Aurelian (Lucius Domitius Aurelianus), a Roman emperor, born in Pannonia, or according to some authorities on the southern confines of Dacia, in the early part of the 3d century, assassinated between Heraclea and Byzantium, A. D. 275. His parents were poor and of the lowest class. He entered a Roman legion at an early age, and by his bravery and the remarkable feats of arms which his almost gigantic stature and great strength enabled him to perform he secured rapid promotion, and great personal popularity with the soldiers, among whom he was designated as Aurelianus manic ad ferrum (Aurelian Sword-in-Hand). He distinguished himself under Valerian and Claudius II. in campaigns against the Goths; and when Claudius died, although his brother Quintillius assumed the purple as his heir, Aurelian was proclaimed emperor by the army of the Danube, of which he was then in command (270). Quintillius committed suicide after a nominal reign of several weeks, and Aurelian took the throne without opposition. He drove the Goths beyond the Danube, carried on successful campaigns against the Alemanni and other German tribes, and to protect Rome against them built a line of strong walls, the ruins of which may still be traced about the city.

He next undertook a war against Palmyra, then a magnificent city in the height of its prosperity, ruled by Zenobia, the widow of King Odenathus. He captured the city after one of the ablest defences in history, treated the people with comparative kindness, and refused to put Zenobia to death, though his troops demanded her execution. After his departure the Palmyrenes rose and massacred the Roman garrison; upon this he returned, destroyed the city, and put the people to the sword (273). Zenobia was carried to Rome, and appeared in the emperor's triumph. Aurelian next defeated an attempt at rebellion made by the Egyptians under their Roman governor. Tetricus, who had made himself the independent ruler of the greater part of Gaul, now surrendered after little more than the threat of a war; and the Roman empire resumed something of its old territorial importance. The senate bestowed upon Aurelian the title of "restorer of the empire." After effecting many improvements in the government of the city, the discipline of the army, and the condition of the people, the emperor was murdered while on the way to a campaign against the Persians, by his secretary, whom he had offended by some harsh treatment long before.