Victorinus was born in Turonum to a wealthy family. His father, Titus Piavonius Victorinus, was a general who held several civil and military offices in Gallia Lugdunensis, including that of governor. Victorinus had three brothers: two served in the Roman army and one became a merchant. Turonum was located in a part of Gaul that had not fully assimilated into Roman culture by the time Victorinus was born: the Gallic language was still spoken by many of the inhabitants of that area, certain aspects of the Gallic religion were incorporated into the Roman state religion, and certain pre-Roman customs and traditions persisted.
Victorinus enlisted in the Roman army in 242. During the reigns of Phillip and Decius, Victorinus participated in several battles against Germanic invaders. After Valerian became emperor, he reassigned Victorinus to the Rhine frontier.
Military Career Under Postumus
Victorinus was one of Postumus' most trusted generals. He participated in two notable battles during the 260s. In 268, he was with Postumus during the Battle of Mediolanum in 268, which resulted in the Gallic Empire gaining control of Mediolanum and the surrounding areas. The following year, he led a campaign to drive Alammani and Juthingi invaders out of Raetia — then under Roman control — which led the governor of Raetia to join the Gallic Empire.
Victorinus played an important role in the Gallic War for Independence. In 275, Victorinus led one of the three groups that invaded Italy. The group he led was the one that headed southward from Mediolanum to Rome. This was one of the two groups that participated in the sack of Rome. After the sack of Rome, Victorinus led his forces northward toward Raetia, using scorched earth tactics along the way. Shortly after arriving in Raetia, Victorinus led forces under his command into Noricum and Pannonia, to help the Alammani, Marcomanni, Quadi, and later Suevi, take over those provinces. Postumus soon joined him in this campaign.
After the Germanic tribes conquered all of Pannonia and Noricum, Victorinus stayed in the area for two years. He was essentially an ambassador to the nascent Germanic states. In October 279, Postumus summoned Victorinus to Colonia Agrippina in order to prepare Victorinus to succeed Postumus as Gallic Emperor. Victorinus became emperor upon Postumus' death.
Reign as Gallic Emperor
On May 21, 280, the day after Postumus died, Victorinus addressed the Gallic Senate. He informed them that in accordance with Postumus' wishes, he would succeed Postumus as the new Gallic Emperor. The day after that, he announced his succession to the people. The funeral for Postumus was held the following day.
The Pannonia and Noricum Military Presence Scandal
There were over six thousand Gallic soldiers in Pannonia and Noricum immediately after the fall of Sirmium and Bassianae. By the time Victorinus became Emperor, over four thousand of them were still there. Even before he became Emperor, Victorinus knew he would face a dilemma over when to call those soldiers home. On the one hand, Victorinus knew that he could not keep those forces there indefinitely for political reasons; and it seemed that the Roman Empire would not pose a threat to the new states for years, as it was tearing itself apart. On the other hand, Victorinus recalled that the Roman Empire had attacked the emergent states even as the worst civil war in its history was taking place; and moreover, the new countries faced not only the threat of invasion by the Roman Empire or factions therewithin, but also rebellions on the part of the non-Germanic inhabitants of Pannonia and Noricum.
Victorinus wanted to maintain a military presence in Pannonia and Noricum as long as possible. In order to buy time, he decided to recall four hundred soldiers. He publicly announced these orders on July 22, 280. These soldiers began returning home in October 280. In fact, Victorinus had no intention of actually reducing the number of troops in Pannonia and Noricum: Victorinus encouraged local officials in the hometowns of the returning soldiers to hold extravagant homecoming ceremonies; and while the majority of the people's attention was directed toward those homecomings, Victorinus had his generals quietly deploy new soldiers to Pannonia and Noricum to replace the returning ones.
