In the late third century, The Roman empire teetered on the brink of total collapse.
Barbarian hordes pour over the deserted border fortresses. Plague ripples through the cities, while hyperinflation pushes the population into poverty.
The government is in freefall. Emperors are raised in rapid succession before being murdered and replaced with another.
It seemed that, finally after 700 years of prominence The Realm’s fall was imminent.
But at the 11th hour when all seemed lost, one man would breath new life into the dying state.
For his efforts, the senate would grant him the title Restitutor Orbis - Restorer Of The World.
It's the third century AD.
The Roman Empire teeters on the brink of total collapse.
Barbarian hordes pour over the deserted fortresses of the northern border as plague ripples through
the cities, collapsing the economy.
Peasants and nobles alike rise up in fury against the increased taxation demanded from
Famine breaks out and the countryside turns into a no man's land.
Meanwhile at the top of the pile, the government turn on each other.
Emperors are raised in rapid succession before being murdered and replaced, with some ruling
for as few as 21 days.
Like rats on a sinking ship, prominent generals declare independence from the central government,
taking with them the rich provinces of central Gaul, Syria and Egypt.
With each passing day, the empire sinks deeper and deeper into debt, instability and pessimism.
It seemed that finally, after 700 years of prominence, the realm's fall was imminent.
But in an impoverished, rough tumble village in the Balkans, a newborn baby was wrenched
screaming into a harsh and uncertain world, and at the 11th hour, when all seemed lost,
it was he who would breathe new life into the dying state.
In just five years he would reinvigorate the army, stabilize the economy and force the
breakaway provinces to again recognize the supremacy of Rome.
For his efforts, the Senate would grant him the title, Restitutor Orbis, Restorer of the
My name's Elliot Gates, and you're listening to the first episode of the Anthology of Heroes
side project, Last of the Romans.
And this is the story of Emperor Aurelian, Restorer of the World.
Before we start today, I wanted to quickly explain what I'm trying to do with this little
I've always found the term, the last Roman, a really interesting topic.
What constitutes the last Roman?
The last emperor, maybe?
But the emperor of what?
The Western Roman Empire?
The Eastern Roman Empire?
The Holy Roman Empire?
Perhaps you'd say it was the last emperor who used Latin as a main language, or the
last emperor to exhibit Roman values, or the last one to worship the old pagan gods.
Already we've got a huge pool of candidates, right?
So I want to share with you my own short list of some that could fall into this category.
Hopefully you'll enjoy it.
I'm not planning on sidelining our regular coverage of global heroes, I'll just throw
in one of these every now and again.
Let's get started.
I want you to picture in your head ancient Rome.
Perhaps you're picturing gleaming marble columns, a public bath, stern looking legionnaires
standing in formation thousands strong.
Well that's Rome during the first emperor, a guy called Octavian, or Augustus, who ruled
around 20 BC.
Augustus pushed through countless reforms, speeding up communication between cities,
changing the civil service tax to become fairer, building new roads and much more.
During his rule, the Roman Empire stood alone on the world stage.
There was no other nation that could match it in terms of manpower, wealth or standard
But the first emperor's rise to power had broken something, something that could never
Rome was, or had been, prior to him, a republic.
Its leaders were elected, served terms and then stepped down.
While the system wasn't perfect, it was a law that had been in place for centuries.
Augustus and his uncle Julius Caesar had shown the Roman world, if you had a big enough army
behind you, moral conventions, law, none of it really mattered when push came to shove.
Augustus knew he danced a pretty fine line.
His rule was smooth because he kept the Roman Senate happy.
Dictator or not, these were still extremely powerful men and if they felt disrespected,
well things could get messy.
So he cleverly came up with a term to describe his unique position.
He was the princeps, meaning first among equals.
He was not a king or a dictator or a tyrant, he was just a teensy little bit elevated above
the Senate, at least that's how he wanted to seem.
So that was Augustus' rule, unprecedented yes, but it was good living so no one was
But fast forward a couple of decades later and we get Caligula, who hated the Senate
and went out of his way to ridicule them and flout his power.
