"Thus died Aurelian, an emperor who was necessary rather than good".
Aurelian had accomplished more in two years than lesser Emperors had in 50. Both The Goths and Germans had been humbled by his ruthless campaigns.

His message was clear: The Roman Empire is omnipotent, know your place or face its might. 

But in Syria lay Zenobia, the self proclaimed ‘Queen Of The East’. With a force that rivalled the Roman army, she would not accept annexation quietly.

All the while The Emperors political rivals waited eagerly for the first sign of weakness...

The explosive conclusion to the life of Emperor Aurelian ‘Restorer Of The World’.

Additional Reading / Sources:



  • Paid Artlist.io license for 'Anthology Of Heroes Podcast' utilised for numerous sounds/music
  • The Ice Giants by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
    • https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
  • https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aurelianus_Lucius_Domitius.jpg
  • A big thanks to the show Patreon, Claudia K for providing the imposing voice of Zenobia!


Salwe, fellow citizens!


Welcome to the Anthology of Heroes, last of the Roman series.

This episode is part two of the story of Emperor Aurelian.

In part one I walked through many of the causes that led to the Roman Empire being in such

a poor state in the third century AD.

I went into detail about some of the worst emperors to overtake the purple, the growing

strength of Rome's enemies who lived beyond the frontiers, and the weakening of the legions

who were meant to be defending them.

We talked about Aurelian's rapid rise to fame and his first victories playing whack-a-mole

with the German hordes that came stampeding across the border.

We left the episode with a nod to the east where an ambitious and talented governor,

Zenobia, was beginning to show the first few signs of defection.

I usually try and set the scene in part one of this series so if you haven't already you'll

probably want to take a listen to that one first to understand the context of these characters.

Before we start I wanted to thank our patrons Tom M, Claudia K and Alex G.

I make use of several quotes in each episode and if you become a patron of the show you've

got the option to record your voice and have it immortalized within a podcast forevermore.

There's a few other rewards you might be interested in too so if you'd like to help

the show out check out our patreon links in the show notes and on our website anthologyofheroespodcast.com.

But enough talk, here we go for the final part of Aurelian, Last of the Romans.

While preparing for his next campaign, Aurelian took a shot at fixing an issue that had been

plaguing the empire for well over 200 years, inflation.

The Romans didn't understand inflation to the extent that we do.

Emperors who needed to raise cash quickly usually just minted more coins.

When the precious metals like silver that were used to make the coins ran short, the

government would simply reduce the amount of material in that coin, a process that we

now call debasement.

When the first emperor Augustus took power, the silver content of a coin was something

like 95%.

By the time of Aurelian, it was, brace yourself, 2.5% at most.

With his crackdowns on corruption and the creation of a new coin, the emperor managed

to double the percentage of silver to around 5%.

Though the change failed to stop the hyperinflation epidemic, like many other small changes the

emperor introduced, this could be seen as the first little ticks of recovery.

But you didn't tune in to hear me talk about coins, did you?

Back on the frontline, Aurelian's army was on the move, making their way east after

concerning reports of Zenobia's latest power play.

But en route, they ran into a huge gothic warband, heading south to Greece to do some


These guys couldn't have picked the worst time to go raiding.

With his entire army fresh and ready, Aurelian attacked the warband.

The unprepared gothic host was shown no mercy.

Sadly, we don't have too much information on this attack.

It may be that the Romans suffered a defeat initially but rallied and beat them back.

A couple of sources even go as far to state that the emperor followed them back north

of the Danube river, an act rarely undertaken considering the dangers of unmapped territory.

Ditching out a bit of payback, Aurelian sacked and despoiled any gothic villagers he came


Women, children, animals, likely anything moving was put to the sword.

There was to be no mercy under the callous new emperor.

Whatever he did, it worked.

According to one of the more reliable sources of the time, the goths sat quietly and caused

little trouble for the next few decades.

The emperor's message to the tribes beyond the border was clear.

The empire of Rome is omnipotent.

Its internal squabbles are its own.

Know your standing or face the consequences.

With the invaders well and truly vanquished, the army marched towards the east, towards


Aurelian knew that this would be the biggest challenge he had yet faced.

There had been some difficult battles against the Germanic invaders, but his veteran troops

had given him the edge.

Roman discipline was his trump card.

