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The Roman Empire reunited: Aurelian conquers Gaul (274 A.D.)

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The Roman Empire splintered into three entities in the second century. Emperor Aurelian consolidated power, eliminated threats on the frontier and Italy, and defeated the Palmyrene Empire. By 274, Aurelian had reincorporated all but the western fringe of the empire. This “Gallic Empire” was floundering by this point and proved easy pickings for the Romans. In the end, Aurelian decisively defeated the Gallic army after the enemy leader surrendered, which reunited the entirety of the empire.

The Gallic Empire, consisting of Gaul, Britannia, and parts of Hispania and Germania, incorporated in 260 A.D. Barbarian incursions combined with internal Roman strife led to secession. The Romans began to slowly roll back the pretenders and the Gallic Empire encountered internal dissention of its own. Claudius Gothicus conquered parts of Gaul and Hispania realigned with Rome. By 271, Tetricus I ruled the Gallic Empire, but may have been looking for a way to save his life as the empire collapsed around him.

Barbarian tribes severely strained Gallic resources in 272. Tetricus was forced to abandon most of his empire in order to defend Gaul itself. At the same time, parts of the empire switched allegiance to Rome and the new emperor Aurelian. In 273, Tetricus named his son, also named Tetricus, to a senior leadership position. He hoped to unite the empire around the dynasty. However, the two faced internal rebellions in 274 as Aurelian marched on Gaul.

Aurelian eradicated the Gallic Empire in one swoop at the Battle of Chalons. The emperor took Tetricus and his son into custody, returned to Rome, and marched them in his triumph. Tetricus may have surrendered prior to the battle in order to save his own life and the life of his son. This is possible since both men were spared after the war. In fact, Tetricus I became a Roman governor after the triumph. Meanwhile, Aurelian earned the title “Restorer of the World” for his campaigns to reunite the empire.

Aurelian accomplished an amazing, perhaps nearly impossible, task in reuniting the Roman Empire. The entity split into three in the third century before Aurelian, and his predecessor Claudius Gothicus, began to the long process of reunification. Aurelian’s conquest of the Gallic Empire and seduction of Tetricus completed the task. As a result of his efforts, the Roman Empire remained a political unit for another two centuries.

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