I mean this guy got these poor old bastards to run beside his chariot just so he could
laugh at them.
He really thought he was untouchable, as long as he had his bodyguards with him, a group
of exceptionally skilled soldiers called the Praetorian Guard.
The commander of which he also mocked, teasing him and nicknaming him after Roman sex gods
Probably not the wisest move towards someone who is in charge of your life.
Eventually this guy has enough and just straight up murders him.
And even though everyone hated Caligula and they were glad to see him go, it kind of sets
There was nothing immortal or divine about the emperor, he bled and died just like everyone
A few generations later, along comes Nero, same thing, Nero and his disgusting neckbeard
I mean he may have killed himself but if he did he was forced into it.
And as we keep moving through successive emperors, the role of the army in raising these men
up becomes more and more central, likewise it does in keeping them there.
The army starts to request more money and the emperors pay it.
I mean what choice did they have?
Meanwhile the Senate becomes less and less important.
They're still powerful men sure, but are they literally going to murder you if you
go against them?
In 96 AD the Roman Empire begins its longest period of prosperity.
For about 80 years the empire was ruled by a bunch of very talented and very able men.
One of them, a guy called Trajan, swelled the empire to the largest land area it will
The term Pax Romana or the piece of Rome was coined during this time.
What this meant was that the lands ruled by Rome were so safe that you could, in theory,
walk from Shiraz in modern day Iran to Glasgow in Scotland without anyone bothering you.
I mean you can't even do that now.
But these times couldn't last.
Talented emperors ruling in succession were partly a result of luck and the spell was
broken suddenly when the last of these emperors passed the reigns to his worthless son, a
guy called Commodus.
This guy really lost the plot, he was similar to Nero but probably a little worse.
I mean he renamed the Roman Empire the Colony of Commodus, changed all the days and months
to have his name in them, decided he was the reincarnation of Hercules, I mean the whole
And if you want to know what the Senate thought of him, well, he renamed them the Commodian
So I'll let you figure that one out for yourself.
Predictably someone murders this SOB and that sends the empire into a spiral.
Eventually a guy called Septimius Severus manages to hold on.
To give you a kind of an idea of what Severus was, a theory online says that JK Rowling
named the Harry Potter character Severus Snape after him and kind of based his personality
Severus was a military man.
To keep the army loyal to him, starting with his reign, emperors began to promise more
and more pay to the legions.
The army becomes the most important thing.
If you need any confirmation, on his deathbed Severus tells his sons, quote, enrich the
soldiers and despise everything else, end quote.
Not long after, in a single year, there is five emperors, all of which were murdered
in quick succession.
To make matters worse, one of them is called Pupianus, yeah, that's his real name, dire
The state coffers, filled to the brink after decades of prosperity, are drained quickly
and it's around here where the wheels really start to fall off.
We can't talk about rubbish emperors without skipping Elagabalus, can we?
No, no, no, you've got to hear this, sorry.
Elagabalus was a horny little deviant from Syria.
At around 16 years old, he fell into favour with the army after convincing them that he
was a distant relation of one of the better emperors of the past.
His men proclaim him emperor and the Senate, which is really just a rubber stamp at this
As German historian, Barthold George Niebuhr put it, in his four year reign, the 16 year
old emperor lived a quote, unspeakably disgusting life, end quote.
That may sound like some pretty rough character assassination and it's true that some of these
accounts come from senators who really hated him, but I mean, this kid had sex with everyone
He married several people, a couple of women, but mostly men, and made sure he was portrayed
as the wife at all ceremonies, not exactly fitting with the strong masculine energy Rome
liked to portray itself as.
Provincial governors were apparently given command based on how big their dicks were
and finding the routine of signing petitions and amending laws incredibly boring, the emperor
instead, prostituted himself at brothels and searched in vain for a doctor who could perform
surgery to give him a vagina.
All this left little time for actually administering the empire.
