with our own hands and the rest of them, the Praetorian prefects and senators and officers, all whoever were leaders of that army, all of them We took these with our hands and deported them to Persis. "

Valerian was deported to Persia along with several other Roman prisoners and died in captivity. The catastrophic defeat of Valerian had even more far-reaching consequences, since the Persians now in fact no longer faced a Roman army in Mesopotamia, with the exception of smaller units. The Roman provinces of the Orient were open to the Persians. Obviously, Rome briefly lost control of a large part of this border zone. In several late antique sources (admittedly not in the Senate-friendly Historia Augusta ), Valerian was also made serious accusations. His successor, Gallienus, faced a great challenge.

The sole rule of Gallienus: the climax of the "imperial crisis"

Bust of Gallienus

When the sole rule of Gallienus began (260 to 268), the crisis reached its climax. His options for action were limited, because almost simultaneously the borders in the west and in the east were besieged by enemies. As a result of Valerian's capture, the rest of the Roman border defense in the Orient largely collapsed. There were some usurpations in the east (though only briefly) ; so Macrianus Minor was made emperor, but he was already subject to a loyal army in 261. Gallienus did nothing (as far as can be seen from the sources) to get his father free; Valerian was treated like a dead emperor. The persecution of Christians was ended and Gallienus returned to the old legal practice that had been in place since Trajan and, despite the principle of criminality, did not provide for targeted persecution of Christians.

On the inside, however, the empire did not come to rest, for several attempts at usurpation were made: Ingenuus rose in the Balkans and Regalianus in the Danube region; both usurpations were put down. These and other locally limited attempts at survey that tied up additional forces show a fundamental problem of the soldier imperial era, especially from the 1950s onwards: Even in the first years of the soldier imperial era, rulers were often changed in rapid succession. hardly any of which died of natural causes. Above all, the inherent problem of the principle's “system of acceptance” became increasingly apparent : since the position of monarch was not provided for by constitutional law, the legitimacy of every princeps was based on the consent of the army, senate and people of Rome. If the ruler lost his success, he had to expect to be challenged by an opposing emperor. But now the emperors were mostly determined by army groups alone, which rivaled one another and therefore often preferred different candidates. At the same time, the Roman troops in battle zones were striving to be “close to the emperor”. Whenever the princeps was tied elsewhere, they tended to proclaim successful generals as emperors, which led to civil wars, which in turn diminished the resistance to external enemies. The respective victor in the civil war could only take care of one front at a time and therefore had to send generals again, who in turn could only too easily reach for power if they were successful. Therefore, the three large army units on the Rhine, Danube and Euphrates (partly also in Britain) threatened usurpation at any time. This direct and potentially existential threat to the empire made it much more difficult for Gallienus to stabilize his rule.

The Roman defense efforts against the Persians, who had taken Antioch a second time in 260 , proved to be quite ineffective until the exarch (and later king) of Palmyra, Septimius Odaenathus , effectively assumed supreme command in the Orient. He had tried to reach an agreement with Shapur beforehand, but this failed. Gallienus then provided him with the imperium maius for the East and made him his de facto deputy there as corrector totius Orientis ; Gallienus had little choice, because the power of Odaenathus was an inescapable fact and the Roman resources were insufficient to take action against the Germanic peoples, the Gallic Empire (see below) and the Persians at the same time. In fact, the Palmyrenian troops succeeded in throwing back the Persians, who had been weakened by the previous fighting and had not expected an attack from this direction: In 262/63 Odaenathus advanced to the main Persian residence of Ctesiphon . Apparently during this campaign, which primarily served the purpose of securing the 260 lost provinces for Rome, regular Roman troops also submitted to his command. In fact, the Persians had to withdraw. This made the important trading center Palmyra the only stabilizing factor on Rome's eastern border - and ultimately also a rival of Rome. Odaenathus apparently saw his position of power strengthened by his successes against the Persians, because he now called himself rex regum ("King of Kings") - an obvious reference to the title of the Sāsānids ( Shāhān shāh , the king of the kings of Ērān and Anerān ), which should underscore the successes of the Palmyren over their king Shapur.

At the same time, the authority of the Roman central government on the ground continued to decline. In 267 Odaenathus undertook another Persian campaign, but broke it off after the Goths invaded northern Asia Minor. In the same year Odaenathus fell victim to a relative murder, but it is also possible that he was murdered on behalf of Gallienus, who feared the growing power of Odaenathus. After his death, his widow Zenobia took over the reign and took advantage of Rome's weakness in the east; in rapid succession, large parts of the Roman Orient provinces fell (briefly) to Palmyra, including Syria and (but not until 269/70) the rich province of Egypt . The result was the partial empire of Palmyra, which proved to be a stabilizing factor in defending the border against the Persians and, in this situation, represented an alternative to the apparently overwhelmed Roman state. The Roman claim to rule was not officially questioned. This development was probably even welcomed by some in the East. The Greek Nikostratos of Trebizond wrote a (not preserved) historical work about this time, which probably glorified the deeds of Odaenathus. The rhetorician and historian Kallinikos of Petra may also have dedicated his story to Alexandria Zenobia.

As early as 260, large parts of the western part of the empire were separated and the Gaulish special empire ( Imperium Galliarum ) was formed, which for a time included Gaul as well as Hispania and Britain. The military commander Postumus had won a victory over some Teutons in the summer of 260, but there was a dispute over the distribution of booty between him and Caesar Saloninus , a son of Gallienus, who had been left behind by the emperor in Gaul as a deputy. Postumus then besieged Cologne , where Saloninus was staying. He was finally extradited along with his advisor Silvanus and both were executed shortly afterwards. Postumus himself was proclaimed emperor by his troops; he resided either in Cologne or Trier . Postumus and his successors maintained a not inconsiderable part of the West until 274 and were able to record some successes in defending the border. Gallienus was only able to take action against Postumus relatively late due to the various other trouble spots. 265 (some researchers also assume 266/67) an offensive against the Gallic Empire failed. In 269, however, the authority of the Postumus in the Sonderreich was increasingly questioned, and he was murdered shortly after he had put down a usurpation. His successors were not spared from usurpation attempts, whereby economic problems also played a role; for example, the proportion of precious metals in coins fell noticeably.

Through the formation of the Imperium Galliarum and the later establishment of the partial kingdom of Palmyra, only Italy, the Balkans (including Greece), the province of Africa and parts of Asia Minor were under direct control of Gallienus around 267/68 . These centrifugal tendencies in the empire were probably also a direct result of the insufficient administrative efficiency, which later led to a significantly stronger centralization of the administration, as well as the overloading of the army. Again and again, troops had to be withdrawn from one border zone, which was partially exposed in order to combat enemy intrusions in other areas, which sometimes took place almost simultaneously. The military was so overwhelmed with defending the borders that it was sometimes up to regional militias to take on this task. This had already happened in the east after Valerian's capture. Another example occurred during the Herul invasion of Greece in 267/68.

After 262 Goths had crossed the Danube again and then even crossed the Hellespont to Asia Minor, attacking several cities in Asia Minor, the " Scythai " attacked 267 again and plundered the north coast of Asia Minor. Also in 267 the Heruli invaded the Aegean Sea and finally Greece with ships across the Sea of ​​Marmara . They succeeded in conquering and sacking a number of cities, including Byzantion , Argos and Athens . On their march back from Attica they were defeated by a local militia force. The historian Dexippus is said to have distinguished himself during these battles ; in more recent times, however, due to a new source, his participation is again strongly doubted and it is considered more likely that another man named Dexippos took part in the fighting. A fragment from the Scythica of Dexippus relating to this event has been preserved. It is one of the few contemporary source statements and is informative in terms of content, because here a strong Greek local patriotism and a return to Greek history become tangible:

“'[…] And perseverance is more likely to decide wars than numerical strength. But we do not have a contemptible force: two thousand of us have come together in total and our base is strongly fortified. From it we must break out and harm our enemies by attacking small groups and setting up ambushes as they pass. […] Death afflicts all people, but leaving life in the struggle for the fatherland brings the greatest distinction: eternal fame. ' [...] Now he spoke like this. But the Athenians drew a lot of strength from the words [...] and then demanded to be led to war. "

Gallienus, who had planned a campaign against Postumus and was therefore in Italy, gathered troops as soon as he received news of the Herul invasion and defeated them in the spring of 268 in a great battle on the Nestos River in the Balkans. In fact, the Roman Empire was divided into three parts at that time, with each part of the empire defending a river border (Rhine, Danube, Euphrates).

