Successianus was a Roman general of the Third Century AD of whom very little is known for certain. He appears to have distinguished himself at a lower rank, but, when promoted to Praetorian Prefect by Valerian he failed to save his Emperor from defeat and capture by the Persians.
Nothing is known of Successianus's origins or his date of birth. The absence of any evidence as to his nomen means that onomastic analysis cannot be applied.
Successianus is first encountered in as commander of the garrison of Pityus, a city in the Kingdom of Colchis on the eastern coast of the Black Sea in modern Georgia. This region did not lie within the Roman imperial frontier, but it is known that Rome was in a treaty relationship with Colchis and supplied garrisons at key points. During Successianus's watch, Pityus came under attack by the Borani, one of the peoples who lived in the steppes north of the Crimea known generally as the Scythae. The Borani raid on Pityus was one of the first of the seaborne expeditions by the Scythae which were to reach their peak in the 260s. Thanks to Successianus's inspired leadership, the city held out and the raiders were forced to retreat after suffering considerable losses.
This rare success by one of his commanders inspired the Emperor Valerian who had recently arrived in Syria to take charge of the war against the Persians to call Successianus to his headquarters in Antioch, where he is said to have assisted the Emperor in rebuilding the city which had been reduced to ruins by King Shapur. He is then supposed to have been made Praetorian Prefect although Zozimus nowhere says this. If he was thus promoted, his authority is likely to have been confined to those provinces under Valerian's direct control – i.e. Asia, Mesopotamia and Syria – while Silvanus may have acted for Gallienus in an equivalent office.
Unfortunately, the qualities that had made Successianus an excellent garrison commander in Pityus were obviously not those he needed as Valerian's Chief-of-General Staff: the Roman defence of the East, torn between the need to fend off Shapur in Mesopotamia and Syria and the Scythae in Asia Minor, was generally ineffective. Unable to battle the deadly combination of military defeat and plague military morale seems to have collapsed. It is supposed that Successianus was with Valerian, still serving him as Praetorian Prefect when Shapur defeated him and took him captive near Edessa in June(?) 260. It is supposed that, like his Emperor, he died in Persian captivity.
It is impossible to determine whether in Successianus we see a promising officer who had shown sufficient promise to be promoted praepositus of the garrison of an allied city, but was then elevated beyond his capabilities, or a soldier of some competence who was unable to get a grip on the situation that prevailed at the headquarters of the Imperial field-army. Some combination of these possibilities is more than likely..
References and notes
- Alfoldi, A. (1939). The Crisis of the Empire: Cambridge Ancient History Vol. XII, Chapter VI, iv, p.134. CUP.
- See Howe, Laurence Lee (1942). The Pretorian Prefect from Commodus to Diocletian (AD 180-305), pp 80-81. Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
- The name may mean 'Northmen'.
- Scythae is the anachronistic, classicising designation given by the Greek historian Dexippus to the peoples of the region now comprehended by the Ukraine and southern Russia in the third century AD and refers to the nations later known as the Borani, Goths, Heruls, Rhoxolani, Alans etc. See Potter, Prof. D.S. The Roman Empire at Bay, AD 180-395 (2004) Routledge, London and New York (245-6)
- See Zozimus, op.cit., i.32.
- In the Res Gestae Divi Sarporis the King of Persia claimed to have captured a Pratorian Prefect after the fight at Edessa together with the Roman Emperor (RGDS 9-11).