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Maximianus Coin With Hercules.

Maximianus Coin With Hercules.

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Imperial Rome > Maximian

Dates: c. 249/250-310
Regnal Name: Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus
Place of Origin: Sirmium (in the Balkans)
Family: Eutropia (wife); Maxentius and Fausta, and Theodora (children/step-daughter)
Occupation: Soldier/Roman Emperor
Dates of Rule 286- c 305

The Dyarchy

In 285, when Emperor Diocletian chose Maximian to join him in ruling the Roman Empire, he took the name Jovius for himself and chose the name Herculius for Maximian. Thus, the patron gods of the pair, Jupiter and Hercules, signified the one as supreme ruler and the other as strongman. At this time, Diocletian was still the superior in name as well as fact, with Maximian serving as Caesar (junior emperor), but the next year Maximian was elevated to Augustus (head honcho) after his settling of a Gallic revolt. Some debate continues about the nature of the relationship and about whether Diocletian might have adopted Maximian. [For more on this, see: Best of Brothers: Fraternal Imagery in Panegyrics on Maximian Herculius," by Bill Leadbetter; Classical Philology; Vol. 99, No. 3 (July 2004) (pp. 257-266).] Diocletian ruled the East, from headquarters at Nicomedia (modern İzmit, Turkey), while Maximian ruled the West, from Mediolanum (modern Milan).

In 286, Maximian, who had been a soldier before he became emperor, put down a revolt near Lugdunum (modern Lyon), in Gaul. This was a revolt of the peasants known as Bagaudae. Maximian continued to put down incursions across the upper Rhine by Alamanni and Burgundi and handled other problems with Germanic tribes. From 296-298, Maximian campaigned in Spain and northern Africa. One of the men Maximian had named to serve as a fleet commander in order to get rid of pirates in the English Channel, proclaimed himself emperor in Britain in 287. This was Carausius. In 293, one of his subordinates, Allectus, assassinated him. A new Caesar, Constantius, would defeat Allectus and restore the power to the legitimate rulers.

The Tetrarchy

In 293, Diocletian had decided to split the power he and Maximian shared, and assigned the northern provinces, Italy, Africa, and Spain to his co-emperor, assuming the eastern provinces for himself; assigning Maximian's new Caesar, Constantius (Chlorus), a former praetorian prefect, to Gaul and Britain, while allotting the Balkans to his own Caesar, Galerius. To simplify and help visualize, think of Maximian and Constantius as controlling the area from Italy westward, and Diocletian and Galerius controlling Roman lands east of Italy, with Constantius at the empire's western edge and Diocletian at the eastern edge.

In 303, Maximian and Diocletian went to Rome to celebrate Diocletian's 20th anniversary as emperor. Two years later, after the 20th anniversary celebration of Maximian's rule, both men abdicated and retired. Constantius and Galerius rose to the position of the Augusti, but it was Diocletian who decided on the next two Caesars: Flavius Valerius Severus and C. Galerius Valerius Maximinus Daia. Abdication was not something Maximian had wanted to do, but he went along with his more powerful co-ruler.

When Constantius died, the army named his son Constantine emperor. This by-passed the Caesar who should have filled the spot, Severus. A compromise was reached, putting Constantine and Severus respectively in the posts of Caesar and Augustus. Maximian's son Maxentius led a revolt in Rome in 306 in which he was named princeps, challenging the position of Severus, who marched on Rome. Maximian came out of his unwilling retirement to resume his position as Augustus, in which role he drove Severus out. Maximian and Maxentius now controlled Italy, Africa, and Spain. Constantine married Maximian's daughter Fausta and was named Augustus. Galerius called Diocletian temporarily out of retirement and in 308, Maximian was talked into retiring again. Maximian again, did not want to be retired, so he tried to have his own son deposed and Constantine murdered.

Maximian died in July 310, probably executed in the aftermath of his attempted assassination of Constantine:

"Maximian Herculius, besieged by Constantine at Massilia, then captured, was executed in a fashion most base, with his neck snapped by a noose."
Epitome De Caesaribus, Sometimes Attributed to Sextus Aurelius Victor


  • DIR Maximian
  • Gibbon
  • Ammianus Introduction
  • Cary and Scullard's A History of Rome
  • "A Palace of Maximianus Herculius at Corduba?," by Evan W. Haley; Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik Bd. 101, (1994), pp. 208-214

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Also Known As: Maximianus Herculius

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