Northern Africa 273: Revolt of Firmus
No sooner had Aurelian crossed into Europe after his defeat of Zenobia, than Palmyra rebelled again. Racing back east, the emperor sacked the city in retribution, only to face a pro-Palmyrene uprising in Egypt under the merchant Firmus. This too Aurelian crushed, although in the fighting the Brucheion quarter of Alexandria, which housed the famous Great Library, was almost entirely destroyed.
272 Battle of Emesa▲
Marching south from Antioch, Aurelian found Zenobia’s 70,000-strong Palmyrene army drawn up before Emesa and opposed them with his imperial army—which by now included many local troops who had rejoined Rome. At the start of battle, the heavy Palmyrene cavalry chased down the lighter Roman horsemen, but in doing so disrupted their own lines. Taking advantage of this, the Roman infantry wheeled into Zenobia’s forces and routed them, with the clubs and staves of Aurelian’s Palestinians proving particularly effective against the armored Palmyrenes. Aurelian then entered Emesa, where he paid his vows to the sun god Elagabalus, who he claimed had appeared during the battle and encouraged his men to victory.
272 First Siege of Palmyra▲
After his victory at Emesa, Aurelian crossed the desert in mid-summer 272 and laid siege to Palmyra. When the city ran low on provisions, Zenobia set off on a camel to seek aid from the Persians, but Aurelian sent horsemen after her and she was captured while crossing the Euphrates. With Zenobia a Roman prisoner, Palmyra quickly capitulated to Aurelian, who executed a few prominent people but otherwise spared the town.
?? 272?–Mar 273 Septimius Antiochus▲
While Aurelian was in the Balkans, he received word that the Palmyrenes had risen up, massacred their Roman garrison, and proclaimed Septimius Antiochus—another son of Zenobia and presumably only a young child—as emperor. Aurelian immediately turned about and sped back east, effortlessly recapturing Palmyra. This time he had the city plundered, its walls razed, and its people killed or driven out; despite later rebuilding, Palmyra would never fully recover.
Not long after the 272/273 rebellion in Palmyra, the wealthy Greek merchant Firmus instigated an uprising in Egypt in support of the Palmyrenes and cut off the supply of grain to Rome. Marching south from Syria, Aurelian swiftly crushed the revolt and, by September 273, had Firmus tortured to death. In the conflict, the Brucheion quarter of Alexandria, which housed the famous Great Library, was almost entirely destroyed. (The name ‘Firmus’ comes only from the unreliable Historia Augusta—other sources just mention the revolt— leading some historians to speculate that his name was later appropriated from Claudius Firmus, the governor of Egypt at the time . However, the Historia Augusta specifies that these were two separate men.)