So if this Gallic Empire broke away from Rome but essentially failed and lasted a mere 14 years why is it so interesting and so compelling? Surely it's just another grubby rebellion that litters Rome's history and adds to the notion of a decline in the Third Century? In part it was grubby and unsuccessful, but in other regards absolutely not. I will argue that in fact the Gallic Emperors were the very reason The Empire that was Rome was able to survive.

The context was that Rome as an Empire was in trouble. The rise of the Sassanian Empire was relatively new (c.240AD) but crucially it was real military threat and achieved early success under Kings Ardashir and Shapur I. The Emperor Gordian III had lead a major war against the Sassanian Kings and lost, losing his own life, probably in battle and the successor Emperor Philip I had to pay a significant financial tribute to achieve peace, fix Imperial borders and to withdraw the battered army.

The situation in the Eastern provinces was far from stable. The Sassanians were ambitious, the provinces of Mesopotamia, Osrhoene and Syria were very much in their sights. Indeed barely 10 years later from the death of the Emperor Gordian III and the withdrawal by Emperor Philip and the Emperor Valerian was marching east. But after launching a major military campaign against the Sassanians, disaster struck and Valerian was defeated and himself captured. It was this capture and the void this opened up in the east of the Roman Empire that led in 263AD to the semi-independent status of the Kingdom of Palmyra, first under Septimius Odenathus and his son Hairan, and subsequently under Odenathus's widow Zenobia and second son Vaballathus.

This breakaway kingdom could have been a disastrous blow to the power of the Roman Empire, but in fact might have been the very initiative that saved the Roman World from collapse. Beset by a strong, ambitious and indeed successful Sassanian Kingdom it was locally based King Odenathus and the Empress Zenobia who was able to resist, defeat and at least stand firm. Leading locally based and certainly locally recruited troops the Kingdom of Palmyra was able to maintain eastern Roman borders and lifestyles in key provinces and cities.

Meanwhile in the western and central provinces of the vast Roman Empire the Emperor Gallienus was leading the military and civil campaigns to resist the Slavic and Germanic incursions over the Danube and Rhine. Often dismissed as the overlord of collapse in fact the Emperor Gallienus held firm.

Whilst his father was held captive, Gallienus remained as an effective and active Emperor of the central provinces and started reform of the army and managing the crisis that was inevitably hitting the Imperial economy. Whilst recognising the gravity of the Palmyran breakaway the Emperor Gallienus was strengthening institutions of the Empire. But the truth was he could not be everywhere at once.

A few years before in 259AD the Alammanic Tribes of northern Germany had swept over the Limes Germanicus (the Roman border of the Rhine) and the military legions based in Trier, Cologne, Augsburg and Mainz took matters into their own hands and declared their commander Postumus as Emperor.

So this decade of Roman Imperial rule suddenly had three declared rulers - Gallienus, claiming the whole Empire and holding Rome itself, the central provinces and most of North Africa, Odenathus and then Zenobia holding the eastern provinces based in Palmyra and extending at its peak into modern day Turkey and Egypt, and Postumus ruling Gallia, Germania, Belgica, Hispania and Britannia.

Now what happened next was without precedent, but perhaps became one. In fact what happened next was nothing. By virtue of having three independent rulers each with their own resources and focus, they were each able to defend their third (almost literally a third each) of the Empire. Each ruler faced military pressure from very significant external pressure and incursions and stood firm.  Neither sought to overthrow the other through aggressive conflict.

The Emperor Gallienus ruled in the centre whilst the Emperor Postumus governed in the West and Empress or Queen Zenobia governed in the East. Fascinatingly, neither Postumus nor Zenobia sought to directly overthrow Gallienus - indeed it would seem precisely the opposite. Each was content to hold their own, or perhaps more realistically, each was aware of their limitations and the fickle nature of the military support on which their elevation and position depended.

The story is of course more overlaid and complex than that, but for me the modern parallel is fascinating and to an extent still being played out today.

A strong dominant Europe, resented by the further outlier provinces and nations, with Britain (Britannia) declaring Independence, whilst recognising its fundamental reliance on the strength of the European structures. And in the east a resurgent force, at odds with the rules, strictures and regimes of Imperial Pagan Rome and driven by a history that looked back to the success of the Persian Empire and where Independent rebels (armed and created by the central Empire) were successful in leading the resistance to the rise of the Sassanian Kings.

If this is not a story of relevance today with Europe, Turkey/Syria, Brexit and more, then I genuinely don't know what is.