So students of Roman History tuck into Suetonius: Lives of the Ceasars. It is gory, gruesome, almost red top in modern newspaper style. But upon analysis the facts often ring true.  The characterisation and the stereotypes are over-vivid, but it is at least semi-contemporaneous gossip and rumour.

Indeed, I am always minded of my historical muse, mentor and inspiration Peter Connolly. "Why read novels, when you can read Suetonius?"

But Peter was largely avoiding what for me is the period that I'm most interested in: the Third Century Crisis. Now the Third Century is depicted by historians, and Edward Gibbon for me carries most of the blame, as a time of crisis, collapse and disaster. But this is to misrepresent what was actually happening, is a story of crisis based primarily on the top table of Roman life, and also makes light of the substantial periods of sustained stability.

One of the reasons for the depiction of crisis is down to the sources - some of the most reliable and expansive texts of Ancient Rome rather frustratingly end at the start of the Third Century. The changes that were going on often had long lasting effects but were not appreciated or fully understood at the time, and the scale of pressures of migration and external conflict were on a scale comparable with today.

So one of the fullest sources is the Historia Augusta (HA). Often widely discredited, there are a number of factors with the HA that need to be remembered. It was compiled much later than events it was writing about, was heavily copied from other more credible sources, that process of copying built in mistakes and errors. But more critically the authorship and the facts have been heavily embroidered. This embroidery is often elaborate, sometimes just plain wrong and occasionally crude and wildly misleading. For these reasons and more, many historians just cite the HA in order to add colour to their story, but don't rely on it as a source of facts.

Now I don't intend to reopen the discussions too widely and will confine myself to the Period of the Gallic Empire (260-274AD), but I am struck by a few elements. The Chapter on The Thirty Pretenders has been the most ridiculed in many respects, with some of the elements just dismissed. The Loeb edition in the notes says "Saturninus, Trebellianus and Celsius may be regarded as inventions of the author".

But Loeb then goes on to say "The list of the authentic prentenders reduces itself to nine, viz., Postumus, Lealianus, Marius... Aureolus" and cities Victorius and Tetricus as "of the time of Claudius and Aurelian." So far so good, when considering the Gallic Empire. With this principal analysis, most have followed. But whilst the nature of who was Emperor and when and what did that actually mean there are elements of the HA that should be revisited.

Clearly it was the intent of the author(s) to damn the memory of Gallienus and so everyone who rebelled in some form or other have been listed, including Victoria or Vitruvia, the mother of Tetricus I and grandmother of Tetricus II. So the definition of pretender has been stretched and because of this some of the content dismissed.

But, more reassuringly for example, the HA also makes reference to a contemporary military general Domitianus - there is no proven connection, but we now know from coins newly discovered that there was declared Emperor Domitianus or Domitian II as part of the Gallic Empire. As he is citied by the HA as part of the struggles going on between Gallienus, Macrianus and Quietus (both affirmed as existing) and the tricksy military commander Aureolus. At this point the story in the HA - previously discredited - now has some ring of truth about it. What is now clear is that the HA, whilst a history written in tabloid style, and making errors and deliberate misleading claims, is in truth, littered heavily with facts, leads and stories based in the events of the time.

All the more reason it seems to be to revisit the sources and bring to life the Gallic Empire and the independent Emperors that ruled over Britannia, Germanic, Belgica, Hispanic and Gaul for 14 years.