The Famous and Infamous Rulers of Rome – Part 41
The Famous and Infamous Rulers of Rome series explores the most famous – and infamous – dictators, leaders and emperors of Rome. This week we focus on Emperor Maximianus.
Born circa 250 in Sirmium, Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus, more commonly known as Maximianus Herculius, had been a solider before he put on the purple. Maximianus had served in the military with Diocletian during the reigns of Aurelian and Probus.
When Emperor Diocletian determined that the Empire was too large for one man to govern on his own, he made Maximianus his Caesar in 285 and later elevated him to the rank of Augustus. While Diocletian ruled in the East, Maximian ruled in the West.
To a large degree, Maximianus spent the early years of his reign engaging in lackluster campaigning. Although he was able to quell the Bagaudae revolt fairly easily in 286, it was with some measure of difficulty that he put down a German invasion of Gaul in the fall of the same year. Additionally, Maximianus appointed Carausius to command his navy and to defeat the pirates. Because of certain financial irregularities that had occurred during his successful tour, Carausius revolted and declared himself Emperor. Britain and the northern part of Gaul sided with the usurper.
On his own, Maximanus was unable to repress Carausius. He and his Praetorian Prefect Constantius attempted to deal with both the on-going problem of Carausius and the continued Germanic incursions. As soon as Constantius was appointed Caesar in 293, he recovered northern Gaul after he defeated Carausius and repressed any sparks of rebellion in the region. It was not until 296, however, that Constantius was able to recover Britain by defeating Carausius’ successor Allectus. While he campaigned in Britain, Maximianus stood watch on the Rhine.
Between 297 and 299, Constantius fought the Moors in Spain and took the offensive against African tribes in the area of Carthage. Maximianus appears to have spent the remainder of his reign in a state of inactivity in Milan or Aquileia and was content to allow Constantius to shoulder the real burdens including, among other things, the German threat.
In political matters, the Emperor and Constantius were very different. Maximianus was allegedly very heavy handed when dealing with members of the Roman Senate, whereas Constantius’ relationship with the Patricians was fairly good. Surprisingly, when faced with the edicts which provided the legal foundation for the Great Persecution in 303, both Maximianus and Constantius seem to have been more moderate in their dealings with Christians than Diocletian and Galerius, who rigorously enforced the laws in the Eastern portion of the Empire.
On May 1, 305, Diocletian and Maximianus ridded themselves of the purple. Their resignations seem largely due to the almost fatal illness that Diocletian contracted toward the end of 304. Diocletian seems to have forced his colleague to abdicate. In any case, Maximianus had sworn an oath at the temple of Capitoline Jupiter to carry out the terms of the abdication. Constantius and Galerius were appointed as Augusti, with Maximinus Daia and Severus as the new Caesars. The retired Emperors then returned to private life.
Maximianus’ retirement was interrupted a little more than a year later when his son Maxentius was proclaimed Emperor in Rome. To give his regime an aura of legitimacy, Maximianus was forced to affirm his son’s acclamation. When Galerius learned of Maxentius’ rebellion, he sent Severus against him with an army that had formerly been under his father’s command. Maxentius invested his father with the purple again to win over his enemy’s troops, a ruse which succeeded.
Perhaps to strengthen his own position, in 307, Maximianus went to Gaul and saw the marriage of his daughter Fausta to Constantine. When Constantine refused to become embroiled in the civil war between Galerius and Maxentius, Maximianus returned to Rome and attempted to depose his son; however, he did not succeed. When he was unable to convince Diocletian to take up the purple again, he returned to his son-in-law’s side in Gaul. Although Maximianus was treated with all of the respect due to a former Emperor, he still desired to be more than a figurehead. He decided to seize the helm from Constantine when his son-in-law least expected it.
Maximianus’ opportunity came in the summer of 310, when the Franks revolted. When Constantine had taken a small part of his army into enemy territory, Maximianus proclaimed himself again Emperor and paid the soldiers under his command a donative to secure their loyalty. As soon as Constantine received news about Maximianus’ revolt, he went south and reached Arelate before his father-in-law could mount a defense of the city. Maximianus fled to Massilia, while his son-in-law seized the city and took him prisoner. Although Maximianus was deprived of the purple, he was granted pardon for his crimes.
Unable to endure the humiliation of his defeat, Maximianus attempted to have Constantine murdered in his bed. The plot failed because he tried to get his daughter Fausta’s help in the matter; she chose to reveal the matter to her husband. Because of this attempt on his son-in-law’s life, Maximianus was dead by the end of July, either by his own hand or on the orders of his intended victim.