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Danubian and Balkan Emperors Author(s): Ronald Syme Source: Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Bd. 22,

Danubian and Balkan Emperors Author(s): Ronald Syme Source: Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Bd. 22, H. 2 (2nd Qtr., 1973), pp. 310-316 Published by: Franz Steiner Verlag

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I. The great military emperors who came out of Illyricum are often called "Illyrian"; and some may even be assigned "Illyrian blood." The term is vicious and misleading. It is also too vague, and too narrow. As concerns the

territories once inhabited by peoples that spoke Illyrian dialects, Dalmatia can show only one Roman emperor, namely Diocletian, and none is attested for Dardania. Constantine was born at Naissus in that region, it is true, but that

is not enough

The epoch of Constantine had little precise knowledge about the age of tribulation embracing the fifty years from the end of Severus Alexander to the accession of Diocletian. Such at least is the clear impression conveyed by

three scrappy products of the Fourth Century, namely the Caesares of Aure- lius Victor (written in 360), the Breviarium of Eutropius (370) and the Epi-

tome of Pseudo-Victor

they derive from a common source. That source, it may be contended, took the story of the emperors down to the decease of Constantine (337), and was composed in the near sequel.2 That is to say, the "Kaisergeschichte" postulated by Enmann in 1884. En- mann, however, put his KG not long after 284. He was influenced by the os- tensible date of the Historia Augusta, not yet doubted or impugned. The de- cisive intervention of Dessau in 1889 has entailed many changes, not all of them at once recognised. As recovered from the three epitomators, the KG (which was also drawn upon by Jerome in his Chronicle and by Festus) furnishes valuable indica- tions, through its very defects. It betrays plain ignorance, blatant errors and grave misconceptions. For example, starting from the notion that the brief reign of Tacitus was a kind of "interregnum" between Aurelian and Probus, the KG produced the erroneous consequence of six or seven months inter- vening before Tacitus was installed as emperor.3 Aurelius Victor enlarged on this theme, with dire effects, as revealed in the Historia Augusta. However, the KG supplied the "patria"of the Emperor Decius, namely Sir- mium, with notable precision, giving the "vicus" Budalia as his place of

to establish the "patria" of his family.'

(not long after 395). As their concordances show,

I For Naissus, Anon. Val. 2. 2; also (carlier)Firmicus MIaternus,Math. I 10. 13. 2 That date for the Ignotus, assumed by Seeck long ago, is reaffirmedby T. D. Barnes, LIAC,

Bonn 1968/1969 (1970), 13 f.

3 Victor 35. 12; Epit. 35. 10. Not, however, in Eutropius.

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Danubian and Balkan Emperors


birth.4 Also Sirmium for Probus - a detail perhaps owing preservation to the fact that this emperor was assassinated while superintending drainage opera- tions in the vicinity.6 Further, it certified Sirmium as the origin of one of the Tetrarchs, namely Maximianus.6 But there is no sign that it said anything about the "patria" of Claudius. Nor was it able to transmit accurate information about the nomenclature of certain rulers. For example L. Domitius Aurelianus, M. ClaucliusTactus, M. Annius Florianus. The selection of items by the three epitomators can be variously instruc- tive (emphasis or omissions), likewise their idiosyncrasies. Eutropius is curt (but allocating more space to Aurelian than to any emperor since Trajan), Victor is prone to develop themes he likes and indulge in moral and political reflections, whereas the Epitome carries several dubious items that appear fictitious.7 Which, in its way, happens to be important. It is useful to register inventions about emperors antecedent to the Historia Augusta, or contem- poraneous. That work, which also used the KG from time to time, will not often be cited in the present paper, for obvious reasons.

II. Sirmium lays claim to three Roman emperors. This place made an early entrance into history, in the narration of the great rebellion of Pannonians and Dalmatians in A. D. 6. At that time Sirmium, a town of the Amantuni, housed a Roman garrison. Made a colony of veterans by Domitian, Sirmium went on to acquire an enhanced role in war and government. Occupying a strong position among the marshes beside the Save, Sirmium was on the high road of empire that linked Aquileia to Byzantium: in fact about halfway between Aquileia and Serdica, and thus destined for the residence of empe- rors and even the rank of a capital city. In a narrower strategic sense, Sir-

mium was in close proximity to an important section of the frontier of Pan- nonia Inferior. As one of the Latin panegyrists states, in allusion to the "patria" of Maximianus, his infancy and early years were passed "in illo limite, illa

fortissimarum sede legionum, rum sonitus."8

inter discursus strenuae iuventutis et armo-


Eutropius IX. 4; Epit. 29. 1, cf. Victor 29. 1: "Sirmiensium vico ortus."