In January 281, it seemed that Victorinus' tactic had worked. All four hundred of the recalled soldiers had returned home, and all the replacements had been deployed. The commanders had managed to keep word from getting out that the replacement soldiers were bound for Pannonia and Noricum by first having them deployed a considerable distance from their hometowns, but still within Gallic territory, and then redeployed to Pannonia and Noricum. Victorinus did not perceive any more or less political pressure to completely withdraw from those areas than he had felt six months earlier. At the same time, it was common knowledge in the Gallic Empire that the western parts of the Roman Empire had united behind Messalla. At that point, it was unclear whether Messalla would win the eastern provinces as quickly as he had taken the western ones, and also if or when he would stage another invasion of the Germanic states. Thus, Victorinus believed he now had a convincing case for maintaining the military presence.
Things went wrong for Victorinus during the summer and fall of 281, however. He decided to recall another four hundred soldiers who had been in the Germanic states for a long time and send eight hundred new soldiers, resulting in a net increase in the Gallic military presence.
The replacement forces had all arrived in Pannonia and Noricum by August. The locals soon realized that there were more Gallic soldiers in their countries than before. What Victorinus was not aware of was that the Gallic military presence had been becoming increasingly unpopular in all four of the Germanic states. The majority of the Germanic people believed that the Roman Empire had become too weak to pose a threat to them for a long time to come. The leadership was generally more supportive of the military presence; but several Suevian and Quadian nobles had openly suggested that half the Gallic forces should return home; and virtually none of the Germanic leaders believed that more Gallic troops were needed.
The net increase in the number of troops led to riots in several cities during September. The riots were quelled by the Gallic and local forces, and many people known or suspected to have been involved were arrested. The Gallic commanders were shocked to discover that the majority of the rioters were Germanic, rather than Latin. News of these developments trickled across the the Gallic border, in spite of efforts by generals to keep it a secret. Then in early September, the king of Marcomannia wrote a letter to Victorinus in which he said that he was displeased that more forces had been sent, noted that the arrival of the new forces had provoked riots, and called for a thousand of the Gallic soldiers to be recalled home without replacement within six months. He also wrote an identical letter to the Gallic Senate, as he knew that the Senate theoretically had the power to depose Victorinus, and considered the possibility that the Senate was unaware of what was happening.
Both letters reached Colonia Agrippina on November 12, 281. The Senate's copy fell into the hands of a senator who had been calling for a substantial reduction in the Gallic military presence in Pannonia and Noricum for over a year. The Senate's first meeting after the arrival of the letters took place on November 16, and Victorinus was present thereat. During the meeting, the senator who received the copy of the Marcomannian king's letter read the letter before the Senate, and an uproar immediately ensued. Victorinus was forced to admit that he had replaced all the soldiers who had come home during his rule, and had ordered a net increase in the number of soldiers stationed in Pannonia. Outrage was voiced by senators who had opposed the Gallo-Germanic alliance from the start, as well as those who wanted a partial or complete withdrawal. Even senators who did not object to the deployment of additional troops per se were upset the Victorinus had kept his actions a secret.
As soon as the meeting ended, the senators poured into the streets of Colonia Agrippina to tell the masses what they had learned. The people were outraged, and riots occurred near Victorinus' palace. As the news spread into the interior of the empire, unrest developed there as well. In many cities, including Colonia Agrippina, the army was able to put down the riots only with brutal force. At the same time, the Senate began debating whether to depose Victorinus and considering possible replacements.
By December 281, two senators and one general had emerged as potential candidates to replace Victorinus as emperor. Victorinus was spending much of his time trying to bargain with individual senators for their support. Most of the senators he spoke with demanded a withdrawal of at least a significant number of troops from Pannonia and Noricum. Then, on December 19, the Senate informed Victorinus that it intended to vote on whether to depose him if he did not recall at least two thousand soldiers from Pannonia and Noricum without replacement by March 1.
