In part 26, an aunt of assassinated Caracalla declared her grandson Elagabalus, age 14, emperor of Rome. After defeating the self-proclaimed emperor Macrinus, the new young emperor was initiated into the worship of the Phrygian/Anatolian goddess Cybele, which lead to several controversial marriages, especially when he married a Vestal Virgin, a priestess who had sworn thirty years of service and to maintain her chastity throughout. Elagabalus also claimed to be bisexual, and his open wickedness led to his assassination and he was succeeded by Alexander Severus, who was only 13-years old at the time.
Meanwhile, around 225 AD, the Parthian Empire fell into the hands of the Sasanian Empire. This led to several conflicts with the Roman Empire, as their King Ardashir I, tried to invade Mesopotamia.
After evicting them, Emperor Alexander Severus and his mother moved to Germania Superior to fight off the returning Alemanni. While the military had made huge preparations, Alexander sheepishly had the Alemanni bought off, something that turned their soldiers against them, and they were later murdered by their own men who then proclaimed their general Maximinus as the new Emperor.
Maximinus, being a soldier and in need of funds for his military campaigns in northern Europe, taxed the rich aristocracy heavily, which led him to be outlawed by the Senate. As he returned in outrage, he and his son were assassinated, and their heads carried to Rome.
However, the assassination of Maximinus did not sit well with the Praetorian Guard who stormed the palace, executed the involved members of the senate, and proclaimed Gordian III, age 13, as the new emperor.
In 240 AD, the Roman Empire was threatened on several fronts and tribes in northwest Germania, known as the Franks, were raiding the Rhine frontier.
Meanwhile, the mystic Mani, the founder of Manichaeism in 216 AD (part 25,) proclaimed himself a prophet at the court of King Ardashir I, and Manichaeism began to spread throughout the entire Sassanid Persian Empire.
In 241 AD, Prince Shapur I succeeded his father Ardashir I as king and ruler of the Sassanid Empire and immediately began expanding the empire in India.
In 242 AD, Roman Emperor Gordian III began a campaign against King Shapur I, and the Greek philosopher Plotinus joined him in the hopes of obtaining first-hand knowledge of Persian and Indian philosophies.
In 243 AD, the Roman army commanded by Timesitheus defeated the Sassanids at Resaena (modern Syria.) King Shapur I retreats to the Sassanid Empire, giving up all the territories he has conquered.
As Timesitheus dies under suspicious circumstances, Emperor Gordian III appoints Philip the Arab as his new praetorian prefect and then proceeded with his campaign in Mesopotamia.
In early 244 AD, Emperor Gordian III was assassinated by mutinous soldiers while staying in Zaitha (Mesopotamia.) Philip the Arab, who had been bought by the Sassanids and planned the assassination, including that of Timesitheus, declared himself co-emperor, and made a controversial peace with the Sassanian Empire, withdrawing from their territory and giving King Shapur I 500,000 gold pieces.
On his return to Rome, Philip the Arab was recognized by the Roman Senate as the new Roman Emperor with the honorific title of Augustus. He immediately nominated his son Philippus, age 6, with the title of Caesar, and made him heir to the throne.
The Greek philosopher Plotinus escaped the bloodshed and when back in Rome, he founded his Neoplatonist school and attracted disciples like Porphyry, Castricius Firmus, and Eustochius of Alexandria. Neoplatonism was a version of Platonic philosophy formed out of Hellenistic (ancient Greek) philosophy and religion.
In 247 AD, Rome became 1,000 years old. The 1,000th anniversary was commemorated with animal sacrifices and theatrical performances held for three days and three nights, known as the Ludi Saeculares (the Secular Games.)
Meanwhile, the Goths moved in on the lower Danube frontier as they invaded present-day Ukraine and Romania.
In 249 AD, Roman General and politician Trajan Decius ended several revolts in Moesia and Pannonia. Loyal legionaries proclaimed him emperor, and he led them into Italy. During the ensuing Battle of Verona, Decius defeated and killed Emperor Philip the Arab, claiming the title of Emperor with the support of the senate.
During 244 to 249 AD, the silver content of the Roman denarius had fallen to about 15 percent, down from 28 percent under Gordian III.
In 250 AD, Trajan Decius made a controversial edict, a new disguised persecution of Christians, where he ordered all inhabitants of the Roman empire to make sacrifices before the magistrates in honor to the Roman gods and the well-being of the emperor. Of course, this went against the beliefs of the Christians and many of them refused to perform the sacrifice. As a result, an unknown number of Christians were executed or died in prison. Others went into hiding, whilst many apostatized and performed the ceremonies. The effects on Christians were long-lasting, as it caused tension between those who had performed the sacrifices and those who had not and managed to survive.
Pope Fabian was killed for refusing the sacrifice and was succeeded by Pope Cornelius.
In 251 AD, the Goths defeated Emperor Trajan Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus, in Dobruja (Moesia.)
