Probus, summer 276 - September 282 A.D.
From the collection of Evan Rankin
Aurelius Probus was the son of a soldier and himself a simple soldier
at the beginning of his career. By the reign of Aurelian he was one of
the Empire's foremost generals. After the death of Tacitus he was
declared emperor and after the murder of Florian he was left undisputed
master of the Roman world. He embarked on a series of economic revival
programs bringing great peace and prosperity to the empire. Tragically
mutinous soldiers, enraged at being employed on public building
projects, murdered him.
M. Aurelius Severus Probus was a native of Sirmium in Pannonia. His father was
originally a gardener, who by entering the army rose to the rank of a military
Probus obtained the same office at age twenty-two and
distinguished himself so much by his probity, valor, intrepidity, moderation and
clemency, that at the death of the emperor Tacitus, he was invested with the
imperial purple by the voluntary and uninfluenced choice of his soldiers.
His election was universally approved by the Roman senate and the people.
Probus, strengthened on his throne by the affection and
attachment of his subjects, marched against the enemies of Rome in Gaul and
Germany. Several battles were fought, and after he had left 400,000
barbarians dead in the field, Probus turned his arms against he Sarmatians.
They achieved the same successes and since he had successfully quelled and
terrified to peace the numerous barbarians of the north, he marched through
Syria against the Blemmyes in the neighborhood of Egypt and defeated them with
The military character of the emperor was so well established,
that the king of Persia sued for peace by his ambassadors and attempted to buy
the conqueror's favors with the most splendid presents. Probus was
feasting upon the most common food when the ambassadors were introduced.
Without even casting his eyes upon them, he said that if their master did not
give proper satisfaction to the Romans, he would lay his territories desolate
and as naked as the crown of his head. As he spoke the emperor took of his
cap, and showed the baldness of his head to the ambassadors. His
conditions were gladly accepted by the Persian monarch.
Probus retired to Rome to convince his subjects of the
greatness of his conquests, and to claim from them the applause which their
ancestors had given to the conqueror of Macedonia or the destroyer of Carthage.
His triumph lasted several days, and the Roman populace were long entertained
with shows and combats. But the Roman empire, delivered from its foreign
enemies, was torn by civil discord, and peace was not re-established until three
usurpers had been severely defeated. While his subjects enjoyed
tranquility, Probus encouraged the liberal arts, he permitted the inhabitants of
Gaul and Illyricum to plant fines in their territories and he himself repaired
the 70 cities in different parts of the empire which had been reduced to ruins.
He also attempted to drain the waters which were stagnated in
the neighborhood of Sirmium, by conveying them to the sea by artificial canals.
His armies were employed in the laborious undertaking; but as they were
unaccustomed to such toils they soon mutinied and fell upon the emperor as he
was passing into one of the towns of Illyricum. He fled into an iron tower which
he himself had built to observe the marshes but was soon overpowered and
murdered. He was fifty years old and reigned six years.
news of his death was received with the greatest consternation. Not
only his friends, but his very enemies deplored his fate. Historia
Augusta reports (though it is likely fiction) that the very army which
had murdered him erected a monument over his body, and placed upon it
Hic Probus imperator et vere probus situs est, victor omnium
gentium barbararum, victor etiam tyrannorum.
lies Probus, emperor and man of true probity, conqueror of all
barbarian nations, conqueror of usurpers as well. (Historia Augusta, Life of Probus 21.4 :
as translated in the Loeb; emended by R. W. Burgess)
Note the pun in the emperor's name and his description as 'Probus'. The
author loved puns on names, even bad ones like this. The phrase 'victor
omnium gentium barbararum' is real and was used on inscriptions and
coins as an imperial title. One should beware of all biographies of
usurpers and third century emperors that rely on the HA: most of it is humorous fiction that even scholars have trouble disentangling from fact
DatesBorn: ~ 232 CE.
Reign: Summer 276 - September 282 CE.
Rarity of Denominations, Average Weights of Well Preserved Coins, Mints, and Other Information
Gold binio (double aureus)
Gold aureus R6 Two
distinct sizes: 5.18 - 5.31 grams, 6.35 grams1
Gold quinarius R7 Range 1.94 - 3.17 (only 4 specimens)1
Silver medallion R6
Silvered antoninianus C1 3.73 grams, average
3.12% silver, range 2.24% - 5.2% silver1
Silvered denarius R1
Copper as R2
The rarity scale here includes three main ratings from C (common), to S
(scarce), to R (rare). Within each rating numbers from 1-10 are may be
used to indicate increasing degrees of rarity with 1 the most common
and 10 the least common.
1. Luis C. West, Gold and Silver Standards in the Roman Empire, Numismatic Notes and Monographs, #94, ANS, NY, 1941.
Imperial: Antioch, Cyzicus, Lugdunum, Rome, Siscia,
Serdica, Ticinum, Tripolis
ERIC - PROBUS
Fake Coin Reports
Coins of Probus
De Imperatoribus Romanis
Discussion Board Search
Alföldi, A. Siscia. Heft V: Verzeichnis der Antoniniane des Kaisers Probus. (Budapest, 1939).
Bastien, P. Le monnayage de l'atelier de Lyon. De la réouverture de l'atelier par Aurélien à la mort de Carin (fin 274 – mi-285). Numismatique Romaine IX. (Wetteren, 1976).
Cohen, H. Description historique des monnaies frappées sous l’Empire Romain, Vol. 6: Macrianus to Diocletian & Maximianus. (Paris, 1886).