So while the emperor or empress, as he usually liked to be called, busied himself with his
hobbies, corruption skyrocketed as his favorites took the reins of power.
Elagabalus was killed eventually and the pendulum almost immediately swung back to men from
And if the Senate ever tried to raise up one of their own, well, they usually didn't last
So I've covered about 200 years of very detailed Roman history in a few minutes.
So Mike Duncan, if you ever listened to this, I apologize profusely for the oversimplification.
So what we've talked about is what's happening internally within the borders that Rome controlled.
The empire was huge, yes, but there was a whole outside world, a world that had definitely
not remained static while emperors wrestled with each other for control or searched in
vain for doctors who could perform vaginoplasty.
When I spoke about the Roman army before, I spoke about it almost like they were created
just to fight other Roman contenders, but this definitely wasn't their original purpose.
When not in campaign, the legions were stationed on the frontiers, the borders of where Roman
civilization ended and so-called barbarism began.
In this episode, we'll be focusing on the two most volatile ones, the eastern border,
loosely from the Black Sea coast of modern Georgia down to the bottom of the modern Suez
Canal and the northern border, the Rhine-Danube border, roughly the eastern borders of Germany
following the Danube River down through Romania until you hit the Black Sea.
As of 211 AD, there were something like 16 of the 32 legions Rome controlled stationed
along the northern border.
To give you a frame of reference, across all of Rome and Africa, there were two.
Even at the best of times, the northern border was hectic, but with so many challenges to
the throne, many of the would-be emperor generals began to pull troops back.
A few angry Germans terrorizing the border towns versus a shot at becoming emperor?
I know, I'll put my money, right?
The thing about the borders were they weren't designed to be crossed, meaning that once
a raiding party trampled over an undermanned guard post, they really had free reign of
It could take weeks for a centralized army to arrive, and by that time, they'd already
have headed back with as much loot as they could carry.
Once these boys headed home, sat down over a horn of mead and let their Nordic brothers
know what was happening down south, well, it was just open season.
Raging parties start to turn from one chief and a few hundred of his men into serious
I mean, these guys were pushing down from Germany to the borders of Spain, Romania,
and the coasts of Greece.
Hell, I mean, they're even getting in boats and heading across the Black Sea, Viking style.
In the year 251 AD, Emperor Decius puts together an army to push one of these, you know, hordes
And, well, I'll let Byzantine historian Zosimith tell it, quote,
Proceeding, therefore, incautiously in an unknown place, he and his army became entangled
in the mire, and under that disadvantage were so assailed by the missiles of the barbarians
that not one of them escaped with life.
Thus ended the life of the excellent Emperor Decius, end quote.
Covered in mud and grime, Decius becomes the first Roman emperor ever to die in battle
with a foreign enemy.
And this kind of thing just keeps happening more and more.
And when the central government is busy, when the armies are already dealing with another
threat, the provincial commanders are pretty much told, well, you're on your own, best
Leaving them to try and pay off the invaders or scrape together an army to fight them.
Which of course weakens trust and makes these provinces feel like they're on their own.
What's the point of paying taxes to the emperor if he leaves you high and dry?
So that was the Germanic frontier, but over in the east there was an arguably an even
As I said, this border was loosely from the Black Sea coast of modern Georgia down to
the mouth of the Suez Canal.
And on the other side of this lay the closest thing Rome had to a rival, the Parthian Empire.
These guys were originally a Central Asian tribe who had supplanted the Persian Empire
that had been there before them.
The Parthians were not equal with the Roman Empire, but if Rome was preoccupied they could
probably cause a bit of damage.
While the Roman government was struggling to get the little pervert Elagabalus out of
power, the Parthian dynasty had been replaced by a much more warlike and aggressive one,
These Sassanids were a Persian dynasty and made no secret of their desire to recreate
the ancient Achaemenid Empire, the one that Alexander the Great had destroyed so decisively.
And so the revitalized Persians quickly realize that their western neighbors are not having
an easy time lately and ratchet up the pressure.
