Aurelian hailed as restitutor patriae (CIL VI, 1112)

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Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Via Sacra, Roman Forum, Rome, Italy.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Unknown, now lost.
274 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Marble (?)

CIL VI, 1112

This inscription – which is now lost and known only from manuscript copies – was set up on the Via Sacra in the Forum of Rome; it was set up by the prefect of the city to celebrate the emperor Aurelian’s successful ‘reunification’ of the Roman empire, bringing Palmyra and the so-called ‘Gallic-Empire’ back under Rome’s control, for which he celebrated a triumph in 274 CE. The inscription – which may originally have been on a statue base for an image of the emperor – was part of this celebration, and demonstrates the importance of Aurelian’s achievement in bringing lost territory back within the dominion of the empire.
Aurelian had come to power in 270 CE; little is known of his cursus honorum before this date, other than that he had had a successful military career and was engaged in a campaign against the Jugunthi and Vandals when the emperor Claudius II Gothicus died. Already one of the most important military officers in Claudius’s entourage, Aurelian was proclaimed emperor by the troops, although the exact circumstances – including the date – that led to his accession remain as unclear as the earlier details of his life (see Southern, The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, p. 110-114; Watson, Aurelian and the Third Century, p. 1-10; the career recorded in the Historia Augusta, Life of Aurelian 5-15 has been dismissed as fictitious). Having concluded his campaign with the Jugunthi and Vandals in Raetia and established a temporary peace, he left for Rome, managing en route to put down the rival claims and usurpations of Septiminus, Domitianus and Urbanus, meaning that any challenge to his rule had potentially been identified and eradicated by the time he arrived in the capital in 271 CE (Southern, The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, p. 112-113). Subsequent uprisings of the northern tribes, including the Alamanni, led to further military incursions in the same year, including the invasion of Milan by the Jugunthi, but Aurelian was able to conclude this at least temporarily, and focus on Rome’s greatest areas of weakness, namely the loss of Palmyra and the provinces that now formed the ‘Gallic’ Empire; the restoration of these regions to Roman control was to prove his greatest achievement, and the foundation upon which the Tetrarchy were later able to base their own consolidation of the empire.
It is this “restoration” of order to the empire as a whole that is celebrated in this inscription. The text was dedicated by one Virius Orfitus, a member of the Senate (as indicated by his status as vir clarissimus) and “Prefect of the City” (praefectus Urbi) – the most powerful magistracy after that of the emperor. The dedication was made to the “divine spirit and majesty” of the emperor (devotus numini maiestatique eius), which had been enshrined within the imperial cult and its practices since the dedication of Tiberius’s Ara Numinis Augusti  (the Altar of the divine spirit of Augustus) (Fishwick, The Imperial Cult in the Latin West, II.1, p. 388; for the formula devotus numina maiesatique eius – which is a new innovation in the early third century CE, see Gundel, “Devotus numina maistatique eius. Zur Devotionsformel in Weihinschriften der römischen Kaiserzeit,” p. 128-150). Aurelian is commemorated in the inscription with a list of honorific titles, including those that recognised his military successes in particular places – Gothicus Maximus, Germanicus Maximus, Parthicus Maximus, Carpicus Maximus – and the traditional magisterial offices of consul, proconsul, imperator and Augustus. However, the most important and symbolic attestations are given after these traditional military and magisterial honours, when Aurelian is described as “restorer of the world, the most brave and most victorious princeps” (restitutor orbis / fortissimus et victoriosissimus / princeps). Restitutor had appeared on imperial coinage from the Flavian period on, and had enjoyed a particular prominence under the Antonine emperors, with Hadrian in particular heralded as the “restorer” of several provinces (see Hadrian, Roman soldiers and Asia). It had several associations: emperors might be acclaimed restitutor on account of the peace and prosperity that they had brought to a particular province, or it could refer more specifically to the capital itself, where it symbolised the restitution of order after civic strife (see e.g. RIC IV/1, Septimius Severus, no. 140 and 140a, p. 108; the same message is included in the dedicatory inscription of the Arch of Septimius Severus in Rome). Restitutor could also refer to the restoration of particular virtues, such as pietas (“piety”), libertas (“liberty”) or securitas publica (“public safety”), whereby the emperor’s own personal connection with these qualities extended them beyond his person and into the populace of the empire as a whole. In the case of the inscription here, Aurelian is awarded an even greater achievement, bringing restoration to the Roman world as a whole, totius orbis. This version of the epithet only appeared in the third century CE, and was first attributed to Gordian III; it equated the human population of the world with Roman citizens, on the basis that the world, the orbis terrarum, was the same as the Roman world, the orbis Romanum, or the Roman empire. Although it had been awarded to emperors such as Gordian III and Philip the Arab, in the case of Aurelian it resonated with greater symbolic power, as he – unlike his predecessors – had actually restored lost territory to Rome, reuniting the orbis terrarum.
