Lucius Petronius Taurus Volusianus

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Volusianus was a Roman citizen, apparently of equestrian origins, whose career in the Imperial Service in the mid-Third Century AD carried him from a relatively modest station in life to the highest public offices and senatorial status in a very few years.[1] He may have secured his first appointments before the Licinian Dynasty - (Valerian and his son Gallienus) - acceded to the Empire in 253 AD, but it was in the course of their reign that his upward progress achieved an almost unprecedented momentum and the second factor seems to have been a consequence of the first. The nature of his relationship to the Licinii is uncertain, but it seems likely that a common origin in the Etruscan region of central Italy predisposed Gallienus at least in his favour and he seems to have been that prince's most trusted servant and adviser during the period of his sole reign - 260(?)-268 AD.


Almost all that is known of Volusianus is derived from an inscription.[2] dedicated to him by the Town Council of the municipium of Arretium (Arezzo, Italy) of which he was a patronus.[3] Commentators on the inscription have included: Jones, Martindale & Morris;[4] H.-G. Pflaum;[5] and also J. Bray.[6] As a Consul and Praefectus Urbi Volusianus is mentioned in the Fasti Romani, i.e. the record of Roman office-holders.[7]


Volusianus was the son of a Roman citizen also with the praenomen 'Lucius' of the Petronii clan. His Roman voting Tribe was the Sabatinae. Sabatina was a district in Etruria; thus it is likely that the family was of Etruscan origin. Volusianus’s patronage of Arezzo in later life does not necessarily mean that he was born there, but it does indicate some strong regional connection.[a].

It is possible that, as an Etruscan of equestrian rank - see below - Volusianus had social connections with powerful senatorial families of Etruscan provenance two of which achieved Imperial status in the mid-Third Century AD. This would go some way to explain the extraordinary momentum of his career from the early 250s AD onward. The Treboniani (the family of the Emperor Trebonianus Gallus) and the Licinii (the family of the Emperors Valerian and Gallienus) have both been suggested in this connection.[5][6] It seems agreed that a connection between these families and the Petronii Volusiani based on a common regional origin is not impossible, but that a blood-relationship is unlikely.

According to the Arretium Inscription Volusianus's career began he was already of equestrian rank, but we do not know if he was born into that level of society or achieved it as a result of his career. He probably became a senator in 261 - see below.


The Arretium Inscription lists Volusianus’s appointments in reverse chronological order according to the usual Roman practice. In chronological order they are:

  1. LAVRENS LAVINAS – This signifies the holding of a minor priesthood. The holders had to be of equestrian status.[9] This indicates that he had the property qualifications required for equestrian status, but was not yet admitted to the Ordo Equester - see Roman equestrian order for a fuller explanation of this distinction;
  2. EX V DECVRIIS – Signifies membership of one of the panels of five judges of equestrian status available to decide issues of fact;[10]
  3. EQVO PVBLICO – Indicates that he had taken part in the annual parade of the equestrians in Rome and was, therefore, an accredited member of the Ordo and was eligible for an official appointments reserved for members of the order;
  4. CENTVRIO DEPVTATVS – One of the commanders of the troops detached from the provincial armies for special service about the Emperor. These were formed into a unit known as the Peregrini. When the Emperors were in Rome the Peregrini were quartered at the Castra Peregrina Peregrina on the Caelian Hill. The centurio deputatus postings ranked high in the centurionate and were highly political. It seems surprising, therefore, that Volusianus should have been given this job as his first recorded military appointment. It was possible for equestrians to be directly commissioned into the legionary centurionate if an opening could be found in one of the provincial garrisons.[11] However, in the case of the Peregrini a prior posting as a legionary centurion in the provinces was usually a sine qua non. Bray suggests, tentatively, that Volusianus might have had an unrecorded posting as a legionary centurion before he went to the Castra Peregrina,[6] a proposition more confidently asserted by Pflaum.[5] This may explain the apparent anomaly, but there is no evidence to support the notion;
  5. PRIMVS PILVS Pilus LEGIONIS XXX VLPIAE – Senior ranking centurion of this legion which was normally stationed at Castra Vetera (modern Xanten) in the province of Germania Inferior. Pflaum[5] suggests that Volusianus might have held this appointment prior to the accession of the Licinii (253 AD) during the reign of Trebonianus Gallus. Again, there is no evidence for this, but it is a plausible conjecture. Bray suggests that it was at this time that Volusianus came to the attention of Gallienus when he campaigned against the Franci in Germania Inferior in the early years of his reign;[6]
  6. PRAEPOSITVS EQVITVM SINGVLIARORVM AVGG NN - Commander of a troop of the Emperor's mounted bodyguard - i.e. the 'Imperial Horse Guard'. The Equites Singulares [12] usually served directly under the command of the Emperor, but Pflaum suggests that Volusianus was entrusted with this command to carry out a special mission.[5] It was certainly the case that in the mid-Third Century the term praepositus indicates a commander appointed for a specific mission or campaign.[13] The formula Augg NN (i.e. Augusti Nostri– i.e. 'of Our August Lords)’ indicates that there were two Emperors when Volusianus held this office. It is generally assumed that the Emperors concerned were Valerian and Gallienus.[6] In other words, this posting occurred at some stage in the period 253-60 AD.[5]
  7. LEGIONIS X ET XIII GEMINAE PROVINCIAE PANNONIAE ITIM (ITEM?) LEGIONIS DACIAE – Commander (praepositus(?)[4]) of a detached force made up of units from Legio X Gemina which had its main base at Vindobona in Pannonia Superior (modern Vienna, Austria) and Legio XIII Gemina. The latter legion was at this time based at Apulum (Apulum (castra) in the province of Dacia (modern Alba Julia in Romania), but, according to this item in the inscription, it may also have had detachments serving in Pannonia. (This could explain the formulation provinciae Panonniae ('of the province of Pannonia') as intended to distinguish these elements from the main body of the legion (in Dacia). The detachments 'legionis Daciae' (i.e. 'of the Dacian legion') might, therefore, refer either to additional detachments of Leg. XIII transferred from Dacia or to elements of Legio V Macedonica, the other Dacian legion. The use of such ad hoc formations composed of elements of more than one legion and detached from their parent-bodies became increasingly necessary in the troubled middle years of the Third Century AD;[14]
  8. TRIBVNVS COHORTIS III VIGILUM; XI VRBANAE; III PRAETORIAE – Indicates Volusianus was, successively, a cohort commander in the Vigiles (Roman Watch) (255?), the Cohortes Urbanae(256?), and the Praetorian Guard (257?).[4] The Roman Watch rarely and the Urban Cohorts never on record served outside Rome and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, it may be presumed that it was in Rome that Volusianus served these appointments. However, Praetorian Cohorts usually followed the Emperor wherever he was. In the middle-late 250s AD they were, presumably divided between the co-Augusti Valerian and Gallienus[b] However, this item in the record of Volusianus's cursus seems to indicate that Coh. III was with Gallienus in the West at this time;
  9. TRIBVNVS COHORTIS I PRAETORIAE PROTECTOR AVGG NN – This appointment to the senior praetorian cohort is placed in 259?).[4] Again the formulation Augg NN indicates that there were two rulling Emperors so this appointment preceded the capture of Valerian by the Persians. The reference indicates that Coh.I was in the west when Volusianus commanded it, but - unlike the case of Cohs. VI and VII - there is no coin-evidence to support this supposition.[15] This is the also first known reference to he new Imperial bodyguard formation, the Protectores Augusti Nostri (i.e. 'Bodyguards of Our August Lords'). Christol argues that this formation was created specifically for officers serving in the comitatus of Gallienus.[16] The senior Praetorian tribune would almost certainly have fallen into this category;
  10. PRAEFECTVS VIGILVM PERFECTISSIMVS VIR – Volusianus is now Prefect of the Watch (probably 259 AD). [c] Perfectissimus Vir was an honorific indicating membership of the second rank of the equestrian order;
  11. PRAEFECTVUS PRAETORIO EMINENTISSIVS VIR – About 260(?).[4] The Praetorian Prefect usually served ‘in the Imperial Presence’. Eminentissimus Vir (lit 'Most Eminent Man') was the highest equestrian rank and was reserved for the Praetorian Prefect. (The Prefects of Egypt, the Corn Supply etc. were always Vires Perfectissimi) .
  12. VIR CONSULARIS ORDINARIUS – According to the fasti Volusianus was consul ordinarius with Gallienus in 261 - i.e. he was one of the two consuls who gave their name to the year according to the Roman practice although - again according to Roman practice - he is likely to have stepped down after a few weeks/months in favour of a consul suffectus Nevertheless, by achieving this office he became a member of the highest rank of the senatorial nobility, the Viri Consulares, which made him eligible for the highest offices in the Imperial System that were reserved for senators.

Significance of his consular appointment[edit]

Bray conjectures that, despite being raised to the consulate, Volusianus nevertheless, continued to serve as Praetorian Praefect until his appointment as Praefectus Urbis in 267 - see below.[6] This is possible: the office of consul was by this time largely ceremonial - though hugely prestigious (especially when held together with a reigning emperor as in Volusianus's case) and was still a pre-requisite of important provincial governorships - but the work-load would not have precluded him from holding other offices. In addition, although it was traditionally the case that men of senatorial rank could not be appointed to the Praetorian Prefecture[d], this rule had been abandoned or, at least, relaxed during the reign of Severus Alexander and in the next fifty or so years until the reforms of Diocletian gave the office definite senatorial status a number of prefects are recorded with the senatorial honorific Vir Clarissimus - i.e. 'Renowned Lord'. There therefore seems to have been no procedural obstacle to Volusianus's continuing to serve as prefect after he was ennobled.[19]

Later life[edit]

In 267 Gallienus appointed Volusianus Praefectus Urbis - i.e. Urban Prefect (Imperial Governor of the City of Rome). This was a hugely important and prestigious post in the hierarchy of the Imperial service.[e] Unlike the Praetorian Prefecture - see above - holders of the Urban Prefecture were invariably men of senatorial status. We have no means of knowing why Gallienus decided to relieve Volusianus of the Praeetorian Prefecture in order to give him this appointment or whether it would have been regarded as a promotion or demotion.