The founder of the new dynasty advances into Rome's eastern provinces, but they repulse.
They try again, and a few cities have traded back and forth over the years, you could say.
In the year 244 though, there seems to have been a fairly significant loss to the Persians
– and I say seems because good sources around this period are few and far between.
But to this day, in modern Iran, a huge Persian rock relief exists showing the Sassanid ruler
– a guy called Shapur I – mounted on a horse trampling the body of Emperor Gordian
III, while the new Roman Emperor Philip begs on hands and knees for clemency.
There's a picture of this on our Instagram page, at anthologyofheroes or one word.
Did this event ever really take place?
Historian David Porter says probably not, stating that Gordian likely died in a mutiny
at the hands of his men.
But the guy begging for clemency at the ruler's feet?
Philip did indeed pay up and cede a significant portion of land to the Persians.
Like every other emperor at this time, he knew the army was required in so many different
places at once he had to prioritize where to use them.
With the prestige of defeating the mighty Roman Empire in a pitched battle, Shapur sets
himself on the warpath.
A decade or so later, he actually manages to capture the emperor in battle.
In what was becoming a horrifying century of firsts, Emperor Valerian is taken prisoner
after a disastrous defeat.
Accounts differ as to the treatment he received – some stating that he was treated well
by Shapur, but others, oh boy.
There's tales of Shapur using the 60 year old emperor as his footstool to help him reach
Others speak of him being kept in a cage and humiliated whenever the Persian had some spare
In the end he died in captivity and according to one source, his skin was flayed from his
body, stuffed with straw and kept as a grisly trophy for the bloodthirsty king.
The news of an emperor actually being captured was a hammer blow to Roman psyche and morale.
What was happening to our world?
This must have been the underlying thought of Postumus, a Roman commander who was stationed
in Gaul along the northern frontier.
He had done an admirable job of holding back the German tide and with each passing year
had less and less resources and men allocated to him.
After defeating a large German raid that had pushed all the way into Italy, he began to
distribute the loot to his men when an order came from the emperor's son.
The order made it clear that the captured booty was the property of the state and not
of Postumus and his men.
Well that was the final straw.
This recently ascended nobody who had provided them no assistance was now demanding they
return the loot they earned.
At the assistance of his troops, Postumus declared himself emperor.
Over the next ten years he would solidify his territory, effectively ruling all of France
and Britain and a little bit of Germany.
Breaking with tradition though, he never marched on Rome or tried to annex the rest of the
He was content to hold on to power in the area historians now call the Gallic Empire,
Gaul being the name of the Roman province of France.
Postumus would prove a slippery enemy.
The string of Roman emperors in Rome always had reintegrate Gaul on their to-do list but
with so much going on they never end up getting around to it.
Though he would be murdered ten years into his reign, he had established a precedent.
Even if the emperor in Rome refused to admit it, Gaul was no longer a part of the Roman
Almost as if watching everything unfold in Gaul, similar events had begun to take place
in the east.
The empire was full of talented military men, but much to the government's chagrin, talent
usually went hand in hand with ambition.
This man's name was Odaenathus, Odaenathus.
Now Odaenathus was in fantastic standing with the emperor.
After the Persian capture of Emperor Valerian, you remember the human footstool from earlier,
while pumped up with Roman pride, Odaenathus led his veteran troops into Persia and absolutely
walloped the Persian king of kings, returned home, quelled a rebellion before again returning
to Persia and recovering a few Roman cities.
Talk about a good guy, hey?
The new emperor heaped all kinds of exceptional titles on him.
Box, Imperator, Corrector, all of these were out of the ordinary for a governor and reflect
the gratitude felt by the state.
But then, after his conquest of Persia, he took a bit of a strange title for himself.
Odaenathus declared himself king of kings.
You can see where this is going, right?
Overwhelmed with so many other problems, the emperor really had no choice.
With rebellions and raids running right across his empire, he had to validate the cocky pretender.
Fine, you can be king of kings, but that's it, right?
