People - Ancient Rome: Decius
Born Gaius Messius Quintus Decius, he was Roman Emperor from 249 to 251.
Decius in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
Gaius Messius Quintus Traiānus. A native of Pannonia, sent by the emperor Philip to put down a sedition in Moesia.
Instead of obeying his master's command, he assumed the imperial purple. His disaffected troops, it is said, forced
him to this step. The emperor immediately marched against him, and a battle was fought near Verona, which terminated
successfully for Decins, and Philip was either slain in the conflict or put to death after he fell into the
conqueror's power. This took place A.D. 249, and from this period is dated the commencement of the reign of Decius.
It was one of short duration, about two years. During this time, however, he proved a very cruel persecutor of the
Christians. He greatly signalized himself against the Persians, but was slain in an action with the Goths, who had
invaded his dominions. In advancing upon them he was, with the greater part of his troops, entangled in a morass,
where, being surrounded by the enemy, he perished under a shower of darts, A.D. 251, aged fifty years. See Victor, De
Caes. 29; Eutrop. ix. 4; Euseb. Hist. Eccles. vi. 39, etc.; Zonar. xii. 19, 20.
Decius in Roman Biography
Decius, dee'sbe-us, [Fr. Dece, dis,] (Caius Messius
Quintus TrajanusJ a Roman emperor, born in Pannonia
about 200 a.d. He was Governor of Mcesia, under
Philip, when his army proclaimed him emperor. A
battle follower! between the two rivals, in which Philip
was defeated and killed, 249 a.d. Decius persecuted the
Christians with great cruelty. In a battle with the Goths,
who had invaded his dominions, he was killed in 251.
See Gibbon, "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."
Decius in Wikipedia
Gaius Messius Quintus Decius (ca. 201- June 251) was Roman Emperor from 249 to 251. In the last year of his reign, he co-
ruled with his son Herennius Etruscus until both of them were killed in the Battle of Abrittus.
Early life and rise to power -
Decius, who was born at Budalia, now Martinci, Serbia near Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica), in Lower Pannonia was one of the
first among a long succession of future Roman Emperors to originate from the province of Illyricum in the Danube..
Unlike some of his immediate imperial predecessors such as Philip the Arab or Maximinus, Decius was a distinguished
senator who had served as consul in 232, had been governor of Moesia and Germania Inferior soon afterwards, served as
governor of Hispania Tarraconensis between 235–238, and was urban prefect of Rome during the early reign of Emperor
Philip the Arab (Marcus Iulius Phillipus).
Around 245, Emperor Philip entrusted Decius with an important command on the Danube. By the end of 248 or 249, Decius was
sent to quell the revolt of Pacatianus and to rid the region of the Goths, Germans and Dacian Carpi who had flooded in
during the crisis  and his troops in Moesia and Pannonia; the soldiers were enraged because of the peace treaty
signed between Philip and the Sassanids. Once arrived, the troops forced Decius to assume the imperial dignity himself
instead. Decius still protested his loyalty to Philip, but the latter advanced against him and was killed near Verona,
Italy. The Senate then recognized Decius as Emperor, giving him the attribute Traianus as a reference to the good emperor
Trajan. As the Byzantine historian Zosimus later noted:
Decius was therefore clothed in purple and forced to undertake the [burdens of] government, despite his reluctance and
Political and monumental initiatives -
Decius' political program was focused on the restoration of the strength of the State, both military opposing the
external threats, and restoring the public piety with a program of renovation of the State religion.
Either as a concession to the Senate, or perhaps with the idea of improving public morality, Decius endeavoured to revive
the separate office and authority of the censor. The choice was left to the Senate, who unanimously selected Valerian
(afterwards emperor). But Valerian, well aware of the dangers and difficulties attaching to the office at such a time,
declined the responsibility. The invasion of the Goths and Decius' death put an end to the abortive attempt.
During his reign, he proceeded to construct several building projects in Rome "including the Thermae Deciane or Baths of
Decius on the Aventine" which was completed in 252 and still survived through to the 16th century; Decius also acted to
repair the Colosseum, which had been damaged by lightning strikes.
Persecution of Christians -
In January 250, Decius issued an edict for the suppression of Christianity. The edict itself was fairly clear:
All the inhabitants of the empire were required to sacrifice before the magistrates of their community 'for the safety of
the empire' by a certain day (the date would vary from place to place and the order may have been that the sacrifice had
to be completed within a specified period after a community received the edict). When they sacrificed they would obtain a
certificate (libellus) recording the fact that they had complied with the order.
