The Darling of the World

Part 1: Known Unknown
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Part 1: Known Unknown

One of the most frustrating but important battles to study by far is the Battle of Resaena, which took place in what was then Roman Syria in 243. Other than the fact that Roman and Persian arms clashed with great ferocity when the event took place, literally no known contemporary historians, eastern and western alike, despite the latter's tendencies to describe their so-called third century as the end of the world, shine any details on what truly happened on that fateful day.

The only clear thing is that the army of Shapur I, king of kings of Iran, prevailed over the one led by the able Roman general and praetorian prefect Timesitheus (1).


Shapur being followed by his sons and nobles.

But the consequences, oh, those are described by both sides with vivid detail. Shortly after his victory, Shapur led his army and attacked the great city of Antioch, an important center of trade and capital of Roman Syria. The city fell after a short siege and the victorious men from Iran were described as "ravaging the city's riches and deporting all of its inhabitants" after which the bulk of them crossed the Euphrates back into home territory. However, Antioch itself remained under an occupation force, which showed that the son of Ardashir, perhaps emboldened by his victory and his glorious ancestors, intended to keep the city in his control, rather than just pillage it.

For the historians of the west, Resaena proved to be the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire as they once knew it. For those who hailed from the east, it was the beginning of the rebirth of one of the greatest civilizations to ever exist in the world, after centuries of foreign (Greek) domination and incompetent Arsacid rulers.

Such is the memory of this cataclysmic event, so famous and mysterious at the same time.

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(1) This is the POD. IOTL, Shapur was defeated, and though the Persians later defeated the Romans and prevented them from marching on Ctesiphon at the Battle of Misiche, the King of Kings by then was content with favourable border concessions and an indemnity from emperor Philip the Arab.
 
I appreciate the likes and kind comments everyone. Fair warning though: this time period and the countries involved in it are COMPLETELY outside of my comfort zone, so there's a serious chance that I commit some ridiculous mistake.

If you see anything that seems remotely implausible, please voice your opinion.
 
I appreciate the likes and kind comments everyone. Fair warning though: this time period and the countries involved in it are COMPLETELY outside of my comfort zone, so there's a serious chance that I commit some ridiculous mistake.

If you see anything that seems remotely implausible, please voice your opinion.
fine
 
Part 2: The Fall of Oriens
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Part 2: The Fall of Oriens

One year after the capture of Antioch, and seeing no sign that Rome would even attempt to expel his garrisons from his piece of Syria, Shapur crossed the Euphrates once more with a great army that, according to the most reasonable sources, numbered around 50.000 men at most and also had numerous siege engines, an obvious sign that he intended to completely expel the Romans from the Diocese of Oriens and its fortified urban centers, such as Damascus and Jerusalem, for good. After a short stop in Antioch, to replenish its garrison and protect it from any Roman counterattacks from Anatolia, the Iranian army departed to the south to complete its grand mission of conquest, its first target being Emesa, located about halfway between Antioch and Damascus.

Neither the king nor any of his generals had any idea of what they were up against.

The cataphracts, by far the most famous soldiers of Ancient Iran's military.

Which was... nothing. To their shock, Emesa simply surrendered and opened its gates to the invaders.

Certainly, as a head of state, and therefore connected to a vast network of spies and diplomats, Shapur was aware, to some degree, of the crisis that his adversary was facing, but his astonishment, well remembered by many historians, showed that he didn't know just how severe Rome's internal problems were. Plagued by endless uprisings, invasions and military usurpers, it would take some time until any Roman emperor managed to bring his armies to bear against those led by the King of Kings. The Iranians also hed two powerful allies in the region: the Christians and the Jews, who were generally persecuted and mistreated by the Roman state, eagerly joined of rose up in favour of Shapur, who they saw as, if not a liberator like Cyrus the Great, at least someone who could kick the hated Romans out of their lands.

