Later Em­per­ors

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - By Evan Jones

1. Philip the Arab

When Gor­dian III asked to re­main em­peror, the army booed and hissed.

So he of­fered to share his power and the army clanked their spears. He con­sented to the rank of Cae­sar.

But the army re­fused him.

Could he act then as pre­fect?

No. They de­clined out­right.

Fi­nally, he pleaded for his life.

Philip the Arab, silent till that mo­ment, con­sid­ered let­ting him live.

He thought of Gor­dian’s in­no­cence, the sym­pa­thy the in­no­cent en­gen­der, the ri­ots that sym­pa­thy sets in mo­tion, the half-fin­ished, the or­der he was about to give.

2. Va­le­rian

Yes, yes, the Per­sian monarch Sa­por, mount­ing his horse, said to his al­lies—they who feared the armies of Rome—as he stead­ied his right foot on Va­le­rian’s neck and looked up through the stars.

3. Zeno­bia

All that re­mains of Zeno­bia’s past life is in ru­ins: her reign, her stud­ies of art and lit­er­a­ture and his­tory, the great minds who in­formed her think­ing when Palmyra took the world stage.

On trial be­fore the Em­peror Aure­lian, she lost her nerve, and im­pli­cated, among oth­ers, the sub­lime Long­i­nus in crimes against Rome. He was put to death.

And Zeno­bia? Some­times not even death will leave us sure of an end­ing.

4. Probus

In the mar­ket, Probus stopped to sam­ple a bit of cheese, a bit of fish, and then con­tin­ued walk­ing to­wards the cir­cus, where he’d or­dered trans­planted a for­est of five thou­sand trees filled with a thou­sand os­trich, a thou­sand stag, a thou­sand fal­low deer, a thou­sand wild boar. To­mor­row, he would mas­sacre one hun­dred lions and lionesses, two hun­dred leop­ards, and three hun­dred bears. For today, cheese and fish were enough to mask the smell.

5. Carus, Struck by Light­ning AD 283

Aged, fee­ble Carus dur­ing the stormy night called for his mother, droned, reeled, balked, barked at the tent poles and ser­vants.

Fever­ish now, when young, he was a tent pole, a se­vere and sim­ple man, as Gib­bon wrote, a sol­dier, sat­is­fied with stale ba­con and stone-hard peas. He passed.

We set the im­pe­rial pav­il­ion on fire, sug­gested it was light­ning, an act of god. Wrong,

I know, though not ex­actly wrong.

6. Dio­cle­tian

Dio­cle­tian, hav­ing re­signed the world, died where he was born.

For his last nine years, he planted cab­bage with his own hands at Salona. The arts, he said to friends, of­ten, over din­ner, are equally dif­fi­cult, but reign­ing is the most dif­fi­cult art. We might like to dis­agree, but he lived in an era when the poets kept silent.

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