Key to Umbria

Maxentius (identified from coin portraits)

Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden

Maxentius Early Career

Maxentius (Marcus Valerius Maxentius) was the product of Maximian’s second marriage to a lady called EutropiaAccording to Timothy Barnes (1982, referenced below), he was probably born in Syria in ca. 283 AD, when Maximian was serving there in the army of the Emperor Carus.  He was briefly mentioned in a panegyric (Panegyric X translated into English in Nixon and Rodgers, referenced below) that was delivered at Maximian’s court in Gaul (probably at Trier) in 289 AD.  Barnes suggests that the phrasing used in this speech implied that he had not yet reached his seventh birthday. 

Maxentius later married Valeria Maximilla, a daughter of Galerius. (She was almost certainly either illegitimate or the product of an earlier marriage of Galerius: accounts that have her as Diocletian’s granddaughter - i.e. as the offspring of Galerius’ marriage to Diocletian’s daughter - can almost certainly be discounted on chronological grounds, as set out in detail in the page on Diocletian and Galerius in the East (293-305 AD)).   Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 2011, at p 48) suggested that the marriage probably took place:

  1. “... shortly after [Valeria Maximilla] reached puberty, perhaps ca. 300 AD, when [Maxentius] was about twenty”.

This dynastic marriage marked Maxentius out as a prospective member of the imperial college.  However, nothing in his later career suggests that he had been given this honour on the basis of his military prowess.   Bill Leadbetter (referenced below, at p 178) put forward a more likely reason for his putative selection:

  1. “[Maxentius] was no soldier, but had been directed upon a political path as a member of [the Senate]”.

In other words, Maxentius seems to have been destined to provide a political link between the Tetrarchs (whose respective capitals near the frontiers of the Empire) and the Senate in Rome.

Despite Maximian’s absence from the city during his time as Augustus, it is possible that his wife, Eutropia, had a home there.  This is suggested in panegyric that the future Emperor Julian presented to his cousin, then the Emperor Constantius II, in 335 AD, in which he spoke of the birth (in ca. 289 AD) and early upbringing of Maximian’s youngest child, Fausta, who was Constantius’ then-deceased mother:

  1. “[Rome] gave your mother birth, rearing her royally and as befitted the offspring who were to be born to her” (“Panegyric in Honour of Constantius II”, 5).

It is thus possible that Maxentius spent time in Rome as he was growing up.

Maxentius and his young family certainly lived in Rome at the time of (or from shortly after) Maximian’s abdication.  Two inscriptions (CIL XIV 2825-6) from his residence in the Via Labicana, which must date to ca. 305-6 AD (after Maximian’s abdication but before Maxentius’ coup), record that he had a young son, Romulus by this time:

Domino patri / M(arco) Val(erio) Maxentio / viro claris(simo)

Val(erius) Romulus c(larissimus) p(uer)

pro amore / caritatis eius / patri benignissimo 

Dominae matri / Val(eriae) Maximillae / nob(ilissimae) fem(inae)

Val(erius) Romulus c(larissimus) p(uer)

pro amore / adfectionis eius / matri carissimae

These inscriptions illuminate the status of the respective members of the young family after the abdication:

  1. Maxentius was now merely a private citizen, but he nonetheless had senatorial rank  (“viro clarissimo”). 

  2. Valeria entitled to the rank “nobilissimae feminae” by virtue of the rank of her father, who was now senior Augustus.

  3. The naming given to ‘Valerius Romulus’ mades it clear that the young family still saw itself as belonging to Diocletian’s Valerian dynasty.

Robert Chenault (referenced below) noted that:

  1. “By representing himself as a Senator [in this inscription, Maxentius] capitalised on his presence at Rome, and laid claim to the city for the first time as his own”.

As we shall see, this link between Maxentius and the city of Rome was to be the defining characteristic of his future career.

Maxentius’ Coup (306 AD)

According to Zosimus:

  1. “When, according to custom, [Constantine’s] effigy was exhibited at Rome [following his promotion to the imperial college], Maxentius ... could not endure the sight of [the] good fortune [of someone who] was the son of a harlot, while [Maxentius] himself, who was the son of so great an Emperor [Maximian], remained at home in indolence, and his father's Empire was enjoyed by others” (‘Historia Nova’, 2:8).