Aided by such uprisings, Shapur captured Damascus a month or so after Emesa, and continued his march southwards until he reached the gates of Jerusalem, which, despite its long history, was by now primarily a pagan city thanks to emperor Hadrian's remodeling of it roughly a century before. This meant that there was no Jewish or Christian population to throw the Roman garrison out, which forced the Shah to besiege it for an impressive three weeks before its walls were breached and the city stormed. The treatment received by Jerusalem was even worse than the one endured by Antioch, with many riches looted by the victorious soldiers and most of its civilians deported to distant places in Iran. The city would once again be given a new face, but that would take time to occur.


An artist's idea of what a street in Jerusalem may have looked like during the Roman period. Sadly, few structures of the time survived the sack of 244.

By 245, two years after the beginning of the campaign, nearly all of the Levant lay in the hands of Persians, with only the great trading center of Tyre refusing to surrender. The city was located in an island, and since Eranshahr had no navy in the Mediterranean, there was no way that it could even be besieged. Tyre would remain a stubborn, dangerous thorn on Persia's side for many years.

Finally, on 250 AD, emperor Decius crossed the Cilician Gates at the head of a great army of around 60.000, all ready and eager to expel the Iranians and bring Syria and Palestine back into Roman control (1).


A map of the Levant before Shapur I's conquests. By 250, all of the provinces displayed on it would be under Iranian control, with the exception of Cyprus, Tyre and Cilicia.

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(1) This is a full seven years after the POD. Considering that IOTL Valerian only managed to muster a force to stand up to Shapur seven years after the latter's victory at Barbalissos (253 AD), I don't think this seems unreasonable.
 
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Part 3: The Eagle Strikes Back
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Part 3: The Eagle Strikes Back

Ever since the assassination of emperor Severus Alexander by his own soldiers in 235, the Roman Empire found its internal and external situation going from bad to worse, in a period that became known as the Crisis of the Third Century. The causes for this were many indeed: an army that was becoming increasingly political (not that it ever wasn't, but still) and regularly murdered emperors it didn't like, extreme weather events crippled agricultural production and therefore the economy as a whole, barbarian peoples began to cross the Rhine and the Danube, raiding Gaul and Moesia, and, most importantly, the Sasanian dynasty that now ruled Iran proved itself to be infinitely more dangerous than its Parthian/Arsacid predecessors, as displayed by Shapur's great victory over Timesitheus and his near complete conquest of the Levant in the following years.


The great empire before everything went to hell.

After the disaster at Resaena, emperor Gordian III, an inexperienced seventeen year old, was murdered and replaced by Timesitheus' successor as Praetorian Prefect, Philip the Arab, who had this nickname because he was born in the province of Arabia Petraea. Naturally, he had no interest in seeing his birthplace be overrun by Iranian armies, but he had much more urgent problems closer to home. As the eighth emperor to seize power in just eight years, Philip faced multiple usurpers and barbarian attacks during his ultimately short time in office, the most urgent issue being a large raid launched by the Carpi, who crossed the Danube in an attempt to plunder the cities and fields of Moesia. This problem was worsened by the fact that the army that was destroyed in Syria was composed of garrisons from the Danube and the Rhine, something that left these long borders nearly defenseless.

Seeing a desperately needed opportunity to consolidate his power, Philip immediately departed to Moesia at the head of an army that inflicted several crushing defeats on the invaders, who sued for peace and returned to the north of the Danube. Now given the title of Carpicus Maximus by the Senate, the emperor returned to the Eternal City to much fanfare. However, his position was far from secure, for Shapur's conquest of Syria proved to be a lethal blow to Philip's legitimacy, for no emperor ever lost so much territory to Rome's most stubborn adversary. Thus, he was forced to stay put in Italy, defeating at least five usurpers throughout his reign.


The coins of Silbanacus and Jotapianus, two usurpers who rose up during the reign of Philip the Arab.

As if that weren't enough, the manner in which the Christians and Jews of the Oriens assisted Shapur's army quickly started a new, spontaneous wave of persecution of the followers of these two already marginalized religions, and riots took place in several western cities such as Carthage and Rome itself. Angry mobs marched through the streets and tore apart anyone who seemed to subscribe to the Tanakh (1) or the teachings of Jesus Christ, calling them traitors and many other ethnic slurs. These riots were what finally brought Philip's rule to an end, for he was known for his lenient treatment of Christians and was even suspected of being a closeted one himself. At last, he was murdered on the orders of Gaius Decius, one of his closest allies, on January 246 (2).

