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Maximinus Thrax

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Emperor Maximinus Thrax
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Emperor Maximinus Thrax

Caius Julius Verus Maximinus (c. 173238), also known as Maximinus Thrax (Maximinus the Thracian) and Maximinus I, was a Roman emperor (235238).

He was conspicuous as the first barbarian who wore the imperial purple and the first never to set foot in Rome. He was the first of the so-called soldier-emperors of the 3rd century, but certainly not the last; his rule is often considered to mark the beginning of the Crisis of the Third Century.

Maximinus was born in Thrace or Moesia to a Gothic father and an Alanic mother. He was reportedly eight feet, six inches (2.59m) tall and of tremendous strength. He joined the army during the reign of Septimius Severus, but did not rise to a powerful position until promoted by Alexander Severus. Maximinus was in command of the recruits from Pannonia, who were angered by Alexander's payments to the Alemanni and his avoidance of war. The troops, among which Legio XXII Primigenia, elected the stern Maximinus, killing young Alexander and his mother at Mainz in 235. The Praetorian Guard acclaimed him emperor, and their choice was grudgingly confirmed by the Senate, who were displeased to have a peasant as emperor.

Maximinus hated the nobility and was ruthless towards those he suspected of plotting against him. He began by eliminating the close advisors of Alexander. His suspicions may have been justified; two plots against Maximinus were foiled. The first was during a campaign across the Rhine, during which a group of officers, supported by influential senators, plotted the destruction of a bridge across the river, to leave Maximinus stranded on the other side. Afterwards they planned to elect senator Magnus emperor; however the plot was discovered and the conspirators executed. The second plot involved Mesopotamian archers who were loyal to Alexander. They planned to elevate Quartinus, but their leader Macedo changed sides and murdered Quartinus instead, although this was not enough to save his own life.

Maximinus also reversed Alexander's policy of clemency towards the Christians, who were viewed as unsupportive enemies of the state. He persecuted Christians ruthlessly, and the bishop of Rome, Pontian, as well as his successor, Anterus, are said to have been martyred.

His first campaign was against the Alemanni, who Maximinus defeated despite heavy Roman casualties in a swamp near what is today Baden-Wrttemberg. After the victory, Maximinus took the title Germanicus Maximus, raised his son Maximus to the rank of Caesar and Prince of Youths, and deified his late wife. Securing the German frontier, at least for a while, Maximinus then set up a winter encampment at Sirmium in Pannonia (now in northwest Serbia, near the Bosnian and Croatian borders), and from that supply base fought the Dacians and the Sarmatians during the winter of 235236.

Missing image
Bronze_Maximinus_I-Paris-Tarsos_AE36_SNGFr_1587.jpg
Maximinus coin.

Maximinus doubled the pay of soldiers; this act, along with virtually continuous warfare, required higher taxes. Tax-collectors began to resort to violent methods and illegal confiscations, further alienating the governing class. Early in 238, in the province of Africa (Tunisia), a treasury official's extortions through false judgments in corrupt courts against some local landowners ignited a full-scale revolt in the province. The landowners armed their clients and their agricultural workers and entered Thysdrus (modern El Djem), where they murdered the offending official and his bodyguards and proclaimed the aged governor of the province, Gordian I, and his son, Gordian II, as co-emperors. The senate in Rome switched allegiance, but when the African revolt collapsed, the senators elected two of their number, Pupienus and Balbinus, as co-emperors. A faction in Rome preferred Gordian's grandson (Gordian III), and there was severe street fighting.

Maximinus marched on Rome, but at Aquileia Maximinus's troops, suffering from famine and disease, bogged down in an unexpected siege of the city, which had closed its gates when they approached, became disaffected. Praetorian guards in his camp assassinated him, his son and his chief ministers. Their heads were cut off, placed on poles, and carried to Rome by cavalrymen. The Senate elected the 13 year-old grandson of Gordian I emperor.


External links

  • Life of Maximinus (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Historia_Augusta/Maximini_duo*.html) (Historia Augusta at LacusCurtius: Latin text and English translation)
  • "Roman Emperors" (http://www.roman-emperors.org/maxthrax.htm): Maximinus Thrax
  • Maximinus coinage (http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/ric/maximinus_I/t.html)


Preceded by:
Alexander Severus
Roman Emperor

235–238
Succeeded by:
Gordian I</b> and
Gordian II

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