Constantine’s apparent good fortune might well have been the spur that prompted Maxentius to seize power in Rome, but Galerius inadvertently aided his ambition by upsetting important constituencies in Rome.  Thus, according to Lactantius:

  1. Galerius, having resolved to devour the Empire by [imposing] permanent taxes, [was foolish enough] not to allow an exemption from that thraldom even to the Roman people. Tax-gatherers were therefore appointed to go to Rome and to make out lists of the citizens.  Much about the same time, Galerius had reduced the Praetorian Guards.  There remained at Rome a few soldiers of that body who, profiting of the opportunity, put some magistrates to death and, with the acquiescence of the tumultuary populace, clothed Maxentius in the imperial purple” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 26: 1-3).

Two sources suggest that Maxentius was acclaimed at his residence in the Via Labicana (mentioned above):

  1. “Maxentius was made imperator in a villa six miles outside the city, on the road to Lavicanum ...” (‘Epitome de Caesaribus’ 40:2); and

  2. “In the meantime, the Praetorian Guards at Rome, having risen in insurrection, declared Maxentius ...., who lived in the Villa Publica not far from the city, Emperor” (Eutropius ‘Breviarium historiae Romanae’,10:2) .

According to Zosimus, as they embarked upon the coup, Maxentius and his associates had:

  1. “[Maxentius] associated with himself in the enterprise:

  2. -Marcellianus and Marcellus, two military tribunes;

  3. -Lucianus, who distributed the pork with which the people of Rome were provided by the Treasury; and

  4. -the court-guards called Praetoriani. 

  5. By them he was promoted to the imperial throne, having promised liberally to reward all that assisted him in it.  For this purpose they first murdered Abellius, because he, being Prefect of the city, opposed their enterprise” (‘Historia Nova’, 2:9:3).

Zosimus’ identification of Abellius as Urban Prefect is problematic, since we know from the so-called Chronography of 354 AD that Annius Anullinus (below) held this post from March 306 until August 307 AD.  This has led scholars to suggest that Annius Anullinus must have been away from Rome at the time of the coup, and that the unfortunate Abellius was acting as his vicarius

Following his acclamation, Maxentius seems to have held undisputed power in Rome.  Unlike Constantine, he did not have immediate access to his father’s army and treasury.  However, he had the support of the eternal city.  As Elizabeth Marlowe (referenced below) explained:

  1. “Rome still maintained a remarkable degree of what we might call ‘symbolic capital’, namely its cultural, psychological, and material synonymity with the Roman Empire and with imperial history.  Maxentius [demonstrated] that this symbolic capital, in combination with the city’s financial and military resources, could be converted into real political power”.

John Fabiano (referenced below) devoted his master’s thesis to a detailed examination of the proposition that:

  1. “ .... simply by controlling Rome, [Maxentius] was able to persist as a ‘legitimate’ ruler for six years”.

Maxentius as Princeps


RIC VI Rome 135 : SEAR 14936

Maxentius initially adopted the title “Princeps” (first citizen), as evidenced by the coins that he minted in Rome soon after the coup:

  1. four gold aurei (RIC VI p 367-8):

  2. -135: MAXENTIUS PRINC INVICT/ CONSERVAT[OR] URBIS SUAE (conserver of his city, Rome), illustrated above;




  6. a silver argenteus (RIC VI p 370),


Both series also included coins for Maximian as Senior Augustus and for Constantine as Caesar.

Maxentius retained the title Princeps for a number of months, before adopting the title Augustus (as discussed below).   According to Matts Cullhed (referenced below, 1989), the first coins minted in Italy with Maxentius  as Augustus can be identified as the ‘full weight’ bronze coins from Aquileia (RIC VI p324, 101-4 and 106): as Ian Sellars (referenced below, at p 498) noted, the weight of this denomination was reduced at the mints controlled by Constantine in April 307 AD and by Maxentius shortly thereafter.  (Galerius himself adopted this policy in late 307 AD).Severus had controlled this mint until the time of his defeat by Maxentius in early 307 AD (see below).  Thus Maxentius’ change of title must have happened in the narrow window between this defeat and Maxentius reform of the coinage shortly thereafter.  (It is odd that a series of unreduced bronze coins (RIC VI p 371 160 and 161) minted at Rome at this time commemorated Maximian as Augustus and Constantine as Caesar, but omitted Maxentius completely, a surprising omission that is noted in RIC at note 2).