Shortly after taking power, Decius issued an edict which demanded that every citizen perform a sacrifice to the gods or be punished by death, a clear attack on the Christians and Jews who lived in the empire (3). Thousands of people who belonged to both religions were executed, with many either becoming martyrs and saints or fleeing to the east, into the comparatively welcoming arms of the realm of the Shahanshah.

After that, and with the Danube frontier temporarily under control thanks to his predecessor, Decius started to plan a counterattack against Persia, one that would be completely unexpected by his adversary. Arriving on Asia Minor sometime on 247, he led a large army into Caesarea, but instead of marching right into Syria as expected, the astute emperor instead ordered his soldiers torward Theodosiopolis. From that city, located right on the border between the two giant empires, Decius launched a massive raid that utterly devastated Armenia, with the Roman soldiers marching as far as Artaxata and Thospia, which were thoroughly sacked in retaliation for what was done to Antioch and Jerusalem. The Iranian armies, which were extremely reliant on their cavalry, were easily brushed aside on the mountainous terrain in which the campaign was enacted, something that greatly favoured the Roman infantry.


A map of the Roman-Iranian border before the war.

Taking thousands of prisoners and loot thanks to this daring campaign, Decius was given the name Trajan by the Senate, no easy feat considering that the original one was quite likely Rome's best emperor. And he intended to do no less than to live up to his namesake and sack Ctesiphon, the capital of Iran, just as Trajan did 130 years ago. If he was to have any hope of doing that, however, he would first have to expel Shapur and his soldiers from Syria.

Thus, he crossed the Cilician Gates on 250, his 60.000 soldiers eager for more battle, booty and glory. These wishes were quickly sated, since Shapur, despite being outnumbered by a sizable amount (he had around 40.000 men under his command) and the constant protests of his generals, who saw a confrontation here as an unnecessary risk and wished to engage Decius' force somewhere else. The two armies met on Seleucia Pieria, right outside Antioch, and engaged each other in battle shortly after.

An artist's impression of the Battle of Seleucia Pieria.

This was, without a doubt, the worst thing Shapur could have done. The Iranian army, already demoralized thanks to the events in Armenia, was routed without much effort and suffered severe casualties, the Shahanshah himself suffering an injury on the thigh from a enemy sword which gave him a limp for the rest of his life. Out of the 40.000 men he originally had, around 12.000 were either killed, wounded or captured. The Roman army, already in high spirits, seemed to recover the invincibility it once possessed back in its greatest days, the ghosts of the humiliation at Resaena finally put to rest.

Decius entered Antioch in triumph shortly after this magnificent victory, but he had little time to celebrate. With the Iranian army by now in full retreat, the emperor hoped to catch Shapur before his troops could return to friendly territory. Thus, he left the Syrian capital as fast as he could, and made a beeline towards the Euphrates, not bothering to send troops to the south.

If he succeeded in this endeavor, Ctesiphon would be his.

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Notes:

(1) The Hebrew Bible.

(2) IOTL, Philip the Arab ruled from 244 to 249. Here, thanks to the POD, he takes power and is overthrown earlier.

(3) IOTL, the Jews were exempted from the Decian Persecution. Thanks to their support of Shapur ITTL, they are also targeted by the state as punishment for their insubordination.
 
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Part 4: Lord of the West
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Part 4: Lord of the West

After the Battle of Seleucia, the battered and demoralized Iranian army made a forced beeline towards friendly territory on the other side of the Euphrates, while the Romans, though tired, had high spirits and were in a tight pursuit, hoping to destroy what was left of their foe before they could recover. In the end, Shapur crossed the great river and reached the city of Callinicum, located on its eastern bank, just hours before Decius arrived, much to his relief. However, he wasn't out of the woods just yet, far from it, and although according to some historians he initially wanted to force a battle outside of the city and prevent the Roman force from continuing his pursuit, he was either convinced or forced by his generals to retreat back to the fortress of Nisibis, the gateway to Mesopotamia, lest the Iranians be completely crushed under the weight of the much larger enemy army.