Aurelian’s first success in this respect had been to solve the Palmyrene problem in the east. Following Shapur I of Persia’s devastating defeat of the Roman army and the capture of the emperor Valerian at Edessa in 260 CE, Rome’s imperial power had been usurped and the Palmyrene Odaenathus – a leading member of the city – had been declared king. Nominally loyal to Gallienus, he pursued, attacked, and defeated Shapur with an army of Palmyrenes and Syrian civilians, for which he received the title “Governor of the whole East” (corrector totius Orientis) and the rule of Syria as its imperial representative (Andrade, Syrian Identity, p. 333; for detailed discussion of these events, see de Blois, The Policy of the Emperor Gallienus, p. 3-8; Dogeon and Lieu, The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars, p. 68-83). As Clifford Ando has noted, the position that Gallienus had awarded to Odaenathus was not an attempt to revive some form of client kingship in the east, but rather the use of  “an existing Roman institution…in order to co-opt a regional dynast to the service of the central state” (Ando, Imperial Rome, p. 209). However, following the assassination of Odaenathus and his son, Herodianus, in 267 CE, Zenobia – the wife of Odaenathus – contrived to have his ten year-old son Vaballathus inherit his father’s position, not just in Palmyra but across Syria as a whole (Ando, Imperial Rome, p. 209). Actions such as the minting of coins with a legend that named Vaballathus dux Romanorum (“leader of the Romans”), followed by her assumption of control over Arabia and Egypt – the latter of which was crucial for the security of Rome’s grain shipments which came from Egypt itself – eventually provoked Rome to action, and Aurelian was forced to engage in a further eastern campaign (for the coinage of Vaballathus, see Gallazzi, “La titolatura di Vaballato,” p. 249-265; for Zenobia’s control of Egypt and Arabia, see Zosimus, New History, I.50-3; Kruecher, “Die Regierungszeit Aurelians,” p. 255-274; Bowerstock, Roman Arabia, p. 131-137. For a good synopsis of the campaign fought by Aurelian, see Southern, The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, p. 115-118). The final battle was fought at Emesa, after which Aurelian captured Palmyra and besieged the city, finally capturing it – and Zenobia, who had fled towards the Euphrates – in the summer of 272 CE (Historia Augusta, Life of Aurelian, 26-28; Southern, The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, p. 116-117; 322, n. 45). The following year, Palmyra staged one further revolt against Roman power, to which Aurelian responded by returning to the city, after which he toured the eastern provinces, “displaying himself as a symbol of Roman order restored,” and minting coins which proclaimed him the “restorer of the east” (restitutor Orientis), in a blatant assertion of the finality of Roman hegemony in the region (Ando, Imperial Rome, p. 212).
With peace now settled in the east, Aurelian turned his attention to the second area of “reunification” necessary for the complete restoration of the orbis Romanum, that of the “Gallic” empire. Of the three provinces that had originally defected from Roman control to that of Postumus, only Gaul and Britain remained, with Spain having returned – in name at least – to Aurelian. The reign of the new ‘emperor’ of the Gallic empire, Tetricus (271-274 CE) was suffering from internal discord that centred on problems of succession and a lack of social consensus around the imperial court, with the result that when Aurelian and his forces approached the town of Augusta Treverorum (modern Trier) in the spring of 274 CE, Tetricus surrendered, having sacrificed his troops in a disastrous battle at Catalaunum (Eutropius, Brief History of Rome, IX.13.1; Aurelius Victor, On the Caesars, 35.4; Zosimus, New History, I.61.2). Inscriptions recognised Aurelian as restitutor Galliarum (“restorer of Gauls”) and restitutor Libertatis (“restorer of freedom”), with John White noting that the overwhelming majority of inscriptions that do so [were] inscribed in Gaul and Germany in 274/275 CE, suggesting that the local communities received the arrival of the “real” emperor enthusiastically (White, The Roman Emperor Aurelian, p. 114). Whether or not the dedications were genuine or motivated by imperial propaganda, it cannot be denied that Aurelian and his army had achieved something extraordinary; barbarians, or at the very least groups hostile to Rome’s power had been defeated at all corners of the empire, and the orbis Romanum had been reunited, or restored, according to the boundaries and frontiers that had existed at the end of the Severan dynasty. Along with the honorific title of restitutor orbis recorded in this inscription, Virius Orfitus, the highest ranking official in the city of Rome, bestowed upon Aurelian the epithets “most brave and most victorious princeps” (fortissimus et victoriosissimus / princeps), in recognition of the exceptional nature of his victories, all of which had occurred in a relatively short space of time.
When he returned to Rome in August or September of 274 CE, Aurelian celebrated a triumph, in which Zenobia and Tetricus were both paraded as examples of the humiliating effectiveness of Roman power (for discussion of the triumph, see White, The Roman Emperor Aurelian, p. 114-117). The inscription set up by Virius Orfitus was part of this same celebration, and recorded for posterity the significance of Aurelian’s achievements; although the restoration of the empire did not also restore security to the office of the emperor, in the sense that it continued to be subject to uprisings from groups of subordinates in the years to come, it can be argued that the forcible reunification of lost territory contributed to the more general restoration of civic pride, order and stability in the Roman empire. Clifford Ando has claimed that the social and economic stability was “largely the work of the next generation” of emperors, but Aurelian’s re-conquest of Palmyra and the surrender of the Gallic empire mark a significant moment of decisive cohesion in a century otherwise characterised by moments of “crisis” (Ando, Imperial Rome, p. 219).

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Bibliographical references: 

Roman Arabia

Bowersock, Glen W.bookRoman ArabiaCambridge, Mass.Harvard University Press1983
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Aurelian hailed as restitutor patriae (CIL VI, 1112)
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Mon, 08/13/2018 - 16:07
Visited: Sat, 04/13/2024 - 01:52

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