If you are interested in learning more about the history of the Roman Empire, you might have come across the name of Postumus, a general who became the emperor of a breakaway state known as the Gallic Empire. But who was Postumus and what did he achieve?
Postumus was born in Gaul, probably in the town of Deuso, near modern-day Diessen. He was of Batavian origin, a Germanic tribe that had settled in the Rhine delta and served as loyal allies of Rome. He rose through the ranks of the army and became a commander of the Roman forces in Gaul and Germania. He was also granted an honorary consulship by the emperor Valerian, who trusted him with the defense of the Rhine frontier.
In 260 AD, Valerian was captured by the Persians in the east, leaving his son Gallienus as the sole ruler of the empire. Gallienus faced multiple threats from barbarian invasions and internal rebellions, and he left his young son Saloninus and his praetorian prefect Silvanus in charge of Gaul. Postumus was also stationed in Gaul, and he led a successful campaign against a Juthungian army that had raided Italy and returned with prisoners and booty. Postumus distributed the spoils to his troops, but Saloninus and Silvanus demanded that he hand them over to the imperial treasury. Postumus refused, and his soldiers proclaimed him emperor.
Postumus marched on Cologne, where Saloninus and Silvanus were based, and besieged them. After a few days, he breached the walls and killed them both, along with their supporters. He then consolidated his power over Gaul, Germania, Britannia, and Hispania, forming a separate state that historians call the Gallic Empire. He minted his own coins, appointed his own officials, and built his own monuments. He also defended the Rhine from further barbarian attacks and maintained good relations with the local Gallic aristocracy and clergy.
Postumus ruled for about nine years, during which he faced several challenges from Gallienus and other usurpers. He managed to repel Gallienus’ attempts to reconquer Gaul in 265 AD, but he also had to deal with rivals such as Laelianus, who briefly seized power in Mainz in 269 AD. Postumus regained control of Mainz, but he refused to let his troops sack the city as a punishment for its rebellion. This angered his soldiers, who mutinied and killed him. He was succeeded by Marcus Aurelius Marius, who only lasted a few weeks before being killed by Victorinus, another general who claimed the throne.
Postumus is regarded as one of the most successful and competent emperors of the Gallic Empire. He preserved Roman civilization and culture in the western provinces during a time of crisis and chaos. He also fostered a sense of Gallic identity and pride among his subjects, who saw him as a protector and a benefactor. He was revered by some Christian writers as a pious and just ruler, who respected their faith and granted them privileges. His coins and inscriptions show him as a loyal follower of Hercules, a popular deity among the Batavians and other Germanic tribes.
Postumus’ legacy lasted beyond his death. His successors continued to rule over the Gallic Empire until 274 AD, when Aurelian reunited it with the rest of the Roman Empire. However, some historians argue that Postumus’ rebellion paved the way for the eventual emergence of independent Gallic kingdoms in the 5th century AD, such as those of Syagrius and Clovis. Postumus’ name also inspired later rulers who claimed descent from him or adopted his title, such as Constantine III in Britain or Julian II in Gaul.
Postumus was a remarkable figure in Roman history, who created his own empire out of rebellion and ambition. He showed great military and political skills, as well as cultural sensitivity and religious tolerance. He was admired by many of his contemporaries and remembered by some of his successors. He deserves more attention and recognition than he usually gets in modern accounts of the Roman Empire.