In addition to the military problems, there were also a number of structural problems. The rapid change of rulers prevented a continuous imperial policy. In addition, the soldier emperors depended so largely on the favor of their troops that they could no longer discipline them. Quite a few of the later soldier emperors (since 268) came from the Illyricum , which was particularly important as a recruiting area, and came from the simplest of backgrounds. The structures in the imperial administration, the army and the provincial administration have also changed since around 260, as in some cases there was economic decline: Already against Emperor Gordian III. revolts broke out in the outskirts of the empire (as in Africa), while in the Senate and the army a mutual aversion spread and the knights increasingly ousted the senators in the administration. Nevertheless, the empire did not break apart permanently and the basic structure of administration and rule remained largely intact. Nevertheless, the economy of the empire was on the brink of collapse, at least for a time and in some areas: there was a sharp devaluation of the currency, as the resources to finance the army and administration were barely sufficient. From about 270 onwards inflation began to escalate.

To solve these difficulties Gallienus apparently tackled reforms that anticipated aspects of the late antique administration under Diocletian and Constantine , but at the same time broke with much of what had shaped the empire over the past three centuries. So he excluded senators from military service and the command of the legions , even though he was one of the last emperors of the old upper class ( nobility ). Instead, knights and the military were given access to higher positions, including those previously reserved for senators. Gallienus apparently speculated that people who owed their rise to him would behave more loyally than ambitious senators; he also obviously wanted to give command to professional soldiers. In fact, his measure sealed the erosion of power in the Senate: even after the end of the republic, the Senate remained important as an assembly of the civil and military imperial elite; that time ended now. Around 260 Gallienus also created a mounted intervention reserve, which was probably the model for the later mobile army. Above all, the importance of the Danube regions, on which the emperor relied, increased more and more. Despite all these reform measures, Gallienus was no longer able to assert himself as emperor across the empire: in 267 or 268 Aureolus , a commander of Gallienus, had revolted against the emperor in northern Italy; During the siege of Milan, Gallienus fell victim to a plot of murder in August / September 268.

The balance of the reign of Gallienus, the longest reigning soldier emperor, is mixed, which is reflected by the sources: In the Latin tradition Gallienus is rated negatively, in the Greek, on the other hand, rather positively, whereby it certainly played a role that Gallienus himself was very interested in and promoted Greek culture. Despite the difficult situation, Gallienus also achieved military successes and some important internal reforms that pointed the way out of the crisis, even if they still lacked a systematic approach. Nevertheless, the empire experienced the full effects of the imperial crisis under his rule, which of course is mainly due to factors such as invasions and usurpations, which could not be influenced by the emperor.

Overcoming the "crisis"

Claudius Gothicus: First approaches to stabilization

Attacks by the Goths in the Black Sea and Aegean Sea in the 3rd century

Claudius Gothicus , the successor of Gallienus, was confronted with the still unsolved problems at the borders. His reign and that of his successor Aurelian - both are counted among the "Illyrian emperors" - was militarily a turning point in the military emperors' time: If the empire was previously almost exclusively on the defensive, these emperors managed to contain the danger posed by the Teutons and the lost territories to regain in the east and west. In 268 the Alemanni advanced across the Danube, evidently with the intention of invading Italy; However, Claudius managed to defeat the invaders on Lake Garda. In the spring of 269 the “ Skythai ” (meaning Goths, Heruli and other groups) undertook a large-scale, sea-based offensive. The fleet sailed from the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea, some of the troops then landed at Thessalonike, which was besieged in vain. This invasion seems to have met with considerable resistance; the attackers did not succeed in taking the (now largely fortified) cities. When Claudius wanted to face the invaders, they withdrew. They were then placed at Naissus by the Romans in the summer of 269 . Here Claudius, who above all skillfully used his cavalry, defeated the enemy army, which earned him the nickname Gothicus (“Gotensieger”). The second group of invaders was defeated in several naval battles in the summer of 270.

Domestically, Claudius promoted the military from equestrianism; several Illyrians owed their rise to him. If most rulers were senators up until 268, this has now changed. Claudius and most of his successors also seem to have renounced the formal granting of traditional imperial powers ( imperium proconsulare maius and tribunicia potestas ) by the Senate; the proclamation by the troops was now sufficient. He seems to have ignored the two special empires, the Gallic and the Palmyrenian, probably also because both ensured the border defense against external enemies and he did not want to waste resources on offensives against them. However, he joined Hispania, which after the death of Postumus again submitted to the central government, to his domain. Otherwise he concentrated on defending the Danube region. When a plague broke out in the Balkans in 270, Claudius also fell ill and died soon afterwards. Despite everything, his relationship with the Senate, which awarded him extensive honors, seems to have been good. He was heroized in senatorial historiography , which may have been a reason for the fictitious genealogical link between Constantine the Great and Claudius. His brief reign was evidently one of the most successful of the imperial military era.



After the death of Claudius, his younger brother Quintillus was first made emperor. In September 270, however, the Danube regions elevated Aurelian , an experienced cavalry commander, to emperor in Sirmium . Aurelian soon set out for Italy. Quintillus, abandoned by his troops, committed suicide or was murdered by soldiers. Aurelian succeeded in at least partially overcoming the crisis, using the preparatory work by emperors such as Gallienus , who had initiated the professionalization of the army. Aurelian had to fend off a series of severe barbarian incursions. He was able to defeat the Juthungen, who broke into the Reich across the Danube in the summer of 270, in the autumn of that year. In the spring of 271 he repulsed an advance by the Vandals into Pannonia; they made peace and left. Shortly thereafter, Aurelian was able to repel an attack by the Juthungen and Alemanni in Italy, albeit with difficulty. Revolutions by two usurpers named Septimius and Urbanus were quickly put down. A revolt in Rome, which was probably triggered by the advance of the Juthungen, was bloodily suppressed by the emperor, which later led some historians to criticize clearly. Aurelian later tried to maintain good relations with the Senate. He built the Aurelian Wall to protect Rome , which was the first time that a possible military threat to the capital from external enemies was considered. The situation in the Danube region remained unsettled: In the second half of 271, Aurelian moved east and defeated a Gothic contingent. He gave up the all too exposed province of Dacia north of the Danube.

In 272 Aurelian turned his attention to the east. In the spring he began a campaign against Palmyra, the government of which had sought in vain for the recognition of Rome. Only now did Zenobia's son Vaballathus accept the title of emperor and thus openly usurpate. Palmyra's army was defeated in June / July 272, and in August of the same year Aurelian entered Palmyra without a fight. A siege, as shown in the Historia Augusta , probably did not take place; It is very likely that a "peace party" had gained the upper hand in the oasis city. Zenobia was captured. In relation to the local elites, the emperor demonstrated a policy of mildness ( clementia ), with which he apparently achieved their cooperation. Executions like that of the philosopher Longinos , who had acted as Zenobia's advisor, were the exception. Thus Aurelian brought the eastern part of the empire back under the control of the central government without major difficulties. A Palmyra uprising in the spring of 273 was quickly put down. Shortly afterwards Aurelian also tackled the reconquest of the Gallic Empire. In the spring of 274 the Gallic troops were defeated at Catalaunum , whereupon the Gallic Sonderreich quickly collapsed. The breakaway provinces again submitted to the central government.

Roman Empire in 271

Aurelian returned to Rome in a triumphal procession in the late summer of 274 and turned to internal reforms. He introduced a new state cult, that of the sun god Sol Invictus , whom he regarded as "Lord of the Roman Empire" and his personal protector. There was an unmistakable tendency towards theocratic legitimation of power. Aurelian is said to have been the first emperor to wear a diadem and a gold dress. His religious measures reflected the trend towards monotheism or henotheism , which emerged clearly during the time of the imperial crisis , and which also - especially in the East - favored the advance of Christianity. In the last months of his reign, Aurelian took action against the Christians, after he had previously even received a request from Christians (see Paul of Samosata ). The economy recovered noticeably, especially since the empire now had the western and eastern provinces again. However, the emperor's coin reform failed.

In September / October 275 Aurelian, who was in Thrace at the time, fell victim to a conspiracy organized by the imperial secretary Eros, who was threatened with punishment for misconduct. But even after Aurelian's murder, the consolidation course he had taken, which was slowly taking effect, was maintained. Aurelian's achievement consisted primarily of regaining the lost provinces in the west and east and stabilizing the borders. In the late antique Epitome de Caesaribus , his achievements were even compared with those of Alexander and Caesar .

The last soldier emperors: From Tacitus to Carinus

Aurelian's successor was Tacitus , who probably came from the senatorial upper class . There is little information available about his reign, some of it unreliable. This includes the claim in the Historia Augusta that the emperor was related to the historian of the same name and had copies made of his works. Most of the (more or less reliable) information in the sources can be traced back to a common Senate-friendly source , the so-called Enmann Imperial History . Tacitus, who was made emperor at an advanced age, was probably more of a candidate for embarrassment. He endeavored to consolidate his position through the distribution of gifts of money and other measures. Above all, he was anxious to secure the benevolence of the Senate: he was celebrated on coins as restitutor rei publicae , as the restorer of the (senatorial aristocratic) republic. Even if there could be no question of this, Tacitus can certainly be called the “Senate Emperor” who placed great value on close cooperation; this also explains his good reputation in the pro-senatorial sources. But shortly after Tacitus had won a victory over Gothic and Herulian invaders, he died in the middle of 276. He may have fallen victim to an attack.