Galerius named his colleagues Severus and Maximinus as the Consuls of 307 AD.  However, the so-called Chronography of 354 AD records the Consuls of 307 AD in Rome as:

“Maximiano VII [Galerius, for the 7th time] et Maximino [Maximinus].

Ex mense Aprili factum est [post] sextum consulatum ...”

In other words, the Princeps Maxentius did not accept Galerius’ nomination of Severus, replacing him by Galerius himself while retaining Maximinus.  This situation pertained until April of that year, at which point a vacancy was declared (as discussed below). 

It is tempting to associate Maxentius’ change of title and his retrospective withdrawal of Galerius’ putative seventh Consulship with a single cause.  The most obvious would be the reception by Maxentius of a definitive sign from Galerius that his refusal to offer any official recognition of his position in Rome.  The form that this refusal took is described below.

The Title ‘Princeps

Maxentius’ adopted title of ‘Princeps’ was quite distinct from ‘Princeps Iuventutis’ (Prince of Youth), an epithet that was commonly applied to the Caesars at this time in order to underline their status as heirs apparent.  It is generally assumed that Maxentius adopted it in order to offer Galerius room for manoeuvre: the suggestion is that he sought recognition from Galerius and was willing to consider any formal title that should be offered.  There are other indications (mentioned above) that, at least initially, he acted within the framework of the existing imperial college:

  1. although he rejected Severus as Consul, he substituted this designation with that of Galerius and retained that of Maximinus; and

  2. he commemorated the admittedly unnamed AVGG ET CAESS NN (our Augusti and Caesares) on some of the coins. 

However, Matts Cullhed (referenced below, 1989) has argued strongly against the proposition that Maxentius sought legitimisation from Galerius, on the grounds that (inter alia) he never minted for Galerius during his (Galerius’) lifetime.  He argued instead that Maxentius had hoped that his father would subsequently return to public life and then grant him the title of Augustus.  When (according to Cullhed) Maximian denied Maxentius the title he craved, he had to bide his time.  However:

  1. “As soon as Maxentius felt more sure of his position [presumably in ca. April 307 AD], he [unilaterally ??] assumed the same title as his father”.

John Fabiano (referenced below, at pp 42-3) argued that:

  1. “Cullhed’s argument  ... cannot be accepted, [because] Maxentius had already received the support of Rome, and it was in Rome’s approval alone that Maxentius retained power”.

It is certainly true that Maxentius’ main claim to legitimacy throughout his reign was his role as the defender and upholder of Rome.  Thus, the coins mentioned above with the reverse legend CONSERVAT[OR] URBIS SUAE had a reverse design that depicted the seated goddess Roma holding Victory on a globe in her right hand.  This theme was to characterise Maxentius‘ coins and other aspects of his self-presentation throughout his reign.  Fabiano ‘s alternative suggestion at pp 43-4) was that the title Princeps had similarly underline Maxentius’ Romanitas:

  1. “By taking up this designation, Maxentius recalled the Emperors of the 1st and 2nd centuries and, in particular, [Octavian] Augustus himself.  This was not unintentional; under these men Rome had flourished ... and, very soon, Maxentius, the Conservator and Princeps Invictus, would add to Rome’s ancient glory.  Moreover, by conjuring up memories of [Octavian] Augustus in using this title, Maxentius effectively undermined the Tetrarchic construction of Emperor by referring to himself as the first among citizens ....”.

It is worth remembering that the Princeps Octavian had received the title Augustus from the Senate in 28 BC, shortly his victory at Actium.  Perhaps Maxentius’ initial title of Princeps signalled that he, too, was content to wait for the Senate to approve his future elevation.

Of course, it is entirely possible that, in adopting the title Princeps, Maxentius was simply keeping his future options open in relation to his eventual auctor imperii (i.e. the source of his legitimacy as Augustus).  He already had the acclamation of the army, which gave him control of Rome.  He was probably prepared to consider more formal legitimisation from any source that would offer it: the Senate; Galerius; and/or Maximian.

