Spotlight on Games > PrintNPlay > ROME IN CRISIS
Background for the game
November 5, 2013

Most are familiar with Julius Caesar, Rome's first permanent dictator, and his adopted son Augustus, the first emperor. Following him came the other members of his extended family, in order, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.

The latter lost power in the year of four emperors and was ultimately succeeded by Vespasian, the most powerful general. He started his own short dynasty, being succeeded by his sons Titus and then Domitian. An unpopular ruler, Domitian was assassinated. The Senate chose the elderly Nerva as his replacement, which began the era of the "five good emperors", all of whom but the last chose someone not their biological son to succeed them. His successors were Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, who ruled jointly with Lucius Verus.

Marcus Aurelius did not manage to avoid making his son Commodus emperor. Commodus' misrule resulted in his murder. The civil war that followed was won by Septimius Severus, who created a strong dynasty. He was succeeded by his sons Caracalla and Geta as joint rulers, which ended when Caracalla had his brother killed and Caracalla became sole ruler.

After nineteen years of rule, Caracalla was assassinated by the prefect of his guards, Marcrinus who succeeded him. After a year or so he was succeeded by a rebellious army of Syria who placed the outrageous fourteen-year old Elagabalus on the throne. In the passage of four years, Rome's city troops had had enough; they killed him in favor of his younger cousin, Alexander Severus, who ruled in moderate fashion for more than thirteen years. It was during this period that Rome came under twin threats of the Persians and Goths. Prosecuting the war against the latter in Gaul, he lost the respect of his army and was assassinated.

With this event begins "The Crisis of the Third Century" (235-284), a fifty-year period that was the lowest the empire had yet witnessed. The empire was in considerable danger and unrest and there was no obvious successor. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the average length of rule in this period was a mere two and a half years.