Once again he probably figured, yeah I'll sort that out later, but for so many of these
emperors there was no later.
Everything not marked urgent was just added to this ever-growing backlog of eventual issues.
And while all this was happening, of course, plague broke out.
Sources are scarce about how bad this actually was, but a contemporary speaks of around 5,000
people a day dying in Rome alone, and it was truly a perfect storm.
But as they say, it's always darkest before the light.
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So finally we can get into the man this episode was meant to be about.
I know that's probably the biggest intro I've ever done before actually introducing
the subject matter, but if I just gave a 20-second spiel, things were really bad for Rome, yeah,
lots of barbarians, bit of plague, couple of rebellions, it doesn't really cut just
how dire things were, does it?
In the year 270 AD, Emperor Quintilius dies, probably murdered.
Quintilius was one of the senators men, silly senators, they should know by this point,
you've got to ask the army first.
Anyway, after his death, the army raises up one of their own.
His name was Lucius Domitius Aurelianus, but we'll be referring to him as Aurelian.
Now Aurelian's early life is murky, he probably grew up somewhere in the Balkans.
I've seen a few people online say Serbia, but to be fair, most of those people were
Serbian and everyone seems to want a claim to this guy's homeland.
Wherever it was, the general consensus is that he came from quite a modest background.
Probably he was the son of a farmer.
There's a tonne of anecdotal stories about his mother knitting in purple clothes as an
infant predicting his rise to fame, but a lot of this fantastical narrative comes from
his biographer who was a huge flatterer of his and very biased.
We do know that, from the pantheon of Roman gods, he lent his favour to Sol, or Sol Invictus,
the unconquered son.
This deity probably came from Syria originally and was related to the god that dirty old
Elagabalus introduced during his reign.
Sol Invictus was also a bit of a working class god, usually favoured by lower class members
of Roman society, which ties well into the thought that Aurelian didn't come from much.
Appearance wise, the young man was described as, quote, combly, good to look upon, with
manly grace, tall in stature and possessed by many strong muscles, end quote.
At around 20 years old he joined the legions as a rank and file foot soldier, meaning he
began his career when things really began to go off the rails for the empire.
Very early on he would have noticed he was spending more and more time fighting fellow
Romans who served usurper emperors compared to, say, barbarians.
That's not to say he didn't do his share of that either.
From foot soldier he quickly proved himself, being given the nickname Aurelianus Manu ad
Ferum, literally Aurelian hand to sword.
Aurelian was a harsh man to be sure.
Some would say cruel.
His biographers used terms like severe, incorruptible, stern, bloodthirsty and excessive.
These are not descriptors that would endear you to the public, but that was just fine
He was a conservatively minded man.
I guess you could say he was a bit of a Roman patriot who strived to restore the law and
order and discipline that existed before these troubles started.
The only thing he hated more than corruption was challenges to the power of Rome.
There is a heap of unsubstantiated stories about Aurelian's rise to power and the historical
record is just so spotty around this time, but there's mention of him playing a pivotal
role in defeating several German tribal confederations, notably the Suebi, who were based around
modern Chechia and the Sarmatians from around modern Ukraine.
By all accounts, he was a very firm commander.
He tolerated no nonsense from his men.
His entire life had been spent in the military, so he was used to finding military solutions
for all problems, even ones where diplomacy might have sufficed.
One of the sources I used for this episode comes from a biography by Flavius Vopiscus.
He's usually a real flatterer of Aurelian, but even he can't help out to point the rigidness
of the man, quote, Though at other times a most excellent man, he did in fact employ
his power too much like a tyrant, for in slaying the leaders of the revolts he used too bloody
a method of checking what should have been cured by milder means, end quote.
Eventually he works his way into a senior position as a cavalry commander and is so
successful in his efforts that after a particularly impressive victory he's adopted into a well-respected
Roman family, the same family that put out Emperor Trajan, one of the greats.
Adopting was a common practice in the empire and a useful way to get yourself some family
There's a lot of debate about whether this event actually happened, but even if it didn't,
Aurelian rose fast until the next two emperors, especially under Claudius.
