I., Roman emperor, A. D. 235-238. C. Julius
Verus Maximinus was born in a village on the confines of Thrace, of barbarian parentage, his father Micca being a Goth, his mother Ababa a German, from a tribe of the Alani. Brought up as a shepherd, he attracted the attention of Septimius Severus, by his gigantic stature and marvellous feats of strength, was permitted to enlist in the cavalry, was appointed one of the guards in immediate attendance on the person of the emperor, and soon gained the good-will of his officers and the respect of his fellow-soldiers. Under Caracalla he attained to the rank of centurion, and was familiarly designated, from his prowess, Milo, Antaeus,
Being regarded with suspicious hatred by Macrinus, the assassin of his patron, he retired for a while to his native province, where he acquired some property, and maintained a cordial intercourse with his barbarian countrymen, to whom he was an object of no small pride and admiration. Returning to Rome upon the accession of Elagabalus, although disgusted by his profligate folly, he accepted the appointment of tribune, studiously absenting himself, however, from court during the whole reign. By Alexander he was received with great distinction, was entrusted with the important task of organising the great host, collected chiefly from the East, for the invasion of Germany, was eventually, if we can trust the desultory and indistinct narrative of the Augustan historian, nominated general-in-chief of all the armies, and hopes were held out that his son would receive in marriage the sister of the emperor.
But even these honours did not satisfy his ambition. Taking advantage of the bad feeling which existed among the troops, he artfully contrived to stimulate their discontent, until a regular conspiracy was matured, which ended in the assassination of Severus in Gaul [SEVERUS, and in his own investiture (A. D. 235) with the purple by the mutinous soldiers, whose choice was not resisted by an intimidated senate.
Maximinus immediately bestowed the title of Caesar on his son Maximus, and without seeking to display his new dignity in the metropolis, determined to prosecute with all vigour the war against the Germans, and accordingly crossed the Rhine towards the end of the year A. D. 235.
The campaign, which lasted for upwards of eighteen months, was triumphantly successful.
The enemy, after having in vain attempted to withstand the progress of the invaders, were compelled to take refuge in their woods and marshes, many thousand villages were destroyed, the flocks and herds were slaughtered or driven off, a vast amount of plunder, ilcluding multitudes of prisoners, was secured, and the emperor retired to Pannonia in the autumn of 237, with the resolution of re-crossing the Danube in the following spring, in order that he might subjugate the Sannatians and carry his arms even to the shores of the ocean. Meanwhile, his administration had been characterised by a degree of oppression and sanguinary excess hitherto unexampled. His maxim, we are assured, was "nisi crudelitate imperium non teneri,
" and unquestionably his practice seems to have been guided by some such brutal principle.
This violence was first called forth by the discovery of an extensive plot, contrived originally, we are told, by a certain Magnus, a consular, in which many officers and men of rank were involved.
The vengeance of the tyrant was not glutted until four thousand victims had been sacrificed, the greater number of whom were destroyed upon the most vague suspicion. From this time forward informers were encouraged to ply their trade.
An accusation was instantly followed by a sentence of death or confiscation; the most opulent were persecuted with untiring rancour, and numbers of illustrious families reduced to indigence. When the sums lavished on the troops could no longer be supplied by the plunder of private individuals, the next step was to lay violent hands on public property of every description.
The sums reserved in the treasury for the purchase of corn, the fund set apart for theatrical exhibitions, the wealth accumulated in the temples, and the very statues of the gods, were all ruthlessly seized,-proceedings which called forth expressions of such deep indignation, that the soldiers were ashamed to enrich themselves from these sources. Against no class did the jealous rage of Maximinus burn so fiercely as against the senate. Remembering with bitterness the insults he had endured in former days from the very slaves of the haughty nobles, he eagerly seized every pretext for pillaging, exiling, and murdering the members of a body so detested.