Provinces of Africa


RIC VI Carthage 53; Sear 14943

Control over provinces of Africa (which extended along the Mediterranean coast of modern Libya, Algeria and Tunisia) was essential to the security of the food supply of Rome.  Thus, it is extremely significant that the mint at Carthage started to produce coins for him very soon after his coup.  The earliest of these referred to Maxentius as Caesar (the only occasion on which this title was aver applied to him)Bill Leadbetter (referenced below, at p 184) suggested that they were minted by Valerius Alexander (below), the vicar of the Praetorian Prefect in Africa, and that the distinctive title given to Maxentius:

  1. “.... suggests that Alexander did not formally collaborate with Maxentius [during the coup, but rather] ... that the defection of the African provinces occurred soon after the receipt [there] of the news of Maxentius’ own revolt”.

He also suggested that the loyalty of these provinces to Maxentius:

  1. “... probably emerged from affection ... for his father, [who had] campaigned there against marauding tribes in 297-8 AD with great success, and who seems to have commanded considerable residual loyalty from his troops ....”

These early coins from Carthage belonged to two series that commemorated a wider imperial college:

  1. a series of aurei (RIC VI p 430):

  2. -with the reverse legend FELIX KARTHAGO; and


  4. 47 : MAXENTIUS NOB C;

  5. -with the reverse legend ROMA AETERNA:

  6. 48a: MAXENTIUS NOB C;

  7. 48b: MAXIMINUS NOB C; and

  8. 48c: CONSTANTINUS NOB C; and

  9. a series of unreduced bronze coins (RIC VI p 431), all with the reverse legend SALVIS AUGG ET CAESS FEL KART:


  11. -51a: MAXENTIUS NOB C;

  12. -51b: GAL VAL MAXIMINUS NOB C; and


Bill Leadbetter (referenced below, at p 185) suggested that:

  1. “These early issues can be put down to confusion at the mint as to the actual events in Rome.   Dispatches fro Rome soon cleared this up”. 

Thus, the next series of unreduced bronze coins (RIC VI p 432), all with the reverse legend CONSERVATOR AFRICAE SUAE, commemorated:

  1. -52 : M(arcus) AUR(elius) MAXIMIANUS SEN AUG;

  2. -53 : MAXENTIVS PRINC INVICT (illustrate above);

  3. -54 : IMP MAXENTIUS P F AUG; and


The changes are significant:

  1. Maximian was now given the title Senior Augustus;

  2. Maxentius was initially given his correct title of Princeps, which changed to Augustus during the issue (presumably in early 307 AD, at the same time that unreduced bronze coins were minted for Maxentius as Augustus from Aquileia that were discussed above); and

  3. the Caesar Maximinus was dropped.

Thus, the college was in-line with that reflected in the  contemporary coins minted at Rome (above).  (Note, however, that Caesar Maximinus did, somewhat surprisingly, feature in a slightly later series of aurei minted at Rome, as RIC VI p369 149).

Valerius Alexander

Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 2011, at 211, note 3:iv) noted that Valerius Alexander had appeared in an inscription (AE 1942/3 0081) at Aqua Viva in Numidia in 303 AD as the ‘v(ir) p( erfectissimus) agens vic(em) praef(ectorum) praet(orio)’ (vicarius of a Praetorian Prefect): this must have been the unknown Praetorian Prefect of Maximian.  He was documented again in 307-8 AD, in the inscription (Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania 464, LSA-2151) on the base of a statue of Maxentius that he dedicated at Lepcis Magna, at which point he was ‘a(gens) v(ices)’ of the unknown Praetorian Prefect of Maxentius.

Galerius and Severus (306-7 AD)

As described in the page on Constantine’s accession, Galerius had become the senior Augustus and Severus junior Augustus following the death of Constantius in July 306 AD.  Galerius, who had reluctantly accepted Constantine as Caesar at that time, now faced another unwanted candidate for inclusion in the imperial college.  According to Lactantius:

  1. Galerius, on receiving this news [i.e. the news of Maxentius’ acclamation by the army in Rome], was disturbed at the strangeness of the event, but not much dismayed.  He hated Maxentius, and he could not bestow on him the dignity of Caesar, [which was] already enjoyed by two [Maximinus and Constantine]; besides, he thought it enough for him to have once bestowed that dignity against his inclination [a reference to the recent elevation of Constantine]. ” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 26:4).

Some scholars suggest that Maxentius had sent the news to Galerius himself, in the hope of official recognition.  If so, he can hardly have expected so fortunate an outcome as that achieved by Constantine, since there was now no obvious vacancy in the imperial college. 

