3rd Century Rome (64th Caesar): Probus Billon Aurelianianus, c.276-282AD, NGC CHAU


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Probus (Marcus Aurelius Probus Augustus, c. 19 August 232–September/October 282) was Roman Emperor from 276 to 282. He was born in 232 in Sirmium (modern day Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia), Pannonia Inferior. Probus joined the army around 250 as a young adult. The Emperor Valerian appointed him to the post of military tribune. He later served with distinction under the emperors Aurelian and Tacitus. In fact, Probus was appointed governor of the East by Tacitus. Upon the death of Tacitus in 276, his soldiers proclaimed Probus to be emperor. However, Florianus, the Praetorian Prefect in Tacitus’s army during the campaign against the Goths, as well as a maternal half-brother of Tacitus, was chosen by his soldiers in the West to be emperor. Florianus had the support of Italia, Gaul, Hispania, Britain, Africa and Mauretania. Phoenicia, Palestine, Syria, and Egypt declared in favor of Probus. At that time, Florianus was in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) driving the barbarian Goths to the brink of defeat. Probus had made the claim that Tacitus had meant for him to succeed him.

Florianus marched on his challenger, Probus, with a vastly superior military force. He felt that he could not lose. It was near Tarsus that the two armies closed up upon each other. However Probus was able to avoid a direct clash with Florianus’s massive forces. A stalemate followed with the two armies preparing for battle. The excellent troops under Florianus’s command were mostly from army bases along the Danube River, and therefore were not used to the heat found in Asia Minor. It is quite possible that his soldiers became afflicted with heat exhaustion, sun stroke, and other heat-related ailments, causing the collapse of morale in Florianus’s encampment. Attempting one last time to gain the upper hand over Probus, his demoralized troops would have none of it. After a reign of 88 days, Florianus was killed by his own men, and Probus was the sole emperor.

For two years Probus was on campaign against the Germans. Despite their huge military forces, he defeated the Franks, Longiones, Burgundians, and the Vandals. His campaigns were so successful that on one instance sixteen German chiefs knelt at Probus’s feet. Hostages were taken to keep the peace, and around sixteen thousand Germans were taken into the Roman military forces. Because of these great accomplishments, Probus adopted the title of Germanicus Maximus.

There was seemingly endless fighting against barbarian tribes and numerous usurpers during Probus’s reign as emperor. Morale in the army became quite low. Probus put the army to work when not campaigning against enemy tribes or rebels. They were made to drain land, construct buildings and barricades, build bridges and plant vineyards. The purpose of all of this work was to repair the damage wreaked upon the Empire by the numerous past invasions. However, the effect of forcing them to do all of that work was to turn his military forces against him. The Praetorian Prefect Carus was proclaimed emperor in September 282 by the armies stationed along the Upper Danube. Upon hearing the news, Probus promptly sent troops to engage Carus, but they defected to the usurper. When this new reached Probus’s camp, his troops decided to switch their allegiance to Carus. It was in the fall of 282 that Probus was assassinated by his own men near his birthplace of Sirmium.