' Victor 37. 4; Eutropius IX. 17. 3; Epit. 37. 4. 6 Epit. 40. 10.

1 Thus presumably "Gallonius Basilius" who by order of the dying Gallienus brought the "re- gia indumenta" to Claudius at Ticinum (Epit. 34. 32): the episode is a fiction. Also "Dalmatius", the horticultural parent of Probus (37. 1). For these items (and others) see further R. Syme, Empe- rors and Biography (1971), 232 f. "Gallonius Basilius" is registcrcd without dubitation in the new Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, Vol. I (1971). That work also conflates "Dalmatius" with "Maximus", the centurion whom the Historia Augusta invented as the Emperor's father (Prob. 3. 2). 8 Pan. lat. X. 2. 2.

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Clearly a dynamic territory. Another martial zone is not far to seek. It is the old "Moesia et Treballia", extending along the Danube from a point be- low the Iron Gates as far as the beginning of the Ripa Thraciae, not far short of Novae. The Roman military occupation began with the establishment of auxiliary regiments along the Danube, and before long a legion came to Oes- cus in the Treballian land.9 Further, Radiariamay also have been a legionary camp at some time or other. Evidence is lacking so far, but the position was strategic, at the point where a road from Naissus reached the Danube. Both Ratiaria and Oescus were made military colonies by Trajan. Roman and na- tive elements thus blended in a fruitful symbiosis.10 After Domitian split the province of Moesia, with the boundary at or near the river Ciabrus, Ratiaria belonged to Moesia Superior, Oescus to Moesia Inferior. But the old entity, namely Moesia and Treballia, was restored by Aurelian as a result of his evacuation of Trajan's Dacia in 271. His own Nova Dacia was divided, comprising two well defined portions, perhaps at once. Dacia Ripensis is the frontier zone along the Danube, and the two legions were now stationed at Ratiaria and at Oescus. To constitute Dacia Mediter- ranea, the Dardariian land (Naissus, Ulpianum and Scupi) was severed from Moesia Superior and joined to two regions taken from the province of Thrace (the territories of Serdica and Pautalia).'1

III. And now,

to develop the parallel with Sirmium, several emperors de-

rive their origin from Dacia Ripensis. Brevity and convenience commend the use of that term, although the zone was still Moesian when those rulers saw the light of day. The sequence of soldier emperors from Illyricum that leads on to the Te- trarchs began with Claudius and took its origin from the conspiracy which was contrived against Gallienus by the generals in 268. Both Claudius and Aurelian were prominent in that affair.12 Precursors might be looked for. What of Decius, who came from Sir- mium? But Decius in one respect is anomalous, for he was a senator and a senior ex-consul when he seized the power. Better, the high equestrian offi- cer Maximinus, in command of Danubian levies and proclaimed emperor by the army after the assassination of Severus Alexander. What the Historia Augusta asserts about the antecedents of Maximinus will be dismissed as pure fiction.13There remains the testimony of Herodi-

9 For the earliest military posts see B. Gerov, Act. Ant. Ac. Sc. Hung. XV (1967), 85 if. 10 For the high civilization of Ratiaria,V. Velkov, Eirene V (1966), 155 if.

11 For the territories of Dacia Nova, H. Vetters, Dacia Ripensis (1950), 6 ff.

12 Victor 33. 21, cf. Zosimus I. 40. 2; Zonaras XII. 25.

13 For the contrary view, A. Bellezza, Massimino il Trace (1964).

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Danubian and Balkan Emperors