But Zenobia had legionnaires of her own.

And mixed in with them was her fearsome cavalry, a cataphracti.

Man and horse covered head to hoof in glittering coats of scaled armor.

These elite troops wielded a four-meter-long lance along with an array of other weapons.

To stand against a charge of them was a terrifying prospect even for the most seasoned Roman


As a reminder, Zenobia was a Syrian governor.

Her late husband had been pushing the boundaries of autonomy further and further, even going

as far as to call himself King of Kings.

After his death, his wife, known for her ambition, intelligence and beauty, had taken over for

him while waiting for their young son to come of age.

From her rich capital Palmyra, or Palmyra, she directed affairs of the Levant coast and

of Roman Syria.

At the start of Aurelian's rule, Zenobia had remained loyal.

But continually she pushed the boundaries, minting coins with her own portrait on them

and claiming all kinds of titles for her and her son.

Few other provincial governors would dare anything like this, but Zenobia and her court

were crafty.

Instead of the usual big bang declaration of emperor or empress, they slowly pushed

the envelope with weak Roman emperors, extracting more and more privileges from the central

government knowing that the Roman state was in no position to deny them.

She also never made a land grab for the rest of the empire, preferring to slowly build

up her strength in the provinces under her sphere of influence.

In modern terms, these were Egypt, Sudan, Upper Arabia, Jordan, Israel, most of Anatolian

Turkey and a little of Iran, a huge portion of the Roman Empire containing many of its

richest provinces.

I really wish I could spend more time on Zenobia as she is, in her own right, fascinating.

Hopefully I'll get a bonus episode on her sometime, but in the context of this episode

she's a particularly large thorn in the side of Aurelian.

Anyway, perhaps hearing of his setbacks against the Germanic tribes, she had finally thrown

off the facade.

Aurelian's face disappeared from any coins minted in her lands.

And in his place was Zenobia's face on one side and her son on the other, with the provocative

titles Augusta and Augustus.

It was on.

Marching east, the army, at first, met little resistance.

Zenobia was willing to give up her western cities, whose loyalty was probably suspect

anyway, and save the troops for the heartland.

The Romans met their first bite of resistance at Tyana, roughly in the middle of modern


Braging at the citizens over their disobedience to their rightful liege, Aurelian swore that

once he had taken the city, not even a single dog would be living.

After a short siege, a traitor showed the army a shortcut into the city, and it fell


But the short-tempered Augustus seemed to have had a change of heart about the slaughter

he was about to inflict.

When his soldiers asked for his permission to get started, he shrewdly rebuffed them,

stating yes, he gave them permission to kill every dog within the city.

The sources record his troops erupting in laughter.

But if Aurelian, who by the sounds of his personality never cracked a smile let alone

told a joke, if he actually gave this response I can imagine his men would be pretty out

of sorts.

Sacking cities was lucrative, one of the main draws of campaigning, particularly considering

the debased coins the soldiers were paid with.

However it came about though, the city was spared and the army marched on.

Near the city of Antioch, modern day Antakya, eastern Turkey, the Roman army finally sighted

the Palmyran army.

Led by Zenobia's most esteemed general, a man called Zabdas, the queen's cavalry fanned

out north of the city.

Zabdas was banking on the intensity of his cavalry charge, scattering the legionnaires

and breaking cohesion.

And if that didn't do it, he thought the weather certainly would.

These effeminate western soldiers are not used to the roasting heat of Syria, he had


But Aurelian was no fool, he had cut his teeth as a cavalry commander and was only too aware

that his lightly armed horsemen would be torn to ribbons if they engaged these proto-knights.

So he used the one advantage he did have, speed.

Moving his troops around Lake Antioch, he forced the heavily armoured enemy cavalry

to redeploy to meet them.

Once Zabdas got there, he ordered his cataphracti to charge, which scattered the Roman cavalry

like a bowling ball hitting the pins.

From the front lines though, Aurelian reorganised, scooping up his frazzled divisions and regrouping

them further back.

Zabdas believed he held the advantage and charged again, but got the same result.

Aurelian refused to engage, instead reorganising, shifting back and waiting.

In the desert heat, the 40kg armour of these Palmyran horsemen must have felt like the

hottest part of hell.

After another few of these charges, it was clear that the horses were spent.

