During the Crisis of the Third Century, when 25 emperors ruled in a span of 50 years, the only qualifications for the purple seemed to be legions and the money to pay them. Such was the case with Caesar Marcus Aurelius Illyrius Augustus, better known to his contemporaries as simply Illyrius, who ruled the Empire from 280-283.

Illyrius came to power in the typical way, by bribing Emperor Probus’ men to assassinate him. A cavalry commander, he was from a long line of Dalmatian nobility who claimed ancestry from the mythical Illyrius spoken of in the myths.

As such, Illyrius began an ambitious program to emulate his idol, Augustus, by simultaneously consolidating power and burnishing the facade of a constitutional ruler advised by the Senate. Senators saw their number and pay increased; coins showed Illyrius in simple Senaate robes, and thousands were put to death for the new crime of seditionem imperium against the princeps.

The most curious thing about Illyrius was his fate: despite being arguably no better or no worse than his predecessors, when he was assassinated by Carus in August 283 the Senate took the unprecedented step of declaring that it was the Emperor Probus who had been killed, implying that he had reigned uninterrupted. This particularly insidious form of damnatio memoriae ensured that Illyrius was left off most lists of Emperors even to this day.

When Carus died of a lightning strike less than a year into his reign, some felt it divine retribution.