an, which calls for a careful assessment. According to Herodian, Maximinus began as a shepherd, a village boy from the "Thracians of the furthest inter- ior."14In a Greek writer the phrase should indicate the tract along the Dan- ube. Making allowance for prejudice and defamation, it can be argued that C. Julius Verus Maximinus (for such is his full style) was not a native Thra- cian but a Roman citizen by birth, deriving from a zone that included two Roman colonies, Ratiariaand Oescus.15 To proceed therefore to Claudius and Aurelian. About the local origin of Claudius, the Historia Augusta (so it appears) found no information in its sources. Instead, it toys with fancies about either Dalmatia or Dardania (Claud. 11. 9), and the matter is further complicated by intrusion of the fabri- cated ancestry of Constantine (13. 2, see below). As for Aurelian, the author of the Historia Augusta imports confusion through his predilection for variant versions, genuine or invented: that is, Sirmium, "ut plures loquuntur," or "Dacia Ripensis, ut nonnulli." But he recalls reading an author who furnished Moesia (Aur. 3. 1f.). However that may be, Dacia Ripensis and Moesia are not irreconcilable, and Eutropius in fact has Dacia Ripensis (IX. 13. 1). By contrast, the Epi- tome is both vague and suspect. It states that Aurelian was born "inter Da- ciam et Macedoniam" and it alleges that his parent had been the colonus of an eminent senator called "Aurelius" (35. 1).16 Next, Galerius. According to Eutropius, he was born "in Dacia haud longe a Serdica" (IX. 22. 1). That is to say, presumably in Dacia Mediterra- nea. The Epitome, however, has Dacia Ripensis, with Romulianum on the Danube (so named by Galerius in honour of his mother) as the place where he was both born and buried (40. 16). The discrepancy is serious (the testi- mony of Eutropius would normally be given the preference), and one might well be loath to discard Romulianum. Romula, the mother of Galerius, was a refugee to Dacia Nova, driven out of Transdanubian Dacia by an incursion of the Carpi, perhaps about the year 250.17 Galerius himself, made a Caesar by Diocletian in 293, can hardly have been born later than 255. At that time the territory of Serdica (it will be recalled) was still a part of Thrace, a Greek- speaking province. Further to the question, it is unfortunate that nothing is on precise record about the origin of Galerius' later associates, Maximinus Daia (the son of his sister), the Caesar Severus and the Augustus Licinius, save that Licinius came from Nova Dacia (which does not help much).18

" Herodian VI. 8. 1.

15 The case is argued in Emperors and Biography (1971), Ch. Xl.

1" The passage is cited in PLRE 1 (1971), as conveying Moesia Superior. Eutropius is preferable

if only because more precise.

18 Anon. Val. 5. 13. Yet "Nova Dacia" might connote Ripensis in the first instance rather than Mediterranea, as does "Dacia Nova" in the passage of Lactantius cited in the previous footnote.

17 Iactantius, De mort. persec. 9. 2.

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Finally, Constantius. An excellent source, the Anonymous Valesianus, was not able to supply either the name of his father or the region of his proveni- ence. One must therefore turn to Julian, the grandson of Constantius. Julian twice refers to himself as a "Thracian".19That is in wilful deprecation, to sharpen the contrast with the frivolous and effeminate inhabitants of An- tioch. None the less, it excludes both Dardania and Moesia Superior. Not, however, Dacia Ripensis. And he supplies a precise piece of testimony: the family derives from the Moesians, on the bank of the Danube, between the Pannonians and the Thracians.20

IV. That should seem good enough.21 But a doubt might arise. Julian's name was "Flavius Claudius Julianus". Is he perhaps adopting the standard and consecrated ancestry of his line? In the year 310 the son of Constantius, discarding his father-in-law Maxi- mianus, stood in urgent need of a new source of legitimation. It was duly dis- covered and published. As the panegyrist pro claimed, disclosing a secret known to close friends of the ruler: "ab illo enim divo Claudio manat in te avita cognatio." Constantine, he proceeds, is the third emperor in the line, by birth he deserved the power.22 The descent from Claudius was duly incorporated in the titulature. Other- wise (so it appears), the particulars were left vague, and variants thus arose more easily.23For example, if Constantius was not very plausible as a son of Claudius, or as a son-in-law, another connection might be conjectured. Thus the Anon. Val., which states that Constantius was a grand-nephew.24 This version appealed to the author of the Historia Augusta. He proceed- ed to make it plausible by inventing names and a stemma. As follows. Apart from Quintillus, Claudius in fact had another brother, called "Crispus". Now "Claudia", the daughter of this "Crispus" was married to "Eutropio, nobilissimo gentis Dardanae viro". Constantius Caesaris the son of this pair (Claud. 13. 2). Such is the final efflorescence of the fiction devised for the benefit of Con- stantine in the year 310. The Dardanian nobleman "Eutropius", who keeps a place in some reputable works of history, must be thrown out, and with him goes the "evidence" for the Dardanian origin of Constantius. How then does the matter stand? The dilemma can be briefly stated. If Julian when registering the local origin of his family (and clearly indicating



Julian, Misopogon 350d; 367c. 20 Julian, Misopogon 348d.

Accepted in Emperors and Biography (1971), 209. However, see further "The Ancestry of

Constantine," HAC, Bonn 1971, forthcoming.


Pan. lat. VI. 2. 1 ff.

23 For the variants, H. Dessau, Hermes XXIV (1889), 343 f.; J. Moreau, JAC II (1959), 159. 24 Anon. Val. 1. 2. For its approximate date see J. MIoreauin his Edition (Teubner, 1961), p.V f.