This proved to be the wisest approach, for Decius had a great number of scouts and spies under his employ, and when they reported that the King of Kings had crossed the Euphrates a few hours ahead of him, he was disappointed but not furious. He had no reason to be, since he knew that his adversary was demoralized and broken, thus being unable to mount an effective counterattack. If the reports that Shapur and his army were fleeing to Nisibis were true, he still had a chance to force the Shah to surrender by trapping him and his soldiers inside the fortress' walls (1). Feeling secure that his army was safe for now, he allowed his soldiers to take a few much needed hours of rest.

And that was when a new player stepped in the game.

The ruins of ancient Palmyra. The modern city is located a few miles to the east.

A ragtag force of mercenaries -- couldn't have been more than 20.000 men -- descended on the Roman camp in the middle of the night like hungry wolves, spreading confusion fear and death on a massive scale, and brought the Roman army to its knees before it even had a chance to fight back (2). The person behind the ambush that became known as the Battle of the Euphrates, even though it really wasn't a battle at all, was a man named Odainat, or Odaenathus if one prefers western sources. Belonging to an aristocratic family that was given Roman citizenship in the 190s, Odainat became the autonomous ruler of the great city of Palmyra, one of Syria's most important urban centers, comparable to places such as Damascus and maybe even Antioch, sometime in the 240s.

As the giant empires clashed right next to his dominions, Odainat steadily gathered money, power and soldiers while the great powers were busy beating each other into a pulp. Finally, after years of careful planning and consolidating his hold over the region he governed, the ruler of Palmyra made an extremely risky gamble that paid off very handsomely and gave him tens of thousands of prisoners, including emperor Decius. Wasting no time after his great victory, he quickly seized all of the Levant for himself, and contacted the King of Kings, who was reportedly quite shocked when he heard what happened.

In a grand ceremony that took place in Callinicum, Odainat announced his submission to Shapur as an inferior king, similar to the ones that ruled other parts of the Iranian Empire, and handed him the once mighty Decius in chains.

The kneeling Odainat presents Decius to his new liege, Shapur I.

Decius never returned to Roman soil, dying under the Shah's captivity in 260. Before Shapur could muster his armies for a new campaign, Odainat sent his armies first to Anatolia and then into Egypt, finally achieving his aim of becoming a powerful ruler in his own right. His domains, still nominally under the suzerainty of the Shahanshah but de facto independent, streched from the Bosporus and the Hellespont in the north to Syene (3) and Berenice to the south.

Shapur had unwittingly replaced his old enemy with a far more dangerous threat.

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Notes:

(1) Ironically, this is almost exactly how Valerian was defeated at Edessa: surrounded by the Persians, he was forced to surrender.

(2) Odaenathus was the guy who created the Palmyrene Empire, although he always declared himself to be a subject of the Roman Empire, even though his domains were completely autonomous. IOTL, he forced Shapur's forces back after their great victory at Edessa by ambushing them as they crossed the Euphrates River, and he came close to the gates of Ctesiphon a couple of times. He was assassinated in Heraclea Pontica in 267.

(3) Modern day Aswan.
 
Part 5: Peace at Last
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Part 5: Peace at Last



After the Battle of the Euphrates, Shapur I never embarked on a western campaign again, content on the fact that the Roman Empire would never again be a threat to Mesopotamia and its great jewel, the Iranian capital of Ctesiphon. The long war begun by Ardashir I shortly after his reunification of Iran (something that made hin be known as "Ardashir the Unifier") in the 230s had been brought to a victorious conclusion, and gave the state treasury some much needed loot and tens upon tens of thousands of prisoners that were settled all over the great realm ruled by the Sasanian dynasty. Many of these prisoners were more than just soldiers, they were artisans, traders, craftsmen, among many other professions, or were just arms to use as hard labour.

