The Famous and Infamous Rulers of Rome – Part 44

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 Maximinus II Daia.

Emperor Maximinus II Daia

062515-emperor-Maximinus-II-DaiaMaximinus II Daia was born in 270 as the son of a sister of Galerius. He started his life as a herdsman of cattle, but then joined the army. With his uncle Galerius’ rise to power, he advanced quickly.

By the time of the joint abdication of Diocletian and Maximian, he was serving as a military tribune and had been adopted as Galerius’ son. It was from this position that he was directly promoted to the rank of Caesar, with responsibility for the provinces of Syria and Egypt. To further strengthen the bond between himself and Galerius, he assumed the name Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximinus and married off his daughter to Candidianus, the son of Galerius.

Maximinus II quickly proved to be a fervent believer in the old Roman gods determined to repress the Christian faith and continued the harsh policies introduced against the Christians under Diocletian. His pagan fanaticism went so far as to demand that everyone, even babies, were to attend the public sacrifices to the state gods.

In 308 at the Conference of Carnuntum, Maximinus II together with the other Caesar Constantine received a severe blow to their status as heirs to the Augusti when Galerius raised Licinius to the vacant position of co-Augustus. The rules of the tetrarchy clearly would have demanded one of the Caesars to be promoted to this post, Constantine in particular who was the western Caesar. But his close ties to Galerius obviously had built up Maximinus II’s hopes. If was Constantine disappointed, then Maximinus II was truly seething at this decision. His hostility towards Licinius was to remain a constant reminder of this denial of the status of Augustus.

For a while Maximinus II continued to sulk angrily at being passed over, but then in 310 he took the decisive step and had himself acclaimed Augustus by his own troops. Galerius could do little else but accept the usurper in the east, perhaps even feeling sympathy for some of the ill feeling on his adoptive son’s side.

When Galerius died in 311, enemies Licinius and Maximinus II knew they had to act fast to secure the territory. Maximinus II found it easy to occupy all of Asia Minor, with Licinius being powerless to do anything to prevent it. Then with the armies of either emperor facing each other, the two men agreed that the Bosporus was to be their border.

On his deathbed, Galerius made his famous edict by which toleration should be granted to the Christians. Maximinus II only followed this for six months, after which he reverted back to his policy of persecution. This new persecution of the Christians was to be remembered most for its use of forged documents, by which he tried to discredit the Christian faith. Most notorious of all among those papers should be the infamous Acts of Pilate.

Maximinus II had strengthened his position by the occupation of Asia Minor but hoped most of all to find an ally in Maxentius who controlled Italy and was also a traditional pagan. But in 312 Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge put an end to such hopes.

Constantine used his newly enhanced authority to order Maximinus II to cease his persecution of the Christians. The latter reluctantly complied. No doubt he realized that with Licinius and Constantine acting in favor of the Christians any refusal on his part might have given them an excuse to jointly act against him. Maximinus II knew it was inevitable that the current position of three hostile emperors could only result in civil war until one had achieved absolute power. Constantine’s victory at the Milvian Bridge made him the strongest of the three by far. Thus Maximinus II decided to take action against his old enemy Licinius, who was Constantine’s ally. If he could conquer Licinius’ territory himself, his strength would equal that of Constantine.

With this in mind, Maximinus II marched his troops across Asia Minor in the winter of 312/313. It was freezing, spring had not yet come. Maximinus II’s idea was most likely two fold. Firstly, such an attack outside the warmer seasons traditionally used for warfare would take Licinius by surprise. And secondly Constantine was occupied with the Germans on the Rhine, offering Maximinus II a golden opportunity to attack Licinius without his ally being able to come to his aid. If this was the plan, then the harsh, icy conditions imposed on his army were enormously demanding.

Having crossed the Bosporus with 70,000 men, his luck held at first. The city of Byzantium surrendered to his force. But Licinius, now aware of Maximinus II’s plans, marched against him. Eventually the two armies met, Maximinus II controlling a force more than twice the size than that of Licinius. But after the forced marches across the frozen mountains of Asia Minor, his troops were exhausted. Simply too exhausted to fight, his army was utterly defeated. Maximinus II escaped the slaughter and made his way back across the Bosporus disguised as a slave.

With the army of Licinius in pursuit Maximinus II fled Asia Minor, hoping to re-group behind the Taurus mountain range and recover his position. He established his new headquarters at Tarsus and began to fortify the passes in order to prevent Licinius’ advance. But Licinius could not be held back. He broke through the Taurus Mountains and laid siege to his Maximinus II. Besieged by land and sea, Maximinus II’s situation was hopeless. At this point he fell ill, either due to disease or to having taken poison to kill himself. In either case he wasted away rapidly. Blinded and suffering, Maximinus II Daia died a miserable death in Tarsus in 313.

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