Victorinus spent the remainder of December sending out orders for several units to return home immediately. These orders reached Pannonia and Noricum a month later. The units began entering Gallic territory by late February. While these events were taking place, Victorinus appointed thirty people who were loyal to him to the Senate (increasing the size of the Senate from 200 to 230 senators), in order to make it harder for the Senate to depose him. At the same time, the strongest opponents of Victorinus united behind a single replacement candidate.
The Gallic Senate voted on whether to depose Victorinus on March 7, 282. Even though the Senate knew to expect the recalled army units to begin arriving in Gallic territory by that time, many senators were outraged that Victorinus had stuffed the Senate with his partisans, and some felt that he hould not have been given a chance to redeem himself in the first place. Victorinus only narrowly avoided deposition: the motion to depose and replace him failed by a vote of 109 to 121. The next day, five senators resigned in protest. Although the Senate chose not to depose Victorinus, it remained hostile to him for several months. That situation was resolved only in early 283, when Victorinus expelled fifty senators who had persistantly opposed his agenda and replaced them with reliable partisans.
Even though Victorinus was still emperor, he knew he had to honor the Senate's wish that he not replace the two thousand soldiers that were returning from Pannonia and Noricum. He did not recall any more troops for a while though. By this time, it was becoming increasingly likely that the Roman Empire would soon be united under Messalla. Even though the Roman army would definitely emerge from the civil war weaker than it was during the Pannonian and Norican Wars, Victorinus was concerned that it might still be strong enough to pose a threat to the Germanic states.
Formalization of the Monarchy
One thing that Victorinus inherited from Postumus was a project to codify all the laws of the Gallic Empire. This project was carried out by a seven-member committee. After Postumus died, Victorinus added five more men to the group. By June 282, the committee had completed its work, and they presented it to Victorinus on June 8. Victorinus was pleased with the codification, but at that point, he was planning to modify the structure of the Gallic state, so he told the committee that he could not ratify the legal code they had produced as it was. He then appointed himself to the committee to work with them on the revised product.
Throughout the imperial phase of Roman history thus far, the emperors had maintained a nominally republican form of government to justify their rule (although these republican vestiges had been gradually eroded over the course of three centuries). There had never been a formal office of Roman Emperor. Instead, every emperor held multiple civil and military offices simultaneously and assumed honorific titles. The Gallic Empire inherited this nominally republican system when it broke away from Rome. What Victorinus wished to do was eliminate most of the remaining trappings of a republic.
As Victorinus wished to portray himself as a benevolent ruler, he called the new monarchial office Princeps Civitatis (First Citizen). The offices of Consul and Pontifex Maximus were to be abolished and their powers and duties consolidated in the new office. The offices of Tribune and Censor had become defunct in the Roman Empire long before the Gallic Empire seceded, although emperors continued to assume the powers that had previously been vested in those offices; and those powers were now to be officially granted to the first citizen. The first citizen was also given ultimate authority over all the military forces in the empire, though such authority was delegated to the duces, provincial governors, and generals. The Senate would still exist, and it retained the authority to depose the first citizen; but it was still largely a puppet of the first citizen, as the first citizen had absolute control over its membership.
Victorinus and the committee finished the revised legal codification in October 282. After Victorinus carried out his second round of stuffing the Senate with his allies, he proposed the codification to the Senate. The Senate ratified the codified laws on March 28, 283.
As first citizen, Victorinus was the chief priest of the Gallic state religion. During the early 280s, Victorinus used this authority to inject Celtic themes into the state religion. One change he made was by promoting more frequent use of the Celtic names for deties worshipped by both the Gauls and Latinized people: for example, Mars was henceforward known as Letus, and Apollo became known as Grannus. Another change Victorinus made was injecting animistic themes into the state religion. Most other aspects of the state religion that were inherited from Rome were left unchanged.
Policies Regarding Christianity
Victorinus' legal codification contained provisions that addressed Christianity. One section of the codification declared Christianity legal and that Christians were to be fully equal under the law, although another section disqualified Christians from being First Citizen or provincial governors. (The state had tolerated Christianity since shortly before the Gallic Empire broke away from the Roman Empire, but tolerance for and near-equal treatment of Christians were now the official policy of the Gallic government.)