They were quickly put to work in multiple public building projects all over Iran, building canals, palaces, roads, aqueducts, temples and many other infrastructure works from Asoristan (in Mesopotamia, where Ctesiphon is located) all the way to far off Sogdiana and Transoxiana. This greatly increased the trend towards urbanization that had started since the overthrow of the Arsacid dynasty by Ardashir, who had founded as many as ten new cities during his reign. The growth of urban centers also strengthened the Sasanian monarchy, since instead of being largely autonomous of the central government like they were during Parthian rule, they served as the residence of bureaucrats, garrison centers and were seen as direct royal property.


A fire temple located in a wealthy neighborhood of Istakhr that was built during the reign of Shapur I, over a thousand years ago (1).

Shapur himself founded three cities as far as we know, Gundishapur, Bishapur and Nishapur (the last one still exists today), but the bulk of the riches acquired from the war were invested in already existing ones, such as Merv, Istakhr and Samarkand, but none of them received as many investments and public works as the crown jewel of the Sasanian Empire, Ctesiphon, which was well in the way to become the largest city in the world outside of China by the end of the 3rd century. Speaking of China, the reunification of said country after decades of division into three kingdoms led to an increase in trade between the east and the west, something that directly benefited Iran thanks to its strategic position in the Silk Road.

Iran was diverse not only ethnically speaking, but also religiously, with Zoroastrians (the state religion) in Pars and other places, Christians that for now were located mostly in Mesopotamia but were growing in numbers rapidly (the persecutions in Rome caused a large migration of Christians and Jews to the east), Jews, Buddhists (particularly in the eastern regions) and several local religions. Shapur's tolerant attitude contributed greatly towards this diversity, as did his support of Mani, a prophet who founded a new religion (Manichaeism) that was gaining new adherents extremely fast and had a place in the Shahanshah's court since 242. Unsurprisingly, the realm also spoke many languages, the most common of them being Middle Persian, Middle Aramaic, Greek and Parthian (though their usage was decreasing fast) along with several other regional ones.


A gold coin showing Shapur's face on one side and the Zoroastrian eternal flame on the other, showing who was the state's favoured religion.

It is important to note that, while Sasanian Iran was more centralized than its Arsacid predecessor, the King of Kings was not an absolute monarch (it would take a few centuries for that to happen) and his power was nowhere near that of a Roman emperor. Any sensible shah, and Shapur was definitely one of them, had to rule with the nobles, clergy and various sub-kings that dotted Iran and regularly sent tributes to Ctesiphon, especially the Seven Great Houses (Ispahbudhan, Varaz, Karen, Mihran, Spandiyadh, Zik and Suren) who had immense power ever since the days of the Arsacids. In fact, the great general Rustahm Suren, the one who crushed a Roman army at the battle of Carrhae centuries ago, belonged to one of these ancient dynasties (2). In order to raise an army, for example, the shah needed their permission, and if they disliked a particular monarch they could depose him very, very quickly.

Speaking of nobles and lesser kings, thanks to his war with Rome there was now a powerful new one sitting right next to Ctesiphon and Armenia: Odainat. Shapur immediatly began to despise this arrogant upstart, fearing that he would use his immense military power and wealth to interfere on the imperial succession and put a puppet on the throne and become the most powerful man in Iran. Though he sent a regular amount of tribute to the King of Kings, he had infinitely more power than any of the Great Houses combined and ruled his kingdom as an autonomous monarch, whose realm was far more centralized in Iran, thanks to its Roman roots. The king of Palmyra never tried to officialy end the Shahanshah's nominal authority over his territories, and even served as a buffer to the constant Gothic raids in Anatolia, but everyone knew who was the top dog in his domains.

An alleged bust of Odainat.

His fears that Odainat could interfere in the imperial succession were proven right when the crown prince Hormizd, who was also king of Armenia, suddenly died on June 265 after a banquet (3). Though the King of King and his allies immediately suspected that Odainat had his son poisoned, there was little he could do: if he tried to assassinate the Palmyrene king, there would probably be a massive civil war, and he didn't think that the Iranian army was ready to face such a conflict after the disaster at Seleucia Pieria just yet. All he could do was appoint a new heir and make sure that he had plenty of personal security.