Tacitus' successor was initially his brother Florianus , against whom resistance soon formed in the east of the empire. The experienced officer Probus , who came from Sirmium, was made the new emperor by his troops. Florianus marched against Probus with strong troops, but Probus was able to assert itself. Florianus was killed in Tarsos in southeast Asia Minor (August 276), whereupon Probus became his successor. Probus did not have much time to consolidate his power because, like all military emperors, he had to devote himself to problems at the borders. In Gaul, the Alemanni and Franks had broken through the fortifications of the Rhine and, in some cases, had undertaken extensive raids. Probus therefore carried out campaigns in Gaul in the years 277/78 and was able to record some successes. Even if the reports in the sources are exaggerated, it was nevertheless possible to stabilize the Rhine border again. In the spring of 278 Probus set out for the Danube in order to bring the situation under control there too. On the way there he defeated Burgundians and Vandals. The emperor celebrated his successes with new coinage.

Almost at the same time, the Blemmyes , who had repeatedly threatened the southern border of the Nile country, were defeated in Egypt , thus securing the border again. Relations with the Sāsānid Empire, on the other hand, appear to have been strained, but there was no serious fighting. In Asia Minor a rebellion led by a certain Lydius could be defeated, but the emperor, as in Egypt, was not there himself. Probus may have gone to Rome in the summer of 279. During the reign of the Probus there were several unsuccessful attempts at usurpation. In Britain (280 or 281) a usurper whose name was not known rose up, also in 280/281 the usurpations of Proculus and Bonosus in Gaul (or in Cologne) and finally that of Julius Saturninus in Syria took place. All four came to a quick end, with Saturninus being murdered by his own troops without Probus having to intervene. In 281, Probus had a triumphal procession organized and donations distributed to the people to celebrate his victory over Blemmyes and Teutons. Probably during the planning for a Persian campaign, Probus was murdered in September / October 282 by dissatisfied soldiers in Sirmium. One reason for this unrest was possibly the tough discipline that Probus demanded of his soldiers. Probus seems to have been a good administrator and military man. In the sources, his reign is predominantly rated positively and he is described as a just ruler who systematically pursued the consolidation course taken by Aurelian.

The new emperor in 282 was Carus from southern Gaul, who had been proclaimed emperor by his troops during the reign of Probus and who was now generally recognized. Soon afterwards Carus raised his two sons Carinus and Numerianus to co-emperors. In early 283, Carus won a victory over Sarmatians who had broken into the empire across the Danube. He then set up Carinus as ruler in the west, while he himself set out with Numerianus to the east to go to war against the Sāsānids. The reason for this Persian campaign is unknown; nothing is known about a previous Persian aggression. In any case, the invasion shows that the empire's military clout had improved so much that it was now believed that they could again take offensive action against Rome's great enemy in the east. The opportunity also seemed to be favorable: The Persian King Bahram II was occupied by the rebellion of his relative Hormizd in the east of the empire and was probably completely surprised by the rapid Roman advance. The Roman troops penetrated into the main residence of the Sāsānids Seleukeia-Ctesiphon. They took the city, but further Roman offensives were unsuccessful. At the end of July 283, Carus died unexpectedly near Ctesiphon. It is unclear whether it was a violent death. Claims in some sources that he was struck by lightning may reflect surprise at his unexpected death attributed to sudden divine intervention.

After the death of Carus, the army demanded the retreat and Numerianus was forced to agree. On the way back to the west in November 284 Numerianus also died under unclear circumstances. The army thereupon proclaimed the guard officer Diocles as the new emperor, who now called himself Diocletian ( Diocletianus ). In his way was Carinus, who in the meantime had successfully fought against Teutons in the West and who opposed Diocletian in the Balkans. Carinus was able to assert himself in several fights, but he finally fell victim to an intrigue (probably in late summer / early autumn) in 285, with the conspirators probably being supported by Diocletian. Diocletian now assumed unrestricted rule and in the following years carried out far-reaching reforms (which were controversial in many details in research), which fundamentally reshaped the empire. Diocletian introduced a new tax system ( Capitatio-Iugatio ) and rearranged the army by dividing it into Comitatenses as a mobile field army and Limitanei as border troops. The empire finally overcame the period of the so-called imperial crisis - but many reforms in late antiquity were linked to measures that had already been initiated by some soldier emperors, including Gallienus and Aurelian.


  • 235: Death of the emperor Severus Alexander , thus end of the Severer dynasty ; Beginning of reign of the first soldier emperor Maximinus Thrax .
  • 238: Six imperial year and beginning of the attacks of the Skythai ( Goths and other Germanic tribes in the Danube region and in the Black Sea region).
  • 244: Unsuccessful Persia campaign by Emperor Gordian III. ; Defeat of the Romans in the battle of Mesiche and death of the emperor.
  • 257: Valerian's persecution of Christians begins , which only ends in 260.
  • 259/60: Successful advances by the Alemanni on Roman territory. A group of Juthungers was defeated by Roman troops on their march back near what is now Augsburg ( Augsburg victory altar ).
  • 260: Valerian is captured by the Sāsānids ; the crisis reached its climax in the following period. In the 1960s the partial kingdom of Palmyra and the Gallic special empire are formed .
  • 267: Plundering expeditions of the Heruli and other Germanic tribes in the Aegean. Among other things, Athens is being devastated.
  • 268/69: The Romans succeed in victories over Alemanni and Goths.
  • 270: Aurelian is proclaimed emperor. In the following years he succeeded in reintegrating both Palmyra and the Gallic Empire into the empire. Dacia, on the other hand, gives up the emperor due to the unfavorable strategic location.
  • 285: Emperor Carinus falls victim to a conspiracy. The officer Diocletian , who was proclaimed emperor at the end of 284 , achieved sole power and sought comprehensive reforms in the empire.

Characteristics of the era

When Latin historians described the history of the third century in the second half of the fourth century, their judgment was unanimously negative. The time of the emperors Valerian and Gallienus was viewed particularly critically. Eutropius even referred to it as the time when "the Roman Empire was almost destroyed". Aurelius Victor and the anonymous author of the Historia Augusta expressed themselves not much differently . In senatorial historiography , the events of the middle of the 3rd century, when the empire actually had to fight at all borders, parts of the empire broke away and numerous usurpers challenged the ruling emperors, left deep traces. The predominantly negative picture that older research gave of the situation in the 3rd century is due to a large extent to evaluations in the sources. Today's research, however, judges more differentiated and has revised several previously prevailing views.

A characteristic of the "imperial crisis" is the often rapid change of ruler. Although usurpers rose again and again under the Severans and also in late antiquity, in contrast to the era of the soldiers' emperors, the rebellions in these epochs were usually unsuccessful. Another characteristic of the time of the imperial crisis is that many emperors did not come from the senatorial upper class. Often the soldier emperors were purely military, relatively uneducated and of low origin. A striking example of this is the first of them, Maximinus, whose takeover of power therefore caused particular offense and in this respect represents a turning point. However, given the circumstances, these emperors did quite a lot. The fact that the Senate was marginalized more and more and that some emperors placed little value on a good relationship with it was noted negatively by historians, who mostly belonged to senatorial circles. The Senate finally no longer played a role in governance and the principle's acceptance system finally collapsed. However, the stability of the imperial rule suffered as a whole. An institutional crisis can be identified for the time of the soldier emperors, which some emperors attempted to counteract by establishing a religious foundation for their rule (e.g. Aurelian's solar cult) or by dividing rule, but which could only be overcome in the Diocletian-Constantinian period. What all soldier emperors have in common is that they based their power on the military, namely on the soldiers of the field armies, not on the Praetorians in Rome. This fits in with the fact that Rome lost its role as the political center of the empire in the course of the 3rd century, although it was of course still of great importance ideally. In order to legitimize and secure their rule, the emperors of the 3rd century primarily needed military success. However, there was no uniform type of soldier emperor, especially since some of the emperors were not raised by troops, but owed their assumption of power to a dynastic succession.

Another characteristic of the era is the dramatic deterioration in the external threat situation. It resulted in particular from a considerable internal strengthening of the opponents. On the Rhine and Danube, new large tribal Germanic associations had formed, which had considerably greater clout. In the east, the Sāsānid Empire appeared as an opponent who was in many ways on a par with Rome and who pursued an aggressive policy of expansion. As a result, around the middle of the third century, pressure on the borders increased and the empire suffered a series of setbacks. The capture of Valerian by the Persians in 260 and the events that followed (increasing attacks by the Skythai as well as the formation of the Gallic Empire and the sub-Empire of Palmyra) brought the crisis to its climax. But this crisis did not affect all areas of daily life, nor did it affect all regions of the empire.

