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Aurelian

Roman Emperor (214-275)

Aurelian (LUCIUS DOMITIUS AURELIANUS).—Roman Emperor, 270-275, b. of humble parents, near Sirmium in Pannonia, September 9, 214; d. 275. At the age of twenty he entered the military service, in which, because of exceptional ability and remarkable bodily strength, his advancement was rapid. On the death of Claudius he was proclaimed Emperor by the army at Sirmium, and became sole master of the Roman dominions on the suicide of his rival Quintillus, the candidate of the Senate. When Aurelian assumed the reins of government the Roman world was divided into three sections: the Gallo-Roman Empire, established by Postumus, comprising Gaul and Britain; the kingdom of Palmyra, which held sway over the entire Orient, including Egypt and the greater part of Asia Minor, and the Roman Empire, restricted to Italy, Africa, the Danubian Provinces, Greece, and Bithynia. On the upper Danube, Rhietia and Northern Italy were overrun by the Juthungi, while the Vandals were preparing to invade Pannonia. The internal affairs of Rome were equally deplorable. The anarchy of the legions and the frequent revolutions in preceding reigns had shattered the imperial authority; the treasury was empty and the monetary system ruined. With no support but that afforded by the army of the Danube, Aurelian undertook to restore the material and moral unity of the Empire, and to introduce whatever reforms were necessary to give it stability. Enormous as this project was, in the face of so many obstacles, he succeeded in accomplishing it in less than five years. When he died, the frontiers were all restored and strongly defended, the unity of the Empire was established, the administration was reorganized, the finances of the Empire placed on a sound footing, and the monetary system thoroughly revised. His scheme for the complete unification of the Empire led him to attempt to establish the worship of the sun as the supreme god of Rome. During the early years of his reign Aurelian exhibited remarkable justice and tolerance towards the Christians. In 272, when he had gained possession of Antioch, after defeating Zenobia in several battles, he was appealed to by the Christians to decide whether the “Church building” in Antioch belonged to the orthodox bishop Domnus, or to the party represented by the favorite of Zenobia, Paul of Samosata, who had been deposed for heresy by a synod held three or four years before. His decision, based probably on the Edict of Gallienus, was that the property belonged to those who were in union with the bishops of Italy and of the city of Rome (Eus., Hist. Eccl., VII, xxvii-xxx). As this act was based on political motives, it cannot be construed into one of friendliness for the Christians. As soon as he was at liberty to carry out his schemes for internal reform Aurelian revived the policy of his predecessor Valerian, threatened to rescind the Edict of Gallienus, and commenced a systematic persecution of the followers of Christ. The exact date of the inauguration of this policy is not known. It is likely, however, that an edict was issued in the summer of 275 and despatched to the governors of the provinces, but Aurelian was slain before he could put it into execution. Tradition refers to his reign a large number of Acta Martyrum, none of which is considered to be authentic (Dom Butler, “Journal of Theological Studies”, 1906, VII, 306). His biographer, Vopiscus, says (c. xx) that he once reproached the Roman Senate for neglecting to consult the Sibylline Books in an hour of imminent peril. “It would seem”, he said, “as if you were holding your meetings in a church of the Christians instead of in a temple of all the gods”; from which statement it has been rightly inferred that “the decline of the old faith was caused by the progress of the new, and that the buildings then used for the worship of the Christians were becoming more and more conspicuous”.

PATRICK J. HEALY


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