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From the collection of Evan Rankin
Marcus 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.
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 great slaughter.
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 Probus' favor 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 Persia as desolate and as naked as the crown of his head. As he spoke, the Emperor took off 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 was 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.
The 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 this inscription:
Hic Probus imperator et vere probus situs est, victor omnium gentium barbararum, victor etiam tyrannorum.
Here 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: 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
Note: 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.
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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). (Wetteren, 1976).
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Calicó, E. The Roman Avrei, Vol. II: From Didius Julianus to Constantius I, 193 AD - 335 AD. (Barcelona, 2003).
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Gnecchi, F. I Medaglioni Romani. (Milan, 1912).
Guillemain, J. Ripostiglio della Venèra, Nuovo Catalogo Illustrato, Vol. III/1: La monetazione di Probo a Roma (276-282 d.C.). (Verona, 2009).
Gysen, P. "Nouvelles données concernant l'atelier de Serdica sous le règne de Probus" in RBN CXLVI (2000).
King, C. Roman Quinarii from the Republic to Diocletian and the Tetrarchy. (Oxford, 2007).
Mattingly, H., E. Sydenham & P. 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).
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PROBUS (Marcus Aurelius). – This illustrious Emperor was born at Sirmium (Sermiel), in
Probus 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 INVICT AVG.
The gold and silver of this Emperor are rare; his brass money of the third form is extremely common.
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.
The wife 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.