Despite the military and political symptoms of crisis (especially in the period after Gordian III and then around 260), the main cause of which was the external threat, the empire's economy seems to have held up better than was often assumed. In older research it was sometimes assumed that in the 3rd century entire provinces became impoverished, the infrastructure collapsed and the pressure of the state on the population increased steadily, so that the impoverishment increased and people fled cities and villages. Natural economy or barter had taken the place of the money economy. In the new research, the judgments are much more differentiated: the increased financial requirements of the state caused by external distress, for example in the area of ​​coinage, led to a deterioration, and tax pressure increased. But tax pressure only became a structural problem for the Roman state after the failure of Aurelian's coin reform, just as inflation only rose threateningly at this time; Before the 270s, however, this cannot be ascertained, as the evaluation of the source material in Egypt (where tradition is one of the most favorable with regard to everyday life and the economy) makes clear. Whether a population decline can be determined for the 3rd century is now also disputed in research.

The same applies to the question of whether slavery played the role in the Roman economy of this period that is ascribed to it in older research, and whether there was a decline in slaves and thus an economic crisis, as sometimes assumed. This cannot be proven in the sources, and it is also questionable whether the productivity of slaves was higher than that of semi-free or free and whether a decline in slavery was harmful to the economy. Certainly, however, the burdens on the population increased, from which the decurions (the local urban elites), but especially the lower classes of the population, had to suffer, but this cannot be applied to the whole empire in a generalized way, especially since the living conditions were not uniform. Although the structural integrity of the economy suffered from the military conflicts of that time, just as inflation of the 270s was a serious setback, it did not collapse, especially because of the complex regional differences. More recent research has shown that there were regions that even continued to prosper, such as Egypt, Africa and Hispania. But even for Asia Minor, which was directly affected by attacks, no general decline can be observed. While trade and the economy flourished in several regions, especially since several provinces were not affected by fighting, there were sometimes serious problems in other provinces, as evidenced by hoards in the north-western provinces of the empire. However, one cannot speak of a general economic crisis throughout the empire and for the entire period of the soldier imperial era. The thesis put forward in earlier research that a general awareness of crisis among contemporaries could be derived from various pagan and Christian sources has recently been disputed, because there can be no talk of general expectations of doom among the population.

In the area of ​​urban development, there was no loss of urban self-government or general decline during the time of the imperial crisis, although the building work in endangered regions concentrated on fortifications. Along with the raids of the various invaders, a local cultural decline can be observed, which was also reflected in art. There was a decline in Athens after the Herul invasion in 267. Nevertheless, the city was an important educational center even during the imperial crisis, as was Rome , Carthage , Alexandria and Antioch .

The developments of the 3rd century also made it possible for people of low origin to advance through a military career. These climbers, as well as the new urban ranks, adopted the traditional value system in which education played an important role. In the philosophical field, where Plotinus , Porphyrios and Longinos were active, with Neoplatonism a new trend arose that met the needs of the time. Christianity grew stronger in the religious sphere , and the traditional cults of gods showed a trend towards concentrating on a single deity ( henotheism ). In addition, a new religion with a universal claim, Manichaeism , spread from the west of the empire to Central Asia .

Thus, individual symptoms of the crisis must not be generalized and overestimated, and it is questionable whether one can speak of a real existential threat even at the height of the crisis. Although the empire as a whole was weakened, the emperors gradually managed to regain control, go back on the offensive and regain the parts of the empire in the west and east that had temporarily split off. The differentiated approach of recent research has led to a more balanced overall assessment. Among other things, it is taken into account that there were reform approaches in the time of Emperor Gallienus, which were continued under the following emperors and even in late antiquity.

The time of the "Imperial Crisis" can be divided into three phases. The first covers the period from the end of the Severians (235) to around 253, when the emperors clearly followed the tradition of the Severan principate. In the second phase, under Valerian and Gallienus, various symptoms of crisis accumulated until the crisis reached its climax around the middle of the 3rd century. However, it should also be noted that these two emperors recognized the problems and tried to overcome them. In the following third phase from 268 onwards, a clear recovery can be seen, which finally culminated in the fundamental imperial reform of the Diocletian-Constantinian period. Thus the time of the soldier emperors was an epoch of transition from the principate to late antiquity .


The sources for the time of the "Imperial Crisis" are among the most problematic in the area of ancient history , not least because there is no coherent historiography for this period. The (now lost) emperor biographies of Marius Maximus only reached as far as Elagabal . The history of Cassius Dio ends in the year 229, and the work of Herodian , who is often dependent on Cassius Dio , a history of the empire after Marcus , only extends to 238 and is often unproductive. For the following decades, right into the Diocletian-Constantinian period, there was a complete lack of coherent contemporary representations.

The Late Antique Historia Augusta , a collection of Latin emperor biographies - which, contrary to the information contained therein, was not written by six authors around 300, but by only one anonymous pagan author around 400 - reports in detail on the various soldier emperors who provide most of the information but wrong or at least not very credible; some life descriptions are even entirely made up. In the Latin-speaking area, several so-called breviaries (brief historical works) from the 4th century are worth mentioning, such as the Caesares of Aurelius Victor , the breviary ab urbe condita des Eutropius , the work of Rufius Festus and the anonymous Epitome de Caesaribus . The authors of these breviaries used an important, often the only source, an imperial history that is now lost, which is referred to as the Enmann Imperial History . It probably went into relatively detailed information on the various tyranni (usurpers) and probably contained reasonably reliable information. Other Latin works that went into more or less detail about the time of the soldier emperors have been lost. These include the relevant passages in the historical work of the last important Latin historian of antiquity, Ammianus Marcellinus , who, however, also refers to the 3rd century in the surviving parts of his work, or the Annales of Virius Nicomachus Flavianus . A rich Latin historiography cannot be assumed for the third century anyway. Later Latin authors probably relied on Senate reports and works in Greek, although some researchers assume that other (now lost) Latin historical works may have been written during Diocletian's time. It is possible that the historian Onasimos also wrote vitae about the last soldier emperors in Constantinian times , but this is uncertain.

In contrast to the Latin historiography, Greek-language historiography also flourished during the “Imperial Crisis”. Nikostratus of Trebizond wrote a work about the time from 244 to the capture of Valerian by the Persians; Philostratus of Athens also reported on this Persian War . Ephorus the Younger described the rule of Gallienus in detail and a certain Eusebios dealt with the time up to Carus in his imperial history . Of all these works little more is known than the names of their authors; only a few fragments have survived from the history of Philostratus and Eusebius. The 1,000-year history of Rome by Asinius Quadratus fared not much better , of which only a few quotations from later authors , like his Parthian history , have survived . The fragments from the historical works of Dexippus represent a ray of hope , who in his chronicle of 12 books described the time up to 270 and in his Scythica the battles against the Germanic peoples from around 238 to 270/74, closely following the style of Thucydides . Dexippos, whose chronicle was followed by Eunapios of Sardis , is often referred to as the most important historian of his time, which is certainly true due to the sources. But this must not obscure the view of how bad the source tradition is for the period under discussion: literary production did not collapse (at least in the Greek-speaking east of the empire), but was lost in the period that followed.

The fragments of Dexippus have been available in a new edition with a German translation since 2006, which admittedly does not contain the recently newly discovered parts ( Scythica Vindobonensia ). All other fragments of the (contemporary) historians mentioned here were published in a new edition with a German translation in 2016 as part of the series Small and fragmentary historians of late antiquity .

Later historians could rely on these works, for example Zosimos (around 500) or various Byzantine authors; they either had the original works before them or they drew their information from intermediate sources. They include the so-called Anonymus post Dionem (probably identical with the lost histories of Petros Patrikios ), the chronicler Johannes Malalas , John of Antioch , Georgios Synkellos and Johannes Zonaras . The quality of the reports varies. Some of them provide valuable, reliable information, such as the anonymus post Dionem and Zonaras; the latter also resorted to the so-called Leo spring . The works of church historians such as Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea , who is called the "father of church historiography ", as well as other Christian authors such as Origen and Cyprian of Carthage are also of importance . The Romanized Goth Jordanes , who wrote in the 6th century and was able to rely on sources lost today in his Gothic history , also reports on events from the time of the soldier emperors, but is not always reliable. Numerous other works (in Latin and Greek, but also Syrian, Arabic, Armenian or Persian) contain further information that is important for the reconstruction of events during the “Imperial Crisis”, but they can lead to the loss of a consistent historiography for the 3rd century does not compensate.