Before long he was magister equitum of the Roman army, commanding the entirety of the
empire's cavalry and second only to the emperor himself.
Claudius and Aurelian together manage a few victories against the rampaging armies of
Germans in northern Italy, and then another few close shaves with the Goths and the Balkans.
Not every battle is a victory, and in case you haven't noticed, these engagements are
now no longer anywhere near the Rhine border.
These tribal confederations are just charging across the frontier, hitting up the soft rich
underbelly of the empire, areas like Italy or Greece that are not used to raids and don't
really have much in the way of fortifications to defend them.
Claudius soon falls sick, possibly of the plague, leaving his protege as the sole commander
of the army.
And Aurelian doesn't disappoint.
Hammering the huge Gothic army as it begins to retreat, he splits the confederation forcing
them into smaller bands which were much easier for him and his men to deal with.
With decades of military experience under his belt, and perhaps with a family name to
boost his credibility, Aurelian makes a run for the top job.
Claudius dies and smelling an opportunity, his brother Quintilius jumps in to fill the
void, with the Senate backing him.
I mean, you'd think they would have figured out how things work by now, right?
The army, of course, refuses to ratify the Senate's choice.
Quintilius is killed, or kills himself, and a 56 year old Aurelian grabs the reins of
a very, very shaky Roman Empire.
To all contemporaries of the time, there was no reason to think Aurelian's rule would
be any different from the string of military dictators who had been raised to the purple
Setting a tone for his rule, he skipped the traditional ceremony where an emperor would
formally greet the senators.
This wasn't a deliberate slight against them, he just didn't have time, or said
differently, their opinion was so irrelevant to him he didn't make time.
Springing into action he ambushed the Juthungi, a tribe originating from southern Germany.
The barbarians were on their way back home, and after a successful loot run they were
slowed down by all the plunder they'd taken.
The new emperor knew an opportunity when he saw one.
He hid his army in the tree lines on both sides of the river, and then waited for the
ambassadors to present themselves before him.
The Juthungi, like many other tribes, had enjoyed years of being paid tribute by previous
emperors in exchange for peace.
Inconvenienced and unimpressed by this interruption to their raid, the barbarian ambassadors swagged
into the negotiation tent to meet this newly minted so-called emperor.
But something was different.
The balance of power was immediately skewed.
Far from greeting the ambassadors as equals, Aurelian sat apathetically on an elevated
Draped in purple, sitting underneath the famous Roman eagles, he was flanked by pristinely
dressed officers proudly displaying the standards of Roman greats.
The eyes of Trajan, Hadrian, Augustus, and Marcus Aurelius reminded these barbarians
that they were not, and never would be, equal to Rome.
Shuffling uncomfortably, the ambassadors broke the silence and tried to rebalance things.
Bragging about the strength of the numbers they could bring, they said they were prepared
to make peace with the empire again if they would agree to reinstate the tribute payment.
From his elevated throne, the emperor lambasted the envoys for breaking their truce, and pretty
much said to them, surrender or suffer under the might of Rome.
Slinking away, the Juthungi ambassadors prepared for battle.
Aurelian with his vanguard quickly departed for Rome as, at this very moment, another
German tribe was threatening the capital itself.
Zipping back, he left his generals to spring the trap and smash the Juthungi.
But for all his talk about the superiority of Rome, most of the enemy tribe broke free
of his encirclement and made their way south, heading towards Italy to do some revenge plundering.
If you want something done right, I guess you've got to do it yourself.
Aurelian and his vanguard turned right around and beat them back, sending them across the
Rhine relieved of whatever plunder they stole.
Racing back to Rome, he flies through the motions of a formal crowning the emperor kind
of ceremony with the senate, and then readies the army for its next challenge.
This other Germanic tribe that were threatening the capital were known as the Alemanni.
Fun fact, in Spanish, Arabic, and probably a few other languages, Germany is referred
to as Alemania, which kind of goes to show this tribe definitely left their mark on history
in some way.