While Decius himself may have intended the edict as a way to reaffirm his conservative vision of the Pax Romana and to
reassure Rome's citizens that the empire was still secure, it nevertheless sparked a "terrible crisis of authority as
various Christian bishops and their flocks reacted to it in different ways."  Measures were first taken demanding that
the bishops and officers of the church make a sacrifice for the Emperor, a matter of an oath of allegiance that
Christians considered offensive. Certificates were issued to those who satisfied the pagan commissioners during the
persecution of Christians under Decius. Forty-six such certificates have been published, all dating from 250, four of
them from Oxyrhynchus. Christian followers who refused to offer a pagan sacrifice for the Emperor and the Empire's
well-being by a specified date risked torture and execution. A number of prominent Christians did, in fact, refuse to
make a sacrifice and were killed in the process including Pope Fabian himself in 250 and "anti-Christian feeling[s] led
to pogroms at Carthage and Alexandria." In reality, however, towards the end of the second year of Decius' reign,
"the ferocity of the [anti-Christian] persecution had eased off, and the earlier tradition of tolerance had begun to
reassert itself." The Christian church though never forgot the reign of Decius whom they labelled as that "fierce
At this time, there was a second outbreak of the Antonine Plague, which at its height in 251 to 266 took the lives of
5,000 a day in Rome. This outbreak is referred to as the "Plague of Cyprian" (the bishop of Carthage), where both the
plague and the persecution of Christians were especially severe. Cyprian's biographer Pontius gave a vivid picture of the
demoralizing effects of the plague  and Cyprian moralized the event in his essay De mortalitate. In Carthage the
"Decian persecution" unleashed at the onset of the plague sought out Christian scapegoats. Decius' edicts were renewed
under Valerius in 253 and repealed under his son, Gallienus, in 260-1.
Military actions and death -
The barbarian incursions into the Empire were becoming more and more daring and frequent whereas the Empire was facing a
serious economic crisis in Decius' time. During his brief reign, Decius engaged in important operations against the
Goths, who crossed the Danube to raid districts of Moesia and Thrace. This is the first considerable occasion the Goths —
who would later come to play such an important role — appear in the historical record. The Goths under King Cniva were
surprised by the emperor while besieging Nicopolis on the Danube; the Goths fled through the difficult terrain of the
Balkans, but then doubled back and surprised the Romans near Beroë (modern Stara Zagora), sacking their camp and
dispersing the Roman troops. It was the first time a Roman emperor fled in the face of Barbarians. The Goths then moved
to attack Philippopolis (modern Plovdiv), which fell into their hands. The governor of Thrace, Titus Julius Priscus,
declared himself Emperor under Gothic protection in opposition to Decius but Priscus's challenge was rendered moot when
he was killed soon afterwards.
The siege of Philippopolis had so exhausted the numbers and resources of the Goths that they offered to surrender their
treasure and prisoners, on condition of being allowed to retire. Decius, who had succeeded in
surrounding them and hoped to cut off their retreat, refused to entertain their proposals. The final engagement, the
battle of Abrittus, in which the Goths fought with the courage of despair, under the command of Cniva, took place during
the second week of June 251 on swampy ground in the Ludogorie (region in northeastern Bulgaria which merges with Dobruja
plateau and the Danube Plain to the north) near the small settlement of Abrittus or Forum Terebronii (modern Razgrad).
Jordanes records that Decius' son Herennius Etruscus was killed by an arrow early in the battle, and to cheer his men
Decius exclaimed, "Let no one mourn; the death of one soldier is not a great loss to the republic." Nevertheless, Decius'
army was entangled in the swamp and annihilated in this battle, while he himself was killed on the field of battle. As
the historian Aurelius Victor relates:
The Decii (ie. Decius), while pursuing the barbarians across the Danube, died through treachery at Abrittus after
reigning two years....Very many report that the son had fallen in battle while pressing an attack too boldly; that the
father however, has strenuously asserted that the loss of one soldier seemed to him too little to matter. And so he
resumed the war and died in a similar manner while fighting vigorously
One literary tradition claims that Decius was betrayed by his successor Trebonianus Gallus, who was involved in a secret
alliance with the Goths but this cannot be substantiated and was most likely a later invention since Gallus felt
compelled to adopt Decius' younger son, Gaius Valens Hostilianus, as joint emperor even though the latter was too young
to rule in his own right. It is also unlikely that the shattered Roman legions would proclaim as emperor a
traitor who was responsible for the loss of so many soldiers from their ranks. Decius was the first Roman emperor to
die in battle against a foreign enemy.
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