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This Week In History

Triumph in North Africa. March 10, 298.

 

Maximian was Roman Emperor from 286 to 305. He was Caesar from 285 to 286, then Augustus from 286 to 305. He shared the latter title with his co-emperor and superior, Diocletian, whose political brain complemented Maximian’s military brawn.

The man he appointed to police the Channel shoresCarausius, rebelled in 286, causing the secession of Britain and northwestern Gaul. Maximian failed to oust Carausius, and his invasion fleet was destroyed by storms in 289 or 290. Maximian’s subordinate, Constantius, campaigned against Carausius’ successor while Maximian held the Rhine frontier. The rebel leader was ousted in 296, and Maximian moved south to combat piracy near Hispania and Berber incursions in Mauretania.

With Constantius’ victorious return after he expelled Carausian forces from northern Gaul, Maximian was able to focus on the conflict in Mauretania (Northwest Africa). As Roman authority weakened during the third century, nomadic Berber tribes harassed settlements in the region with increasingly severe consequences. In 289, the governor of Mauretania Caesariensis (modern Algeria) gained a temporary respite by pitting a small army against the Bavares and Quinquegentiani, but the raiders soon returned. In 296, Maximian raised an army, from Praetorian cohorts, Aquileian, Egyptian, and Danubian legionaries, Gallic and German auxiliaries, and Thracian recruits, advancing through Spain later that year. He may have defended the region against raiding Moors before crossing the Strait of Gibraltar into Mauretania Tingitana (modern Morocco) to protect the area from Frankish pirates.

By March 297, Maximian had begun a bloody offensive against the Berbers. The campaign was lengthy, and Maximian spent the winter of 297–298 resting in Carthage before returning to the field. Not content to drive them back into their homelands in the Atlas Mountains – from which they could continue to wage war – Maximian ventured deep into Berber territory. The terrain was unfavorable, and the Berbers were skilled at guerrilla warfare, but Maximian pressed on. Apparently wishing to inflict as much punishment as possible on the tribes, he devastated previously secure land, killed as many as he could, and drove the remainder back into the Sahara. His campaign was concluded by early 298 and, on March 10, he made a triumphal entry into Carthage. Inscriptions there record the people’s gratitude to Maximian, hailing him – as Constantius had been on his entry to London – as redditor lucis aeternae (“restorer of the eternal light”). Maximian returned to Italy in early 299 to celebrate another triumph in Rome.

When these campaigns concluded in 298, he departed for Italy, where he lived in comfort until 305. At Diocletian’s behest, Maximian abdicated on May 1, 305, gave the Augustan office to Constantius, and retired to southern Italy.

In late 306, Maximian took the title of Augustus again and aided his son Maxentius’ rebellion in Italy. In April 307, he attempted to depose his son, but failed and fled to the court of Constantius’ successor, Constantine (Maximian’s step-grandson and son-in-law), in Trier. At the Council of Carnuntum in November 308, Diocletian and his successor, Galerius, forced Maximian to renounce his imperial claim again. In early 310, Maximian attempted to seize Constantine’s title while the emperor was on campaign on the Rhine. Few supported him, and he was captured by Constantine in Marseille. Maximian killed himself in mid-310 on Constantine’s orders. During Constantine’s war with Maxentius, Maximian’s image was purged from all public places. However, after Constantine ousted and killed Maxentius, Maximian’s image was rehabilitated, and he was deified.

 

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