Mattingly, H. Sydenham and Webb. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol V, Part II, Probus to Amandus. (London, 1933).
Pink, K. “Der Aufbau der Römischen münzprägung in der Kaiserzeit: VI/1. Probus” in Numismatische Zeitschrift 73 (1949).
Robinson, A. Roman Imperial Coins in the Hunter Coin Cabinet, University of Glasgow, Vol. IV. Valerian I to Allectus. (Oxford, 1978).
Sear, D.R. Roman Coins and Their Values, Volume Three, The
Accession of Maximinus I to the Death of Carinus AD 235 - AD
285. (London, 2005).
Dictionary of Roman Coins
PROBUS (Marcus Aurelius). – This illustrious Emperor was born at Sirmium (Sermiel), in Pannonia,
A.D. 232. His father’s name was Maximus, of an obscure family; that of
his mother is not known. Eminently favoured by nature, from the dawn of
manhood, his look was noble, his carriage majestic, and his inclinations
heroic. Valerian, discovering his rising merit, made him a military
tribune, at an unusually early age. In the reigns of Claudius II
, of Aurelian and Tacitus, he displayed his valour and skill; as rendering
himself formidable in Africa, Egypt and the Gallic provinces; the Rhine, the Danube and the Euphrates
also bore witness to his warlike triumphs over the foes of the empire. Prefect
of the East, at the period of the death of Tacitus, he was about
44 years of age when he ascended the imperial throne; “in the full
possession of his fame, of the love of the army and of mature mental
and bodily vigour” (A.D. 276). After having vanquished Florianus
, he was confirmed in his title by the Senate, who in homage to
his exploits and to his virtues confirmed upon him at once the name of
Caesar, Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, the Tribunitian power and the Proconsular
command. Thus honoured by “the Conscript Fathers”, he was no
less acknowledged by the whole empire, and his reign was a succession
of victories and useful labors. He strengthened the Rhaetian
frontier; made the Goths feel the keen edge of the sword, and induced
them to seek his alliance; broke the power of the Sarmatians in the
north and the Isaurians in the east; defeated the Blemmyes and constrained
the King of Persia to sue for peace. The retracing his steps
westward, Probus delivered Gaul from an invasion of the barbarous tribes
of Germany – drove back the Franks into their morasses; and carrying
his arms into the German fastnesses, built a wall from the Rhine
to the Danube. Victor in all these expeditions and encounters both
with foreign and domestic enemies, he enjoyed triumphal honours at Rome
in A.D. 279; on which occasion as is shown by his coins, redistributed
the congiarium, and treated the people with magnificent shows
. In quelling the subsequent revolt of Saturninus, Proculus and Bonosus
who had severally usurped the purple under his reign, he used his
good fortune with remarkable moderation and humanity. Many and stupendous
were the works which this ever active Prince caused to be affected
by the labour of his soldiers, after having restored peace to the
world. But the treaty between Rome and Persia having been broken by
“the Great King”, Probus prepared for war again and on a grand decisive scale
; but his rigid and exact discipline, and certain expressions which
had unguarded escaped him respecting the military, provoked his own
troops to mutiny, and they assassinated him on the march, in the month
of August A.D. 282. Probus had reigned six years and four months;
and his death was deplored, not only by the Senate and people, but also by
the very soldiers, whose discontent at his severity, and jealousy of his
preference for civil over military government, had promoted this murderous
attack on the life of their Emperor. His superior genius, both
in the council and in the field, had indeed placed him on a level at
least with the best and ablest princes of the Roman Empire; and the eulogium
inscribed on his tomb at his native town of Sirmium, where he died
, fell far short of justice to his memory, in designating him merely
as the vanquisher of the barbarous nations: for his wisdom, probity
, good morals and disinterestedness, had established for him a more
valid claim to be called “the Father of his Country” than could ever
be truly advanced for and Augustus or even a Trajan.
is styled on his coins – IMP C PROBVS PIVS AVG – IMP CAES M AVR PROBVS
P F AVG – PERPETVVS IMP PROBVS – PROBVS INVICTVS – BONVS IMP PROBVS
The gold and silver of this Emperor are rare; his brass money of the third form is extremely common. Beauvais
states that the Abbe DE Rothelin had formed a set of them, amounting to
no less than two thousand in number, with differences. One of the most
interesting, with the reverse of VIRTVS PROBI AVG, Probus on horseback
spearing an enemy is given here.
Vopiscus, in his life of Probus (c. ii.), relates that this Emperor was called Gothicus, and also by the other cognomina of Parthicus, Sarmaticus, and Francicus,
by the senate. None of these honorary appellations, however, are to be found
on his coins. But we do read on some if his medals VICTORIA
GERMANICA, and also VICTORIA GOTHICA. By Strada she is known.
Moreover, in the room of his other more usual titles, we see on some
coins of this prince VIRTVS PROBI INVICTI AVG, with his head radiate
and javelin right, and a shield in his left hand. Another piece of
Probus’ money is inscribed VICTORIOSO SEMPER.
of this Emperor appears on coins, but her name is unknown. Mionnet
describes a very rare bronze medallion, on the obverse of which are the
heads side by side (accolées) of Probus et Uxor. By Strada she is called Julia Procla; but Tristan, from whom Strada quotes, does not profess to have discovered the name.
says “By his wife PROCLA, Probus had several children, whose names are
not known. All that is certain is that they established themselves in
the city of Rome.”
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