For this reason, especially the non-literary sources are of considerable importance for the time of the soldier emperors, be it numismatic (especially as evidence for some emperors whose existence would otherwise be doubtful), papyrological (not least important for clarifying chronological questions ), inscribed (as on the Augsburg victory altar ) or archaeological findings. However, these sources are often not easy to interpret and to place in the context of the history of the empire.

Research history

In addition to the general evaluation of the epoch, its delimitation is problematic. Several ancient historians, referring to the well-known verdict of the historian Cassius Dio, according to which a golden age ended with the death of Mark Aurel and an era of iron and rust began, that the era of the soldier emperors should begin with Septimius Severus. A more or less distinction was made between the time of the soldier emperors and the time of the actual "Imperial Crisis". Today, however, the period of the soldier emperors or the imperial crisis (used here only as an epoch designation) is generally allowed to begin with the year 235 and end with the arrival of Diocletian (284/85).

The time of the "Imperial Crisis" was already mentioned in classical depictions such as the Histoire des empereurs et autres princes qui ont régné pendant les six premiers siècles de l'Eglise by Louis-Sébastien Le Nain de Tillemont in the late 17th century or in the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon in the second half of the 18th century, Gibbon often relied on the material basis of Tillemont. However, scientific research into this period in the true sense of the word can only be spoken of from the 19th century. Even Gibbon viewed the period since Septimius Severus as a military rule, based on Cassius Dios judgment. The period from 248 to 268, during which the incursions into the empire steadily increased and the Romans suffered several defeats, he calls "twenty years of shame and misfortune". Jacob Burckhardt also devoted himself to the soldier emperors in his classic The Time of Constantine the Great (1853). Burckhardt used terms such as “soldier empire” and “crisis” to characterize this period; like Gibbon, however, he regarded the “Illyrian emperors” as saviors of the empire. The largely negative characterization of this time was followed by the various imperial stories of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the first half of the 20th century, three scholars were of particular importance for the progress of research: Michael Rostovtzeff , Andreas Alföldi and Franz Altheim . As different as these personalities were - Rostovtzeff was shaped by the consequences of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Alföldi by the time of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy ; Altheim, actually an original thinker, soon drifted into the National Socialist ideology - so different were their research approaches. Rostovtzeff, who characterized the period from 235 onwards as a "military archy" (a term still quite common in French research today), assumed an economic-social perspective and believed that he could identify an antagonism between the urban and rural populations of that time. Alföldi published numerous works at the time of the imperial crisis, including two authoritative contributions in the 12th volume of the old Cambridge Ancient History , which were a milestone for research at the time and are still useful today. Alföldi was of the opinion that the internal and external symptoms of crisis came to a head in the 3rd century and nobody could be found who could protect the Roman state against it. Alföldi also saw the Illyrian emperors as the saviors of the empire, who tackled the necessary reforms. Altheim also dedicated several works to the soldier emperors, making the term more familiar to large parts of the public and seeing the year 193 as the beginning of the era. In his book The Soldier Emperors (1939), which was financed by funds from the SS-related research institute “ Das Ahnenerbe ”, Altheim put forward the thesis of the contrast between the regions in the time of the Soldier Emperors; so there was an Illyrian-Germanic conflict in the army. The idea of ​​the empire lost more and more supporters until it came to more prominence again in the time of Gallienus. His "racial approach" prompted Altheim to try to prove the "Germanism" of Maximinus Thrax. For this he was criticized by Wilhelm Enßlin , among others , who - himself active in Germany during the Nazi era - asked what role this actually played. Altheim, whose observations, like those of Rostovtzeff, were strongly time-bound, interpreted the time of the soldier emperors as the end of a long period of creeping crisis that afflicted Rome. The term "Reichskrise" only played a role in later, revised editions of his work. Despite many problematic or untenable evaluations, Altheim's credit is to have included the peripheral areas of the empire more strongly in the presentation.

Even in the second half of the 20th century, preoccupation with the time of the imperial crisis did not decrease. Significant contributions come from Géza Alföldy , who takes the view that a crisis awareness is palpable among contemporaries, for example in Herodian's work; David S. Potter , who believes that broad sections of the population were little affected by the crisis and that many reforms of the soldier emperors point to the Diocletian-Constantinian period; Klaus-Peter Johne , who differentiates between a military and a long-term crisis, as well as Karl Strobel and Christian Witschel . Strobel and Witschel in particular criticized the traditional crisis model, which was unsuitable for explaining developments in the 3rd century. An all-encompassing crisis, even a “world crisis” (as Alföldi put it in a catchy way) did not exist. They pointed out that some regions of the empire flourished and were not affected by the military threats of the time. Witschel, who drafted several crisis models, took the position that, although there had been local and temporary crises, these had been overcome through reforms; in the end they were only part of a long-term transformation. Strobel also assumed a structural change in the 3rd century, but denied the existence of a "crisis consciousness" at that time, since the people would not have put the many individual problems and regional catastrophes together into an overall picture, in contrast to later assessors. However, several researchers (including Lukas de Blois) still advocate a different approach, namely that of a more comprehensive crisis, which did not fully erupt until around 250.

Traditionally, the time of the soldier emperors was mostly viewed negatively and placed in connection with an imperial crisis. Some scholars saw signs of decay on the inside, which were only exacerbated by the external threats, as the main cause (Gibbon, Rostovtzeff), while others considered the external threat to be decisive (Altheim). Such monocausal approaches - as well as the opinion of several Marxist researchers that the internal problems could mainly be traced back to a "crisis in the slave economy" - have proven completely unsuitable. Since the 1990s, judgments have been made much more differentiated; the era of the soldier emperors is seen more as an epoch of change.

In fact, in modern research, the opponents and proponents of the concept of crisis are not as far apart as it may first appear. It is undisputed that some regions prospered during the time of the imperial crisis, but also that the empire had to contend with serious difficulties at least at times. Ultimately, the difference lies in the weighting of these aspects.

Fundamental for dealing with the 3rd century is currently the handbook Die Zeit der Militärkaiser published by Klaus-Peter Johne in 2008 , in which the sources and the political history, the neighboring peoples of the empire, culture, economy and political structures are based on current research be treated.


