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Probus, M. Aure'lius

Roman emperor A. D. 276-282, was a native of Sirmium in Pannonia. His mother is said to have been of more noble extraction than his father Maximus, who after having served as a centurion with good reputation was raised to the rank of tribune, and died in Egypt, bequeathing a very moderate fortune to his widow and two children, a son and a daughter. Young Probus, at an early age, attracted the attention, and gained the favour of Valerian, from whom, in violation of the ordinary rules of military service, he received while almost a boy the commission of tribune. Letters have been preserved by Vopiscus, addressed by the prince to Gallienus, and to the praetorian prefect, in which he announces the promotion of the youth, whom he praises warmly, and recommends to their notice. Nor did he prove unworthy of this patronage. He conducted himself so gallantly in the war against the Sarmatians beyond the Danube, that he was forthwith entrusted with the command of a distinguished legion, and was presented in a public assembly with various military rewards, among others with the highest and most prized of all decorations, a civic crown, which he had earned by rescuing a noble youth, Valerius Flaccus, a kinsman of the emperor, from the hands of the Quadi. His subsequent exploits in Africa, Egypt, Arabia, Scythia, Persia, Germany, and Gaul, gained for him the esteem and admiration of Gallienus, Aurelian, and the second Claudius, all of whom expressed their feelings in the most earnest language, while his gentle though firm discipline, the minute care which he evinced in providing for the wants and comforts of the soldiers, and his liberality in dividing spoils, secured the zealous attachment of the troops. By Tacitus he was named governor of the whole East, and declared to be the firmest pillar of the Roman power, and, upon the death of that sovereign, the purple was forced upon his acceptance by the armies of Syria. The downfal of Florianus speedily removed his only rival, and he was enthusiastically hailed by the united voice of the senate, the people, and the legions.

The whole reign of Probus, which lasted for about six years, presents a series of the most brilliant achievements. His attention was first turned to Gaul, which had become disturbed upon the overthrow of Postumus, and after the death of Aurelian had been ravaged, occupied, and almost subjugated by the Germans. By a succession of victories the new ruler recovered sixty important cities, destroyed 400,000 of the invaders, and drove the rest across the Rhine. Following up his success, he penetrated into the heart of Germany, compelled the vanquished tribes to restore the whole of the plunder which they had borne away, and to furnish a contingent of 16,000 recruits, which were distributed in small numbers among the different armies of the empire; he established a line of posts stretching far into the interior, and even formed the scheme of disarming the inhabitants and of reducing the whole country to the form of a province. Passing onwards, every foe was swept away from the frontiers of Rhaetia and Noricum, which now enjoyed complete security, the Goths upon the Thracian borders, overawed by his name, tendered submission or were admitted to alliance, the robber hordes of Isauria and the savage Blemmyes of Ethiopia were crushed or dispersed, a treaty was concluded with the Persians at their own eager solicitation, while, in addition to the conquest of foreign foes, the rebellions of Saturninus at Alexandria, of Proculus and Bonosus in Gaul, were promptly suppressed. The emperor on his return to the metropolis celebrated a well-earned triumph, and determined forthwith to devote his whole energies to the regulation of the civil government. The privileges restored by his predecessor to the senate were confirmed, agriculture was promoted by the removal of various pernicious restrictions, large bodies of barbarians were transplanted from the frontiers to more tranquil regions, where they were presented with allotments of land in order that they might learn to dwell in fixed abodes, and to practise the occupations and duties of civilised life, while in every direction protection and encouragement were extended to industry. But the repose purchased by such unremitting exertion proved the cause of ruin to Probus. Fearing that the discipline of the troops might be relaxed by inactivity and ease, he employed them in laborious works of public utility, and was even rash enough to express the hope that the time was fast approaching when soldiers would be no longer necessary. Alarmed by these ill-judged expressions, and irritated by toils which they regarded as at once painful and degrading, a large body of men who were employed under his own inspection in draining the vast swamps which surrounded his native Sirmium, in a sudden transport of rage made an attack upon the emperor, who, having vainly attempted to save himself by taking refuge in a strong tower, was dragged forth and murdered by the infuriated mutineers.

History has unhesitatingly pronounced that the character of Probus stands without a rival in the annals of imperial Rome, combining all the best features of the best princes who adorned the purple, exhibiting at once the daring valour and martial skill of Aurelian, the activity and vast conceptions of Hadrian, the justice, moderation, simple habits, amiable disposition, and cultivated intellect of Trajan, the Antonines, and Alexander. We find no trace upon record of any counterbalancing vices or defects, and we can detect no motive which could have tempted the writers who flourished soon after his decease to employ the language of falsehood or flattery in depicting the career of an obscure Illyrian soldier, unconnected by blood or alliance alike with those who went before him, and with those who succeeded him on the throne.

Our chief authority is the biography, in the Augustan History, of Vopiscus, who complains that even when he wrote, the great achievements of this extraordinary man were rapidly sinking into oblivion, obliterated doubtless by the stirring events and radical changes in the constitution which followed with such rapidity the accession of Diocletian. By the aid, however, of the books and state papers which he had consulted in the Ulpian and Tiberian libraries, the public acts, the journals of the senate, together with the private diary of a certain Turdulus Gallicanus, he was enabled to compile a loose and ill-connected narrative. We may refer also, but with much less confidence, to Zosimus, 1.64, &c., the concluding portion of the reign being lost; to Zonaras, 12.29; Aurel. Vict. de Caes. xxxvii, Epit. xxxvii; Eutrop. 9.11.


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