This Week In History

Odovacer Becomes King of Italy – August 23, 476 AD

Not of Roman origin, Flavius Odovacer (or Odoacer) was an officer in the Roman Army by 470 AD. There is mention of an Odovacrius having fought against the Visigoths in 463, which may be the same person as Odovacer. Chronicler John of Antioch wrote that Odovacer was on the side of the Gothic magister militum, Ricimer, at the start of the battle against the emperor Anthemius, in 472. The scholar, Procopius of Caesarea, described Odovacer as one of the emperor’s bodyguards. Presumably he meant of Olybrius, whom Ricimer promoted to emperor against Anthemius. Olybrius only reigned for about seven months before he died of dropsy in October or November 472, a few months after Ricimer had died from a hemorrhage. The next Western emperor was Glycerius, elevated by the magister militum Gundobad, nep...

Probus Born – August 19, 232 AD

According to most sources, Marcus Aurelius Probus was born on August 19, 232 AD in Sirmium, Pannonia Inferior (modern-day Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia). David Vagi notes in his two-volume work, “Coinage and History of the Roman Empire”, Probus may have actually been instead born in Siscia, given the interesting and unusual attention paid to that city on his coinage. In fact, his coinage itself displays the most elaborate bust types, along with very unusual legends and a complex set of mintmarks that combine to make a multitude of varieties. The most extensive website of which I currently know on the coins of Probus, was created by my friend GK, at: http://probvs.net/probvs/ Not much is documented about Probus before he joined the military, around 250 AD, when he was of age. Civil wars and tri...

Battle of Pharsalus – August 8, 48 BC

Pharsalus, modern-day Farsala, is a city in central Greece, in southern Thessaly. It was the site of one of the most important Roman battles – the climactic clash between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great, on August 9, 48 BC. When Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with Legio XIII Gemina, a treasonous act in January of 49 BC, he knew he was declaring war against the Senate and the optimates. Although he was heading from Gaul to Rome with only one legion, it was enough to force Pompey and most of the Senate to flee to Greece. Caesar didn’t have the resources to chase them, so he worked to strengthen his forces and through Spain gained the fleet he needed. Pompey had the backing of most of the Senate and had a far more substantial number of troops to command. However, the army Caesar did have...

Battle of the Margus River – July, 285 AD

The crisis of the Third Century nearly destroyed the Roman Empire through instability of the position of emperor and various rebel breakaway empires. When Probus was murdered in 282 AD, Marcus Aurelius Carus was elevated by the military from his appointed position of prefect of the Praetorian Guard to Augustus, in turn naming his sons Carinus and Numerian as co-Caesari. Also during this time, Diocles rose through the ranks to become commander of the elite cavalry assigned to the Imperial household. Instead of going to Rome, Carus remained on campaign, leaving Carinus in charge of the western part of the empire from Gaul and taking Numerian with him to deal with the Persians. Along the way, Carus and Numerian took back areas lost previously over the years by defeating the Quadi and Sarmatia...

Great Fire in Rome – July 18/19, 64 AD

Written by Publius Cornelius Tacitus c.116 AD, “Ab Excessu divi Augusti Historiam Libri” includes this account of the devastating fire which consumed most of the capital of the Roman Empire in 64 AD (translated by Michael Grant in his 1989 edition of “The Annals of Imperial Rome”): “…Now started the most terrible and destructive fire which Rome had ever experienced. It began in the Circus, where it adjoins the Palatine and Caelian hills. Breaking out in shops selling inflammable goods, and fanned by the wind, the conflagration instantly grew and swept the whole length of the Circus. There were no walled mansions or temples, or any other obstructions, which could arrest it. First, the fire swept violently over the level spaces. Then it climbed the hills – but returned to r...

Hadrian Dies at Baiae – July 10, 138 AD

Trajan expanded the borders of the Roman Empire to its greatest extent and was hoping his adopted successor, Hadrian, would continue to conquer even more territory. Hadrian was an experienced soldier, having campaigned with Trajan against the Parthians as a legate in early 117. History doesn’t describe Hadrian as having done anything outstanding during the campaign, however, Trajan did appoint him as governor of Syria when the current governor had to vacate to deal with problems in Dacia. During this time, Trajan was of ill health and getting worse, so he returned to Rome and left Hadrian in the East to keep matters under control. This is a great category in Roman Coins. After Trajan died on August 8, 117, Hadrian was endorsed by the Senate on August 9 as the next Roman emperor. Although n...