  • Andreas Alföldi : Studies on the history of the world crisis of the 3rd century AD. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1967.
    (Collection of various articles by Alföldi; still very useful today.)
  • Géza Alföldy : Roman social history. 4th, completely revised and updated edition. Steiner, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-515-09841-0 , pp. 254-272.
    (A useful summary of the research discussion through 2011.)
  • Clifford Ando: Imperial Rome AD 193 to 284. The Critical Century. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2012, ISBN 978-0-7486-2050-0 .
  • Bruno Bleckmann : The Imperial Crisis of III. Century in late antique and Byzantine historiography. Investigations on the post-Dionic sources of the Chronicle of Johannes Zonaras (= sources and research on the ancient world. Vol. 11). tuduv-Verlags-Gesellschaft, Munich 1992, ISBN 3-88073-441-0 (At the same time: Cologne, University, dissertation, 1991).
    (Detailed source research on the Byzantine authors who dealt with the Imperial Crisis.)
  • Alan K. Bowman , Peter Garnsey, Averil Cameron (eds.): The Crisis of Empire AD, 193-337 (= The Cambridge Ancient History . Vol. 12). 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press, including Cambridge 2005, ISBN 978-0-521-30199-2 .
    (Overview work, albeit very brief with regard to political history and already outdated in parts.)
  • Henning Börm : The reign of Emperor Maximinus Thrax and the six-emperor year 238. The beginning of the “Imperial Crisis”? In: Gymnasium . Vol. 115, 2008, pp. 69-86, (digitized version ) .
  • Henning Börm: A Threat or a Blessing? The Sasanians and the Roman Empire. In: Carsten Binder, Henning Börm, Andreas Luther (eds.): Diwan. Studies in the History and Culture of the Ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean . Wellem, Duisburg 2016, pp. 615–646.
    (Discuss the importance of the establishment of the Sassanid Empire to the Romans.)
  • Stephanie Brecht: The Roman Imperial Crisis from its outbreak to its climax in the representation of Byzantine authors (= ancient historical studies of the University of Würzburg. Vol. 1). Leidorf, Rahden / Westf. 1999, ISBN 3-89646-831-6 .
    (Includes translated excerpts from sources.)
  • Michel Christol : L'empire romain du IIIe siècle. Histoire politique (De 192, mort de Commode, à 325, concile de Nicée). 2nd day. Éditions Errance, Paris 1998, ISBN 2-87772-145-0 .
  • John F. Drinkwater: The Gallic Empire. Separatism and Continuity in the North-Western Provinces of the Roman Empire AD 260-274 (= Historia. Einzelschriften. Vol. 52). Steiner, Stuttgart 1987, ISBN 3-515-04806-5 .
  • Thomas Fischer (ed.): The crisis of the 3rd century AD and the Gallic Empire. Files from the Xanten Interdisciplinary Colloquium, February 26-28 , 2009 (= Writings of the Teaching and Research Center for Ancient Cultures of the Mediterranean - Center for Mediterranean Cultures (ZAKMIRA). Vol. 8). Reichert, Wiesbaden 2012, ISBN 978-3-89500-889-4 .
  • Felix Hartmann: Change of rulers and imperial crisis. Investigations into the causes and consequences of the change of rulers in the Imperium Romanum of the soldier imperial time (3rd century AD) (= European university publications. Series 3: History and its auxiliary sciences. Vol. 149). Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 1982, ISBN 3-8204-6195-7 (at the same time: Hamburg, University, dissertation, 1979).
  • Udo Hartmann : The Palmyrenische Teilreich (= Oriens et Occidens . Vol. 2). Steiner, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-515-07800-2 (also: Berlin, Free University, dissertation, 2000).
  • Olivier Hekster : Rome and its Empire. AD 193-284. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2008, ISBN 978-0-7486-2304-4 .
    (Brief, informative presentation with selected excerpts from sources in English translation.)
  • Olivier Hekster, Gerda de Kleijn, Daniëlle Slootjes (eds.): Crises and the Roman Empire. Proceedings of the seventh workshop of the International Network Impact of Empire (Nijmegen, June 20-24, 2006) (= Impact of Empire. Vol. 7). Brill, Leiden et al. 2007, ISBN 978-90-04-16050-7 .
  • Klaus-Peter Johne , Thomas Gerhardt, Udo Hartmann (eds.): Deleto paene imperio Romano. Transformation processes of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century and their reception in modern times. Steiner, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-515-08941-1 .
    (Useful collection of essays on various topics of the Imperial Crisis.)
  • Klaus-Peter Johne (ed.): The time of the soldier emperors. Crisis and transformation of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century AD (235–284). 2 volumes. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-05-004529-0 .
    (Ambitious project that tries to present the current state of research through the contributions of numerous experts. It is currently the basic manual for the time of the soldier emperors.)
  • Christian Körner: Transformation processes in the Roman Empire of the 3rd century AD In: Millennium . Vol. 8, 2011, pp. 87-124, doi : 10.1515 / 9783110236453.87 .
    (Good introductory overview based on recent research.)
  • Fergus Millar : P. Herennius Dexippus. The Greek World and the Third Century Invasions. In: Journal of Roman Studies . Vol. 59, 1969, pp. 12-29, doi : 10.2307 / 299843 .
    (An important article on 3rd century historiography.)
  • Fritz Mitthof, Gunther Martin, Jana Grusková (eds.): Empire in Crisis. Gothic Invasions and Roman Historiography. Verlag Holzhausen, Vienna 2020.
    (Important collection of specialist articles, including the new Dexippos fragments.)
  • David S. Potter: The Roman Empire at Bay. AD 180-395. Routledge, London et al. 2004, ISBN 0-415-10058-5 .
    (Very good overall presentation, whereby the socio-cultural aspects are also highlighted.)
  • David S. Potter: Prophecy and History in the Crisis of the Roman Empire. A Historical Commentary on the "Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle". Clarendon Press, Oxford et al. 1990, ISBN 0-19-814483-0 .
  • Michael Sommer : 'A vast scene of confusion'. The 3rd Century Crisis in Research. In: Ulrike Babusiaux, Anne Kolb (Hrsg.): The right of the "Soldier Emperors". Legal stability in times of political upheaval. De Gruyter, Berlin et al. 2015, ISBN 978-3-05-006032-3 , pp. 15-30.
    (Concise but up-to-date research overview)
  • Michael Sommer: The soldier emperors. 2nd, reviewed, bibliographically updated edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2010 (history compact), ISBN 978-3-534-23643-5 .
    (Brief and informative introduction; however, in some points controversial and not without problems. The improved second edition, which has responded to many points of criticism, is definitely preferable to the original edition.)
  • Karl Strobel : The Roman Empire in the “3rd Century". Model of a historical crisis? On the question of mental structures of broader strata of the population in the time from Marc Aurel to the end of the 3rd century AD (= Historia. Individual writings. Vol. 52). Steiner, Stuttgart 1993, ISBN 3-515-05662-9 (at the same time: Heidelberg, University, habilitation paper, 1988/1989: Mundus ecce mutat et labitur? ).
    (Important account in which one argues against the consideration of an all-embracing time of crisis in the 3rd century.)
  • Gerold Walser , Thomas Pekary : The crisis of the Roman Empire. Report on research into the history of the 3rd century (193–284 AD) from 1939 to 1959. de Gruyter, Berlin 1962.
  • Christian Witschel : Crisis - Recession - Stagnation? The west of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century AD (= Frankfurt ancient historical contributions. Vol. 4). Clauss, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-934040-01-2 (At the same time: Frankfurt am Main, University, dissertation, 1998).
    (Very factual study on the changes of the third century, which particularly illuminates the crisis problem and explains in detail that the decisive structural change did not take place until around 600, while the differences between the principle and late antiquity are overestimated in many points.)


The literature given in the bibliography is given in abbreviated form, all other representations are cited in full.

