Father and Son
Valerian I (253 - 260) and Gallienus (253 - 268)
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Valerian I came to power at a very bad time. Since misery loves company, he had his son, Gallienus appointed co-emperor with him. They did a pretty good job of starting to put the pieces of Empire back together. Indeed, it seems likely that the Empire might have collapsed completely were it not for their efforts. Yet they ended up being remembered more for their failures than their substantial successes.

Valerian Antoninianus
About this coin: This low-grade silver (aka billon) antoninianus (or double denarius) features the portrait of Valerian on the front. (S. 2878)

Valerian had been on a recruitment trip to the Rhine on behalf of Trebonianus Gallus but got called back when Aemilian was marching to Rome to take the emperorship. Valerian didn't get there in time to save Gallus, but he defeated Aemilian, at which point Aemilian's troops murdered him to avoid further battle with Valerian. The similarities between his rise and that of Vespasian, two centuries earlier, is striking.

Gallienus Silver Antoninianus
About this coin: Actual silver coin from co-reign with father. Some time after Valerian's capture, Gallienus debased the antoninianus to "silver-washed" bronze.

The first order of business was to stabilize the frontiers, where enemies of Rome had taken advantage of the internal turmoil to invade. Valerian had his son, Gallienus, appointed co-Emperor and sent him to deal with Germanic invaders in the west. Valerian headed east to deal with serious incursions by the Sasanian king Shapur I. They would not see each other again.

Shapur I (241-272) Drachm
About this coin: This Sasanian silver drachm, or dirhem, features Shapur I in ceremonial headdress on the obverse and a fire altar with two attendants on the reverse. Sasanian drachms are much larger in diameter but thinner than equivalent coins from other cultures.

Valerian at first did well against the Persians, but the tide started turning when plague swept through his armies. He then attempted to negotiate a peace settlement with Shapur I, who suggested that they meet to talk with a minimal support staff ("No need for a whole bunch of soldiers -- we're both honorable despots, right?"). For some unfathomable reason, Valerian agreed. Predictably enough, Shapur used this opportunity to capture Valerian, who spent the rest of his life in captivity. Shapur reputedly used him (among other things) as a sort of human step-stool, standing on Valerian's back to mount his horse. When Valerian died, Shapur had him skinned, and hung the skin in a temple. I'd imagine it was quite a tourist attraction.

The only thing that kept the eastern Roman Empire from total collapse was the Roman client kingdom of Palmyra. Centered between Roman and Sasanian territory, it had long acted as a buffer against first the Parthians, then the Sasanians. Under the leadership of Odaenathus, the Palmyrenes first helped the Roman forces drive the Sasanians out, then he put down an attempt by Valerian's Praetorian Prefect to secede from Rome. Gallienus was at first grateful, but later grew fearful of Palmyra's growing power. Near the end of his reign, he would send a campaign against Palmyra, but it failed, serving only to alert the Palmyrenes that Rome was no longer content to leave them alone. But I get ahead of myself.

Meanwhile, Gallienus had won a string of impressive victories against the Germans in the west, but upon the capture of his father, he was suddenly faced with a series of internal uprisings. While his attentions were thus occupied, he was unable to protect the western provinces, and they organized to defend themselves under the provincial governor, Postumus.

Postumus (260-269) Antoninianus
About this coin: After Shapur I captured Valerian, Gallienus proved unable to defend the north-western provinces against the marauding germanic tribes while dealing with the problems generated by his father's capture. Postumus organized the defense of the western provinces. Sentiment was strong to secede from Rome, and Postumus was declared the first emperor of the breakaway "Gallic Empire".

Postumus reigned for nine years before his troops murdered him because he wouldn't let them sack a Gallic city that had supported the failed usurper, Laelianus.

These provinces then seceded from Rome, forming the "Gallic Empire", which would maintain its independence for fourteen years. They declared Postumus emperor, and he executed Gallienus's 17-year-old son, Saloninus, whom Gallienus had left in charge in the west. Gallienus was wounded in a failed attempt to defeat Postumus and bring the breakaway provinces back into the Empire.

No rest for the weary -- Rome was then beset with a massive invasion by the Goths in 268. He had some success in driving them back, but then had to suppress a rebellion by Aureolus, his cavalry commander. While this was going on, he fell victim to a conspiracy among his officers. A false message that the enemy was attacking drew him from his tent in the middle of the night, and he was stabbed to death. It is suspected that his successor, Claudius II, had a hand in the conspiracy, and no action was ever taken against Gallienus's murderers.


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