Finally Aurelian struck back.

With the enemy mounts exhausted and virtually immobile, their armour was nothing but hot

heavy burden, anchoring them to a single spot.

The fresh legionnaires marched in, now more than a match for the dismounted cataphracti.

The exhausted enemy was put to the sword, the day belonged to Aurelian.

Zabdas and Zenobia managed to retreat behind the walls of Antioch.

Aware of the fickle loyalty of the population in the event of a military defeat, they grabbed

a bloke who looked something like Aurelian and paraded him through the streets, claiming

that they had captured the esteemed emperor.

But the ruse was up the next day though.

Unprepared for siege, the two fled south and left their citizens to their fate.

Aurelian awoke the next morning, expecting to begin a long and lengthy siege of the city,

but instead found the doors open and the metropolis half deserted.

Those still inside begged forgiveness of the emperor and with his ruthless reputation for

the enemies of Rome, they probably didn't expect much.

But Aurelian was there to reintegrate these cities back into the fold.

If he went around murdering everyone, what good did that do for his empire?

Antioch was spared and over the next few centuries it would become one of the five major centres

of Christianity across the Roman world.

Zenobia and her council made it to the Syrian city of Amessa, that's modern day Homs, and

immediately began preparations.

Their army had taken a battering but there was still hope.

Aurelian hadn't failed to notice that fewer allies had defected to the Roman side than

he would have thought after his last victory.

Zenobia's diplomats were hard at work, assuring petty chieftains that they still firmly held

the advantage.

Continuing his march, the emperor supplemented his army as he marched through the territories.

Pressuring cities into abandoning Zenobia's cause, he secured all manner of auxiliary

troops for the upcoming battle.

His army now looked much less Roman than it did when it crossed the Bosphorus, with all

manner of foreign looking troops marching alongside his legions.

Strangest of all were a large contingent of Palestinian clubmen.

If the emperor wondered how he would make use of such specialists, he soon got his answer.

Outside Amessa, Aurelian accepted battle on a field picked by Zabdas, wide, flat and ideal

for cavalry charges.

The battle was a chaotic affair, Zabdas's cataphracts outnumbered and outclassed Aurelian's


The turning point came when Roman horsemen tried to disengage as they had done in the

previous battle, but found their escape blocked by their own infantry who were probably following

a little too closer than they should have been.

The cavalry broke out and the Palmyrians gave chase.

Smelling blood in the water, the eastern troops broke formation, and at this critical moment

the legionnaires finally took their shot.

They charged in but found out quickly that the enemy's thick armour made them impervious

to almost all weapons.

All except the humble club.

Screaming into the fray came the Palestinian clubmen, clobbering the elite troops off their

mount and leaving them for the legionnaires to finish off.

With the cohesion of the charge broken, many of Zenobia's best men were massacred on the


The queen fled while she still had the option.

Aurelian had managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat again, and it was clear who he

believed was responsible for it.

As soon as the city had fallen he went directly to its famous temple dedicated to his patron

god Sol Invictus.

There the emperor profoundly thanked the deity for the victory he had just received.

After this Aurelian's mints went into overdrive with some very garish coins, showing the unconquered

sun raising the world victoriously above its head while trampling bound Persian captives.

We've got a picture of some of these on our website.

With a mess of fallen and defections now starting to accelerate, Zenobia and Zabdas prepared

for their final stand at the city of Palmyra itself.

In what must have really cemented just how far from home he was, Aurelian's army suffered

at the hands of broading Bedouin tribes who picked off his scouts, the emperor himself

copping a few scratches.

But finally they arrived at the imposing gates of the city.

Enriched by years of good governance, profitable trade, and exploitation of the weakened Roman

state, Palmyra was said to be one of the most beautiful cities in the ancient world.

A pang of jealousy and anger must have rippled through Aurelian when he first laid eyes upon


Rich and well defended, it had thrived while other ancient cities of his empire were collapsing

into ruin.

Even today after the disgraceful damage that Isis did to this historical wonder, it's hard

not to look in awe at this sprawling Roman metropolis in the middle of what's now such

an alien landscape.

But Aurelian wasn't there to marvel at what this usurper empress had built at the expense

of his empire.

With diplomacy always cheaper than a siege, he sent the wayward queen a message saying,

you know, the jig is up, you've had your fun, surrender now, hand over all your valuables

and you'll be spared.

