Essay About Aurelian the Great?
Everyone knows the great emperors of Rome: Augustus, the five “Good emperors,” Diocletian and Constantine. That’s about it right? The rest fall into two categories: Fascinatingly Crazy or Mindnumbingly Boring. For a few years I did an Emperor Project as part of the study of Rome, and let students choose from the “Great” or “Crazy” lists.
Now I know I left one guy off, Lucius Domitius Aurelianus Augustus, otherwise known as Aurelian. Seeing as the Western Roman Empire lasted more than 5 centuries, there’s really only so many great emperors you can latch onto, and I think that’s part of the reason Aurelian gets left off the list.
Aurelian ruled for only 5 year, 270 to 275 AD. But these were terrible, terrible years for the Roman Empire, years that came to be known as the “Crisis of the Third Century.” Germanic invaders plundered the Empire at will across the Rhine and the Danube, while the Sassanid Empire constantly menaced the East. Emperors rushed from crisis to crisis, only to find the enemy attacked again as soon as the emperor left. With Rome failing to defend its people, two large sections split off from Rome, the Gallic Empire and Palmyrene Empire.
Making matters worse, Aurelian was just the latest in a string of “barracks emperors.” Soldiers made and unmade emperors at will, assassinating anyone who threatened their pay, and elevating whoever promised them the world, only to assassinate them later. Since the death of Commodus in 192 AD, Rome went through 26 emperors before arriving at Aurelian.
So yeah, he had his work cut out for him. What did Aurelian do?
1.) Threw a host of barbarians out of Italy and then out of the Empire all together.
This includes a who’s-who list of Rome invaders, the Goths, Vandals and even the comically named Luthungi.
2.) Changed the way the Empire defended itself.
The old limes system set up by Augustus and Hadrian just wasn’t working. Rome didn’t have the manpower to defend thousands of miles of border against barbarians that were coming in unheard of numbers. Aurelian recognized structural changes needed to be made. He abandoned the province of Dacia, which stuck out on the other side of the Danube like a sore thumb and was practically indefensible. Plus he ordered a massive wall building campaign around any city of import.
This included the Aurelian Walls around Rome, but the main push came in the frontier towns. Now instead of finding rich towns ready for a good sacking, they would find fortified strongholds able to hold out until the legions came to their rescue.
3.) He crushed the Palmyrene Empire while barely damaging it.
The Palmyrene Empire was the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Famously wealthy and opulent, Aurelian could have cut a wide and destructive swatch as he marched towards Palmyra and ruled over the ashes. Heck, most people expected him to shed some serious blood. Aurelian was a hardcore, no-nonsense general. He would have been within his rights, since these cities were in open rebellion.
Knowing this, the first cities he encountered, which also happened to be closest to Rome, opened their gates to him. But not Tyana. Tyana held out. When the city fell quickly after, everyone prepared for the worst. But a funny thing happened. Nothing. Aurelian issued a general pardon. There was no looting. No flame. No blood in the streets.
It was a brilliant move. Seeing the emperor was willing to forgive a little treason, city after city opened their gates to him. He arrived at Palmyra after having taken the entire eastern Empire with remarkably little bloodshed. Palmyra, not really being a Roman city and being the root of the problem, did not meet such a benign fate.
4.) He reconquered the Gallic Empire and earned the coolest nickname of all.
After reuniting Rome with the east, he turned west. The Gallic Empire, made up of modern day France and Britain, was really no match for Rome, and had very little interest in fighting Rome. Its soldiers surrendered very quickly, after little bloodshed.
Having reunited the Roman Empire and secured its borders, Aurelian got the awesome name “Resitutor Orbis” or, Restorer of the World.
5.) He revalued money, and otherwise didn’t suck.
Not sucking alone makes him stand out amongst a litany of emperors as well-fit to rule as a Rhesus monkey. Aurelian wasn’t inept or particularly corrupt, and he had the good sense to try to revalue the Roman Denarius.
For all of the reasons above, Aurelian deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the “Greats.” No one was dealt a worse deck, and no one did more in such little time. He laid the groundwork for the revival attributed to Diocletian. Yet without Aurelian, a Diocletian would never have been possible.
Aurelian sadly couldn’t avoid the fate that befell most emperors. A group of senior officials assassinated him in 275, after a false report came out that Aurelian intended to purge them.