Which title do you prefer?

  • The Neo-Achaemenid Empire: a bigger Sassanid Persia

    Votes: 3 9.7%
  • The two eyes of the world: a bigger Sassanid Persia

    Votes: 26 83.9%
  • Ambivalent

    Votes: 2 6.5%

  • Total voters
  • Poll closed .
Romans are really living up the crisis, I can only imagine the stress the current emperor is going through at having to deal with the seemingly imminent collapse of the empire
Romans are really living up the crisis, I can only imagine the stress the current emperor is going through at having to deal with the seemingly imminent collapse of the empire
The emperor isn’t really doing anything about the chaos in the east right now, as you’ve probably noticed. That’s because he’s dealing with his own problems back home. Things elsewhere in the empire are going better than in Anatolia and Greece, but not by that much

I mean it’s a very low bar. How could you possibly do worse than Cappadocia right now? Maybe if a nuke were dropped on it?
Great chapter!
How is India, by the way?
I talked about some of this back in chapter 5, but I'll repeat it here and add a few more details. In general, not much in India has changed yet from OTL, and I'm mostly summarizing OTL history here. Sassanid diplomatic contact with India has only recently begun with Narses conquering the Indus river region in 262, which is as far as Persian territory extends. The entire southeast is ruled by the Sakan shah, which right now is Narses (you can see his territory on the map). He basically only controls the land and maritime (mostly maritime) trade routes, and all the various tribes there in what is now Pakistan are free to govern themselves if they pay him tribute. What's especially important to him is the Indus river delta, Persia's big Indian trading emporium.

The biggest kingdom the Persians border is the Indo-Scythian western satraps, in modern Gujarat. They're currently ruled by king Rudrasena II, who is busy reconquering land in the Deccan plateu and restoring his kingdom to a new level of prosperity. Rurdrasena pays Persia a small tribute in exchange for peace (not supported by the historical record OTL, thats's my own assumption) and relations remain cordial. North of them are the kingdom of the Abhiras, who very little is known about and don't seem to have been directly impacted by Persia. In modern Punjab, the Kushan rump state is currently ruled by Kanishka III, though at some point in the early 270's he dies and his son Vasudeva II takes over. The conquest of the rest of their kingdom has hit them hard, as they're forced to debase their coinage, and on the edges of the kingdom mercenaries and warlords are splitting off and gaining independence. Their exact relationship with the Sassanids is unclear and will be explored, but right now they are tributaries of Kushanshah (which by the way is what I'll be calling the Kushano-Sassanid kingdom from now on, since the latter name is a mouthful). So while the Sassanids are not directly politically involved in India, their shadow can be felt.

There's more to be said about economic relations between Persia and India (which is their main interaction), but I'll save that for a future chapter. I have some plans for how India's history will change later on.
progression, regression, and fracturing

A map of the Roman Empire just before the millenium crisis, credit to Ian Mladyov. Note that this map doesn't reflect border changes after the POD, this is just for reference to help you understand where a given geographic location is. An updated map of the Roman Empire is coming soon.

Chapter 7: progression, regression, and fracturing:

After losing the first Persian war, emperor Gallienus’s days were numbered. His commanders were mad at him for pouring valuable manpower and money into preventing the fall of Egypt, which failed to do anything but deprive Rome of those resources. Within the span of one year, between the summers of 1,012-1,013 AUC (259-260), four usurpers, Ingenuus, Regalianus, Macrianus, and Postumus all claimed his throne. Gallienus, together with his chief commander Manius Acilius Aureolus, defeated all of these usurpers, before Aureolus turned around and killed the emperor in the fall of 1,013, likely because his popularity had gone through the floor after losing to Persia. He reigned for seven years, five of which spent as co-emperor to his now captive father, and was in his forties. Gallienus died too soon for his legacy to be anything other than overwhelmingly negative. He wasn’t a bad emperor, just another corpse in the pile left by the crisis, who completely failed when cut off from daddy's support (1).