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Danubian and Balkan Emperors


Dacia Ripensis) alluded to the official extraction from Claudius, it has to be supposed that he knew where Claudius came from: a detail not in any extant and credible source. Otherwise, he had Constantius in mind; and he should have been in a better position to know about his grandfather than about the remote (and fictitious) ancestor.25 To be sure, both Claudius and Constantius may have come from the same territory. That might have been among the reasons (several admit surmise) which dictated the choice of Claudius rather than some other emperor to furnish a dynastic legitimation.


V. When praising the concord of the four rulers who issued from the mar- tial lands of Illyricum, Aurelius Victor states that they had been formed in the school of Aurelian and Probus (39. 26). Various ties of alliance no longer recoverable (blood, friendship and regional propinquity) may have existed among the generals, contributing to produce the sequence from Claudius to Aurelian and from Aurelian to Probus (after the brief interlude of Tacitus and Florianus). Analogy recommends the notion - and facts were supple- mented through lavish and ingenious fiction by the author of the Historia


The "Virtus Illyrici" as demonstrated by the persons of emperors is on high show for Sirmium and for Ripensis, two zones of energy. Sirmium is the "patria"of Decius, Probus, Maximianus. Ripensis, after the earlyprecursor Maximinus, produced Aurelian, Constantius (if preference be given to the interpretation suggested above), and perhaps Galerius.27 The origin and family of the great Claudius must be reconsigned to obscu- rity.28But there is something else. In the romantic exposition of the Historia Augusta (which took up and developed erroneous notions of Aurelius Vic- tor) the Emperor Tacitus, chosen as well as elected by the Roman Senate in the sequel of long negotiation with the army, was a civilian of scholarly ha- bits - and the author of a restoration of privilege and power to the Senate. Not in any way plausible. There is room and need for rational conjecture:

M. Claudius Tacitus may himself be a senior member of the Danubian mili- tary.29The same might hold for his praefectus praetorio and brief successor,

25 As argued in HAC, Bonn 1971, forthcoming.

20 Emperors and Biography (1971), Ch. XIII.

27 Not only Galerius (cf. above), but perhaps also Licinius (from Nova Dacia, Anon. Val. 5. 13), and possibly Maximinus Daia and Severus Caesar. 2A Not but that the Historia Augusta still commands credit. Thus Der Kleine Pauly, Lief. 4 (1963): "Dalmatiner, vit. Claud. 11. 9"; PLRE 1 (1971): "he was an Illyrian from Dalmatia,

V. Claud. 11. 9, 14. 2."


As suggested in Emperors and Biography (1971), Ch. XV.

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316 RONALD SYME, Danubian and Balkan Emperors

namely M. Annius Florianus, whom the Historia Augusta styles his broth-


From Maximinus and Decius, the two forerunners, down to the Te- trarchs, Sirmium and Ripensis exhibit a heavy preponderance. The other frontier zones are absent. No emperor from Pannonia Superior, though at an

early date Poetovio (a military colony of Trajan) produced a great soldier,

M. Valerius Maximianus, who became consul c. 186.31 Nor any from the

frontier of Pannonia Inferior, from Brigetio by Aquincum down to Mursa. Nor is Moesia Superior (Singidunum and Viminacium) on the list, or Moesia Inferior from Novae down to the Danube mouth. As for the large hinter- land, Dalmatia can claim only Diocletian. And there is none from the interi- or tract of Aurelian's Nova Dacia (that is to say, Dardania and the region severed from Thrace), unless Eutropius be followed, who puts the birth- place of Galerius not far from Serdica.

To conclude with brief reflections suggested by the primacy of Sirmium and Ripensis. If regard be paid to ethnic antecedents, Ripensis was ancient Getic and Thracian territory, with a Celtic infusion (as witness a place name like Bononia); and, if in the neighborhood of Sirmium the substratum had been Illyrian, the Pannonian natives spoke a Celtic dialect when the historical period opened. The term "Danubian" is safer. In these zones of the frontier emphasis should go to the mixture of strains, to the early military occupation by heterogeneous troops, to the presence of veteran colonies. Out of the amalgam, inspired by the service of Rome and sharpened by stress of war- fare, arose an imperial patriotism that transcended local or regional affinities throughout the wide and diverse lands of Illyricum.


Ronald Syme

30 Wrongly, cf. PIR2,A 649. One passage in the Vita imports a refinement: the maternalghost made an apparition before both, "nam diversis patribus nati ferebantur" (17. 4). It is cited in PLRE as evidence that Tacitus and Florianus were in fact half-brothers.

31 Ann. ep. 1956, 124 (Diana Veteranorum).

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