But head held high, Zenobia's response left no room for misunderstanding.

From Zenobia, Queen of the East, to Aurelian, Augustus, none save yourself has ever demanded

by letter what you now demand.

Whatever must be accomplished in matters of war must be done by valor alone.

You demand my surrender as though you were not aware that Cleopatra preferred to die

a queen rather than remain alive, however high her rank.

We shall not lack reinforcements from Persia, which we are even now expecting.

On our side are the Saracens, on our side too, the Armenians, the brigands of Syria

have defeated your army, Aurelian, what more need be said?

If those forces then, which we are expecting from every side shall arrive, you will of

assurity lay aside that arrogance with which you now command my surrender as though victorious

on every side."

The talk about allies was no mere boasting and Aurelian had his men seal off strategic

roads leading to the city.

The Armenians and Bedouins were paid off or intimidated into non-compliance with the queen.

Meanwhile the emperor found an eager ally with a tribe that had once rivalled Palmyra

but had since been completely eclipsed by the city.

These acts virtually sealed the town's fate, although the Palmyrens resisted for some time,

the elders eventually reached out to Aurelian ready to surrender.

Looking back on her city, her Rome of the East, it must have been a mournful moment

for the woman who had built it up into the great, sprawling metropolis that it now was.

There's a famous picture called Zenobia's Last Gaze or something like that.

It shows the beautiful eastern queen, covered in jewels and silk and finery, looking miserably

over a city with smoke beginning to rise from the outskirts as the Roman army arrives.

I'll put a picture of it on our Instagram and Patreon page.

Even now, unable to let the dream die, Zenobia and what was left of her council head even

further east.

They were probably trying to seek help from the Sassanid court but they didn't get far.

One of Aurelian's scouting parties captures them and the wayward governess is finally

dragged back and imprisoned.

It must have been a strange encounter when the two met, Aurelian such a traditionalist

Roman military man looking upon his greatest rival, a woman who, if the dice roll of history

landed differently, could have been the one standing over him.

The emperor, known for his ferocious retribution, spared Palmyra.

Its quivering elders came out bearing gifts and Aurelian thanked them before returning


He did however take a hefty indemnity payment.

It seemed as if Palmyra would remain a pivotal part of the empire in the future, a stunning

jewel of the east.

But barely a year later, Aurelian's garrison would be murdered by the city's elite who

had clearly forgotten the rare clemency they had been shown and declared independence again.

It didn't last long.

In a fury, Aurelian dropped everything and returned.

As the wise philosopher George W. Bush once said,

Fool me once, shame on, shame on you.

If fool me, we can't get fooled again.

This time, there was no mercy.

The stone-faced emperor stood by as his men tore apart the proud city.

Its defenders slaughtered to a man, the general population bankrupted or worse.

With its fortifications burnt down and all its fabulous riches carted off back to the

west, the city was well and truly humbled, never again regaining the importance that

it once held.

Today, the ruins of it sit as an eerie reminder to the consequences of underestimating Rome.

As for the queen, she was taken prisoner and will return to her fate later on.

But first, a quick message from one of our friends of the show.

If you're enjoying the anthology of heroes, may I suggest another podcast of a similar


My name is Carl Rylott, my host, a History of Europe Key Battles podcast.

I tell of the grand sweep of European history by focusing on conflicts from the perspective

of each side to provide an alternative to the traditional national narratives, starting

chronologically from the ancient Greeks and now up to the French Revolutionary Wars.

I describe to some extent how each battle was won or lost by particular decisions, tactics,

technology or fortune, but the main aim of each narrative is to place each battle in

the context of the overall history of Europe.

Check it out now from your favourite podcast provider or at www.historyofeurope.net.

It was no easy feat, but the East had been successfully reintegrated into the Roman fold

and the Emperor had Sol Invictus to thank for it.

As I mentioned before in part one, the veneration of Sol, the unconquerable sun, had always

been important to Aurelian, but the deity was usually associated with lower class Romans,

workers, labourers and the like.

Aurelian boosted the prestige of Sol by constructing a stunning temple in the centre of Rome and

promoted Sol above all other deities.

People of the empire were still free to worship whoever they wanted, but in the eyes of the

state it was now Sol that reigned supreme over all others.