When emperor Aureolus dawned the purple, he still had one usurper left to deal with. Controlling Gaul, Hispania, and Britannia was Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus, who had no desire to march on Rome, but instead declared himself emperor of Gaul, complete with his own senate and praetorian guard. Aureolus initially invaded Gaul to put the revolt down but had to retreat after being struck by an arrow. Ultimately, since Postumus wasn’t attacking him, he decided a large chunk of his empire being in open revolt was the least of his worries.

Postumus’s elevation was meant to be an ad-hoc response to the raiding in northern Gaul, where flooding along the lowlands had caused significant damage to fortifications, weakening the frontier. In this he actually achieved great success, earning him the title Germanicus Maximus. This new Gallic Empire, although originally intended to be temporary, would never again be fully reincorporated into the Roman Empire. This was one of the many turning points in the 11th century, the point where the Empire first split into east and west.


Aureolus was of Dacian plebian origin, being among the first of many generals recruited for their military talent, not bloodline. As emperor, his strategy was delegation. His brother, Manius Acilius Glabrius, was declared co-emperor and put in charge of Dacia and the Danube. Callistus took over Anatolia. Postumus unofficially ruled the western provinces. Aureolus’s new praetorian prefect, Volusianus, became responsible for administering Africa and Italy (2). Meanwhile, Aureolus would hyperfocus specifically on pacifying the Rhine frontier. Volusianus took on all of the administrative responsibilities of an emperor, while Aureolus spent his entire reign commanding armies.

He enacted several crucial military reforms, including creating cavalry units which could travel quickly around the empire, stationed in Italy for the time being. These were Rome’s first cavalry exclusive units, whose more mobile forces would be better at stopping raiders. In addition, with the Danube frontier practically gone, he began work on defenses in Pannonia that would prevent raiders in the Balkans from reaching the Rhineland. He also banned senators from military service, essentially turning the army into a meritocracy, which he filled with capable men from mostly humble plebian origins, recruited mostly from Illyria. These highly skilled Illyrian generals would continue to be the backbone of the Roman military for decades, as well as being the source of several emperors (3).

On the Rhine, Aureolus wanted not only to stop barbarian raids, but to debilitate the tribes, make it so he didn’t have to worry about them for years and could deal with other matters. He no longer tried to stop them from crossing the border, but after their raids, when they were encumbered with booty, he prevented their reentry into barbarian territory. He made deals with several barbarian chiefs, such as the Alemannic king Chrocus, who was allowed safe passage to Aquitaine where he could raid all he liked in exchange for leaving Aureolus’s territory alone. He launched several offensive campaigns across the Rhine, burning their villages and taking captives. Germanic armies were often quite small, so by destroying their manpower he debilitated them.

Aureolus also had to face severe economic issues. Money was running dry, and the complete loss of Egypt, combined with climate change leading to more unpredictable harvests, as well as revolts and raiding in Africa, all threatened his food supply. Desertion was also becoming endemic. To combat this, in the provinces of Raetia, Noricum, and Pannonia, Aureolus seized people’s property to become “imperial property,” where grain for the soldiers would be grown. They were guarded by legions and worked by recently captured Germanic slaves, as well as citizens he was now compelling into labor. Since money was becoming increasingly worthless, Aureolus decided to pay his men primarily in food. By controlling a state sanctioned monopoly on food, Aureolus made sure anyone who deserted would starve. His reforms were cruel and created a lot of dissent, but ultimately effective. By 1,018 (265), the Rhine frontier had been essentially consolidated, and tribes were running out of steam

Glabrius (Dacia)-

In hindsight, the province of Dacia may have been a lost cause. Constant raids had plagued it for decades, large chunks of it had been abandoned, infrastructure was collapsing, and there was a massive wave of emigration out of the province. The province also hadn’t contributed much to defending the Danube, and hadn't stopped barbarians from penetrating deep into the Balkans. However, the emperor Aureolus, being a Dacian himself, was determined to save his homeland. Some later Roman writers estimated that almost half of the imperial treasury and plenty of manpower was sent by the emperor to Dacia, who gave his brother Glabrius the monumental task of preserving this province. In the end, Dacia was yet another region the emperor poured vast resources into that ultimately became wasted, just like Gallienus’s Egyptian defense that ironically prompted Aureolus to overthrow him.

