Gaius Iulius Verus Maximinus
Imperator Caesar Gaius Iulius Verus Maximinus Augustus
March 235 – April 238 CE
c. 172 BCE
April 238 CE
Maximinus Thracus, also known as Maximinus I, was born around CE 172 in Thrace or Moesia under the name Gaius Iulius Verus Maximinus. The probable place of his birth was the camp of the first Italian legion Novae(today’s Svishtov) on the border of modern Bulgaria and Romania.
He reigned as emperor from 235 to 238 CE. He is considered the first barbarian (non-Roman) to wear Imperial purple. Moreover, he was the first emperor who never appeared in Rome and the first of a number of so-called soldier-emperors. His rule is considered to be the beginning of the crisis of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century CE.
According to Herodian in “The History of the Roman Empire”, Maximinus was of Thraco-Roman origin. In turn, a widely believed unreliable source, The Story of Augustus, mentions that his father was Goth and his mother was of the Alan people. It can be said, however, that this claim is false, as the Goths did not appear in the Danube area until the end of the 3rd-century crisis. Certainly, however, Maximine came from a low estate and was considered a barbarian in the eyes of a typical Roman (despite the adopted edict Caracalla from 212, which granted all free-born Roman citizenship). Maximine was the first of many subsequent times when a man of Roman-Thracian origin sat on the throne of Rome. Many later (Licinius, Galerius, Aureolus, Leo I), like him, will gain power thanks to his achievements and military position.
Maximinus joined the legions during the reign of Septimius Severus, but it was not until the reign of Alexander Severus that he achieved a high position in the army. Maximinus commanded the 4th ItalicaLegion, made up of Pannonian recruits who were extremely hostile to Emperor Alexander Severfor paying the Alamans and his escape from fighting them. The army, also largely constituted by legio XXII Primigenia, made Maximino emperor and murdered the rightful ruler along with his mother in Moguntiacum(now Mainz). Maximine was also proclaimed by the praetorians in Rome and then approved by the Senate, who was extremely disgusted with the fact that a man of peasant origin was reaching for purple. The son of Maximinus and Caecilia Paulini, Gaius Julius Verus Maximus, was appointed Caesar.
Ancient sources, both the unbelievable ones like “Historia Augusta” and those more sensible (Herodian), mention the Roman emperor Maximinus Thrax as a man of enormous size. According to “Historia Augusta”, his height was 250 cm.
Moreover, his thumb was reportedly so large that he wore his wife’s bracelet as a ring. Apparently, he also had an extremely large forehead, nose and jaw.
All these references may suggest – if this is of course true – that Maximinus may have suffered from an overgrowth. Some scientists agree with the statement that Emperor Maximinus may have had a disease caused by excessive secretion of growth hormone – the so-called acromegaly.
Some sources mention other characteristics besides his great stature: excessive brutality or strength. Apparently, Maximinus was able to pull the loaded wagon with his own hands; punch a horse’s teeth with his fist, even break his leg with a kick or crush the tuff. His superhuman strength made him nicknamed Hercules or Antaeus among the soldiers.
According to “Historia Augusta”, Maximinus was also supposed to drink about seven gallons of wine (about 21 litres) a day and eat 18 to 27 kg of meat, avoiding vegetables. Interestingly, Maximinus was also supposed to sweat unusually and could fill up to three vessels a day with drops of sweat.
Maximinus Thrax was the first emperor to begin his career as an ordinary soldier. It is possible that all the stories about his appearance and behaviour were intended to slander him. Herodian makes it clear that Maximine was a barbarian of low origin and was extremely brutal during his reign. He was to come from the Thracian mountains and join the local auxiliary units of the Roman army. Determination, military skills and popularity among soldiers elevated him to the throne during the competition for the Roman throne.
Herodian reports that Maximine was also to regard as his enemy the senators who, because of his low status, were to plot against his life to remove him from power.
According to the messages, the newly elected emperor hated nobles and high society, hence he was allergic to any rumours about himself. He began his political activities by eliminating the supporters of the late Alexander Severus. As it turned out, the brutal decisions of the emperor were successful as two conspiracies were discovered and prevented the life of the new ruler. The first took place during the campaign across the Rhine in which a group of military men, heavily influenced by the senators, planned to destroy the bridge behind Maximine, which would fall into the hands of the barbarians. In the long run, it was also planned to elect Emperor Magnus, who eventually lost his life as a result of the discovery of the plot. The second plot was to use the Mesopotamian archers from Osroene, loyal to the late ruler. This detachment was to proclaim senator Quartinus the ruler of Rome, despite the fact that he allegedly resisted the same. Soon he was murdered by the officer with whom he shared the tent – Macedo. Instead of the expected reward, the killer received a death sentence from the emperor for participating in the rebellion and betraying his superior.
