The Famous and Infamous Rulers of Rome – Part 45

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 Licinius I.

Emperor Licinius I

070215-emperor-Licinius-ILicinius was born in about 250 to a peasant family. He rose through the ranks of the military and became the friend of Galerius. It was on Galerius’ campaign against the Persians in 297 that his performance is said to have been especially impressive. He was rewarded with a military command on the Danube.

After Licinius was raised to Augustus by Galerius at the Conference of Carnuntum, fellow Caesars Maximinus II Daia and Constantine were furious. Licinius saw Maximinus II Daia as his biggest threat and so he allied himself with Constantine by marrying his sister Constantia in 313. He also confirmed Constantine’s famous Edict of Milan (toleration of Christians and Constantine’s status as senior Augustus). Maximinus II attempted to launch an attack, but his campaign was doomed from the start. He drove his troops across wintery, snow-bound Asia Minor and they were utterly exhausted. Despite their highly superior numbers they were defeated by Licinius. Maximinus II Daia died shortly after, either by succumbing to an illness or killing himself.

The death of Maximinus II Daia left the Empire in the hands of two men. Everything east of Pannonia was in the hands of Licinius and everything west of Italy went to Constantine. For all intents, the two Emperors could peacefully co-exist without one challenging the authority of the other and attempts were made to bring the war-torn Empire to peace.

The problem between Constantine and Licinius arose when Constantine appointed his brother-in-law Bassianus to the rank of Caesar, with authority over Italy and the Danubian provinces. Licinius saw in Bassianus only a puppet of Constantine’s and vehemently disliked this appointment. He developed a plot to incite Bassianus to revolt against Constantine. But his involvement in this affair was detected by Constantine, which consequently led to a war between the two Emperors.

Constantine attacked and defeated a numerically superior force at Cibalae in Pannonia and Licinius retreated to Hadrianopolis. Defiantly, Licinius elevated Aurelius Valerius Valens to the rank of Augustus of the west in an attempt to undermine Constantine’s authority. After a second, though inconclusive battle, the two Emperors signed a treaty which divided the Empire again; Licinius losing control of the Balkans to Constantine, which were in effect under Constantine’s control since the battle of Cibalae. Licinius still retained full sovereignty over his remaining part of the Empire. This treaty, one hoped, would settle matters for good. To further complete the semblance of peace and restored unity, three new Caesars were announced in 317 – Constantine and Crispus, both sons of Constantine and Licinius, who was the infant son of the eastern Emperor.

The Empire remained at peace, but relations between the two courts soon began to break down again. The main cause for the friction was Constantine’s policy toward the Christians. He introduced several measures in their favor and Licinius increasingly began to disagree. By 321, he had returned to the old policy of suppressing the Christian church in his eastern part of the Empire, even expelling Christians from any government positions.

Further cause for trouble was the granting of annual consulships. These were traditionally understood by Emperors to be positions to groom their sons as heirs to the throne. Licinius felt that Constantine was favoring his own sons and appointed himself and his two sons as consuls for his eastern territories for the year 322 without consulting Constantine. This was an open declaration of hostility, though it did not in itself immediately lead to a response. But in 322, to repel Gothic invaders, Constantine crossed into Licinius’ territory. This gave Licinius all the reason he needed to attack and by 324 the two sides were at war again.

Licinius began the conflict confidently at Hadrianopolis, with 150,000 infantry and 15,000 cavalry at his disposal as well as a fleet of 350 ships. Constantine advanced on him with 120,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry. When the two sides finally met, Licinius suffered a severe defeat and retreated to Byzantium. Licinius and his small army were soon captured and Licinius’ wife Constantia, who was the sister of Constantine, pleaded with the victor to spare her husband. Constantine relented and instead imprisoned him. Soon after, accusations arose that Licinius was plotting a return to power as an ally of the Goths and so Licinius was hanged in 325.

Licinius’ defeat was a complete one. Not only did he lose his life, but so too, did his son and supposed successor, Licinius the Younger, who was executed in 327 at Pola. Licinius’ illegitimate second son was reduced to the status of a slave laboring at a weaving mill at Carthage.

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