Relations with Mauritania Tingitana
After the Gallic War for Independence, Postumus decided it was necessary for the Gallic Empire to annex Mauritania Tingitana, which as a result of the Gallic Empire's separation was Rome's westernmost province: at the beginning of the war, Aurelian had sent a massive invasion force into Spain via the Straits of Gibraltar. Postumus did not make any active effort to take over the province, however, because he did not wish to get into another war with Rome.
When Victorinus became emperor, he encouraged the governor of Baetica to work to build good relations with Mauritania Tingitana. Victorinus hoped that if economic and cultural links could be established between the two provinces, it would encourage Mauritania Tingitana to abandon the Roman Empire for the Gallic Empire. The Mauritanian people wanted nothing to do with any part of the Gallic Empire, however. Thousands of soldiers from Mauritania Tingitana, as well as thousands from all the other African provinces, had spent years fighting each other over control of Italy; for which the Mauritanians held the Gallic Empre indirectly responsible. The Mauritanians would eventually learn to forgive the Gauls, but it would not be within Victorinus' lifetime.
The Gallic Empire's relations with Alamannia, Marcomannia, Suevia, and Quadium remained generally amicable throughout Victorinus' reign. The military presence scandal displeased the governments of all four countries, but Victorinus' withdrawal of two thousand soldiers resolved these tensions. Victorinus withdrew the remaining Gallic troops between 285 and 286, because it was increasingly clear that Rome's first priority was simply to recover from the worst civil war in its history.
Victorinus also began building diplomatic relations with the Germanic tribes that lived just east of the Rhine, including the Frisians, the Franks, the Chatti. Meanwhile, the Quadian government began working to build a partnership with the Gepids and Iazyges, who lived east of Pannonia.
By the late 280s, it was clear that not all of the Alamannians, Marcomannians, and Suevians had any interest in moving to Pannonia and Noricum. (Specifically, roughly 20% of the Alamannians, 15% of the Marcomannians, and 30% of the Suevians remained north of the Danube by 288.) The branches of these tribes that stayed north of the Danube came to be collectively known as the Aquilonians (Northerners). At the same time, new tribes were migrating into the now-depopulated areas north of the Danube, including the Burgundians and branches of the Hermanduri and Chatti. The relationship between the Aquilonians and the new tribes quickly became tense, and would degenerate into armed conflict several years after the death of Victorinus.
The Gallic economy was largely based on agriculture and mining. Few tradable goods were produced in the Gallic Empire's territory, either before or during the reign of Postumus. During the late 280s, Victorinus began a policy of actively promoting trade with the Germanic tribes. While commerce within the empire was mainly handled by private merchants, it was primarily the state that conducted external trade, as the merchants had little interest in doing business with the Germanic tribes. The state paid craftsmen to produce goods that were then transported and sold east of the Rhine.
During most of his reign, Victorinus continued Postumus' policy of maintaining a relatively sound currency. He did debase the currency between 281 and 283, however. This was during the time that the Senate was challenging his rule; so in an effort to buy the loyalty of the army, he significantly raised the pay of all units stationed in Colonia Agrippina and the surrounding provinces, and minted a large number of antoninianius coins to finance these pay raises. These coins had silver contents of around half of that of a normal antoninianus. As this money worked its way into the economy of the provinces where the soldiers were stationed, inflation occurred. As the inflation was mainly concentrated in northeastern Gaul, trade between that area and the rest of the empire declined and did not recover for over a decade.
Death and Succession
Victorinus contracted pneumonia in November 293, and he died on December 6 of that year. He had failed to name a successor, so the responsibility of selecting the new First Citizen of Gaul fell on the Senate. After several months of intense debate, campaigning, and negotiations, the Senate elected Tetricus First Citizen on March 1, 294.