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Early Life

Gallienus’ fate was directly linked to his father, Valerian, who ruled with him from the start of his proclamation in 253 AD. His father declared him Caesar and later, confirmed as Augustus, while he served as the ruler of the western part of the Roman empire which bordered the lands of the barbarians. Gallienus can be found on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History in 260 AD.

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He was the son of Valerian by a woman named Egnatia Mariniana and grandson of Egnatius Victor Marinianus, the former governor of Arabia and probably Macedonia (Moesia Superior). It was likely that he was born in Falerii from a senatorial class Etruscan family in 218 AD. He had married Cornelia Salonina before he was declared an emperor at the age of thirty-three or thirty-five. The couple had three sons: Valerian II, Saloninus, and Marinianus.

Gallienus was well-versed in Latin and Greek. He became a patron of the Athenian philosopher Plotinus later in life. As expected, he served in the military in his youth and was stationed in the Rhine and Danube frontiers to counter the attacks of the barbarian tribes. His father, Valerian was declared by his troops as emperor after the death of Aemilianus. Gallienus was set as junior emperor soon after.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. – Ephesians 6:12

Coregency with Valerian

In the same year as his appointment as Augustus, Valerian appointed his son as ruler of the western portion of the empire and left for the east to face the Persian threat of invasion. For the most part, Valerian remained in charge of policy-making (which included the persecution of Christians) until he was taken captive by Shapur I in Mesopotamia. Gallienus was declared as consul between 255 and 257 AD. He made his son Valerian II as Caesar in an attempt to secure his dynasty. This son came with him in his campaigns in the west but remained on the Danube when his father went to secure the Rhine frontier.

In 258 AD, Valerian II disappeared from historical records, and it seemed that Ingenuus, the governor of a part of Pannonia, had a hand in his disappearance. The rogue governor took advantage of Valerian I’s campaigns in the east as well as Gallienus’ preoccupation in the West and declared himself emperor instead. Gallienus swiftly traveled to Pannonia to quell the revolt, and he defeated Ingenuus at the Pannonian city of Mursa or the city of Sirmium. Ingenuus was killed by his own troops or he committed suicide soon after the fall of the Sirmium; Valerian II was replaced by his brother Saloninus as Caesar.

Gallienus also had to deal with the invasion of the Alemanni, Juthungi, and Franks in the middle of his reign. The Alemanni, along with the Juthungi, invaded Italy and nearly succeeded in reaching Rome. These invaders were repelled only by the troops hastily assembled by the Senate which consisted of the Praetorian Guard and civilians. The Alemanni were cornered by Gallienus’ troops and defeated in Mediolanum (modern Milan). The tribe’s defeat so crushed them they did not invade again until ten years later.

Rebellions and Death

Much of Gallienus’ reign was marred by invasions of barbarian tribes and internal strife. The revolt of Regalianus, the governor of a part of Pannonia, was one of the first efforts to depose Gallienus. Regalianus declared himself emperor, and he ruled for six months before he died in an invasion of the Roxolani. Gallienus’ father, Valerian, was captured in Mesopotamia by Shapur I, while a Roman official named Fulvius Macrianus took advantage of the power vacuum and declared two of his sons as emperors. Macrianus’ sons journeyed west to face Gallienus, and they were joined by the Pannonians but were defeated by general Aureolus in Illyricum.

The brothers were later killed in Emesa (present-day Homs, Syria), but it seemed that Gallienus’ troubles did not stop there. He barely had time to put down the revolt led by Macrianus when another revolt led by a Batavian commander named Postumus boiled over in the territories of Germania, Gaul, Brittania, and Hispania. The troops stationed in Gaul declared him as emperor and executed Gallienus’ son, Saloninus, as well as his guardian Silvanus. When news of his son’s death reached him, Gallienus gathered his troops to face Postumus. The revolt dragged on until 263 or 265 AD. Gallienus never got back the territories wrested from him by Postumus.

The Heruli also invaded cities of Greece, but the tribe’s troops were defeated by Gallienus and his troops in the Battle of Naissus. Aureolus, a successful Roman military commander, sided with Postumus and rebelled against Gallienus. He then declared himself the new emperor but was defeated by Gallienus in Pontirolo Nuovo and forced to retreat to Mediolanum. Gallienus pursued Aureolus in Mediolanum, but he was murdered while his troops besieged the city. His family and supporters were killed on the order of the Senate after his death. 

Meijer, Fik. Emperors Don’t Die in Bed. London: Routledge, 2004.
Bauer, S. Wise. The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007.
Bray, John Jefferson. Gallienus: A Study in Reformist and Sexual Politics. Kent Town, S. Aust.: Wakefield Press, 1997.
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