Shapur I, King of Kings of Iran, died just one year later at the youngish age of fifty-one, prematurely aged thanks to his long years war against Rome (4). Despite the rather suspicious date, it is likely that it was a natural death, since the Shahanshah was suffering from health issues for a few years before it happened, according to historians, and none of them mentioned foul play as a cause. He was also reportedly broken by his heir's death, so one must account for that.

He was survived by his two remaining sons: Bahram, the oldest one but ranked below his brothers thanks to his mother's low birth, and the youngest, Narseh, who took Hormizd's place as king of Armenia after his assassination. Neither of them had received the title of crown prince.

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Notes:

(1) The temple in the photo is actually located in Yazd, and was built on 470 AD, two centuries after Shapur's death. Still pretty darn old.

(2) Best known as Surena.

(3) IOTL, Hormizd succeeded Shapur as King of Kings on 270, but died the following year. His successor, Bahram (the one mentioned above) had Mani executed.

(4) IOTL, Shapur died on 270.
 
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Why is the last update called "Peace at Last" if the Roman Empire and the Sasanian Empire have not signed the peace yet?
 
Part 6: No Hope
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Part 6: No Hope

After the defeat and capture of emperor Decius on the banks of the Euphrates, the Roman Empire went from one catastrophe to the other. Herennius Etruscus, Decius' son, was left in the west as a caretaker while his father reconquered Syria, and proclaimed himself emperor after the news arrived to the Eternal City his father's ignoble fate, only to be quickly murdered on the following day. After him came his brother Hostilian, and then Licinianus, Regalianus, Aemilianus and Gallienus, sometimes ruling at the same time, all in the span of three to four years (1). Odaenati's rapid expansion throughout the east caused tremendous damage in Rome, since it denied any potential emperor or usurper the great riches of Anatolia and especially its coastal cities, such as Ephesus and and Nicaea.

The worst consequences came from the loss of Egypt, since the grain that came from said province was critical to ensure that Rome's population, which was once close to a million back in the city's glory days, didn't starve. The Cura Annonae, or grain dole, a supply of grain that was subsidized by the state, was abolished, which caused riots and fires that contributed to the idea that the empire, and therefore the world, were about to end, an idea that was often repeated by historians of the time. To make a bad situation even worse, on top of all the backstabbing, coups, riots and famine, a plague broke out, one that became known as the Plague of Cyprian, named after Saint Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, who described the terrible disease and its consequences in great detail. The epidemic, whose pathogen is still unknown, was said to have killed at least 5.000 people per day in Rome alone, nevermind in the rest of the empire.


An artist's impression of the Plague of Cyprian.

As the men who could have saved the empire were too busy tearing each other apart to see who could control the biggest piece of the gigantic rotting corpse, more and more barbarians were gathering on the borders of the Danube and the Rhine, especially the former. The most powerful of them were the Goths, a germanic people that originated in Scandza (2) migrated to Scythia and the shores of the Euxine Sea on the course of two centuries, where they subjugated the Sarmatians, and since the 230s mounted raids into Moesia and Thrace that became more and more destructive. On 250 they launched their biggest attack yet, led by their king Cniva, and begun their campaign by capturing the fortress of Novae.

Thanks to the situation back in Rome, the only opposition that Cniva faced in this raid was from the regional governors on his way, which were nowhere near enough to stop him and his army. After Novae, the next target was Nicopolis, which fell and was sacked after a short siege, and then Beroe, which was further to the south, before turning back northeast and capturing Marcianopolis, all in the span of a few months. The complete lack of any opposition convinced the Gothic king that it would never come, and with new bands of all sorts of tribes, such as the Heruli, all eager for new glory and plunder on the south of the Danube, Cniva decided to stay and carve a new kingdom for himself and his people on the Haemus, rather than return to the north with the loot that he already had (3).


A relief from the third century showing Roman legionaries massacring a Gothic army. The reality couldn't be more different.

The following year, the Goths and their allies captured Philippopolis, capital of the province of Thrace, and turned the city into the capital of their new state. From this new conquest, they subjugated the rest of the province as far as Byzantium and the Hellespont, and lauched new attacks on Macedonia, Thessaly, Odainat's domains in Asia Minor, particularly Nicomedia and Cyzicus, and even managed to sack Thessalonica before breaking through Thermopylae and plundering Boeotia and parts of Attica. The imperial response only took place on 253, when emperor Regalianus finally managed to raise an army large enough to face the barbarians, and by then the invaders were far too well entrenched to be easily driven out.