The stunning temple was consecrated on the 25th of December, the day of the winter solstice.

Sol Invictus would become one of the last major cults to be promoted before the empire

began to turn its back on its pagan roots around a hundred or so years later, and it's

heavily speculated that this is where the Christian holiday of Christmas was taken from.

So when you're chugging down that mulled wine next year, perhaps a toast to the unconquered

sun is in order.

With the temporary lull in foreign wars, Aurelian cracked down on corruption.

The mint in Rome was run by a particularly dodgy official who was pocketing a good portion

of the silver used in the production of the coins.

The man had been able to continue with his racket for so long as he had the support of

a few corrupt senators who were taking a cut, so it was a situation that should have been

dealt with delicately, but by now, you know, that wasn't Aurelian.

Military solutions were the solutions he dished out.

The mint master, his rebellious workers, and even some senators were put to death, the

consequences be damned.

Once the mint was up and running again, coins were produced with the reoccurring theme of

the veneration of Sol, or the emperor's close relationship with the army.

Coins were an important propaganda piece for emperors, I mean, people spent a lot of time

looking at them, and in this case, it gives us good insight into the emperor's priorities.

Aurelian's stance on corruption, as well as many other well-intentioned legal, civil,

and military reform, once again show an emperor who was really trying to put in place some

long-term practices that would help the empire survive.

Though some of these reforms wouldn't work and others would be abandoned soon after,

it's still progress.

It's the first sign from an empire that had previously just been keeping its head

above water and surviving from one day to the next.

With the gears of reform being dusted off and slowly beginning to crank again, Aurelian

turned his attention north to the other breakaway state, the so-called Gallic Empire.

At this point in time, the state had been in existence for about 14 years.

It had begun in a very similar way to Zenobia's state by a talented and popular general called


Postumus was a military commander stationed on the Rhine who had done an exceptional job

at defending the border with, well, not much help from the central government, which was

in a really bad place at the time.

The turning point came when Heer's men defeated a large German raid who were returning from

Italy heavy with loot and treasure.

In the aftermath of the battle, Postumus started distributing the loot they had captured.

After all, they had defeated the army, so the loot was theirs, right?

Well, that wasn't how the emperor saw it.

He demanded the loot be returned and Postumus finally decided enough was enough and declared

himself emperor.

He reigned for about nine years and, to be honest, did a fantastic job of it.

You only need to look at the coins minted by him and compare them to the ones minted

in the legitimate Roman empire.

The quality is miles apart, having a much higher silver concentration.

I'll be putting some pictures of these on our website.

They're really gorgeous little coins, real works of art.

Anyway, Postumus was eventually and predictably killed by his own troops after he refused

to let them sack a city.

Since the murder, the empire had gone through a bit of a rough patch with rulers hanging

on for a year or two before being murdered.

And finally that ended up with a guy called Tetricus.

By the time Tetricus had stepped into the role, Britain and modern Spain had started

to drift away from his sphere of influence and with heaps of other legitimate emperors

prior to Aurelian nipping at his southern borders, all that really remained was the

Gallic heartland, pretty much modern-day France.

For all the difficulty that Aurelian faced in the east, the reintegration of Gaul was

comparatively quick and painless.

It seemed that no one was more keen to abandon the stagnating realm than its own emperor,

Tetricus himself.

Aurelian mustered his army and marched north and the two Roman armies lined up for battle,

but almost instantly Tetricus and his staff defected to Aurelian.

A couple of sources say that the defection actually occurred during the battle, but Aurelian's

very lenient treatment of this usurper post-battle doesn't really support this.

It seems likely that Tetricus was pressured to take the reins of power by his soldiers,

probably they would have killed him if he didn't, and it's likely he was as glad

to be rid of his power as Aurelian was to take it back.

There's so little hard evidence about this battle, but the only thing everyone seems

to agree on is that it was bloody.

If Tetricus did surrender at the offset, the rest of his army certainly didn't.

The high casualties on both sides were a serious blow to Aurelian.

Even if these men were the enemy today, tomorrow, once he'd retaken Gaul, he really, really

needed them to guard the northern border.

By annexing what was essentially a buffer state, Aurelian had solved one problem but

created another, maintaining the security of this border was now part of the responsibility

of the Roman government.