Henry VIII of England and Anne of Cleves – July 9, 1540 AD

Henry Tudor was born on June 28, 1491, the third child and second son of King Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York. His childhood was a steady stream of appointments and titles. Before his third birthday in 1493, he was appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. Within the next year, he was appointed Earl Marshal of England and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and inducted to the Order of the Bath. The day after being in the Order, he was made Duke of York. About a month later, he was made Warden of the Scottish Marshes. In 1495, he was appointed to the Order of the Garter. Despite all of education and titles, his older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales, was expected to be crowned King of England. In 1502, Arthur died suddenly of “English sweating sickness”, le...

Elagabalus adopts Alexianus – June 26, 221 AD

Gessius Bassianus Alexianus was born in c.208/9 AD at Phoenicia-Arca Caesarea. He was the son of Marcus Julius Gessius Marcianus and Julia Avita Mamaea, making him the cousin of Elagabalus and part of the ruling Severan family. Not much is written about his youth, but it is documented he accompanied his cousin to Rome when Elagabalus was proclaimed emperor in 218.  This characters are in many Roman Coins. While living in Rome under the rule of Elagabalus, Alexianus remained virtually unknown. The citizens of Rome became increasingly intolerant of the bizarre behavior and rituals of Elagabalus over the years, forcing Julia Maesa, grandmother of Elagabalus, to put pressure on the emperor to adopt his cousin and elevate him to the rank of Caesar on June 26, 221. Alexianus was Maesa’s backup p...

Titus Begins Sole Reign – June 23, 79 AD

During the reign of Claudius (41-54 AD), Vespasian was held in high esteem, allowing his son, Titus to be raised in the company of the royal court. Titus was taught along side Britannicus, Claudius’s son. They became close friends and Titus was at the dinner party at which Britannicus was fatally poisoned by Nero in 55. It is said Titus even drank some of the poison and became very ill, but recovered. Nero continued to rule, Vespasian had retired in 51 and Titus was sent to Germania. From c.57-59, Titus was a military tribune in Germania, arriving in Britannia c.60 with reinforcements after the revolt of Boadicea. Titus married twice, the first to Arrecina Tertulla, the daughter of one of Caligula’s praetorian prefects, when he returned to Rome in c.63. The were married until Tertulla’s de...

Magna Carta – June 15, 1215 AD

In 1204 AD, King John of England lost most of his ancestral lands to King Philip II of France. In response, John heavily taxed the barons in his remaining lands to raise funds to ultimately wage an expensive war in 1214. That effort was a failure and John ended up having to sue for peace after the Battle of Bouvines. John returned to England and found the barons, who already disliked him because of his abuse of authority against them, had organized in the north and east against him. The rebel barons swore an oath for “liberty of the church and realm” and demanded John uphold the Charter of Liberties issued in 1100 AD by King Henry I, which bound the king to laws regarding the treatment of nobles, church officials and individuals. John held a council in 1215 in London and in spring held dis...

Julia Drusilla – June 10, 38 AD

Julia Drusilla was one of the daughters of Germanicus and Agrippina Senior. She was also the sister of Nero Caesar, Drusus Caesar, Caligula, Agrippina Junior and Julia Livilla. Born in 16 AD, she was only three when Germanicus died in Antioch. Drusilla and her siblings were brought back to Rome by their mother, from where they all lived in Germany. The children were raised by Agrippina Senior, with the help of their paternal grandmother, Antonia Junior. During 26 AD, the Praetorian Prefect, Sejanus, essentially was running Rome and the administration of it, thanks to Tiberius delegating so much responsibility to him. Although Sejanus was not in line for succession to the throne, he used his power to eliminate possible challengers. Agrippina Senior, Nero Caesar and Drusus Caesar were all ar...

Counter-Rebellion – June 3, 350 AD

Constantinus Flavius Popilius Nepotianus was the grandson of Flavius Valerius Constantius (Chlorus) and Flavia Maximana Theodora. His parents were Virius Nepotianus and Eutropia, his mother being the half-sister of Constantine the Great. He and his two cousins, Julian II and Constantius Gallus, lived in semi-exile until Fausta was executed in 326. Nepotian served as consul in 336, but he must have kept a relatively low profile as not much is known about his life. Because of his very young age, he survived the purge in Summer 337 by the sons of Constantine the Great when they were eliminating many potential dynastic challengers. On June 3, 350 AD, Nepotian was hailed emperor in Rome by a mob. Magnentius had taken control Rome around 20 weeks earlier, usurping the throne from the legitimate ...

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