Maxentius AE Follis, Ostia, AD 309.
Obverse: IMP C MAXENTIVS PF AVG, laureate head right.
Reverse: AETERNITAS AVG N, the Dioscuri Castor and
each with a star above the cap, naked but for chlamys
shoulder, standing facing each other, each leaning
and holding horse's bridle; she-wolf with twins between
RIC VI, Ostia 16; Cohen 10
Maxentius AE Follis 307 - 308.
Obverse: IMP C MAXENTIVS PF AVG, laureate head right
Reverse: CONSERV-VRB SVAE, Roma seated facing, head
hexastyle temple, holding globe and scepter, Victories
as acroteria; wreath in pediment.
H in left field
RIC VI Rome 202
Maxentius (Latin: Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius Augustus; c. 278 –
28 October 312) was Roman Emperor from 306 to 312. He was the son
of former Emperor Maximian and the son-in-law of Emperor Galerius.
The latter part of his reign was preoccupied with civil war, allying with
Maximinus II against Licinius and Constantine. The latter defeated
him at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, where Maxentius, with his
army in flight, purportedly perished by drowning in the Tiber River.
Birth and early life:
Maxentius' exact date of birth is unknown; it was probably around 278.
He was the son of the Emperor Maximian and his wife Eutropia.
As his father became emperor in 285, he was regarded as crown prince who
would eventually follow his father on the throne. He seems not to
have served, however, in any important military or administrative position
during the reign of Diocletian and his father. The exact date of
his marriage to Valeria Maximilla, daughter of Galerius, is unknown.
He had two sons, Valerius Romulus (ca. 295 – 309) and an unknown one.
In 305, Diocletian and Maximian abdicated, and the former caesares Constantius
and Galerius became Augusti. Although two sons of emperors were available,
Constantine and Maxentius, they were passed over for the new tetrarchy,
and Severus and Maximinus Daia were appointed Caesars. Lactantius'
Epitome states that Galerius hated Maxentius and used his influence with
Diocletian to see that Maxentius was ignored in the succession; perhaps
Diocletian also thought Maxentius was not qualified for the military duties
of the imperial office. Maxentius retired to an estate some miles from
When Constantius died in 306, his son Constantine was crowned emperor on
July 25 and subsequently accepted by Galerius into the tetrarchy as Caesar.
This set the precedent for Maxentius' accession later in the same year.
When rumours reached the capital that the emperors tried to subject the
Roman population to the capitation tax, like every other city of the empire,
and wanted to dissolve the remains of the Praetorian Guard which were still
stationed at Rome, riots broke out. A group of officers of the city's
garrisons (Zosimus calls them Marcellianus, Marcellus and Lucianus) turned
to Maxentius to accept the imperial purple, probably judging that the official
recognition which was granted to Constantine would not be withheld from
Maxentius, son of an emperor as well. Maxentius accepted the honour,
promised donations to the city's troops, and was publicly acclaimed emperor
on October 28, 306. The usurpation obviously went largely without
bloodshed (Zosimus names only one victim); the prefect of Rome went over
to Maxentius and retained his office. Apparently the conspirators
turned to Maximian as well, who had retired to a palace in Lucania, but
he declined to resume power for the time being.
Maxentius managed to be recognized as emperor in central and southern Italy,
the islands of Corsica and Sardinia and Sicily, and the African provinces.
Northern Italy remained under the control of the western Augustus Severus,
who resided in Mediolanum (Milan).
Maxentius refrained from using the titles Augustus or Caesar at first and
styled himself princeps invictus ("undefeated prince"), in the hope of
obtaining recognition of his reign by the senior emperor Galerius.
However, the latter refused to do so. Apart from his alleged antipathy
towards Maxentius, Galerius probably wanted to deter others from following
the examples of Constantine and Maxentius and declaring themselves emperors.
Constantine firmly controlled his father's army and territories, and Galerius
could pretend that his accession was part of the regular succession in
the tetrarchy, but neither was the case with Maxentius: he would be the
fifth emperor, and he had only few troops at his command. Galerius reckoned
that it would be not too difficult to quell the usurpation, and early in
307, the Augustus Severus marched on Rome with a large army.
The majority of this army consisted of soldiers who had fought under Maxentius'
father Maximian for years, and as Severus reached Rome, the majority of
his army went over to Maxentius, rightful heir of their former commander,
who dealt out a large amount of money. When Maximian himself finally
left his retreat and returned to Rome to assume the imperial office once
again and support his son, Severus with the rest of his army retreated
to Ravenna. Shortly after he surrendered to Maximian, who promised
that his life be spared.