So sometime around winter in the year 270, Aurelian meets the ambassadors of the Wayward
tribe and tells them, quote, If you want to fight, I am prepared, but you would do better
to surrender, and I give guarantees as your lord, end quote.
Guarantee of safety, he means.
But the Germans won't hear it, and somehow they manage to lure Aurelian's army into
In case you didn't hear what happened in Teutoburg Forest, the legions generally don't
do well in forests.
Aurelian's army is ripped apart by the ambush, and they only just manage a retreat back across
The Alemanni, emboldened by their success, fan out into smaller groups and pillage the
rich countryside of northern Italy.
Once again, the smaller groups prove easy picking for Aurelian's army, and few make
it back home.
It was a victory, but a costly one.
For the third time in only a decade or two, Rome itself had been seriously threatened
by external enemies.
The only time Rome had been sacked in living memory was almost 700 years ago, in the very
early days of the Republic.
Historically, this kind of thing just didn't happen.
But now, with enormous federations of tribes charging through the countryside, there was
a need to defend the Queen of Cities.
Aurelian constructs an impressive set of walls around the city, a lot of which still stand
Many other major cities that once relied on frontier garrisons to keep them safe follow
As the Emperor finished the construction of his walls, he was acutely aware that every
one of his actions was being closely observed by power-hungry rivals.
Each setback greatly raised the chance of defections, which could trigger a chain reaction
of more defections.
Aurelian walked a tightrope across the world stage.
In the Far East, there was one who watched the act closer than all others.
Her name was Zenobia.
Zenobia had been on the scene for a while, but I wanted to wait until now to introduce
her properly as one of the main characters in the story.
Zenobia was the de facto ruler of Roman Palmyra, the rich, far eastern province of the Empire
that bordered Sassanid Persia.
She was the wife of Odinathas who we mentioned earlier in the episode.
After the assassination of her husband, she had taken over command, supposedly acting
as a regent for their young son.
It's difficult to understate just how important and impressive of a ruler Zenobia was.
Like her late husband, she probably came from good Roman and Palmyra stock.
She had a shaky grip on Latin but was fluent in Greek, Egyptian and Aramaic.
From her earlier days, she fanned rumours that she was descended from the House of Seleucid,
one of the successors of Alexander the Great.
Like her, she was equally keen to draw parallels between herself and the legendary Queen Cleopatra.
She was intelligent, courageous, politically shrewd and beautiful.
All contemporaries that write about her go to great lengths to emphasise her chastity,
which is rare when these guys describe a powerful woman, and especially rare when describing
a powerful woman of eastern descent.
Though her rule officially started at the death of her husband in 267, judging by how
well she managed after his death, it's probably fair to say that she had a good deal of input
into government affairs long before his passing.
Aurelian would have heard whispers of this tenacious and ambitious Queen of the East,
but at least for now, she was remaining loyal to the new emperor, although she did have
a troubling habit of printing coins with both her portrait and Aurelian's portrait.
A troubling development that he would need to keep an eye on.
And that my friends is where I leave you today, but don't fret, I'll be back to bring you
the second and final part of this story as the restorer of the world manages to fight
off enemies from every side at once while stabilising the economy and reforming the
government before his abrupt end that came all too soon.
But since it's Christmas in five days, here's a bizarre link between Aurelian and Christmas
Aurelian's chosen god, Solon Victus, held its most important feast day on the 25th of
As Solon Victus was one of the largest cults of the Roman Empire prior to the introduction
of Christianity, there's serious historical speculation that the date marked as Jesus'
birth date was actually just the early church's way of assimilating this pagan holiday into
a Christian one.
So whether you're tucking into some turkey with your family or having a quiet one on
your own, spare a thought for your boy Aurelian, knee deep in dismembered Goths fighting for
the glory of Rome.
And if that isn't the true meaning of Christmas, I don't know what is.
Happy Christmas wherever you are, and thanks for listening.
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