Galerius might well have received the news at Serdica (modern Sofia, Bulgaria), where (as described in the page on Diocletian and Galerius in the east) Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1982, at p 61-2) placed his main residence in ca. 303-8 AD.  Simon Corcoran (referenced below, 2006) demonstrated that he acquired two new victory titles as Sarmaticus maximus between 7th January 306 AD and early 308 AD.  He concluded:

  1. “Sarmaticus maximus IV (won by Galerius) can be accepted for 306 AD, but Sarmaticus maximus V, [previously] assigned ... to 310 AD, must date to 307 AD and so should represent a second Sarmatian victory for Galerius in two years.  This would then have preceded his unsuccessful intervention in Italy to suppress Maxentius in the autumn of 307 AD”.

In fact, there is no hard evidence that Galerius had actually won these victories himself: either or both could have been the result of campaigns undertaken by Severus. 

Barnes (at p  65) placed Severus’ main residence at Milan throughout his reign, although there is no hard evidence for this.  According to Ian Sellars (referenced below, at p 458):

  1. “Siscia [modern Sisak, Croatia] appears to have been the principal mint of Severus [during his period as Augustus], as suggested by its larger output of of aurei, which are attested for all his colleagues [see RIV VI p 472, 149-55 ]”.

C. H. V. Sutherland (referenced below, at p 18 ) pointed out that this mint (unlike Severus’ other mints at Rome, Carthage, Ticinum and Aquileia) never fell to Maxentius, passing instead to Galerius at an unknown date.  Thus, it is entirely possible that Siscia was Severus’ centre of operations, and that he might have used Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia, some 300 km east of Siscia) as the base of his putative operations against the Sarmatians.  This might well explain why he had not moved more quickly to suppress the revolt in Rome.

Lactantius recorded that, when Galerius received the news of Maxentius’ acclamation, he:

  1. “... sent for Severus, exhorted him to regain his dominion and sovereignty, and he put under his command that army that Maximian Herculius had formerly commanded, that he might attack Maxentius at Rome” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 26:5).

These soldiers were presumably based in Milan: the fact that they were not already under Severus’ command suggests that he was indeed occupied on the Danube when the news arrived.  Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1982, at p 65) dated this conference between the two Augustii to the winter of 306/7 AD.   A likely scenario is that they met on the Danube, where Galerius took over command, leaving Severus free for the campaign in Italy.

Lactantius’ account above of the reasons for Galerius’ decision against an accommodation with Maxentius are plausible:

  1. “[Galerius] hated Maxentius and [in any case], he could not bestow on him the dignity of Caesar already enjoyed by two [i.e. by Constantine and Maximinus]; besides, he thought it enough for him to have once bestowed that dignity against his inclination [i.e. on Constantine]” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 26:5).

However, if (as suggested above) Maxentius’ marriage to Galerius’ daughter had marked him out as a prospective member of the imperial college who would be responsible for imperial relations in Rome, we might wonder why Galerius did not (apparently) even try to find a compromise.  Perhaps he did not share Diocletian’s appreciation of the need to cultivate relations with Rome.  Lactantius certainly accused him of antipathy towards the city.  Thus:

  1. “Long ago, indeed, and at the very time of his obtaining sovereign power, he had avowed himself the enemy of the Roman name; and he proposed that the Empire should be called, not the Roman, but the Dacian empire” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 27:8).

It seems that neither Galerius nor Severus had ever visited Rome, and that neither was prepared for the difficulties that they were about to face.

Severus’ March on Rome (Spring 307 AD)

Severus seems to have arrived in Milan in early 307 AD, when he would have taken command of what had been Maximian’s army, including ‘several legions of Moors” (see Zosimus, below) that Maximian had presumably recruited during his campaign in Africa in  290 AD.  According to Ian Sellars (referenced below, at p 458):

  1. “In early 307 AD, around the time that Severus entered Italy on his ill-fated attempt to suppress Maxentius’ revolt, the mint [at Ticinum, near Milan] appears to have suspended production. ... The mint of Aquileia continued to strike for Severus until March 307 AD”.

As mentioned above, Maxentius declared a Consular vacancy  in April 307 AD, at which point the year was known as ‘the year following Galerius’ 6th Consulate’: a fragmentary epitaph of December in a year identified as POST VI [CONSULATUM] from the Catacomb of SS Peter and Marcellinus in Rome probably relates to this period of 307 AD.  (It is illustrated as entry 323 in the book by Orazio Marucchi, referenced below.)  This was presumably Maxentius’ reaction to Severus’ preparations in Milan, which constituted Galerius’ answer to any hopes he might have had of formal recognition. 