  1. ↑ A good overview of the period from Commodus on in Potter, Roman Empire at Bay , pp. 85ff.
  2. For Maximinus see the overview in Ulrich Huttner: From Maximinus Thrax to Aemilianus. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , pp. 161ff. (with further literature); see. next to it Henning Börm: The reign of Emperor Maximinus Thrax and the six-emperor year 238 . In: Gymnasium 115 (2008), pp. 69–86. (Börm doubts that the reign of the emperor actually marked a relevant turning point.) For general information on the history of the events of the military imperial era, see also John Drinkwater: Maximinus to Diocletian. In: Bowman et al., The Cambridge Ancient History , 2nd edition, Vol. 12, pp. 28ff .; Potter, Roman Empire at Bay , pp. 167ff. Regarding the first soldier emperors, despite the partly outdated state of research, the presentation in the 1st edition of the Cambridge Ancient History is still worth reading: Wilhelm Enßlin : The Senate and the Army . In: The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol. XII: The Imperial Crisis and Recovery AD 193-324 . Edited by SA Cook, FE Adcock et al. Cambridge 1939, p. 72ff. See also Karl Christ : History of the Roman Empire . 4th edition Munich 2002, p. 634ff .; Michael Sommer : Roman History II. Rome and its empire in the imperial era (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 458). Kröner, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-520-45801-8 , pp. 261ff.
  3. See Jan Burian: Maximinus Thrax. His picture in Herodian and in the Historia Augusta . In: Philologus 132 (1988), pp. 230-244.
  4. Whether he really came from Thrace , as reported by the historian Herodian (Herodian, Kaisergeschichte 7.1.), Is not entirely clear, see Huttner, From Maximinus Thrax to Aemilianus. In: Johne et al., Militärkaiser , p. 161.
  5. Huttner, From Maximinus Thrax to Aemilianus. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 166f.
  6. Current overview from Günther Moosbauer : The forgotten Roman battle. The sensational find on the Harzhorn. Munich 2018.
  7. See Huttner, From Maximinus Thrax to Aemilianus. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 173ff.
  8. See Andreas Goltz: The peoples on the north-western border of the empire. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 427ff. and Andreas Goltz: The peoples on the middle and north-eastern border of the empire. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 449ff. In general, see also Walter Pohl : Die Germanen . Munich 2004.
  9. ↑ In general, see Herwig Wolfram : Die Goten . 4th edition, Munich 2001, p. 53ff. For the following battles against the Teutons see also Andreas Alföldi : The Invasions of Peoples from the Rhine to the Black Sea . In: The Cambridge Ancient History . Vol. XII: The Imperial Crisis and Recovery AD 193-324 . Edited by SA Cook, FE Adcock et al. Cambridge 1939, pp. 138ff. (classic, albeit partly outdated representation); Andreas Goltz: The peoples on the middle and north-eastern border of the empire. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , especially p. 456ff. (with more recent literature).
  10. For the related classicistic historiography see also Millar, P. Herennius Dexippus ; Potter, Roman Empire at Bay , pp. 241ff.
  11. Dexippos, Skythika , fragment 20 (= Historia Augusta , Maximus et Balbinus 16,3).
  12. ↑ For an introduction see Josef Wiesehöfer : Das Reich der Sāsāniden. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 531ff. In addition, with regard to the Sāsānid Empire, the following should be consulted: James Howard-Johnston : East Rome, Sasanian Persia and the End of Antiquity: Historiographical and Historical Studies (Collected Studies) . Aldershot 2006; Klaus Schippmann : Basic features of the history of the Sassanid Empire . Darmstadt 1990; Josef Wiesehöfer: Ancient Persia . Actual Edition Düsseldorf 2005.
  13. See Erich Kettenhofen : The conquest of Nisibis and Karrhai by the Sāsānids in the time of Emperor Maximin, 235/236 AD . In: Iranica Antiqua 30 (1995), pp. 159-177. On the early fighting between Rome and Persia, cf. Peter M. Edwell: Between Rome and Persia. The Middle Euphrates, Mesopotamia, and Palmyra under Roman Control . London et al. 2008, pp. 149ff., And especially Erich Kettenhofen: The Roman-Persian Wars of the 3rd Century AD According to the inscription Sāhpuhrs I on the Ka'be-ye Zartošt (ŠKZ) . Wiesbaden 1982; Karin Mosig-Walburg: Romans and Persians from the 3rd century to the year 363 AD Gutenberg 2009; Potter, Roman Empire at Bay , pp. 217ff. Translated source excerpts can be found in: Michael H. Dodgeon, Samuel NC Lieu: The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (AD 226–363) . London-New York 1991.
  14. See Henning Börm : A Threat or a Blessing? The Sasanians and the Roman Empire. In: Carsten Binder, Andreas Luther (ed.): Diwan. Studies in the History and Culture of the Ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean. Duisburg 2016, pp. 615–646.
  15. Huttner, From Maximinus Thrax to Aemilianus. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 179ff.
  16. See Josef Wiesehöfer: The Beginnings of Sassanid Western Policy and the Fall of Hatra . In: Klio 64 (1982), pp. 437-447.
  17. See Cassius Dio 80.4 and Herodian 6.2.
  18. See Erich Kettenhofen: Ardašir's demand for the Achaemenid inheritance: an interpretatio romana . In: Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica 15 (1984), pp. 177-190. Philip Huyse offers a more recent overview of this: La revendication de territoires achéménides par les Sassanides: une réalité historique? . In: Philip Huyse (ed.), Iran: Questions et connaissances I: Études sur l'Iran ancien . Paris 2002, pp. 294-308.
  19. In several sources it is alleged that Philip Arabs murdered Gordian, but this is at least doubtful based on other sources. See generally David MacDonald: The death of Gordian III - another tradition . In: Historia 30 (1981), pp. 502-508; Potter, Roman Empire at Bay , pp. 232ff. A clear answer is not possible.
  20. On the Roman payments to the Persians, cf. Henning Börm: Occasions and function of the Persian monetary claims on the Romans (3rd to 6th century) . In: Historia 57 (2008), pp. 327-346. For general information on Philip's reign, see Christian Körner: Philippus Arabs. A soldier emperor in the tradition of the Antonine-Severan principate . Berlin et al. 2002. See also Huttner, Von Maximinus Thrax bis Aemilianus. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , pp. 188ff .; Potter, Roman Empire at Bay , pp. 236ff.
  21. Zosimos 1:23. Zosimos calls the Goths, based on his (presumed) source Dexippos, also "Scythians". Modern research disagrees on the motives of the invaders, but poaching probably played a role, see Körner, Philippus Arabs , p. 135, note 63.
  22. The contemporary Dexippus gives a successful failure of the Roman troops as the reason ( Scythica , fragment 25). Jordanes , who wrote 300 years later and based himself on the lost Gothic story of Cassiodorus , states, on the other hand, that the Goths were induced to withdraw through monetary payments ( Getica 16, 89ff.).
  23. On his reign see Huttner, Von Maximinus Thrax bis Aemilianus. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , pp. 201ff. At the following time, see Andreas Alföldi: The Crisis of Empire . In: The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol. XII: The Imperial Crisis and Recovery AD 193-324 . Edited by SA Cook, FE Adcock et al. Cambridge 1939, pp. 165ff .; Potter, Roman Empire at Bay , 241ff.
  24. Huttner, From Maximinus Thrax to Aemilianus. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 211ff.
  25. On the reign of Valerian see Toni Glas: Valerian. Empire and reform approaches in the crisis phase of the Roman Empire. Paderborn et al. 2014 as well as summarizing Andreas Goltz / Udo Hartmann : Valerianus and Gallienus. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , pp. 223-295 (including Gallienus).
  26. Philip Huyse is fundamental to this: The trilingual inscription of Šabuhr I on the Ka'ba-i Zardušt (ŠKZ) . 2 vols. London 1999.
  27. The date of the (first) conquest of Antioch is, like several other points in the chronology of this time, controversial, but mostly 253 is assumed. In the following, the reasoning in Johne's manual is usually followed.
  28. On the Persian offensive of 253 cf. Huttner, From Maximinus Thrax to Aemilianus. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , pp. 218–221.
  29. Cf. in summary Potter, Roman Empire at Bay , pp. 251ff.
  30. On the persecution of Christians see (with references to sources and other literature) Goltz / Hartmann, Valerianus and Gallienus. In: Johne among others, soldiers Kaiser , pp 240-242 and pp 256f.
  31. ^ Goltz / Hartmann, Valerianus and Gallienus. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , pp. 244–246; Egon Schallmayer (Ed.): The Augsburg victory altar. Testimony to a troubled time . Saalburg Museum Bad Homburg vd H. 1995.
  32. Zosimos 1.34ff. The dating is controversial, and these raids may not have taken place until 259. See Goltz / Hartmann, Valerianus and Gallienus. In: Johne et al., Militärkaiser , p. 247, note 135.
  33. SKZ, §§ 18–22, Greek version; the translation follows Engelbert Winter, Beate Dignas: Rome and the Persian Empire . Berlin 2001, p. 98. This by no means unsuspicious description is confirmed by some Western sources such as Eutropius (9.7) and later historians such as the Byzantine Johannes Zonaras (12.23), but other Roman sources (e.g. Zosimos 1,36,2) instead claim that Valerian asked Shapur to negotiate and was then treacherously captured during the talks. See also Goltz / Hartmann, Valerianus and Gallienus. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 250f.
  34. See generally Andreas Luther : Rome's Mesopotamian Provinces after the capture of Valerian (260) . In: Josef Wiesehöfer, Philip Huyse (Ed.): Eran ud Aneran. Studies on the relations between the Sasanian Empire and the Mediterranean world . Stuttgart 2006, 203-219.
  35. On the sole rule of Gallienus: Goltz / Hartmann, Valerianus and Gallienus. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , pp. 255ff. See also Michael Geiger: Gallienus. Frankfurt a. M. 2013.
  36. a b For the characterization of the principle as an acceptance system see Egon Flaig : Challenging the Kaiser. Usurpation in the Roman Empire . Frankfurt am Main / New York 1992.
  37. On this fatal cycle cf. Felix Hartmann: Change of rulers and imperial crisis . Frankfurt am Main 1982.