Timeline of the Roman Empire in the period of the game
Maximinus Thrax. A soldier who had come up the ranks from low birth, he commanded a legion. When rather than fight Alexander Severus paid off the German invaders, the troops killed Alexander and elected Maximinus their new leader. This was grudgingly ratified by the Senate, who had little respect for his low birth, but had little choice. Maximinus took the war to the Germans, defeating them and stabilizing the border, allowing him to continue war against Rome's lesser, eastern enemies. In fact he was the first emperor never to reach the city of Rome during his reign. His harsh rule and heavy taxation brought problems, however, and led to revolt in Africa.
Gordian I and Gordian II. Gordian I was the governor of Africa when outraged aristocrats murdered Maximinus' tax officials and proclaimed him and his son, Gordian II, emperor. Much more comfortable with one of their own, the Senate in Rome immediately ratified them as emperors. Maximinus mobilized his army in response and advanced on Rome. But before the Gordians could depart, Africa province was invaded by the loyal governor of Numidia. Gordian II was killed on the battlefield and Gordian I hanged himself.
Pupienus and Balbinus. Feeling in great jeopardy after the death of the Gordians, the Senate elected two of their own, Pupienus and Balbinus, to replace them. However, these two patricians had no popularity with the Roman people, who pelted them with sticks and stones. Pupienus led an army against Maximinus while Balbinus ruled Rome. Maximinus, tried to reach Rome, but on the way was forced to besiege Aquileia, which closed its gates against him. During this time famine and disease afflicted his army, which turned and assassinated him, his son and chief ministers. Pupienus and Balbinus became co-emperors, but although Maximinus' army surrendered to Pupienus, he returned to Rome to find it in riot and fire under Balbinus' unpopular rule. Eventually the two stabilized Rome, but just as they were planning war against Persia, the Praetorian Guard stormed in, killed both and proclaimed Gordian III emperor. The two had ruled little more than three months.
Gordian III. Gordian's grandson, Gordian III, was popular, with at least some in the city of Rome, who were loyal to the memories of Gordian I and II. Because of their unpopularity, Pupienus and Balbinus, had been forced to appoint him the heir, although he was only thirteen years of age, making him the youngest sole emperor of Rome ever. Taking advantage of his youth, the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard ruled in his name. Meanwhile the empire was under attack from both Germanic tribes and Persians. A large Roman army, Gordian in tow, traveled east, drove the Persians back over the Euphrates and planned an invasion of Persia, when the Praetorian Prefect, Gordian's father-in-law, died under mysterious circumstances. Marcus Julius Philippus, also known as Philip the Arab, stepped forward to take this position. What happened next is unclear. Persian sources claim the Persians counterattacked and won, killing Gordian in the process. Roman sources do not mention any such battle and claim he died far upriver. If true, the responsibility must be Philip's.
Philip the Arab. Born in Syria, which at the time was in Rome's Arabia province, Philip rose with his older brother in the Praetorian Guard. With his brother's endorsement, he became Praetorian Prefect upon his predecessor's mysterious death and was then proclaimed emperor by the army upon this predecessor's mysterious death. Seeking to avoid senatorial upstarts like the Gordians, he immediately made peace with Persia – giving up Armenia and 500,000 gold denarii – and hurried to Rome. There he was confirmed in power, but began enormous building programs, increasing taxes and stopping payments to the Germans to pay for it. This led to war with the Goths and war with the Persians over Armenia flared up again as well. Philip conducted spectacular games and theatrical presentations for Rome's thousand year anniversary. Amid this, three different Gothic groups and four different generals rebelled. Philip offered to resign, but the Senate, led by Decius, urged him to continue. Encouraged, he sent Decius to quell both invasions and revolts. Although Decius was successful, the legions of the Danube preferred him to Philip and proclaimed him emperor. He marched on Rome and Philip marched out against him. Meeting near Verona, Decius was victorious and Philip was killed, possibly by his own soldiers who were eager to please their new ruler.
Decius. Born in what is now Serbia, he was the first of many emperors to stem from this region. He was a distinguished senator who had served as consul, governor and prefect of Rome. Confirmed by the Senate, he began several building projects including baths named after him and repairs to the Colosseum following a lightning strike. He fought the Goths, catching them by surprise, but they doubled back and turned the same trick. Decius was the first Roman emperor ever forced to flee in battle. Content to raid, the Goths eventually returned to their homes while Decius reorganized his army for another assault. In this battle in the swamp both Decius and his son were killed, possibly because they pursued the enemy too boldly. Some claim that instead he died because he was betrayed by Trebonianus in alliance with the Goths, but would the legions have proclaimed such a traitor emperor?
Trebonianus. Born in Tuscany, he had the typical Roman career of many military and then political positions. He won several small skirmishes with the Goths and became popular with the army. When he took power with the army, the Senate back in Rome proclaimed Decius' other son, Hostilian, emperor. To keep peace Trebonianus accepted him as co-emperor. Like Philip, he immediately made peace with the Goths – agreeing to annual payments – and hurried to Rome. At this time Hostilian disappears, possibly dying of plague. Troubles started anew in Armenia and Persians defeated a large Roman army. Trebonianus did not respond and the Persians successfully invaded again the next year. Then the Goths and lesser invaders such as the Scythian tribes invaded as well. Discontented with their emperor, part of the army proclaimed Aemilianus their new emperor. Unwilling to give up without a fight, Trebonianus called in his legions and prepared. The results are unclear, but most likely he was killed by his own army and/or his army went over to the rebel.
Aemilianus. Born in Africa province, his victory against the Goths impressed the army who proclaimed him emperor. But he had to manage a plague in Rome and, in the face of their attacks, signed humiliating treaties with both the Goths and the Persians. This hardly impressed the army. Meanwhile, Valerian, who had been recalled by Trebonianus, was on his way from the Rhine frontier with a large army. Aemilianus' men mutinied on the news and killed him, accepting Valerian as the new emperor. Aemilianus had only reigned three months.
Valerian. Of a traditional senatorial family, Valerian had worked for Gordian I. Upon taking power, the entire western empire was in disorder due to invasions while the east was under attack by Persians. He split responsibility for these crises with his top general and son, Gallienus. In the east he took back Syria and Armenia from the Persians, but lost Asia Minor to the Goths in the following year. In 259 he lost decisively to the Persians and was dishonorably seized by them during the peace talks, and held prisoner for life, in one report being used as a human foot stool by the Persian emperor.
