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.
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.
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.
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.
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.