Europe 278: Probus’ Restoration of Gaul

Political map of Europe & the Mediterranean on 29 Jul 278 (The Crisis of the Third Century (II): Probus’ Restoration of Gaul), showing the following events: Principate of Probus; Probus Gothicus; Probus’ Restoration of Gaul; Kushano-Sasanian Empire; Probus’ German Campaign; Julius Saturninus; Probus’ British Usurper.

After becoming emperor, Probus marched west, where in 277–8 he expelled the Germanic invaders from Gaul and mounted his own invasion of Germania. While he was engaged in this war, usurpers rose up in Syria and Britain, but were swiftly suppressed.


Usurpers of Probus

There is a lot of debate among modern historians about when each of the usurpers that faced Probus revolted.

We place Saturninus and the unnamed British usurper at the beginning of Probus’ reign, because that is what Zosimus says in his New History and no significant evidence seems to contradict this.

We follow the majority of historians by putting Proculus and Bonosus in 280–281. The only two coins to have been found of Proculus were in northern Britain and Upper Germania, so we put him in control of both these regions, plus Lugdunensis (where his revolt started), and the provinces in between. As the coins do not regard him as a co-emperor, we make him separate from Bonosus, who we put in Lower Germania (where his revolt started) and neighboring Belgica.

Agri Decumates

The Agri Decumates was lost to the Romans in c.262, regained by Aurelian and Probus in 275–8, and lost again sometime between 290 and 310. The losses here seem not so much due to any rise in power of the local Alemanni tribe, but Roman internal division. When rival Roman factions controlled Gaul and Raetia, as was the case in 262–274 and 306, the limes of the Agri Decumates were no longer defensible and had to be abandoned.

Main Events

Sep 276–Sep 282 Principate of Probus

At age 44 the general Probus displaced Florian as Roman emperor in 276 and immediately set out on a number of campaigns against Rome’s enemies, defeating both foreign invaders and internal revolts. To further secure the empire, he constructed fortifications along much of the frontier and helped rebuild the economy by promoting viticulture in Europe and farms in Egypt. Despite these efforts, he was killed in an insurrection by supporters of Carus in wikipedia

276 Probus Gothicus

In late 276 Probus was victorious in a short campaign against ‘the Goths’. Some modern historians have interpreted this as defeating remnants of the Heruli that had invaded Asia Minor during the reign of Tacitus; others have interpreted it as defeating a renewed Gothic wikipedia

277 Probus’ Restoration of Gaul

In 277 Probus arrived on the Rhine, where he sent one army against the Franks and himself led another army against the Alemanni and Longiones. The years of barbarian depredation had left the lands in famine, but the fortunate arrival of a storm—which allegedly rained down wheat—helped succour the Roman troops. Reinvigorated, they expelled the Germans from Gaul, allowing Probus to restore and fortify the old wikipedia

277? Kushano-Sasanian Empire

Early during the reign of Bahram II (274–293) of the Sasanian Empire of Persia, his brother Hormizd, governor of the former Kushan territories of Central Asia, revolted and proclaimed himself king of kings (i.e. shah) in Balkh. Bahram was unable to immediately crush Hormizd and soon faced rebellion across much of his eastern empire. Although Bahram successfully suppressed these new uprisings, Hormizd may have survived and his Kushano-Sasanian Empire would retain its uneasy independence for almost a wikipedia

277?–278 Probus’ German Campaign

Following his victories in Gaul, Probus crossed the Neckar river into Magna Germania, where he conquered the Longiones and fought the Burgundi and (Silingi?) Vandals. At one point a huge number of Germans blocked his passage across a river, but he outmaneuvered and defeated them by provoking them into prematurely crossing to attack him. Probus advanced possibly as far as the Elbe, but ultimately decided against annexing all Germany to the Roman Empire and instead accepted the submission of nine major tribes, who provided recruits for his army. in wikipedia

278? Julius Saturninus

While Probus was in the west, Julius Saturninus, a Moorish general that he had considered a close friend and made governor of Syria, proclaimed himself emperor and began minting coins to that effect (coins also suggest that Saturninus tried to promote himself as co-emperor for a period beforehand). Saturninus was recognized in Egypt and Palestine, but was killed by local troops in Apamea, Syria, before a disbelieving Probus could wikipedia

278? Probus’ British Usurper

At about the same time as Saturninus’ revolt, the governor of Britain—whose name has been lost to history—rose in revolt against Probus. Probus sent his general Victorinus the Moor, who had recommended the man for the post, to Britain under the pretext of fleeing from his wrath. Victorinus was warmly welcomed by the usurper, but then assassinated him during the night, bringing his revolt to an wikipedia