With the troops his brother gave him, Glabrius won several crucial battles, such the battle of Tibiscum, where he successfully repelled a Gothic force besieging a major city, earning him the title “Gothicus.” But Glabrius Gothicus soon ran into the problem of not having enough money. Due to the raiding and massive labor shortages, the lucrative Dacian mines shut down. He had no way to prevent his men from deserting in droves, effectively nullifying any gains he made.

He was forced to enlist the help of barbarian chieftains; in particular, the Gepidic king Fastida. Fastida was a renowned Gepid warlord whose people had recently begun migrating south in search of new land. He initially tried to conquer the Ostrogothic territory, who, led by Reiks Ostrogotha, defeated him in battle. After this he decided instead to enter Dacia and offer his services to Glabrius in exchange for some land. Glabrius, given his dire situation, reluctantly agreed. Afterwards, increasingly more barbarian mercenaries began “offering their services,” oftentimes forcing themselves in by invading, capturing several forts, and twisting Glabrius’s arm into accepting them.

With the incorporation of Fastida and other Foederati into his army, Glabrius found that he was slowly losing his political power to them. His initial solution was to play them off one another, but this was only temporary. Fastida would often arrange for his rivals’ deaths and accept many of their men into his ever-growing army. In 1,022 (269), the increasingly isolated Glabrius was finally killed, and Fastida had him replaced by his son, Acilius Lucianus, who, being a toddler, naturally needed Fastida as his regent. Lucianus was nominally emperor, but for all intents and purposes Roman authority in Dacia had effectively collapsed.

To his credit, Fastida was able to stabilize his realm far better than Glabrius could, likely because he used some “unconventional” methods that would be unthinkable to a Roman emperor. Under his rule he accepted a massive migration of Germans into his territory, using their labor to jump start the farms and mines which had shut down. His rule was far from a complete restoration, however. Dacian territory still shrunk massively, with the borders dissolving and the periphery falling under tribal control. Only the “core” territory around Ulpia Traiana and the important gold mines were under Fastida’s control.

Fastida’s usurpation opened up possibilities south of the Danube, which had thoroughly been raided. The first major invasion came from a 30,000 strong barbarian coalition in 1,003 (251). During it, the Gothic Reiks Cniva of the Tervingi and Ostrogotha of the Ostrogothi were in competition with each other. Cniva’s impressive accomplishment of sacking Philippopolis was one-upped by Ostrogotha’s even more impressive destruction of Decius’s army at Abritus (4). Like those two kings, barbarian leaders were constantly in competition with each other for who could raid the most. Throughout the 11th century, inter-tribal cooperation was becoming more widespread, but each tribe still held onto their petty rivalries. Raiding especially picked up after the battle of Edessa and Rome’s loss of the east, which exposed how much of a paper tiger Rome was. Armies were penetrating far and wide, some going as far as the Rhine, where they joined with Alemanni to raid Gaul, going farther than any Goth had ever gone.

By the 1,020’s (267- ), practically everywhere that could be pillaged had been, and the barbarians were running out of steam. But with the Danubian limes increasingly weak, and with Fastida usurping Dacia, the next phase of these attacks began. King Cniva, who by this point had become one of the most renowned barbarian kings, decided to simply move into Lower Moesia. The floodgates for Germanic settlement in Rome had opened. Cniva’s biggest rival tribe, the Ostrogothi now led by Hunuil, settled in upper Moesia. Other tribes, like the Vandals, Taifali, Alans, and many more joined in. The scramble for the Balkans began, as tribes fought over who got to own what land.

