Europe 271: Battle of Fano

Political map of Europe & the Mediterranean on 29 May 271 (The Crisis of the Third Century (II): Battle of Fano), showing the following events: Principate of Aurelian; Tenagino Probus’ campaign; Victoria of Gaul; Aurelian’s Vandal War; Fall of Forum Hadriani; Aurelian’s Raetian War; Battle of Placentia; Battle of Fano.

Almost immediately upon becoming emperor, Aurelian had to race back to the Danube to face an incursion by the Hasdingi Vandals. Seizing upon this opportunity, the Juthungi crossed the Alps into Italy, ambushing and defeating Aurelian at Placentia when he hurried back south to intercept them. However, Aurelian quickly regrouped and defeated the invaders at Fano while they were marching on Rome.


Gallic Empire

The rival Roman regime led by Postumus and his successors in Gaul (260–274) is often referred to as the Gallic Empire by modern historians. This term has no real historical basis; identity-wise, the Gallic emperors were simply Roman usurpers who successfully held out in Gaul for 14 years, but lacked the strength to take Rome.

Palmyrene Empire

The region controlled by the Palmyrene queen Zenobia in the name of her son Vaballathus (267–273) is often called the Palmyrene Empire by modern historians. This term was not used at the time and, despite her expansionism, Zenobia continued to officially recognize the authority of Rome—with her son as a king under the Roman emperor—up until Aurelian’s move against her domain in late 271. After this, Zenobia openly rebelled, declaring Vaballathus emperor and herself an empress, but here she was probably acting as a usurper challenging Aurelian rather than a secessionist attempting to create an independent empire.

Main Events

Oct 270–?? 275 Principate of Aurelian

In 270 the 56-year-old general Aurelian displaced Quintillus to become emperor in Rome. During his reign, Aurelian fought the barbarian tribes north of the Danube, Zenobia of Palmyra, and Tetricus in Gaul to reunite the Roman Empire, thereby earning the title Restitutor Orbis—“Restorer of the World”. His rule came to an abrupt end in 275, when he was assassinated in Thrace while en route to attack the Persian wikipedia

Nov 270 Tenagino Probus’ campaign

In early November 270 the Roman admiral Tenagino Probus, who had been campaigning against Gothic sea pirates in the eastern Mediterranean, returned to Alexandria and swiftly ejected the Palmyrene garrison. With the help of African troops and Egyptian volunteers, Probus moved on to defeat a Palmyrene counteroffensive in Egypt and establish a base at Babylon Fortress at the south of the Nile delta. However, the pro-Palmyrene Timagenes used his local knowledge to capture the fortress and its Roman defenders by surprise, forcing Probus to commit wikipedia

271 Victoria of Gaul

In early 271 Victorinus was killed by a number of angry officers led by his quartermaster Attitianus, apparently because he had seduced their wives. The soldiers then turned on and killed Victorinus’ young son and namesake, leaving Victorinus’ mother Victoria in charge of the so-called Gallic Empire. Victoria then seems to have withdrawn to Augusta Treverorum (Trier), where she called on Tetricus, governor of Aquitania, to become wikipedia

271 Aurelian’s Vandal War

In the winter of 270/271 the Hasdingi Vandals, with possible support from the Sarmatians, invaded Pannonia. Aurelian ordered all food sources to be taken into the towns, exacerbating a famine which afflicted the invaders, and marched to face them. After a single battle, the Hasdingi acknowledged Roman superiority and agreed to return across the wikipedia

271? Fall of Forum Hadriani

During the 260s the Roman frontier towns of the Rhine delta had suffered from both the plague and raids by Saxon pirates. Following the assassination of Victorinus in early 271, the Franks and other Germanic tribes crossed the Rhine and were only beaten back after repeated efforts by Tetricus. This may have spelled the end for the Rhine delta settlements of Forum Hadriani (Voorburg) and Lugdunum Batavorum (Brittenburg), which were abandoned by the Romans at this wikipedia

271 Aurelian’s Raetian War

After defeating the Hasdingi Vandals, Aurelian traveled west along the Danube to face the Juthungi, who had invaded Raetia in large numbers. Aurelian caught a force of allegedly 80,000 footmen and 40,000 horsemen as they withdrew back across the Danube with their plunder and inflicted a heavy defeat on them. However, as he departed, leaving command of the war to his generals, a large number of Juthungi managed to break through Roman lines and invade Italy through the Alpine wikipedia

271 Battle of Placentia

In early 271 the Juthungi crossed the Alps into Italy and began plundering the region around Mediolanum. Leading a Roman force from the Danube, Aurelian attempted to intercept the invaders near Placentia, on the Po river. However, the Juthungi fell back into dense forest and ambushed the Romans in the evening, soundly defeating wikipedia

271 Battle of Fano

Despite the setback at Placentia, Aurelian managed to regroup and chase the Juthungi as they advanced south towards Rome. He caught them near Pisaurum and Fanum Fortunae (Fano), at the junction of the Aemilian and Flaminian ways, on the Metaurus river. This time the Romans had the upper hand and decisively defeated the Juthungi, many of whom fled into the river and wikipedia