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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Journal of Egyptian Archaeology
Vol. 10 (Jul. 1924), pp80‑82

The text is in the public domain:
J. Grafton Milne died in 1951.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

 p80  Aemilianus the "Tyrant"
By J. Grafton Milne

The miscellaneous collection of Roman generals, client kings, and other people of more or less eminence which is found in the Historia Augusta under the title of the Thirty Tyrants includes one man on whose career some light has been thrown by Egyptian papyri which may give some clue to the circumstances leading to his appearance in this connection.

The account of Aemilianus given in the Historia Augusta is, briefly, to the effect that he was in command of Egypt and was compelled by an outbreak of rioting at Alexandria to assume the position of emperor for his own safety. He ruled with vigour, occupied the Thebaid and the whole of the country, and drove back the barbarian tribes. He was preparing an expedition against the Indians (i.e. presumably the Axumites of Abyssinia) when he was overthrown and captured by Theodotus, the general sent by Gallienus.

Lucius Mussius Aemilianus and Aurelius Theodotus are both known as prefects of Egypt from papyri. The latest date for Aemilianus, who had first been vice-prefect, but was prefect by 24 Sept 258 (P. Oxy. 1201), is Sept./Oct. 259 (P. Ryl. 110): the only recorded date for Theodotus is 14 Aug. 262 (P. Strasb. 5). In view of the statements of the Historia Augusta, it may safely be concluded that Theodotus was the immediate successor of Aemilianus: but the precise date at which the change was effected is left vague within a period of three years (cf. Stein, Arch. Pap. V.419, n. 1).

This period however covers that during which two other "tyrants" were recognised in Egypt. Macrianus and Quietus were proclaimed as emperors in Syria in the summer of 260, and shortly afterwards were accepted by the Egyptians. The earliest recorded dating by them is on 29 Sept. 260, in a horoscope from Oxyrhynchus (P. Oxy. 1476): this date is expressed as their first year, which shows that they had not been recognised in Egypt before the previous 29 Aug. Nearly two months later the inhabitants of Oxyrhynchus seem still to have been doubtful as to the legitimacy of their title, since it was necessary for the strategos on 24 Nov. to issue an order requiring the local bankers to accept and exchange their coins which it was reported had been refused (P. Oxy. 1411). A distribution of corn in their names was announced at Hermopolis on 15 Feb. 261 (P. Lond. 955): which suggests that they were then firmly established in Middle Egypt. But nine days later an ostrakon at Thebes is dated by Valerian and Gallienus (Wilcken, G. O. 1474): and there are no certain dates of Macrianus and Quietus after this. The coin in the British Museum of year 2 of Macrianus is, as pointed out by Laffranchi (Riv. Ital. Numism., 1907, 381), a tooled coin of Gallienus: and the entry in a Strasburg papyrus of a date in the second year is not a safe guide, as the whole of the dating of the group in which this occurs (P. Strasb. 6‑8) is hopelessly confused.​1

p81 The numismatic evidence, which was discussed in a paper on the coinage of the eighth year of Gallienus (Anc. Egypt, 1917, pt. IV), is in general agreement with the conclusion suggested by the papyrus dates. A few coins of Valerian, Gallienus, and Salonina, linked in style with those of previous years, were issued from the Alexandrian mint at the beginning, presumably, of their year 8 — i.e. Aug./Sept. 260. Other coins of Gallienus alone, dated in the same year, but in style resembling those of later years, are found, which presumably belong to the end of this year. And intermediate between these two groups are the coins of Macrianus and Quietus, which are all dated in their first year.

The question arises, whether Aemilianus had any dealings with Macrianus and Quietus. Either he or Theodotus — more probably Aemilianus — was in nominal command of Egypt during the few months when Macrianus and Quietus were officially regarded as ruling at Alexandria and in Middle Egypt: what was the relation of the representative of Gallienus to the usurpers? It would not have been unprecedented for a prefect to continue in office during and after a revolt from Rome: L. Mantennius Sabinus was prefect on 6 Mar. 193 under Pertinax (B. G. U. 646), and still prefect under Severus on 21 Apr. 194 (I. G. R. 1062), though in the interval Pescennius Niger had been accepted as emperor in Egypt and had been crushed by Severus. But a more probable explanation may be suggested.

