Still More Brothers
Tacitus (275 - 276) and Florianus (276)
Back Next
There's a lovely story about the accession of Tacitus; unfortunately, it's patently false. In fact, we know far more about what ISN'T true about him than what is. About his half-brother, Florianus, we know even less, only that he "did nothing worth remembering" (Eutropius), and that he managed a remarkable imitation of that other incredibly insignificant Imperial brother, Quintillus.

Tacitus Antoninianus
About this coin:

Tacitus came to power some time after the murder of Aurelian. How long after is not clear. The official story was that, in an uncharacteristic show of devotion, the army asked the Senate to select the new emperor. After a period of careful deliberation lasting nearly two months, they selected Tacitus, a wealthy and respected elderly senator of noble birth, the descendant and namesake of the famous Roman historian of the same name.

A lovely story; unfortunately, it's a pure fabrication. Though not much is known about his origins, he was not of noble birth, nor was he particularly wealthy. The time available for the "careful deliberation" was far shorter than the claimed six to eight weeks, and it's also unlikely that he was anywhere near the 75 years of age that the official story claims. More likely, he was simply the next in a long line of military men selected by the army and forced upon the Senate. Be that as it may, the Senate did seem to like him better than most of his predecessors, and they voted him the somewhat wishful title of "Restorer of the Republic".

Militarily, his reign started out well enough. He took charge of the army assembled by Aurelian to attack the Sasanians, but was faced with a more immediate problem. Aurelian had allied himself with various tribes of Goths in anticipation of his Persian campaign, and they had assembled large armies at his request. But when Aurelian died, the Goths took this as an opportunity to begin piratical raids into Roman territory. So instead of the Sasanians, it was the Goths against whom Tacitus led the Roman armies. But though the anticipated enemy was different, his successes were still quite impressive.

His death in the field is nearly as mysterious as his origins. He was probably murdered, but it's possible he simply died of fever. If murdered, it's unclear as to who did it, and why. Perhaps it was some survivors of the murder conspiracy against Aurelian, seeking revenge for his harsh treatment of their fellow conspirators. Or maybe it was a mutiny inspired by the heavy taxes levied by the newly appointed governor of Syria, a relative of Tacitus. In any case, we are left with only speculation as to what he might have accomplished had he lived longer.

Florianus Antoninianus
About this coin:

As Tacitus's Praetorian Prefect, his half-brother, Florianus, was with him when he died, and was quickly declared the new emperor. Unfortunately for him, some provinces (including Syria, Egypt, and the other eastern provinces) did not approve, and declared their own candidate, the general Probus, as a rival emperor.

Florianus had been enjoying some success in continuing his half-brother's campaign against the Goths, but he had to break off that campaign and head south when news of the mutiny reached him. He had a much larger army, but they were ravaged by the extreme summer heat (which Probus's troops were used to) and disease.

With morale plummeting, his troops were willing to listen to suggestions by Probus's soldiers that they avoid a protracted civil war by deposing Florianus and declaring for Probus. When Florianus tried to mount an offensive against Probus's armies, he fell victim to the same troops who had declared him Emperor less than three months earlier.

<-Previous Page Next Page ->
Back To "Those Wacky Emperors"