There are two broadly similar accounts of the subsequent campaign:

  1. According to Zosimus, when Galerius received news of Maxentius’ coup, he:

  2. “... sent Severus against [him] with an army.  But while [Severus] advanced from Milan with several legions of Moors, Maxentius corrupted with money his troops and even the prefect of the court, Anullinus, and thereby conquered him with great ease.  On which, Severus fled to Ravenna, which is a strong and populous city, provided with necessaries sufficient for himself and soldiers.  When [Maximian] knew this, he ... went to Ravenna.  Finding that Severus could not ... be forced out of this city, it being well fortified, and stored with provisions, he deluded him with false oaths, and persuaded him to go to Rome.  But on his way thither, coming to a place called the Tres Tabernae, he was taken by a stratagem of Maxentius and immediately executed” (Historia Nova’, 2:10)

  3. According to Lactantius:

  4. “[As Severus] approached the walls of the city [i.e. Rome], his soldiers [who had previously served under Maximian] raised up their ensigns, abandoned Severus, and yielded themselves to Maxentius, against whom they had come.  What remained but flight for Severus, thus deserted?  He was encountered by Maximian, who had resumed the imperial dignity.  On this, he took refuge in Ravenna and shut himself up there with a few soldiers.  But, perceiving that he was about to be delivered up, he voluntarily surrendered himself and returned the purple to him from whom he had received it [i.e. to Maximian]:  and after this he obtained no other grace but that of an easy death, for he was compelled to open his veins, and in that gentle manner expired” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 26:8).

In both accounts of the campaign, Maxentius had suborned Severus’ army, and Maximian had then led the mission to capture him: according to Lactantius, Maximian then forced his abdication.  Both accounts report his immediate execution.  The author of the ‘Epitome de Caesaribus’ also implies this, since he names Maximian rather than Maxentius as the executioner:

  1. “[Severus] was killed by Herculius Maximian in Rome at Tres Tabernae and his ashes were interred in the sepulchre of Gallienus, which is nine miles from the city, on the Appian Way” (40:3).

However,  this is almost certainly incorrect: Timothy Barnes (referenced below, 1982, at p 5, note 13) presented evidence from surviving Egyptian papyrii that showed that he was still formally regnant (albeit as Maxentius’ prisoner) in September 307 AD.  However, his name had disappeared from dating formulae by the following December, which suggests that the news of his death had reached the east in the intervening period.  The so-called Chronography of 354 AD might allow a more precise date:

  1. “Severus ruled 3 years, 4 months and 15 days.  He killed himself on the Via Latina at the 3rd milestone”.

Since he had been named as Caesar on 1st May 305 AD, the ‘Chronography’ places his death on 16th September 308 AD.  The year is clearly incorrect, since he seems to have died before December 307 AD).  However, the date of 16th September could well be correct..  

Anullinus, Severus’ Praetorian Prefect

According to Zosimus (above) Severus’ defeat had been precipitated by mass defections from his ranks, which had included that of his Praetorian Prefect, Anullinus.  Pierfrancesco Porena (referenced below, at p 241, note 115) reviewed the literature on the possibility that Zosimus was mistaken; perhaps this Anullinus was actually the Urban Prefect (above).  However, he concluded (at p 250):

  1. “An examination of the six books of the Byzantine historian demonstrates that he never otherwise confused a Praetorian Prefect with a Prefect of Rome.  This would be the only case.” (my translation).

He pointed out that, as Augustus, Severus would almost certainly have appointed a Praetorian Prefect, and that this important official would have accompanied Severus in his Italian campaign.  He would have been an equestrian (p. 251), in contrast to the Urban Prefect Anullinus, who was clearly of Senatorial rank.  He argued (at p 253-4) that the defection of the Praetorian Prefect Anullinus would have been a major factor in determining  Severus’ defeat.  Finally, pointed out (at p 255-6) that Maxentius probably appointed his first Praetorian Prefect when he became Augustus at the time of the campaign, and observed:

  1. “We do not know the fate of the Praetorian Prefect Anullinus, albeit that, after his defection, he would have had to remain in Italy..  We do not know therefore whether he might have subsequently been appointed as Maxentius’ (first) Praetorian Prefect” (my translation).