It is worth noting that the dating on the Theban ostrakon mentioned above is by Valerian and Gallienus. Now in Lower and Middle Egypt datings by Valerian and Gallienus continue up to Sept. 260 — but, after the break caused by the usurpation of Macrianus and Quietus, datings are by Gallienus alone. The fact that the name of Valerian occurs at Thebes on 24 Feb. 261 suggests that there had been no break in the recognition of Valerian and Gallienus there, and that Macrianus and Quietus had not extended their authority so far south.​2 And, as a matter of fact, no monuments or records of Macrianus and Quietus seem to have been found above Koptos, from which place there is an inscription of Quietus (I. G. R. 1181).

The special mention in the Historia Augusta of the activities of Aemilianus in the Thebaid may give ground for supposing that he held out there for Gallienus against the representatives of Macrianus and Quietus, and from there finally recovered Egypt for his master. As Macrianus and Quietus were first proclaimed in Syria, their authority over Egypt would probably spread through Pelusium to the head of the Delta, and thence northwards to Alexandria and southwards through Middle Egypt: and it is consequently not surprising that though Gallienus was still recognised, and coins were struck for him, at Alexandria after 29 Aug. 260, Macrianus and Quietus were recognised at Oxyrhynchus as early as 29 Sept.​3 And the recovery of the country for Gallienus probably followed the reverse course: if Hermopolis was feasting in honour of Macrianus and Quietus on 15 Feb. 261, it is very unlikely that they could have been overthrown and the news of their overthrow have reached Thebes by 24 Feb., if the wave of recovery were proceeding southwards: it is more  p82 probable that Hermopolis returned to its allegiance somewhat later, as Alexandria did before the end of the year.

If, however, Aemilianus had been the loyal upholder of the cause of Gallienus in Egypt against the Syrian "tyrants," how came he into the same category with them? That he was superseded and arrested by orders of Gallienus seems certain from the Historia Augusta: but it may be doubted whether he ever laid claim to imperial power. It is significant that no coins of his are known — the one supposed to exist in the British Museum is, as has been shown by Dattari, a tooled coin of Philip — and that no datings by his reign have been found: if he had regarded himself as emperor, and had ruled as vigorously and as long as the Historia Augusta suggests, it is almost certain that coins would have been struck and documents dated in his name. There may have been grounds for the supersession of Aemilianus, and he may be suspected of a design to seize the empire: but it is almost certain that he did not call himself emperor.

After all, if he had saved Egypt for Gallienus and then been driven to revolt, he would only have been in the same position as others of his contemporaries. Odenathus of Palmyra, who had similarly upheld the cause of Rome in Syria against Macrianus and Quietus, did not himself break away from the empire: but had it not been for his early death, he would probably have taken this step, since his widow and son very shortly afterwards claimed their independence. The most remarkable shifting of parts, however, was in Greece, where Piso went to take possession of the province on behalf of Macrianus: Valens, the governor appointed by Gallienus, revolted and set himself up as "tyrant": and Piso thereupon took up the cause of Gallienus. The whole situation of the Roman empire during the seventh decade of the third century was one of kaleidoscopic changes, the meaning and purpose of which it is difficult to discover. So the degree to which the charge of disloyalty can be justly brought against Aemilianus may perhaps be left undetermined.

The Author's Notes:

1 Alternatively it may be suggested that the date in the Strasburg papyrus — 30 Oct. 261 — is correct according to the scribe's knowledge and belief, and that though Macrianus and Quietus had lost hold on Alexandria and possibly on all Egypt before 29 Aug., the scribe in the Fayyûm had not heard or realised the news. This is possible — almost anything is possible with a Fayyûm scribe; but the eccentricity of the whole of his datings looks as if he had been trying to work out a chronological scheme of his own and got into a complete muddle.

2 If the Roman officials in the Thebaid had been cut off from direct communication with the Mediterranean by the forces of Macrianus and Quietus on the Lower Nile, they would not have heard that Valerian had disappeared from the imperial power after his capture by the Persians, and so would continue to join his name with that of Gallienus.

3 The horoscope (P. Oxy. 1476) may not have been written at Oxyrhynchus, though found there: but there is a reasonable probability that it was. The next earliest dating for Macrianus and Quietus is 25 days later (P. Grenf. I, 50): this is from the Fayyûm, which would naturally get news from outside later than Oxyrhynchus, possibly by as much as a week: so the margin of error in the argument is not wide.

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