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“Christians make me vomit.”
“Goths make me vomit”
“I make me vomit”
Decius (a good, solid 'decisive' name) had something of a truncated career as Roman Emperor in 3rd century Rome. He lasted about two years, which was about the average for the next 30 odd years in an almost unbroken succession of soldier-emperors. Unlike in previous centuries when emperors could at least blame their 'useless generals', if that was all you knew as an imperial candidate then if the proverbial hit the fan, you would hit the deck pretty shortly afterwards. So precarious became the position that other generals would decline 'the honour' over succeeding years but that wouldn't save you either. Once a rebellion started against a sitting emperor started, it was always a stark choice. To the victor the spoils, for the losers the 'crapitorium'.
Of course when Decius was leading his rebel troops against Emperor Philip the Arab, he was not know that he had set off a particular ticking sundial. Perhaps Decius was just a bit unlucky but his death in 251 against a new enemy, the smelly and black clad Goths was a huge surprise. He was the first Roman emperor to be killed on a battlefield by the barbarians. His body wasn't found, the Goths took it back home with them for their strange rituals.
Picking on the Christians wasn't clever either, since within 70 years they would be the victors and in charge of how history would be later recorded and preserved. Mess with the 'Jesus boys' cult', and you would be toast.
Not Being Philip
Decius owed his throne for being the complete opposite of his predecessor. Where as Philip wanted to be friends with Rome's enemies and give away territory, Decius stood for 'Good Old Roman Family Values'. Though Decius had been born in one of the rougher areas of the empire (Illyricum for those scholars using this article as a short cut for homework revision), he had lived long enough in Rome to become civilised. Decius had rose to be a Senator and an expert on military matters. When he was given a commission in 249 to 'bash a barbarian', Decius accomplished his mission and then turned his armies on his boss. It wasn't such a strange thing to. If Roman Emperors didn't want a disaster, they didn't either want anyone else taking the glory. Decius had avoided the first but was claiming the second.
Philip's lack lustre campaign to keep his job saw him decapitated and his head stuck on a pole. Decius thanked his pagan friends and backers, and in time honoured fashion, filled all offices with business associates. The usual collection of poets and writers looking for a pension wrote flattering profiles of Decius, comparing him to Trajan or Marcus Aurelius. Decius lapped this all up but also decided to 'investigate the causes of recent Roman decline'. The commission appointed reached their conclusion the same day. It was those funny fellows, the Christians who had undermined Roman morale with their subversive ideas of 'brotherly love' and other such 'guff' about treating people who you didn't want to know as part of your family. Outrage!
It was a good time to strike at the Christian community. With the exception of a few over turned Holy Communion tables and spitting at a passing priest, the Christians had been left alone more or less since the time of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the previous century. There was even the rumour that Emperor Philip and his family were followers to what Romans called a 'perverted cannibal cult'.
Decius issued an edict demanding ever Roman to sacrifice to him, donating their best cuts of meat to the nearest pagan altar and asking the emperor to help them fill out their tax forms. Anyone who said they couldn't do it for religious reasons were to have their tongues nailed to a block of wood. Decius knew the Christians would have a special problem with this edict as it would elevate him over Jesus. He was proved right and in the bargain, was told that Pope Fabian had sung a very rude song about Decius's edict at a church service.
This was a 'lose your noggin' offence and Fabian had his ripped off. He was one of the luckier martyrs. Others got the usual range of ingenious cruel Roman torture. It didn't take long for some Christians to accuse others of paying people bribes saying they had sacrificed. Some just ceased being Christian and returned to their local pagan temple. It looked like it was going to be thorough purge of all Christian worship until Decius had to break off from his campaign. There was trouble on the Danube Frontier. The Goths had returned.
Decius was at first dismissive of the Goths after his previous experience. But these were not Emo-Goths but the meaner and harder, Metal Goths. Ears bloodied and bandaged from listening to their music, these Goths were soon causing a serious in the Roman world.
The emperor was determined not to delegate this job to any other Roman commander, success as Decius knew bred ambition. So he turned to his own family and made his sons Herennius Etruscus and Hostilian co-emperors. Leaving Hostilian behind in Rome to 'mind the shop when Daddy's away, Decius and Herennius searched the Balkans looking for the Goths. Finally with the help of the local council noise pollution officers, the Roman army found their Goths. But these guys had been waiting and killed Decius and Etruscus. Suspiciously only a few Romans survived this massacre, in particular one burly general called Trebonianus Gallus. It was whispered that Gallus had arranged the entire Metal Goth tour as a way of killing his boss. Gallus denied it but promptly left for Rome on the fastest horse he could find. Rome had a new regime.
Philip the Arab