But disregarding these future concerns, Aurelian had done it.

Against all odds, in just four years, he had managed to glue the fractured Roman Empire

back together.

The Senate, where the emperor undoubtedly had his fair share of detractors, couldn't

help but acknowledge that this was an incredible achievement and awarded him the title Restitutor

Orbis, in modern English, Restorer of the World.

Although Aurelian had many other honorary titles awarded to him, it was this one that

would become synonymous with his harsh and determined rule.

Coins of his are still regularly found today and bear this motif around the edges.

I've got one myself and it's probably my favorite from my entire collection.

Holding it in my own hands and knowing the story that came about to have these letters

printed in a now dead language, it's a very surreal feeling.

With the two biggest enemies that the realm dealt with, it was finally time for a triumph.

The only real source for the triumph was from the emperor's biographer, and by his accounts

it was one hell of a party.

At the break of dawn, the Restorer of the World entered Rome through a tried and tested

route that had remained virtually unchanged since Rome had celebrated its first victories

back when it was just another Italian tribe.

The emperor and his entourage rode in four splendid golden chariots, all taken from

the booty of his enemies.

One belonged to a Gothic king, one belonged to the Persian king, one was from Zenobia's

late husband, Odo-nathus, and one had been constructed for the queen of Palmyra herself.

Supposedly she had this cart crafted in preparation of entering Rome as its conqueror one day.

I guess she got half her wish, right?

Behind the chariots came throngs of prisoners, all different shapes and colors.

Dressed in their native clothing and bound by a cloth of iron shackles, they were a propaganda

piece in themselves, showing the breadth of Aurelian's victories.

Arabs, Indians, Bactrians, Saracens, Persians, Goths, Vandals, Franks and Germans.

There were even a couple of so-called Amazonian women thrown in for extra shock value.

Shuffling apathetically behind them was Tetricus, wearing a scarlet cloak, a yellow tunic and

gaulic trousers, cradling his young son.

But it was the final prisoner who really drew the attention of the crowds.

Dressed in beautiful eastern silk dripping with gold and balanced atop an Arabian camel

sat Queen Zenobia, weighed down with so much jewelry that she rode the beast half hunched over.

Made to look as exotic and foreign as possible, the Roman crowd jeered and booed as her camel

plodded onwards.

After all, a victory against a foreign enemy.

So much more impressive than against a fellow Roman, right?

When the procession reached the end, Aurelian killed two stags in dedication of the gods

who helped him restore the empire, after which the games and festivities began.

Over 200 animals and 800 gladiators fought and died in celebration of the victories.

After his humiliating ordeal, Tetricus was given a high governmental position in southern Italy.

The last mention of him is a couple of years later when he held a dinner party, during

which one of his guests provocatively asked him, is it better to be an emperor in Gaul

or a senator in Rome, to which he wisely answered the latter.

As for the Queen of Palmyra, the general consensus was that she retired comfortably in Rome on

a pension Aurelian provided, eventually marrying a senator and staying out of public life,

a fairly lenient fate for an archrival.

Finally, with some time to take stock, Aurelian begins to formally reintegrate Gaul into the

Roman fold.

In an effort to draw the population back to the war-torn frontier, he built, or rebuilt,

many cities.

One was an old druid city called Cenobum, which was rebuilt and named Civitus Aurelianorum,

meaning the City of Aurelian.

This in time was corrupted to Orleans, or Orleans if you're from the States.

So if you've ever visited New Orleans or Orleans, another bizarre link to this often forgotten

Roman emperor.

A few more rebellions popped up around Gaul, but they were quickly dealt with swiftly and


Aurelian was not a man to take prisoners if he didn't have to.

With the provinces finally subdued, in the fifth year of his reign, Aurelian gathered

his veteran troops and headed east.

The Augustus's reign had been an unending string of battles against internal enemies

of the empire and barbarians.

While both were necessary, everyone knew that true glory and lasting legacy came from defeating

the Persians, the closest thing the empire had to a rival.

It had been too long since their eastern neighbor had felt the pressure of a Roman boot upon

the neck of their capital.

But this campaign would never begin.

Somewhere in modern Turkish Anatolia, the 61 year old emperor met his end, in the most

undignified of ways.

There are many variations of this event, but the general story goes as follows.