Due to lack of sources, we don’t have the barbarians’ perspectives in all of this and are forced to speculate. They were risking everything by establishing kingdoms in Roman territory, as there was no guarantee the Romans wouldn’t recover and defeat them. However, in the past few decades the empire had only put-up sporadic resistance, and in the past decade resistance had completely disappeared. It was easy to forget the empire had ever been a threat. This combined with a prevailing sense that “they can’t defeat all of us,” and a desire for each chieftain to prevent their rivals from taking all the land. A few years ago, this was unheard of, but when one tribe did it everyone came flooding in.

Fastida encouraged this, doing nothing to stop the invaders and even sending his enemies south to get rid of them. He saw this new settlement as a way to control the Balkans. He claimed that he (or at least his puppet Lucianus) owned the Balkans, and therefore the tribes had to submit to his rule. His attempts to assert control had mixed results however, as tribes only submitted to Fastida when it benefited them. His gold mines gave him the upper hand, but he failed to force reiks like Cniva or Hunuil to submit.

In Anatolia, things were a different story. Roman naval control in the Black Sea had been entrusted to their client kingdom Taurica (5). Throughout the millennium crisis, the kingdom had suffered from the same economic downturn as Rome. In 1,007, when the barbarians supported an anti-king, making it clear that their pressure had reached a breaking point, and the Roman Empire refused to provide support, king Teiranes made a deal. In exchange for leaving the kingdom alone, the barbarians would be given access to his fleet, opening up the entire Black Sea for raiding, opening up the sea for barbarian naval raids.

For the next decade, they conducted raids in Colchis and Bithynia, though Demosthenes controlled the bosphoran straits and blocked them from entering the Aegean. When settlement in Rome began, the chieftains Respa of the Goths, Veduc of the Borani, and Thuruar of the Taifali were the first to migrate to Anatolia.

By then the Black Sea had been thoroughly raided, and Teiranes realized he no longer had a way to delay the barbarian threat. In desperation, he appealed to Shapur I, and swore fealty to Persia in exchange for economic and military help. In cooperation with king Successianus, Teiranes won a decisive military victory against invading Borani, freeing his kingdom from barbarian influence for the first time in decades.

What this meant for the Roman Empire is that the Persians now had total naval control in the Black Sea. What this meant for Respa, Veduc, and Thuruar was that they were now cut off and isolated from their kinsmen. Unlike the Balkans where tribes were flooding in, they were now the only ones, and were forced to band together to survive.

Volusianus (Italy)-

While Gallienus dealt with military matters, his praetorian prefect began reforming the administration and stabilizing Rome.

The first order of business was dealing with Africa. After Egypt fell, the province of Africa became Italy’s most important breadbasket, so its preservation was vital. Unfortunately, the Berber and Moor tribes living in the desert were becoming more aggressive and raiding valuable farmland. Climate change also meant the desert was spreading north and overtaking fertile farmland. Still, Aureolus’s appointed governor, Theodotus, was able to keep the province largely stable and calm. Still, Volusianus had trouble securing the grain doll for his citizens, and the state was increasingly less able to provide for the many citizens who depended on it.

Next, Volusianus aimed to reform the tax system. With Italy and Africa being practically the only provinces left, taxing them to their extreme was imperative. Volusianus would start constructing the bones of a new Roman administration. He conducted censuses around Italy to figure out how best to reform taxation and began several new tax policies that disproportionately affected the lower classes.

He also filled his government with skilled men of equestrian status. This development meant the old senatorial elite began losing their government jobs, something which infuriated them to no end. Ultimately though, they were forced to swallow the hard pill that they were losing the last vestiges of power they held in the Roman government. This new Roman government was a meritocracy, which improved its efficiency. But by removing the senators from power and taxing the plebs so heavily, Volusianus stirred unrest among several social classes. Only the equestrians were fully satisfied with his regime.

