Aurelian assumed the imperial purple in 270 A.D. in the midst of the Crisis of the Third Century. The crisis broke the Roman Empire apart. The western world split into three distinct entities through secession. Aurelian secured Italy and the Balkans before turning eastward on the so-called Palmyrene Empire. The Palmyrene entity separated from Rome in 260 and lasted a dozen years. Aurelian reconquered the territory and reincorporated it into the Roman Empire in 272-273 as part of his ongoing efforts to reunite and consolidate the old Roman Empire.
Queen Zenobia ruled the “Palmyrene Empire” from the city of Palmyra in the east. The splinter entity consisted of Asia Minor, Palestine, and Egypt. Egypt was particularly important to the Romans because it supplied a large quantity of grain to the city. Zenobia cut off Rome from the grain leading to a shortage. Aurelian moved on the eastern empire just as soon as he was secure.
In most cases, Zenobia’s cities surrendered and resistance crumbled upon the sight of the Roman legions. The few locations that resisted were completely destroyed. On the other hand, cities that surrendered were spared. In just six months, the Palmyrene Empire faded into history. Aurelian also retook Egypt, but Palmyra revolted forcing the emperor to return. This time, Aurelian allowed his troops free reign to loot and run wild in the streets.
The would-be Queen Zenobia and her son were captured and forced to march in Aurelian’s triumph. They were living parade floats for Roman citizens to mock and ridicule in the streets. Meanwhile, the grain shipments resumed. The emperor’s men handed out free bread to the people demonstrating to the people who restored the empire and the food supply. For his efforts, the Senate awarded Aurelian the title “Restorer of the East.”
Aurelian easily restored the eastern provinces to the Roman Empire in 272-273 A.D. The so-called Palmyrene Empire folded quickly in the face of the imperial onslaught. Aurelian reunited most of the empire, but the western provinces centering on modern France remained outside of imperial control. The emperor turned west in 274 and eventually conquered Gaul in the same manner he took the east.