The armies met each other on Naissus, with 40.000 Romans having to face an equal or larger number of Goths. It was a catastrophe for the empire, since the defenders were tired and demoralized thanks to the situation back home (the very idea of an organized society seeming to fall apart around them) and it is quite likely that at least some among the imperial ranks were sick with the plague. Regalianus never returned to Italy, for he was murdered by an enraged soldier as he was retreating from the battlefield, his body later being found and cut to pieces by the barbarians.

The defeat at Naissus was when the fall of the Roman Empire became a certainty, and all it was lacking now was for someone to deliver the coup de grace and destroy the Eternal City for good. Cniva wasn't up to the task, for he was too busy consolidating his hold over the kingdom he created and mounting new raids all over Northern Greece, the Aegean and the Eastern Meditarranean to do it. No, the people who would do it were clearly the Alemanni, a Germanic nation that lived in the upper reaches of the Rhine who, under their king named Chrocus, launched an invasion of Northern Italy in 258, crossing the Alps and sacking Mediolanum. After that, Chrocus and his army marched to the south and invaded Etruria, sacking several cities in there before marching into Latium.


A gold coin of emperor Gallienus, the poor sod who had to defend what was left of the empire against impossible odds.

The man tasked to stop this invasion was Gallienus, son of Valerian, a respected senator and noble who succumbed to the Plague of Cyprian a few years ago (4). Aware that the once invincible Roman army was by now utterly depleted thanks to the plague, famine and endless infighting, the emperor rallied together all the strong fighting men that the Eternal City still had, many of whom were civilians, farmers and labourers rather than soldiers, and gave them the few weapons and armor that were left in order to prepare for what he knew would certainly be his last battle. These last few Romans were all that was left between the Alemanni and what little was left of the proud, unguarded city that was once the center of the known world.

The battle that would decide the fate of the Roman Empire took place on the southern shore of Lake Volsinii (5), sometime in 258 or 259. Aware that he and his soldiers were all going to die in the confrontation (they would rather commit suicide than be captured), it is then that, after seeing the large barbarian host marching towards them, Gallienus uttered a phrase that would never be forgotten by history:

"Men, I am not ordering you to fight, I am ordering you to die." (6)

After these "encouraging" words that perfectly described their predicament, the Last of the Romans charged with all the strength they had left towards the Alemanni army, Gallienus leading the attack. They were going to dine in hell tonight, and they would take as many of the barbarians with them.

They didn't.

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(1) IOTL, Licinianus and Regalianus were unsuccessful usurpers. Here, since the situation is even worse, they actually manage to take power for a few months.

(2) Scandinavia.

(3) IOTL, Cniva returned to the north of the Danube even though he managed to kill emperor Decius at the Battle of Abritus. ITTL, since his initial advance is virtually unopposed, he chooses to stay.

(4) IOTL, Valerian never caught any disease and managed to become emperor. He ended up being defeated and captured by Shahanshah Shapur I at the Battle of Edessa, dying somewhere in Iran a few years later.

(5) Lake Bolsena.

(6) Mustafa Kemal, future president of Turkey, was the one who came up with this quote in the middle of the Battle of Gallipoli, in 1915.
 
Why is the last update called "Peace at Last" if the Roman Empire and the Sasanian Empire have not signed the peace yet?
With the Goths running amok in the Balkans and Odaenathus in Anatolia, Syria and Egypt, it will take quite some time before the Romans and the Sasanians even get in contact with each other again.

Interesting take on Odaenathus. I always found the lack of Palmyrene timelines on this site a missed opportunity. Will Zenobia do anything?
I was thinking about just killing him off, but he's just too cool for that. As for Zenobia, I don't know what I'll do with her since I haven't planned that far ahead just yet. And since Vaballathus won't take the throne as an infant, I don't know what to do with her just yet.
 
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