His third agenda was to improve Italy’s defenses. The Alemannic invasion of Italy invasion of Italy in 1,012 (259) had raised concerns over Italy’s safety, so Volusianus got to work on building a series of fortifications along the Alps, essentially creating a new unofficial “Limes Alpes.” These new forts would have the dual purpose of blocking any usurpers from entering Italy, or at least slowing them down enough for the emperor to arrive.

Once these were constructed, Volusianus set in action his fourth and final agenda, which he had kept secret. In 1,019 (266), he declared himself emperor. Up until now, Aureolus had trusted Volusianus and believed his control over the legions meant he could easily defeat the prefect if he tried anything. Aureolus had also taken his top commanders with him and prevented them from writing letters to Italy, which prevented any of them from contacting and conspiring with Volusianus. This meant that when he revolted, he only had the Praetorian Guard, the new Alpine legions, the African legions, and a few others on his side. Most of the legions supported Aureolus. Volusianus’s trump card, however, was that he held the tax producing provinces of Italy and Africa, which basically paid the legions’ salaries. While Aureolus laid siege to the new Alpine forts, he was cut off and forced to pay his soldiers out of his own pockets, at a time when the imperial treasury was practically empty. After a few weeks, Aureolus was killed by his men, and Volusianus was proclaimed emperor.

Aureolus was in his 40’s and had ruled for just six years. He would be remembered as a cruel, tyrannical emperor by his contemporaries. More modern historiography tends to see him through a more positive lens. Though he was still seen as cruel and harsh, his methods were ultimately effective and would go a long way towards helping the empire in the long term. He spent his entire reign treating one specific problem, the Rhine frontier, and handled it very well. Also, entrusting Volusianus with non-military reforms was a smart move that helped the empire, even if it eventually backfired.

Speaking of Volusianus, for the first time in decades, the deciding factor in a civil war had NOT been whoever had more men on their side. Could this have meant that the military anarchy was coming to an end? Would Volusianus have gone on to defeat the young Gallic Empire, retake the Danube, fight Persia and reunite Rome? Perhaps he would have, had it not been for the sudden appearance of a fleet from Cyprus.

1. IOTL, I think Gallienus is one of the most underrated Roman emperors. Everyone attributes the recovery from the crisis to Aurelian, Diocletian, and others, but it was Gallienus who held things together at the worst part and recruited the capable generals who would restore the empire in the first place.

2. In the third century, praetorian prefects increasingly took on more important roles outside their original job descriptions, basically becoming the emperor’s right-hand man.

3. Of course, we know from OTL that Gallienus was at least partially responsible for this, but Aureolus gets all the credit ITTL.

4. Fun fact: most sources say Cniva won the battle of Abritus, but only a few years ago fragments of Dexippus were found that revealed Ostrogotha, who was only mentioned by Jordanes and previously thought to be mythical, was the culprit. Fastida was also only mentioned by Jordanes and thought to be mythical, but anything is possible

Another fun fact: before I started this project my original idea for a TL was that after Abritus, Cniva would conquer Thrace and create his own kingdom there, challenging the Roman Empire. It was very wanky and ultimately, I decided it was too implausible, at least in 251.

5. In modern Crimea, usually called the Bosporan kingdom.
Just when I had accepted that updates would be monthly, I manage to get this out in a third of the time! Of course now that school's out I have more free time on my hands and can get these out quicker, but I still won't sacrifice quality to rush them out.

Unlike the near total doom and gloom of last update, this time Rome is making strides towards treating some of it's issues. They're still knee deep in crisis, but its not all bad. Anyway, next chapter we'll shift the focus back to Persia to look at the reign of Persia's third king Hormizd.

As always, any thoughts, critiques, questions, suggestions or otherwise are encouraged!
Glad to see the Romans weren't just waiting for their own deaths but they still have a lot of issues it seems, Cyprus and the barbarians chief among them it seems, so it will be interesting to see how they'll react and reform accordingly