After the defeat of Severus, Maxentius took possession of northern Italy
up to the Alps and the Istrian peninsula to the east, and assumed the title
of Augustus, which (in his eyes) had become vacant with the surrender of
The joint rule of Maxentius and Maximian in Rome was tested further when
Galerius himself marched to Italy in the summer of 307 with an even larger
army. While negotiating with the invader, Maxentius could repeat
what he did to Severus: by the promise of large sums of money, and the
authority of Maximian, many soldiers of Galerius defected to him.
Galerius was forced to withdraw, plundering Italy on his way. Some
time during the invasion, Severus was put to death by Maxentius, probably
at Tres Tabernae near Rome (the exact circumstances of his death are not
certain). After the failed campaign of Galerius, Maxentius' reign
over Italy and Africa was firmly established. Beginning in 307 already,
he tried to arrange friendly contacts with Constantine, and in the summer
of that year, Maximian traveled to Gaul, where Constantine married his
daughter Fausta and was in turn appointed Augustus by the senior emperor.
However, Constantine tried to avoid breaking with Galerius, and did not
openly support Maxentius during the invasion.
In 308, probably April, Maximian tried to depose his son in an assembly
of soldiers in Rome; surprisingly to him, the present troops remained faithful
to his son, and he had to flee to Constantine. In the conference
of Carnuntum, in the autumn of that same year, Maxentius was once again
denied recognition as legitimate emperor, and Licinius was appointed Augustus
with the task of regaining the usurper's domain. Late in 308, Domitius
Alexander was acclaimed emperor in Carthage, and the African provinces
seceded from Maxentian rule. This produced a dangerous situation
for Maxentius, as Africa was critical to Rome's food supply.
Maxentius' eldest son Valerius Romulus died in 309, at the age of about
fourteen, was deified and buried in a mausoleum in the Villa of Maxentius
at the Via Appia. Nearby, Maxentius also constructed the Circus of
Maxentius. After the death of Maximian in 309 or 310, relations with
Constantine rapidly deteriorated, and Maxentius allied with Maximinus to
counter an alliance between Constantine and Licinius. He allegedly
tried to secure the province of Raetia north of the Alps, thereby dividing
the realms of Constantine and Licinius (reported by Zosimus); the plan
was not carried out, as Constantine acted first.
In 310, Maxentius lost Istria to Licinius, who could not continue the campaign,
however, by the middle of 310 Galerius had become too ill to involve himself
in imperial politics and he died soon after April 30, 311. Galerius'
death destabilized what remained of the Tetrarchic system. On hearing
the news, Maximinus mobilized against Licinius, and seized Asia Minor before
meeting Licinius on the Bosphorus to arrange terms for peace. In
the meantime, Maxentius fortified northern Italy against potential invasions
and sent a small army to Africa under the command of his praetorian prefect
Rufius Volusianus which defeated and executed the usurper Domitius Alexander
in 310 or 311. Maxentius used the opportunity to seize the wealth
of his supporters, and to bring large amounts of grain to Rome. He
also strengthened his support among the Christians of Italy by allowing
them to elect a new Bishop of Rome, Eusebius.
Maxentius was far from secure, however. His early support was dissolving
into open protest; by 312, he was a man barely tolerated, not one actively
supported. Without the revenues of the empire, Maxentius was forced
to resume taxation in Italy to support his army and his building projects
in Rome. The election of a bishop did not aid much, either, as Diocletian's
persecution had split the Italian church into competing factions over the
issue of apostasy (see Donatism). The Christians of Italy could easily
see that Constantine was more sympathetic to their plight than Maxentius.
In the summer of 311, Maxentius mobilized against Constantine while Licinius
was occupied with affairs in the East. He declared war on Constantine,
vowing to avenge his father's "murder". Constantine, in an attempt
to prevent Maxentius from forming a hostile alliance with Licinius, forged
his own alliance with the man over the winter of 311–12 by offering to
him his sister Constantia in marriage. Maximin considered Constantine's
arrangement with Licinius an affront to his authority. In response,
he sent ambassadors to Rome, offering political recognition to Maxentius
in exchange for military support. Two alliances, Maximin and Maxentius,
Constantine and Licinius, lined up against one another. The emperors
prepared for war.
War against Constantine:
Maxentius expected an attack along his eastern flank from Licinius, and
stationed an army in Verona. Constantine had smaller forces than
his opponent: with his forces withdrawn from Africa, with the praetorian
and Imperial Horse Guard, and with the troops he had taken from Severus,
Maxentius had an army equal to approximately 100,000 soldiers to use against
his opponents in the north. Many of these he used to garrison fortified
towns across the region, keeping most stationed with him in Verona.
Against this, Constantine could only bring a force of between twenty-five
and forty thousand men. The bulk of his troops simply could not be
withdrawn from the Rhine frontiers without negative consequences.
