Roman emperor A. D. 306-312. M. Aurelius
Valerius Maxentiis, the son of Maximianus Herculius and Eutropia, received in marriage the daughter of Galerius; but in consequence, it would seem, of his indolent and dissolute habits, was altogether passed over in the division of the empire which followed the abdication of his father and Diocletian in A. D. 305.
A strong feeling of disaffection towards the existing government prevailed at this time in Rome, arising from the pressure of increased taxation upon the nobles and wealthier classes, from the discontent of the praetorians who had been recently deprived of all their exclusive privileges, and from the indignation which pervaded the whole community, in consequence of the degradation of the ancient metropolis by the selection of Nicomedeia and Milan as the residences of the Augusti.
It proved no difficult task for the neglected prince to turn this angry spirit to his own advantage, and to place himself at the head of the party who styled themselves patriots.
A regular conspiracy was soon organised and eagerly supported by men of all ranks, the standard of open revolt was raised, the feeble resistance of the few magistrates who remained true to their allegiance was easily overcome, Maxentius was proclaimed emperor on the 28th of October, A. D. 306, amidst the most enthusiastic demonstrations of zeal by the senate, the populace, and the soldiery; all Italy followed the example of the capital; and Africa, acquiescing in the choice, struck medals in honour of the new ruler. Severus [SEVERUS FLAVIUS VALERIUS], to whom the guardianship of these provinces had been committed, straightway marched upon Rome to suppress what he vainly deemed a trifling insurrection; but a large body of his troops having deserted to their old commander, Maximianus, who, upon the invitation of his son, had quitted his retreat in Lucania, and had again assumed the purple, the Caesar was compelled to retreat in all haste to Ravenna, hotly pursued by the veteran.
In an evil hour he was persuaded by treacherous representations to quit this almost impregnable stronghold, and to trust to the clemency of his foe, who, having once obtained possession of his person, granted him nothing save the liberty of choosing the manner of his death (A. D. 307). Galerius, enraged by these disasters, hastened, at the head of a numerous host, drawn from Illyria and the East, to chastise the usurper; but the military talents of Maximianus devised a system of defence which paralysed the energies of his opponent.
The invader found himself in a desert, the whole population had quitted the open country, every town capable of resistance shut its gates, and thus, although he penetrated almost unmolested to within less than a hundred miles of the city, the embarrassments by which he was surrounded, from want of supplies, from enemies in his rear, and from the doubtful fidelity of his soldiers, proved so numerous, that he considered it prudent to make overtures of peace; and when they were contemptuously rejected, commenced a hasty retreat. Maxentius, relieved from these imminent dangers, proceeded to disentangle himself from the control which his father sought to exercise; and having succeeded in driving him from the court [MAXIMIANUS], turned his arms against Africa, where a certain Alexander
had established an independent sway.
The contest was quickly terminated by the destruction of the pretender, and the victory was savagely abused.
The whole country was ravaged with fire and sword; Car. thage, at that epoch one of the most splendid cities in the world, was made the scene of a general conflagration and massacre, after which the conqueror returned to Rome, there to celebrate a flagitious triumph, and to indulge the worst passions of a depraved nature, at the expense of the citizens.
Elated by these successes, Maxentius now openly aspired to dominion over all the Western provinces; and having first insulted and then declared open war against Constantine, assuming, as a pretext, the conduct of the latter towards Maximianus, he prepared to pass into Gaul with an army numbering not less than two hundred thousand men.
But his schemes were frustrated by the prudent boldness of his adversary, who, encouraged by an embassy despatched from Rome imploring relief from the oppression of the despot, determined at once to cross the Alps.
The events of this campaign are detailed elsewhere [CONSTANTINUS, p. 834].
The forces of the tyrant, shattered by the defeats of Turin and Verona, retired upon Rome; the decisive battle was fought at Saxa Rubra, not far from the storied stream of the Cremera; the imperial army, cut off from retreat, were driven by thousands into the Tiber; the Milvian bridge broke beneath the fugitives at the verymoment when Maxentius was forcing his way through the throng which choked up the passage, and borne down by the weight of his armour, he perished miserably in the stream on the 28th of October, 312, exactly six years from the day on which he was saluted emperor.
All historians agree in representing this prince as a monster of rapacity, cruelty, and lust.
The only favoured class was the military, upon whom he depended for safety; and in order to secure their devotion and to gratify his own evil passions, every other portion of his subjects were made the victims of the most revolting licentiousness, and ruined by the most grinding exactions. Various statements have been put forth with regard to his conduct towards the Christians, since by some he is commended for the solitary virtue of tolerance, while by others he is numbered among the most cruel persecutors.
The truth seems to be, that neither of these representations is accurate. The Christians suffered in common with all who had the misfortune to own his sway; but while there is no reason to believe that they received any encouragement or patronage, so, on the other hand, there is no evidence to prove that they were at any time the objects of special hostility.
Zosim. 2.9-18; Zonar. 12.33
; Panegyr. Vet. 9.2, 3, 11-25, 10.6, 7, &c., 27, &c., 11.16; Auctor. de Mort. Persecut.
cc. 26, 28, 44; Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 8.14
, Vit. Const.
1.26, 33, &c.; Fragments published by Valesius at the end of his edition of Ammianus Marcellinus; Victor, de Caes.
40; Eutrop. 10.2