In order to gain the sympathy and support of the army, Maximinus doubled the wages of the soldiers. This decision required higher taxes, which in turn led to the oppression of social classes, especially the highest ones. Later, such a policy was to lead to a rebellion by landowners in Africa.
During his reign, Maximinus distinguished himself by changing his policy toward Christians (compared to the reign of Alexander). Maximinus saw Christians as a serious threat to the state and thus ordered the religion to be ruthlessly exterminated and persecuted. It was then that the Bishop of Rome, Pontian, and his successor, Anterus, were martyred.
Moving on to the battles at the borders, mention should be made of the first campaign of Maximinus, against the Alamans, whom the emperor defeated despite the heavy losses suffered in the swamps in Agri Decumates. After the victory, Maximine assumed the title of Germanicus Maximus, appointed his son Caesar and princeps iuventutis, and deified his wife. Presumably, Maximine launched a second campaign deeper into Germania, defeating the Germanic tribe on the Weser River. After securing the Germanic border, Maximine went to the Sirmium winter camp in Pannonia to fight the Dacians and the Sarmatians in the winter of 235-236 CE.
In early CE 238, in the province of Africa, there was an open revolt against the tax officials and thus the official imperial authority. A group of landowners, disgusted with scams and corruption at the highest levels of power in the province, set up their own army, which captured Thysdrus (now El Djem, Tunisia) and murdered the officials and their bodyguards. In addition, they appointed an aged provincial governor of Gordian I (Marcus Antony Gordianus Sempronianus) and his son Gordian II joint rulers. The Roman Senate promised obedience to the new emperors, giving them the title of Augustus. Upon hearing of the events, Maximine gathered an army and set off from Pannonia to Rome.
At that time, things were not going well for the Gordian family in Africa. The neighbouring province of Numidia, ruled by Capellianus, had the region’s only legion – the III Augustus. Capellianus, not very positive about the new emperors (distant past), set off with the legion for Carthage, which he easily conquered. Gordian II himself was killed in the fight, and his father, upon hearing about his son’s death, hanged himself on the belt.
The fall of the new emperors meant a bad turn for the Senate. The senators, constantly acting against Maximinus, were in danger. They couldn’t count on any grace on his part. It was decided to oppose Maximinus and appoint two rulers of Pupienus and Balbinus. When the crowd of Rome heard the news of the appointment of co-rulers from the patrician state, he opposed the Senate’s decision and threw stones and sticks on the procession of the elect. The Roman people supported the candidacy of Gordian’s grandson – Gordian III. The disagreement caused protests and fights in the city, which resulted in the concession of Pupienus and Balbinus and the appointment of Gordian III Caesar.
At that time, Maximin was marching with his troops to Rome in order to suppress the revolt and pacify the Senate. Unexpectedly, Aquileia closed the gates to Maximinus, which forced his forces to siege the city in 238 CE. However, as it turned out, the siege was more hostile to the attackers. Hunger and disease plagued Maximin’s soldiers to such an extent that the legionaries began to show insubordination and disloyalty.
Unexpectedly, in April 238 CE, soldiers of the II Parthica legion in their camp murdered Maximinus, his son and the ruler’s henchmen. Their heads were cut off, piled and driven to Rome on horseback. Thus Pupienus and Balbinus became the undisputed rulers of the Empire.
Assessing Maximino’s character is quite difficult. On the one hand, it should be appreciated that, despite his low birth, he managed to reach purple. The figure of Maximinus, it can be said, was unique in many ways. It combined the qualities of Emperor Trajan, who was the first ruler from outside Italy, Pertinax, who came from the lower strata, as well as Macrinus, who became emperor without being a member of the Senate. On top of that, his person met with huge criticism from senators, who mostly described the historical history and left a negative description of him. On the other hand, Maximin did not manage to do much during his reign, and the descriptions of brutality left behind certainly have their basis.
The reign of Maximinus Thrax is considered the beginning of the so-called “Crisis of the Third Age”, which was marked by the internal and external weakness of the state, sometimes on the verge of collapse. In the years 235-284 CE there was a crisis that included: external invasions of barbarians and Sassanids, internal struggles for power and economic collapse.