It was against the recommendations of his advisers and generals, against
popular expectation, that Constantine anticipated Maxentius, and struck
As early as weather permitted, late in the spring of 312, Constantine crossed
the Alps with a quarter of his total army, a force equivalent to something
less than forty thousand men. Having crossed the Cottian Alps at
the Mont Cenis pass, he first came to Segusium (Susa, Italy), a heavily
fortified town containing a military garrison, which shut its gates to
him. Constantine ordered his forces to set its gates on fire and
scale its walls, and took the town quickly. Constantine forbade the
plunder of the town, and advanced into northern Italy. At the approach
to the west of the important city of Augusta Taurinorum (Turin, Italy),
Constantine encountered a large force of heavily armed Maxentian cavalry,
labeled clibanarii or cataphracti in the ancient sources. In the
ensuing battle Constantine spread his forces into a line, allowing Maxentius'
cavalry to ride into the middle of his forces. As his forces broadly
encircled the enemy cavalry, Constantine's own cavalry charged at the sides
of the Maxentian cataphracts, beating them with iron-tipped clubs.
Many Maxentian cavalrymen were dismounted, while most others were variously
incapacitated by the blows. Constantine then commanded his foot soldiers
to advance against the surviving Maxentian infantry, cutting them down
as they fled. Victory, the panegyrist who speaks of the events declares,
came easily. Turin refused to give refuge to the retreating forces
of Maxentius. It opened its gates to Constantine instead. Other cities
of the north Italian plain, recognizing Constantine's quick and clement
victories, sent him embassies of congratulation for his victory.
He moved on to Milan, where he was met with open gates and jubilant rejoicing.
He resided there until the middle of the summer of 312 before moving on.
It was expected that Maxentius would try the same strategy as against Severus
and Galerius earlier; that is, remaining in the well-defended city of Rome,
and sit out a siege which would cost his enemy much more. For somewhat
uncertain reasons, he abandoned this plan, however, and offered battle
to Constantine near the Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312. Ancient
sources usually attribute this action to superstition or (if pro-Constantinian)
divine providence. Maxentius of course had consulted soothsayers
before battle, as was customary practice, and it can be assumed that they
reported favourable omens, especially as the day of battle would be his
dies imperii, the day of his accession to the throne (which was October
28, 306). What else may have motivated him, is open to speculation.
The armies of Maxentius and Constantine met north of the city, some distance
outside the walls, beyond the Tiber river on the Via Flaminia. Christian
tradition, especially Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea, claims that
Constantine fought under the labarum in that battle, revealed to him in
a dream. Of the battle itself, not much is known – Constantine's
forces defeated Maxentius's troops, who retreated to the Tiber, and in
the chaos of the fleeing army trying to cross the river, Maxentius fell
into the water and drowned. His body was found the next day and paraded
through the city, and later sent to Africa, as a sign that he had surely
Overview and legacy:
After Constantine's victory, Maxentius was systematically vilified and
presented as a cruel, bloodthirsty and incompetent tyrant. While
he was not counted under the persecutors of the Christians by early sources
like Lactantius, under the influence of the official propaganda later Christian
tradition framed Maxentius as hostile to Christianity as well. This
image has left its traces in all of our sources and has dominated the view
of Maxentius well into the 20th century, when a more extensive use and
analysis of non-literary sources like coins and inscriptions have led to
a more balanced image. Maxentius was a prolific builder, whose achievements
were overshadowed by Constantine's issue of a damnatio memoriae against
him. Many buildings in Rome that are commonly associated with Constantine,
such as the great basilica in the forum Romanum, were in fact built by
Discovery of Imperial insignia:
In December 2006, Italian archeologists announced that an excavation under
a shrine near the Palatine Hill had unearthed several items in wooden boxes,
which they identified as the imperial regalia, possibly belonging to Maxentius.
The items in these boxes, which were wrapped in linen and what appears
to be silk, include 3 complete lances, 4 javelins, what appears to be a
base for standards, and three glass and chalcedony spheres. The most
important find was a scepter of a flower holding a blue-green globe, which
is believed to have belonged to the Emperor himself because of its intricate
workmanship, and has been dated to his rule.
These are the only known imperial insignia so far recovered, which hitherto
had only been known from representations on coins and in relief sculptures.
Clementina Panella, the archaeologist who made the discovery states that
"These artifacts clearly belonged to the emperor, especially the scepter,
which is very elaborate. It's not an item you would let someone else
have." Panella notes that the insignia were likely hidden by Maxentius'
supporters in an attempt to preserve the emperor's memory after he was
defeated at the Battle of Milvian Bridge by Constantine. The items
have been restored and are on temporary display at the Museo Nazionale
Romano at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.
In popular culture:
Maxentius is the main antagonist of the 1961 film Constantine and the Cross.
The character is played by Massimo Serato.
Maxentius is portrayed in the 5th episode of Ancient Rome: The Rise and
Fall of an Empire.
In the 2014 film Katherine of Alexandria, Maxentius was portrayed by Will
Information was taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
at this URL: