Firmus was a Roman usurper
Roman usurper
Usurpers are individuals or groups of individuals who obtain and maintain the power or rights of another by force and without legal authority. Usurpation was endemic during roman imperial era, especially from the crisis of the third century onwards, when political instability became the rule.The...

 against Aurelian
Aurelian , was Roman Emperor from 270 to 275. During his reign, he defeated the Alamanni after a devastating war. He also defeated the Goths, Vandals, Juthungi, Sarmatians, and Carpi. Aurelian restored the Empire's eastern provinces after his conquest of the Palmyrene Empire in 273. The following...

. His story is told by the often unreliable Historia Augusta twice, with the first account the most sketchy and reliable.

Life of the historical Firmus

Firmus was a businessman from Seleucia
Seleucia on the Tigris
Seleucia , also known as Seleucia on the Tigris, was one of the great cities of the world during Hellenistic and Roman times. It stood in Mesopotamia, on the west bank of the Tigris River, opposite the smaller town of Ctesiphon, in present day Babil Governorate, Iraq.-Seleucid empire:Seleucia,...

, with business interests ranging from India to Egypt. He was associated with Zenobia
Zenobia was a 3rd-century Queen of the Palmyrene Empire in Roman Syria. She led a famous revolt against the Roman Empire. The second wife of King Septimius Odaenathus, Zenobia became queen of the Palmyrene Empire following Odaenathus' death in 267...

 of the Palmyrene Empire
Palmyrene Empire
The Palmyrene Empire was a splinter empire, that broke off of the Roman Empire during the Crisis of the Third Century. It encompassed the Roman provinces of Syria Palaestina, Egypt and large parts of Asia Minor....

. After the Emperor Aurelian defeated the Palmyrans, Firmus staged an uprising in Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 in Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, interrupting the corn supply on which Rome depended. Aurelian was obliged to defeat and kill Firmus.

Firmus never proclaimed himself emperor, but fought to support the second Palmyrene uprising against Aurelian. It is possible that Firmus was actually the name of the general sent by Aurelian to suppress the revolt, as Egyptian papyri of the time have the presence of one Claudius Firmus, corrector
A corrector is a person who or object that practices correction, usually by removing or rectifying errors.The word is originally a Roman title corrector, derived from the Latin verb corrigēre, meaning "an action to rectify, to make right a wrong."Apart from the general sense of anyone who corrects...

. Another possibility is that the author of the Historia Augusta — the only source to name Firmus — invented this figure in parallel with another Firmus
Firmus (4th century usurper)
Firmus was a Roman usurper under Valentinian I.Firmus was the son of the Moorish prince Nubel, a powerful Roman military officer, as well as a wealthy Christian...

, an African usurper under Valentinian I
Valentinian I
Valentinian I , also known as Valentinian the Great, was Roman emperor from 364 to 375. Upon becoming emperor he made his brother Valens his co-emperor, giving him rule of the eastern provinces while Valentinian retained the west....


Historia Augusta account

According to Historia Augusta ("Firmus"), Firmus was of great wealth. He had his house fitted with square panels of glass, and owned a huge library. His commercial relationships involved Blemmyes
The Blemmyes were a nomadic Nubian tribe described in Roman histories of the later empire. From the late third century on, along with another tribe, the Nobadae, they repeatedly fought the Romans...

, Saracens, and India. He had two elephant-tusks, which later Aurelian projected to use as a basis for a statue to Jupiter
Jupiter (mythology)
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Jupiter or Jove is the king of the gods, and the god of the sky and thunder. He is the equivalent of Zeus in the Greek pantheon....

 and which were actually given as a present by Carinus
Carinus , was Roman Emperor 282 to 285. The elder son of emperor Carus, he was appointed Caesar and co-emperor of the western portion of the empire upon his father's accession...

 to a lover of his. Physically, Firmus was noteworthy, being huge and very strong. He ate and drank a lot.

Even in this account, however, the importance and threat of Firmus revolt is related to the interruption of grain supply to Rome, caused by this rebellion in the very granary of Rome, Egypt.

Primary sources

  • Zosimus
    Zosimus was a Byzantine historian, who lived in Constantinople during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I . According to Photius, he was a comes, and held the office of "advocate" of the imperial treasury.- Historia Nova :...


Secondary sources

  • "Firmus", s.v. "Aurelian", De Imperatoribus Romanis site
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