Gallienus. While his father was still alive, Gallienus repelled the German invaders in the west, winning several defensive victories. While defeating rebels, however, the Franks broke through all the way to Spain and the Alamanni penetrated as far as Italy, the first invaders to do so since Hannibal. Gallienus defeated them decisively on their retreat near Milan; they would not bother Rome again for ten years. Then Gallienus had to put down a revolt in the Balkans. Taking over all the empire after his father's capture, there were rebels in the east. Fortunately for Gallienus, they were defeated by other Roman generals. But a revolt by Postumus in Gaul meant that Gallienus lost control of it, plus Britain, Spain and Germany, which now formed a separate Gallic Empire. Palmyra also gained its independence. He also had to crush a revolt in Egypt and more Gothic invasions in Greece while being challenged by yet another rebel. He laid siege to the rebel near Milan, but was murdered, by unknown hands. Most agree that because he had lost so much of the empire and because he forbade senators from becoming generals, most of his officials wanted him dead.
Claudius II. No relation to the original Claudius, he is given the "II" only by historians. Another soldier who had worked his way up the ranks, he was commander of Gallienus' new elite cavalry force. When Gallienus died he was proclaimed emperor by the army; although some accused him of engineering his death, he magnanimously asked that the relatives and supporters of the dead emperor be spared. Then, with the help of his cavalry commander Aurelian, he won one of the empire's greatest victories ever, against the Goths. Rome took thousands of prisoners, destroyed the Gothic cavalry and forced them back across the Danube. He then took Spain and southern France back from the Gallic empire. But while preparing to make war against the Vandals, he died of plague.
Tradition has it that Claudius persecuted Christians, who had to either deny Christ or suffer. In 270 one such, a priest and physician who had provided aid to believers in Rome, refused and was beaten with clubs and finally beheaded. Later canonized, his name is remembered every February 14: St. Valentine.
Quintillus. Brother of Claudius II, he was proclaimed emperor by part of the army after his death and approved by the Senate. He was a moderate and capable emperor, and a champion of the Senate. However, other segments of the army disagreed with the choice. He died at Aquileia, possibly in battle with Aurelian or by suicide after a defeat, having served a very short reign.
Aurelian. Born in what is today Bulgaria, Aurelian was another soldier who rose in the ranks, distinguishing himself as a cavalry commander in several wars. He was preferred by much of the army, who distrusted the support Quintillus received from the Senate. After seizing power Aurelian engaged in a number of campaigns. He defeated the Alamanni, the Goths, Vandals, Juthungi, Sarmatians, and Carpi. He at last recovered Palmyra, which had taken the entire eastern Mediterranean area, including Egypt and most of Asia Minor. He also reconquered the Gallic Empire. He constructed Rome's Aurelian Walls and abandoned Dacia province, beyond the Danube. Marching to war against the Persians, he was murdered by his Praetorian Guard, who feared his severe punishments for some minor infractions.
Tacitus. Born in Italy, he claimed ancestry from the Tacitus the historian, but most historians doubt this. He was nevertheless a respected politician and as such, the Senate's choice to succeed Aurelian. The army approved, for a change, although Aurelian's widow may have ruled for a short period. Tacitus asked the Senate to help him rule, a first in many decades. With his half-brother Florianus he defeated a German tribe in the Balkans. Hurrying back to Gaul to deal with another invasion, he died of a fever, though some claim he was assassinated because he had appointed a relative to a command in Syria.
Florianus. Praetorian Prefect for his half-brother, he was chosen emperor by the army without senatorial approval. His immediate concern was fighting a German tribe, but while doing so an army in the east proclaimed Probus emperor. The rival armies met in Asia Minor, Florianus having more troops, Probus being the more experienced general. The latter avoided direct battle and won a victory over a smaller part of the force. Florianus' troops probably lost confidence in the unfamiliar climate and assassinated him; his reign had lasted eighty-eight days.
Probus. Born in what is today Serbia, he was a military tribune who later became a governor. He was handed the empire by Florianus' army who probably calculated that they could get more pay increases from a grateful new emperor than from the cash-strapped existing one. His first act was to defeat the Goths. Meanwhile his legati successfully fought Germans in Gaul. He initiated settling Germans inside the empire. During his reign he had to put down three usurpers. While marching east, Carus, the Praetorian Prefect, was proclaimed emperor by his troops. Probus sent troops against him, but they changed sides and like Florianus, Probus was killed by his own men, who may have disliked his practice of using them for civic purposes like draining marshes.
Carus. Probably born in Gaul, he was educated in Rome and became a senator. He did not return to Rome after being proclaimed emperor, but left his son Carinus to rule the western empire while he and his other son, Numerian, marched against the Persians. He defeated Germans and Sarmatians along the way and marched all the way past the Tigris River. The Persians were occupied in Afghanistan so Rome even conquered their capital at Ctesiphon, making up for all the losses over the years. But Carus shortly died after a storm, possibly from lightning, disease or a battle wound.
Carinus and Numerian. The brothers were co-rulers after their father's death. Carinus hurried from Gaul to solidify his position in Rome. Numerian made an orderly withdrawal from Persia. In Asia Minor his staff reported he had an inflammation of the eyes and was therefore traveling in a closed coach. After a few days a strong odor caused some of his soldiers to open the coach where they found Numerian dead. What happened next throws suspicion on his cause of death since the soldiers, instead of respecting Carinus' right to rule, proclaimed the cavalry commander, Diocletian, the new emperor. For his part, Diocletian accused Numerian's chief aide of having killed him and then dispatched the purported killer with his sword. Hearing this, Carinus immediately led an army to meet Diocletian, putting down another rebel along the way. Accounts vary, but most likely Diocletian was victorious in battle because Carinus' army deserted him.
Diocletian. Born in modern Dalmatia, he rose through the military ranks to become cavalry commander. Thanks to his efforts the empire was finally stabilized and the Crisis of the Third Century ended. He defeated all of Rome's enemies and secured all of the borders. He appointed a co-emperor and two junior co-emperors, assigning each of the four a part of the empire to administer. He also changed the nature of the emperor, who always before was considered simply the first among equals. Learning from Persia and other eastern empires, Diocletian made the emperor a remote figure who was almost never seen. He wore a gold crown and jewels and forbade anyone else from wearing purple cloth. Subjects who approached him had to kiss the hem of his robe; meanwhile his image was put up everywhere. Whenever he appeared he was surrounded by impressive grandeur. By such measures he gave the position an aura and power that made rebellion more difficult to attempt. When ready, Diocletian became the first emperor to voluntarily abdicate, taking up a life devoted to growing cabbages.
Spotlight on Games > PrintNPlay > ROME IN CRISIS