Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.02.54 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.02.54

Michael Geiger, Gallienus.   Frankfurt am Main, Bern:  Peter Lang, 2013.  Pp. 433.  ISBN 9783653036510.  $87.95.  

Reviewed by William E. Metcalf, Yale University (

Table of Contents

This work began life as a dissertation presented at the University of Augsburg, and although the author claims (5) to have reworked and shortened it, it betrays its origins, particularly in the number and extent of the footnotes. It begins with a general introduction, with a paragraph or two devoted to each of several major cruces in the reign of Gallienus, followed by a brief history of modern scholarship and views of the emperor (1-27). There follows a treatment of the sources, broken down into literary sources from the 3rd century, the 4th and 5th, and the 6th and after, going all the way through the Suda, Leo Grammaticus, Kedrenus, Zonaras, and the “Synopsis Sathas.” It is acknowledged that the serious discussions of Gallienus begin with the more canonical Aurelius Victor, Eutropius, Pseudo-Aurelius Victor, Zosimus and Zonaras, in addition to the Historia Augusta (61).1 The few epigraphic sources are mentioned, as well as the papyrological ones; of the latter it is remarked that they are particularly valuable during the sole reign of Gallienus, as providing the dates of, for example, the rise of the Macriani and the death of Gallienus. Numismatic sources are cited as well, and it has to be said that in the appreciation of the significance of coins some better literature in English is omitted in favor of German-language treatments.2

A systematic approach to the problems of the reign is followed throughout. The book breaks down this way:

1 Introduction
2 Sources
3 The family
4 “Ereignisgeschichte”
5 The coinage
6 The development of Gallienus’ portrait
7 Gallienus’ philhellenism
8 Persecution of the Christians
9 Salonina
10 Economic development and price increases in the time of Gallienus
11 Developments in military and provincial administration
12 Summary
13 Bibliography
14 Abbreviations
15 Index of persons
16 Illustrations of coins

The table of contents for Section 2 occupies about a page, section 4 more than a page, 11 about half a page of subheadings. There are over 200 headings and subheadings in the book, meaning that (bibliography apart) less than 2 pages are devoted to each. The sense of fragmentation is overwhelming, and the reader is challenged to determine which problems are important, which not; which may rely on existing work, which are dealt with anew. Chapters 5 and 6 are not properties of a biography at all, and both are derivative to an extent that would have permitted their incorporation in the text. Chapter 5 starts with consideration of the chronology; here Göbl’s Moneta Imperii Romani vols. 26, 43 and 44 (Vienna, 2000, but based on his 1950 dissertation) is cited throughout, an unfortunate choice since the work is eccentric in presentation and arrangement and adheres to a questionable methodology; still, its chronology is not far from that of more modern studies. Chapter 6, on portraiture, adheres quite strictly to the chronologies of Fittschen and Bergmann, and once again might have been incorporated in the text rather than treated separately.

As the Table of Contents shows, the book is not a biography, and indeed it is questionable whether a biography could be written. It is difficult enough to write the history of Gallienus’ times, and the perception of a personality depends upon sources that are either exiguous (Dexippus, Sybilline Oracle), distant in time (Orosius, Aurelius Victor and pseudo-Aurelius Victor), partly fictional (Historia Augusta), biased, or some combination of all of these. These are not much different from the challenges facing the biographer of any Roman emperor, but in other cases there is more ancillary material to confirm or modify the picture drawn by the sources. Here this is almost entirely lacking (see section 2.2, which occupies two pages, on epigraphical sources; section 2.3, less than a page, on papyri).

The book has no index of places, and would benefit from an index locorum, which would no doubt demonstrate the heavy use of the Historia Augusta. The bibliography is thorough and would have benefited from being more analytical.

All in all, this book is adequate as a guide to the source material, but would have benefited from a more critical approach to the sources and deeper inquiry into the non-literary evidence. It will be useful to the student just starting out in the study of this period, but there is little here for the specialist. ​


1.   The inclusion of these later sources leads to their misuse, since frequently they are used as testimonia. For example, at 75 the birth of Gallienus is given as 218 on the basis of evidence provided by (Pseudo-) Aurelius Victor, Malalas, the Synopsis Sathas, where either or both of the latter two may be dependent on the first. There is nothing implausible about the date given, and it has been universally accepted, but it rests on fragile evidence.
2.   I do not know where the author went to make up his list of mints active under Valerian and Gallienus, but the presence on it of both Cologne (Colonia Agrippinensis) and Samosata (68) would raise some eyebrows.

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010