The same ferocity broke forth even against the soldiers, who were subjected for trivial offences to the most horrid tortures, so that history and mythology were ransacked to discover some monstrous prototype for the man whom they had once loved to term Hercules, or Ajax, or Achilles, but who was now more frequently designated as Cyclops, or Busiris, or Sciron, or Phalaris, or Typhon, or Gyges.
But this fury was kindled into absolute madness, when, in the beginning of A. D. 238, Maximinus received intelligence of the insurrection in Africa headed by the Gordians. of the favour displayed by the provinces and the senate towards their cause, of the resolutions by which he himself had been declared a public enemy, of the subsequent elevation of Maximus with Balbinus, and of their recognition in Italy by all orders of the state.
He is said upon this occasion to have rent his garments, to have thrown himself upon the ground and dashed his head against the wall in impotent fury, to have howled like a wild beast, to have struck all whom he encountered, and to have attempted to tear out the eyes of his own son. Abandoning at once his projected expedition, orders were instantly given to march against Rome. Passing over the Julian Alp, the army descended upon Aquileia.
That important city, the chief bulwark of the peninsula on the north-eastern frontier, stimulated by the patriotic zeal of Crispinus and Menophilus, the two consulars entrusted with the defence of the district, shut its gates against the tyrant, who was forced to form a regular siege.
The walls were bravely defended, and the assailants suffered severely, not only from the valour of the townsmen, but likewise from the want of supplies, the whole of the surrounding district having been laid waste in anticipation of their approach.
The bad passions and ungovernable temper of Maximinus were lashed into frenzy by these delays, the chief officers were put to death, and the most intemperate harshness employed towards the men.
At length a body of praetorians, dreading some new outbreak of cruelty, repaired to the tent of the emperor and his son, who were reposing during the mid-day heat, and having forced an entrance, cut off their heads, which were first displayed on poles to the gaze of the citizens on the battlements of Aquileia, and then despatched to Rome.
The grisly trophies were exposed for a time to public view, that all might revel in the spectacle, and then burned in the Campus Martins, amidst the insulting shouts of the crowd.
These feelings were shared by all the civilised provinces in the empire, although the rude dwellers on the northern frontiers lamented the loss of a sovereign chosen from among themselves.
We have already seen that Maximinus owed his first advancement to his physical powers, which seem to have been almost incredible. His height exceeded eight feet, but his person was not ungraceful, for the size and muscular development of his limbs were in proportion to his stature, the circumference of his thumb being equal to that of a woman's wrist, so that the bracelet of his wife served him for a ring. His fair skin gave token of his Scandinavian extraction, while the remarkable magnitude of his eyes communicated a bold and imposing expression to his features.
In addition to his unequalled prowess as a wrestler, he was able single-handed to drag a loaded waggon, could with his fist knock out the grinders, and with a kick break the leg of a horse; while his appetite was such, that in a day he could eat forty pounds of meat, and drink an amphora of wine.
At least such are the statements of ancient writers, though they should doubtless be received with some deductions.
The chronology of this reign, which is extremely obscure, in consequence of the ignorance and carelessness of our ancient authorities, has been elucidated with great skill by Eckhel, whose arguments, founded chiefly upon the evidence afforded by medals, appear quite irresistible. From these it appears certain that the death of Alexander Severus happened not later than the beginning of July, A. D. 235; that Maximinus betook himself to Sirmium, after his successful campaign against the Germans, towards the close of A. D. 237; that the elevation of the Gordians in Africa took place about the commencement of March, A. D. 238, and their death about six weeks afterwards; that Maximinus set out upon his march for Rome early in April, sat down before Aquileia towards the end of the month, and was slain, in all probability about the middle of May.
The names C. Julius Verus,
together with the titles Dacicus Maximus and Sarmaticus Maximus, appear in inscriptions only; medals at first exhibit the simple Maximinus,
to which Germanicus
is added in those struck during A. D. 236, and the following years. (Capitolin. Maximin. duo ;
Herodian. lib. vii. viii.; Zonar. 12.16
.) [ALEXANDER SEVERUS; GORDIANUS; BALBINUS; QUARTINUS ; CRISPINUS; MENOPHILUS.]