As Urban Prefect it is assumed that Volusianus remained in Rome when Gallienus went to the Balkans to deal with the invasion of the Goths and Heruls in 267-8.[6] There is no record of him taking part in that campaign nor is he mentioned by any ancient source in connection with the conspiracy that led to Gallienus's assassination by his leading military officers at Milan.


Volusianus may have been the father of Lucius Publius Petronius Volusianus.[4] This man is little known, but he seems to have had a distinguished career in a wholly civilian capacity. (As a senator he would have been precluded from following his father into the army). He seems to have followed the senatorial cursus honorum finally achieving the consulship. It is not known whether he ever governed a province[8]


It is normally assumed that Volusianus was done to death as a leading minister of Gallienus in the senatorial-inspired purge that followed the murder of that prince in 268. However, some at least of his family seem to have escaped/been spared - see preceding section.


By any standards Volusianus's was a remarkable career. There is no way of knowing how he performed in his professional capacities. Whatever his merits the favour of Gallienus - possibly based on some family and/or social connection arising from a common Etruscan origin - seems to have been crucial at all stages. However, given the general quality of the men Gallienus appointed to high office, it seems unlikely that the Emperor would have advanced Volusianus to such heights on the mere basis of a shared origin had the man no other quality to recommend him.


  1. ^ For Volusianus's Etruscan origins see [8])
  2. ^ Pratorian Prefect, Successianus was among the officers captured together with the Emperor Valerian by the Persians in 260 and he, presumably, had praetorians under his command.
  3. ^ 259 is thought to have been the year in which Germanic raiders, (Alemanni/Juthungi), penetrated Italy as far south as Rome and were driven off by an army composed of "soldiers who were then in the City" and citizens.[17] There is no mention in any ancient source that Volusianus's tenure of the Watch Prefecture coincided with this event. However, if he had been sent there to organise the defence of the City it would have reflected well on the Emperor and diminished the glory accruing to the Senatus Populusque Romani. Given the hostility to Gallienus of the Latin historians, the argument from silence is not necessarily conclusive.
  4. ^ Marcus Aurelius was once recorded as regretting that the fact that Pertinax had once been consul made him inelegible for such an appointment. (See [18]
  5. ^ After the reforms of Diocletian at the end of the Third Century the Praetorian Prefect was listed first in the Imperial Service hierarchy. How it ranked in the time of Gallienus is uncertain.


  1. ^ Southern, Pat (2001). The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine. p. 103. "...most famous besides the cavalry commander Aureolus being Lucius Petronius Taurus Volusianus, a man of low birth who became consul in 261..."
  2. ^ See Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) XI 1836 = ILS 1332 for text of inscription.
  3. ^ See patronage in ancient Rome for a discussion of the role of a patronus.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Jones, A.H.M.; J.R. Martindale & J. Morris (1971). The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, Vol i, 6 ‘Volusianus’. Cambridge University Press. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Pflaum, H.-G. (1960). Les Carrieres Procuratoriennes sous Le Haut Empire Romaine. Paris. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Bray, J. (1997). Gallienus: A study in reformist and sexual politics, Appendix C. Adelaide, S. Australia: Wakefield Press. pp. 327–330. 
  7. ^ See Chronographer of the Year 354 in 'Chronica Minora' 1: Monumenta Germaniae Historia: ed T. Mommsen, vol IX
  8. ^ a b P. Lambrechts, La Composition du Senat Romaine de Septime Severe a Diocletien: Budapest, 1937
  9. ^ Cagnat,, R. (1898). Cours d'Epigraphie Latine. Paris: Fontemoing. p. 118. 
  10. ^ Buck land, W.W. (1950). Textbook of Roman Law from Augustus to Justinian. Cambridge University Press. p. 632. 
  11. ^ Dobson, B. "The significance of the centurion and the Primipilaris in the Roman Army and administration". ANRW II 1,: 392–434. 
  12. ^ Speidel, M.P. (1997). Riding for Caesar. Harvard University Press. 
  13. ^ Smith, Prof. R.E. 'Praepositus', 'Dux'. 
  14. ^ The enforced transformation of the tactical disposition of the Roman forces in the Balkans in the mid-Third Century AD has been much discussed in scholarly circles in recent years. See inter alia Potter, Prof. D.S. (2004). The Roman Empire at Bay - AD 180-395: Part III. Routledge. 
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ Christol, M. (1970). La carrière de Traianus Mucianus et l'origine des protectores. 
  17. ^ Zozimus. Historia Nova I 37. 
  18. ^ Birley, Anthony (1971). Septimus Severus: The African Emperor. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode. 
  19. ^ See Howe, L.L. (1942). The Pretorian Prefect from Commodus to Diocletian (A.D. 180-305). Append. H: University of Chicago Press. pp. 120–3. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Publius Cornelius Saecularis ,
Gaius Iunius Donatus,
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Gallienus,
Macrianus Minor,
Succeeded by
Lucius Mummius Faustianus