  38. Petros Patrikios , Fragment 10 (Edition Müller; Fragment 175 in Thomas M. Banchich: The Lost History of Peter the Patrician. New York 2015, p. 115f.)
  39. See also David Potter: Palmyra and Rome: Odaenathus' Titulature and the Use of the Imperium Maius . In: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 113 (1996), pp. 271–285. On the other hand, Swain tried to work out that Odaenathus was not given an official Roman office, see Simon Swain: Greek into Palmyrene: Odaenathus as 'Corrector totius Orientis'? . In: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 99 (1993), pp. 157-164.
  40. So the anonymus post Dionem , fragment 7. Cf. generally Hartmann, Das palmyrenische Teilreich, p. 218ff.
  41. Popular scientific overview by Pat Southern: Empress Zenobia: Palmyra's Rebel Queen . Continuum, London / New York 2008.
  42. Basically: Hartmann, Das Palmyrenische Teilreich ; see also Hartmann, Das Palmyrenische Teilreich. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 343ff.
  43. See Hartmann, Das Palmyrenische Teilreich , pp. 306f.
  44. See also Drinkwater, The Gallic Empire , and Andreas Luther, Das Gallische Sonderreich. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 325ff. The main controversial question in research is whether one should assess these events as ordinary usurpation or as an attempt to deliberately separate the part of the empire.
  45. ↑ On this above all Erich Kettenhofen: The incursions of the Heruler into the Roman Empire in the 3rd century AD In: Klio 74 (1992), pp. 291–313. See also Millar, P. Herennius Dexippus , pp. 26ff.
  46. See Ioan Piso: Comments on Dexippos Vindobonenesis (I). In: Göttingen Forum for Classical Studies 18 (2015), pp. 199–215, here pp. 209f. ( Article online ).
  47. Dexippos, Skythika , Fragment 28a (after Felix Jacoby , The Fragments of the Greek Historians , No. 100) or Fragment 25 (Martin, Dexipp of Athens ). The translation is, with heavy abbreviations, taken from the edition with translation by Gunther Martin ( Dexipp von Athen , pp. 118, 121, 123); see. also the related statements by Martin ibid., pp. 185ff.
  48. On the background to the murder of Gallienus see Goltz / Hartmann, Valerianus and Gallienus. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 289ff. See also the detailed analysis by Hartmann: Udo Hartmann, Der Mord an Kaiser Gallienus. In: Johne (Ed.), Deleto paene imperio Romano , p. 81ff.
  49. ^ To Claudius II .: Udo Hartmann, Claudius Gothicus and Aurelian. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 297ff.
  50. This move must be clearly distinguished from the Herulian idea mentioned above in 267/68, which often did not happen earlier; see Erich Kettenhofen: The incursions of the Heruli into the Roman Empire in the 3rd century AD. In: Klio 74 (1992), pp. 291-313, especially pp. 305ff.
  51. See also Adolf Lippold : Emperor Claudius II. (Gothicus), ancestor of Konstantins the Elder. Gr., And the Roman Senate . In: Klio 74 (1992), pp. 380-394. However, Lippold's attempt to date the Historia Augusta to the Constantinian period failed.
  52. Not in spring, as was often assumed in older research, see Udo Hartmann, Claudius Gothicus and Aurelian. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 308f.
  53. On Aurelian: Udo Hartmann, Claudius Gothicus and Aurelian. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 308ff.
  54. ^ Zosimos 1.49.
  55. Udo Hartmann, Claudius Gothicus and Aurelian. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 319ff.
  56. On the complex question of the origin and form of this cult, see Steven E. Hijmans: The Sun which did not rise in the East. The Cult of Sol Invictus in the Light of Non-Literary Evidence . In: Babesch. Bulletin Antieke Beschaving 71, 1996, pp. 115-150, especially pp. 119ff.
  57. Epitome de Caesaribus 35.2.
  58. On this emperor see Klaus-Peter Johne, Der "Senatskaiser" Tacitus. In: Johne, soldiers Kaiser , S. 379-393.
  59. On Probus see Gerald Kreucher: The Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus and his time . Stuttgart 2003; see. in addition also Gerald Kreucher, Probus and Carus. In: Johne, soldiers Kaiser , p 395ff. Exactly what rank Probus held is not known, but he was probably a very high-ranking officer (Kreucher, Probus und seine Zeit , p. 126).
  60. Probus may have carried out the murder of his competitor, cf. Zonaras 12.29. For general information on Florianus and the civil war, see Kreucher, Probus und seine Zeit , p. 122ff.
  61. ↑ In summary, Kreucher, Probus und seine Zeit , p. 133ff.
  62. See Kreucher, Probus und seine Zeit , pp. 155ff.
  63. Kreucher, Probus und seine Zeit , pp. 162f.
  64. Zosimos 1.66; see. also Zonaras 12:29; after Kreucher, Probus and his time , p. 164f. perhaps to be equated with Lucius Septimius .
  65. General: Kreucher, Probus und seine Zeit , pp. 164ff.
  66. See Kreucher, Probus und seine Zeit , pp. 179ff.
  67. On Carus see Kreucher, Probus and Carus. In: Johne, soldiers Kaiser , p 415ff. Cf. also Klaus Altmayer: The rule of Carus, Numerianus and Carinus as a forerunner of the tetrarchy. Stuttgart 2014.
  68. See also John Matthews: The Roman Empire of Ammianus . London 1989, pp. 133 and 498, note 8.
  69. At the end of the military empire see Kreucher, Probus and Carus. In: Johne, soldiers Kaiser , p 419ff. On Diocletian see among others Wolfgang Kuhoff : Diocletian and the epoch of the tetrarchy. The Roman Empire between crisis management and rebuilding (284–313 AD) . Frankfurt am Main 2001; Potter, Roman Empire at Bay , pp. 280ff .; Roger Rees: Diocletian and the Tetrarchy . Edinburgh 2004.
  70. deleto paene imperio Romano (Eutropus 9,9).
  71. See the Research section in this article.
  72. For the following cf. also Johne / Hartmann, Crisis and Transformation of the Empire in the 3rd Century. In: Johne. Soldiers Emperor , p. 1025ff. Hekster, Rome and its Empire , pp. 3ff. Also offers a good, brief overview .
  73. ^ Johne / Hartmann, Crisis and Transformation of the Empire in the 3rd Century. In: Johne. Soldier Emperor , p. 1041ff.
  74. See Johne / Hartmann, Crisis and Transformation of the Empire in the 3rd Century. In: Johne. Soldier Emperor , p. 1026f.
  75. Overview in Kai Ruffing, Die Wirtschaft. In: Johne, soldiers Kaiser , S. 817-819. Cf. also the generally negative account of Géza Alföldy: Roman social history . 3rd edition Wiesbaden 1984, pp. 133ff.
  76. ^ Ruffing, The Economy. In: Johne, soldiers Kaiser , p 821ff.
  77. ^ Ruffing, The Economy. In: Johne, soldiers Kaiser , p 825ff.
  78. See Ruffing, Die Wirtschaft. In: Johne, Militärkaiser , p. 828 (with further literature).
  79. Cf. in summary Kai Ruffing, Economic Prosperity in the 3rd Century: The Cities of Egypt as a Paradigm ?. In: Johne (ed.), Deleto paene imperio Romano , p. 223ff. and in the same volume the contribution by Christian Witschel, On the situation in Roman Africa during the 3rd century , pp. 145ff.
  80. See generally also Kai Ruffing, Die Wirtschaft. In: Johne, soldiers Kaiser , p 817ff. See also Hekster, Rome and its Empire , pp. 31ff.
  81. ^ For example, Géza Alföldy : The Crisis of the Third Century as seen by Contemporaries . In: Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 15 (1974), pp. 89ff.
  82. ↑ In detail: Strobel, Das Imperium Romanum in the 3rd century . Strobel notes that even where the sources allow more precise statements about everyday life, as in Egypt, a long-term mood of crisis cannot be proven (summarizing ibid., P. 285).
  83. ↑ For general information on religious development, see Johne et al., Military Emperor , pp. 927ff.
  84. See the overview in Johne / Hartmann, Crisis and Transformation of the Empire in the 3rd Century. In: Johne, soldiers Kaiser , S. 1031ff.
  85. A good overview provides the basic manual of Johne among others, soldiers Kaiser , S. 15ff., Especially for history Udo Hartmann Historians. In: Johne, soldiers Kaiser , p 893ff.
  86. To the Historia Augusta , one of the most controversial sources of antiquity, see introductory with further literature: Klaus-Peter Johne: The Historia Augusta. In: Johne, Militärkaiser , p. 45ff.
  87. Although it is unclear whether Flavianus dealt with the republic or the imperial era, as nothing of the work has survived, the latter assumption is more likely. See Bruno Bleckmann : Comments on the Annales of Nicomachus Flavianus . In: Historia 44 (1995), pp. 83-99; Udo Hartmann: The literary sources. In: Johne, Militärkaiser , especially pp. 36–38; Jörg A. Schlumberger : The Epitome de Caesaribus. Investigations into pagan historiography of the 4th century AD Munich 1974, passim.
  88. Cf. Bruno Bleckmann: Reflections on Enmann's imperial history and on the formation of historical traditions in the tetrarchic and Constantinian times . In: Giorgio Bonamente, Klaus Rosen ( eds . ), Historiae Augustae Colloquium Bonnense . Bari 1997, pp. 11-37, here pp. 21ff.
  89. Millar, P. Herennius Dexippus , especially p. 21ff .; see. but the negative assessment by Potter, Roman Empire at Bay , pp. 233f.
  90. See above all Paweł Janiszewski: The missing link: Greek pagan historiography in the second half of the third century and in the fourth century AD. Warsaw 2006.
  91. ^ Gunther Martin: Dexipp of Athens. Tuebingen 2006.
  92. Bruno Bleckmann, Jonathan Groß (ed.): Historians of the Imperial Crisis of the 3rd Century I. Paderborn 2016.
  93. Overview by Johne, Military Emperor .
  94. Cassius Dio 72,36,4.
  95. On the problem of delimitation, see above all Matthäus Heil : "Soldier Emperor" as a term for an era. In: Johne (Ed.), Deleto paene imperio Romano , p. 411ff.
  96. On the following statements, see above all Thomas Gerhardt: Research. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 125ff.
  97. ^ Gibbon, Decline and Fall , Chapter 10 .
  98. Overview in Gerhardt, research. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , pp. 130f.
  99. On this topic, see Gerhardt, research. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , pp. 132ff., With documents.
  100. See Gerhardt, research. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , pp. 144ff.
  101. See for example Elena Michajlovna Schtaerman: The Crisis of the Slavery Order in the West of the Roman Empire . Berlin 1964. See the overview with literature in Géza Alföldy: Römische Sozialgeschichte . 3rd ed. Wiesbaden 1984, p. 136, p. 194f.
  102. ^ Gerhardt, Research. In: Johne et al., Military Emperor , p. 157.
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