In Rome, Hostilian, son of Decius, succeeded his father, while Gallus was proclaimed Emperor by the military. While Gallus officially accepted Hostilian as co-emperor, his loyal servants in Rome later poisoned and killed Hostilian. His death was blamed on an outbreak of a “plague,” which allegedly had begun around this time (we will get to that in a bit.)
Gallus then proceeded to make peace with the Goths, permitting them to keep their plunder, and offered them a bribe not to return.
Meanwhile in Brittania, the Roman Britain continued to decline as the Germanic tribes of the Franks and Saxons, whose homelands were in Friesland and the Low Countries, made raids around the southeast coast.
Also, with his former ally Philip the Arab now being dead, the Sassanid King Shapur I ordered an invasion of Syria, with the intent of finally capturing the city of Antioch.
In 252 AD, the Persian King Shapur I defeated the Roman army (70,000 men) at Barbalissos in Syria. Shapur I then continued with Armenia where he appointed Artavazd VI as the new Armenian puppet king.
In 253 AD, the power struggle within the Roman Empire continued, as it had for the last century. The legions who had campaigned against the Goths on the Danube elected Marcus Aemilius Aemilianus as new emperor, but he is declared an ‘enemy of the state’ by the senate. However, he went on and defeated his opponent emperor Gallus in battle, and was then approved by the senate as he agreed to move towards Thrace to fight the invading Persians.
His success was short-lived however, and he was murdered after three months and replaced by the new emperor Publius Valerianus, age 60. Valerianus gives his son Gallienus the title Augustus and the Roman Empire is split in two; his son Gallienus taking control of the West and Valerianus ruling the East, where the empire faced the Persian threat.
Meanwhile, Pope Cornelius who had succeeded Pope Fabian, was sent into exile. He is succeeded by Pope Lucius I, who is arrested within days and also exiled.
In 254 AD, the ‘Crisis of the Third Century’ was becoming apparent for the Roman Empire as they were almost surrounded by enemies. The Germanic Franks were spread along the Middle Rhine, the Alemanni along the upper Rhine and Danube, the Goths invaded the lower Danube provinces, and the Marcomanni held the provinces at Noricum and Raetia. And in the eastern provinces, the Sassanid Persians continued to plunder and advance.
In 255 and 256 AD, King Shapur I of the Sasanian Empire invaded Mesopotamia and Syria. He conquered and plundered Antioch, destroyed Dura-Europos, and sacked the Anatolian city of Zeugma on the Euphrates.
Cities in the Roman Empire began building walls as a defense as their borders began to crumble.
It was during this time, in the early- and mid-250s, the alleged “Plague of Cyprian” was said to had taken place, killing about 310,000 people during a period of approximately 13 years.
While we now know that plagues never existed, that disease cannot be transmitted, and that the ‘elite’ used is as a fear-mongering tactic and excuse (as when Gallus had Hostilian killed,) the deaths during this time was not surprising; as most of Europe and North Africa was war-ridden and the Roman Empire was in despair, followed by a lot of trauma-based fear and grief, food shortages, starvation and malnutrition.
Also, the indigenous Berbers of North Africa massacred Roman colonists, and the “plague” was said to cause a lot of death around Alexandria, which encouraged thousands of people to embrace Christianity.
In 257 AD, the wars escalated as the Roman Empire fought back. Emperor Valerianus recovered Antioch in Syria from King Shapur I of Persia. General Aurelian defeated the Goths and brought many prisoners back to Rome. As a result, the remaining Goths built a fleet on the Black Sea and were separated into the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths.
The Roman persecution of Christians continued as Valerianus ordered bishops and priests to sacrifice according to the Roman pagan rituals. He also prohibited Christians, under penalty of death, from meeting at the tombs of their deceased.
In 258 AD, the war efforts take their toll on the Roman Empire and the amount of silver in the Roman currency of the denarius fell below 10%. The economic crisis ruined many craftsmen, tradesmen, and small farmers, who were forced into bartering; while landowners grew richer by buying up cheap land.
Before the end of the year, a second Imperial edict by Valerianus prohibited Christianity in the Roman Empire. This edict divided Christians into four categories: priests, who were to be put to death; senators and equestrians, who were to be stripped of their positions and had their property confiscated; nuns, who were to be exiled; and imperial civil servants, who were condemned to slavery.
In 259 AD, Emperor Valerian led an army (70,000 men) to relieve Edessa, besieged by the forces of Persian King Shapur I. However, due to the economic crisis and food shortages, a lot of legionaries became weakened, ill, and died. Once again, this was blamed on the non-existing ‘Plague of Cyprian.’
Although they confronted each other on the battle field many times, and blood was spilled, the Persian forces were unaffected by this alleged plague.
Ultimately, by 260 AD, the Roman army was defeated and Valerian was taken prisoner by the Persians and sent to Bishapur in Persia (Iran.) The remaining Roman prisoners were used to construct the Band-e Kaisar (“Bridge of Valerian”,) in Shushtar.
Meanwhile, the Alamanni crossed the Alps with 300,000 warriors, but were defeated by Roman legions under Gallienus, who by 260 AD became the sole emperor of Rome.