Aurelian's personal secretary was a man called Eros, who had been employed by Aurelian for

some time now.

He was trusted with the emperor's royal seal and wrote many of his letters.

But Eros was corrupt.

We're not sure how.

Perhaps he was extorting provincial governors or skimming a bit of extra silver here and


Whatever he did, Aurelian caught wind of it.

Eros, knowing his master's wrath better than all others, knew he was not long for this


He forged a letter and presented it to a group of Aurelian's officer corps.

The letter, effectively, was an order of execution.

On the list were many of Aurelian's trusted commanders, who had apparently been accused

of the same corruption Eros had been caught up in.

The secretary claimed that he was sharing the letter with them out of the goodness of

his heart, knowing full well what their reaction was likely to be.

Panicked, the men knew that they needed to get the jump on Aurelian first if they were

to live.

So, on that night, one of the duped legionary commanders snuck into the emperor's tent.

And there, there a story of the world, the man who had humbled Tetricus, Zenobia and

countless barbarian leaders was stabbed to death by one of his trusted commanders.

The affair was hastily put together.

There was no thought as to what would happen next or how they would escape after.

The men were quickly captured and executed.

When Eros' role was made clear, he was impaled on a stake and left to be eaten alive by wild


The emperor was buried in what was apparently a stunning tomb near the site of the incident,

the location of which has now been lost to history.

Aurelian's death shocked the Roman world.

Even though his reign had been fairly short, his list of accomplishments were long, especially

considering the circumstances in which he achieved them.

The senate, though generally not as big as fans, mourned for the dead emperor.

Two statues, one of gold and one of silver, were commissioned in his honour, the silver

one being the only one that was ever completed.

At the insistence of his men, the senate also deified the emperor, adding him to the vast

pantheon of Roman gods and goddesses.

In the long annals of Roman history, Aurelian's legacy is an understated one.

Talking about the emperor's out-of-the-blue murder, the Roman chronicler, Vipiscus, states

simply, quote, so died Aurelian, an emperor who was necessary rather than good, end quote.

The famous Roman historian Edward Gibbons echoes this sentiment, adding, quote, he died

regretted by the army, detested by the senate, but universally acknowledged as a warlike

and fortunate prince, the useful though severe reformer of a degenerate state, end quote.

This harshness, this brutality became the trademark and lasting memory of Aurelian.

Even so, it almost seemed like no matter how much his contemporaries or the senate wanted

to hate him for it, they just can't.

There exists this reluctant acceptance that a man of this calibre was what was needed

at the time.

One who was not afraid to be the guy that made the point to tackle systemic corruption

or to directly confront the breakaway states that were inching closer and closer to outright


Aurelian was no great reformer.

He didn't much alter the way the bureaucracy worked or mandate a new religion.

Instead he set his targets on fixing the empire, bringing things back to the standard that

had been 100 years ago.

And to this he did an admirable job.

For him, nothing was too big of a task, no senator was too untouchable, no province too


Rome's power in the past had been absolute and he did everything to try and prove that

was still the case.

Would Rome have still carried on if the dice roll of fate had given them a different emperor?


But who can say whether the realm would still have included Gaul or Syria?

Who's to say how much power would have extended past the Italian Alps?

Through his death the empire would be graced with another ruler, very similar to Aurelian

in terms of temperament and focus.

In fact he was one of Aurelian's finest officers, a guy named Probus.

The combined stability brought about by these two military men meant that nine years later

another emperor called Diocletian had the breathing space he needed to enact sweeping

reforms that revolutionized how the empire functioned.

Slowly but surely it began to recover.

There would never again be a period of unchecked prosperity like in the time of Augustus but

what historians now call the crisis of the third century was over.

So back to our original question, was Aurelian the last of the Romans?


But he could have been.

If the Roman Empire never recovered, never recaptured the breakaway provinces, perhaps

I'd be looking back on his reign now and telling you about this last real emperor going

down with the ship as he desperately tried to hold the line against endless swathes of

barbarians, merely delaying the inevitable as the last few sparks of the once mighty

empire turned to ash.

Perhaps this could have been the legacy of Aurelian.

Sound unlikely?

Well, around 200 years later it happened.

And it's his story I'll be bringing you next time.

This has been Anthology of Heroes, Last of the Romans.

Praise the sun and thanks for listening.