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Aurelian, with Vabalathus. AD 270-275. Antoninianus (20.5mm, 3.00 g, 11h). Antioch mint, 5th officina. 1st emission, November AD 270-March 272. IMP C AVRELIANVS AVG, radiate and cuirassed bust of Aurelian right; Є / VABALATHVS V C R IM D R, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust of Vabalathus right. RIC V 381; BN 1248-51. Toned over full silvering, traces of deposits. Near EF.

Ex Liggett Collection.

The son of Odenathus, the ruler of the rich eastern trade center Palmyra, and his wife Zenobia, Vabalathus was declared king following the murder of his father in AD 267. Since he was still in his minority, Zenobia took over as regent, using the position and the confusion following the death of Gallienus to establish her position between Rome and Persia and expand Palmyrene power. In late AD 270, Zenobia sent the Palmyran army to secure control of greater Syria and Egypt, bringing the mints of Antioch and Alexandria under her control. Coins were struck depicting Vabalathus, with the titles Vir Clarissimus, Rex, Imperator, Dux Romanorum, paired with the current Emperor Aurelian, who was styled Imperator Caesar Augustus.

It is uncertain whether Aurelian ever granted the tacit recognition this coinage implies, but by AD 272 he had clearly decided to suppress the Palmyran regime and launched a campaign. Palmyra was sacked and both Zenobia and Vabalathus were captured as they tried to make their way to Persia. The two were to be brought to Rome and be paraded in Aurelian’s triumph in AD 274, but apparently only Zenobia survived the journey. According to later tradition, Aurelian, impressed by her beauty and dignity, later freed her, and granted her a villa in Tibur, where she spent the rest of her life.