Sunday, 22 September 2013


I love the name Aurelian. Its popularity in France is one of those little things that make me think that, if I were ever to be banished from the UK, France is where I would choose to live. And did you know that the name of Orleans is derived from Aurelian's reconstruction of that city? I didn't until I read it in wikipedia.

Emperor from 270-275. Not much of a reign you might think, but by the standards of the third century that was pretty good going. Compared to the incredible detail we have of events in the late republic we don't know what the hell's going on for a lot of the time in the third century, it's even possible there were emperors we don't know about (if the case of Domitianus II is not unique).

Aurelian's time was taken up with incessant warfare - he reconquered the breakaway provinces of the Gallic empire and the Palmyran empire, earning him the legend: Restitutor Orbis. Restorer of the world. It's actually written Restitutor Bis on the coin, which could also be translated Restorer twice. Perhaps they intended the double meaning. The vendor I bought it from identified it as the coin type RIC 386 Antioch and that certainly matches the reverse design. The portrait there though seems more stylised than any of the other examples I've seen. More modern looking somehow. He looks cool anyway. (He looks a bit like Lee Mavers.)

Queuing for coffee the other day I whiled away the time studying a 50p piece. The reverse bore a decent enough design commemorating something or other. But the portrait, in contrast to Aurelian's troubled visage, was so incredibly bloody boring. As befits our monarch I suppose. Maybe it comes down to the fact that Aurelian wielded real power, dashing about hither and thither vanquishing barbarians. His cuirass - actual armour that almost certainly fended off blows from enemies' swords and arrows etc. I am of course down on autocracy and imperialism, but you've got to concede that Aurelian served the empire, I'm fairly sure he put in a lot more than he got out. Our own dear, drab queen's bland irrelevance on the other hand shines through in her portraits. Why oh why can't we be rid of them?

After his name and this portrait of him the third thing I like about Aurelian is the wall he built around Rome. When I went to Rome my mind was anyway in a state of continuous blown-ness, but the proximity of our hotel to a decent section of the wall made me very happy indeed. The impressiveness of the wall was added to a generation or so later by the emperor Maxentius, another of my favourite emperors.


  1. I really enjoyed that Artog. Thanks.

  2. Cheers Drew. I just find the Romans endlessly fascinating. People get so into stuff like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones etc. and the whole time you've got about a 1,000 years of Roman history with every conceivable manner of battle, intrigue and pithy quip available. And it all actually happened in the world we inhabit. I remember at college briefly going over the emperor Julian's doomed attempt to reinstate paganism in the 4th century. But reading more recently - I just find it all so impossibly romantic. As a child he was kept under house arrest in a castle in Cappadocia. A castle in Cappadocia!

  3. Tried really hard to resist but,

    yeah, but what have the Romans ever done for us?

  4. Fair play Drew, I understand the enormous pressure not making that comment must have been placing you under.

  5. I did a crash A Level in Classics in my 5th year and I can recommend From The Grachii to Nero which deals with the Decline of the Republic to the Pax Romana, heavy read at times but worthwhile all the same

  6. That's the main text book we had at school. I got more into the subject through reading Penguin copies of The Fall of the Roman Republic and The Twelve Caesars.