Majoria'nus, Ju'lius Vale'rius
emperor of Rome (A. D. 457-461), ascended the throne under the following circumstances.
After the death of the emperor Avitus, the supreme power in the western empire remained in the hands of Ricimer, who was the real master previously, and would have assumed the imperial title, but for the certainty that his elevation would create a terrible commotion. For he was a Suevian by origin, and there was a decided prejudice among the Romans to choose a barbarian for their emperor. Ricimer consequently gave the crown to Majorianus, with the consent of the Eastern emperor Leo (A. D. 457).
The name of Majorian appears as early as 438, when he distinguished himself in the war against the Franks, and ever since he had continued to serve in the field, making himself known at once for his military skill and his excellent character.
He was descended from a family distinguished in the army, and was indeed one of the best men that ever filled the throne of the Caesars: he had experienced both good fortune and bad fortune, and enjoyed unbounded popularity with the troops. Ricimer thought he was only a general, unfit for administrative business, who, being accustomed to obey him, would continue so.
In this respect, however, Ricimer was mistaken.
As soon as Majorian was possessed of the supreme title, he aimed at supreme power also. His choice of his principal officers did great credit to his discernment: among them we mention his private secretary Petrus, Egidius who commanded in Gaul, Magnus, praefectus praetorio in Gaul, and others. In 458 the coast of Campania was infested by the Vandals, who held the sea with a powerful fleet; but Majorian, informed of their designs, had posted his troops so well, that the main body of the Vandals was surprised when on shore, and totally defeated.
The only means to stop the perpetual incursions of the Vandals was to attack their king Genseric in Africa, and this Majorian resolved to do.
He consequently entered Gaul with a strong army, and succeeded in quelling the domestic troubles by which that province was agitated through the intrigues of the West Gothic king Theodoric. The Roman army which he was leading to Africa was, however, anything but Roman, being mostly composed of barbarians, such as Bastarnae, Suevians, Huns, Alani, Rugii, Burgundians, Goths, and Sarmatians with whom he passed the Alps in November, 458. Majorian first went to Lyon, where he was complimented by the poet Sidonius Apollinaris, who there wrote his panegyric of Majorian, after having been pardoned by him for his participation in the previous revolt. From Lyon the emperor went to Aries, where he stayed the whole year 459, having fixed upon that city as a meeting-place for those immense, but still scattered forces, with which he intended to invade Africa. At Arles he prevailed upon Theodoric to desist from further attempts at causing disturbances in Gaul.
In the beginning of 460 every thing was ready for setting out for Africa, and Majorian crossed the Pyrenees, his intention being to join his fleet, which lay at anchor in the harbour of Carthagena. Meanwhile, Genseric made offers for peace, which, having been rejected by the emperor, he employed intrigues, and succeeded in bribing some of the principal officers of the Roman navy, who enabled him to surprise the fleet at Carthagena.
The defeat of the Romans was complete, the whole of their ships being sunk, burnt, or taken.
The traitors were personal enemies of Majorian, who looked with jealousy upon his rising fortune.
The loss of the fleet obliged the emperor to return to Gaul, where he remained during the ensuing winter; and Genseric having renewed his offers, he accepted them, and peace was made between Rome and Carthage. From Gaul Majorian went to Italy, where his presence became indispensable to his own interest. Ricimer, jealous of the rising power and popularity of a man whom he looked upon as his tool, formed a scheme to deprive him of the crown. While Majorian was at Tortona in Lombardy, the conspiracy broke out: he found himself unexpectedly surrounded by the partizans of Ricimer; and the only way to save his life was to abdicate, which he did on the 2d of August, 461.
He died suddenly, on the 7th of August, five days after his abdication, of dysentery, as was reported; but Idatius plainly says that he was put to death by order of Ricimer, who now placed Severus on the throne.
We cannot finish this notice without calling the student's attention to the laws of Majorian, which ensure him an honourable rank among Roman legislators.
He put an end to the awful fiscal oppression in the provinces; he re-invested the provincial magistrates with power to assess taxes ; he stopped the dilapidation of the splendid monuments in Rome and other places, which venal officers would allow any body, who wanted building materials, to take down, if money was paid for the permission; and he made several other wise and useful laws and regulations, which are contained in the Codex Theodosianus. (Sidon. Apoll. Panegyr. Major. Epist.
1.1; Procop. Vandi.
7, 8; Greg. Turon. 2.7; Priscus in Excerpt. Legat.
p. 42; Evagr. H. E.
2.7, sub fin.; Idatius, Chron.;