Maximian’s Return from Retirement (307 AD)


                             MAXIMIANVS SEN PF AVG                                    MAXIMIANVS SEN PF AVG

                             FELIX INGRESS(us) SEN AVG         CONCORD(ia) MILIT(um) FELIC(itas) ROMANOR(um)

                                     RIC VI Rome 136                                                        RIC VI Rome 134

At about the time of the first “Princeps” coins above, Maxentius minted two gold aurei (RIC VI p 367, both illustrated above) for his father as Senior Augustus:

  1. 134: with a reverse depicting the goddess Roma enthroned, holding shield inscribed VOT XXX (a vow for the third decade of his rule); and

  2. 136: with two deities clasping hands, the veiled Concordia and the nude Hercules.

The reverse legends proclaimed (respectively) that:

  1. Maximian had returned to Rome, vowing to continue as Senior Augustus; and

  2. with the help of Hercules, he would restore harmony to the armies of the Empire, bringing good fortune to its people.

Lactantius provided an explanation for this development:

  1. “Maxentius well knew the enormity of his own offences [in the eyes of Galerius]; and although he had, as it were, an hereditary claim to the services of his father's army, and might have hoped to draw it over to himself, yet  ... [he] sought to protect himself [further] from the danger that hung over him.  To his father, who, since his abdication, resided in Campania, he sent the purple, and saluted him as ‘once more Augustus’.  Maximian ... eagerly resumed that purple of which he had unwillingly divested himself” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 26:7).

Thus Lactantius implies that Maxentius restored Maximian’s former imperium.  However, Bill Leadbetter (referenced below, at p 186) made two particularly important points:

  1. [Maxentius] could not offer the purple to another while his own position was so vague...”; and

  2. It was not in [his] interests to do so. ... Maximian did not become involved in a coup because he coveted second place”.

We should more prudently assume only that Maximian returned to Rome, probably at Maxentius’ invitation, and that the two men entered into an uneasy alliance within which the status of each was unclear.

Fortunately, we have an account of these events in a panegyric (Panegyric VII, translated into English by Nixon and Rodgers, referenced below) that was delivered at Constantine’ court at Trier in Maximian’s presence only a few months later.  The context in which Maximian returned from retirement was clear:

  1. “... in those parts [of the Empire] from you departed Maximian, it has collapsed from its very foundations .... the whole of Italy and Rome itself, when your right hand which had supported it was suddenly removed, shook and almost toppled” (10: 2-3).

Rome herself had recalled Maximian, restored his armies to him and demanded that he resume imperium:

  1. “For Rome herself ... demonstrated that she can command even Emperors.  She withdrew her armies and restored them to you, and when you had brought the authority of a prince in private life to the quieting of their spirits, she cried out ... complaining:

  2. ‘How long Maximian am I to suffer myself to be shaken to pieces while you remain inactive? ... Was it for this that Hercules ...gave you to me, so that, yielding to idleness on your suburban estate, you should abandon the practice of valour consecrated to me?  Restore yourself to my helm ... [Before the abdication], you ruled at the request of your brother [Diocletian]; rule again at the behest of your mother [Roma]’” (11: 1-4).

The translator (at note 39) cites scholars who suggest that the phrase “the authority of a prince in private life” implies that he did not take up the imperial title until after he had regained control over his former army.  The translator himself, disagreed.  However, this could certainly be the significance of the insistence on the coins that Maxentius minted for him that Maximian had the rank Senior Augustus: coins minted for both Diocletian and maximian since the abdication had used this honorific to designate their retired status.

There are two candidates for the army that Roma restored to Rome, whose spirits he quietened:

  1. the small army in Rome that had acclaimed Maxentius in October 307 AD, which might conceivably have grown restive for some reason; or

  2. “the army that Maximian Herculius had formerly commanded”, which, as noted above, Galerius had put at the disposal of Severus. 

Since the second army did indeed desert to Maximian during its siege of Rome, and since this was decisive in saving the city, this candidate seems to be the more likely of the two.  If so, then (according to the panegyrist, who presumably had Maximian’s approval) Rome had demanded that Maximian should unilaterally renounce his vow of abdication at the moment that the army deserted and the city was saved.  It was at this point that he took command, leading the pursuit of Severus and the negotiations at Ravenna that led to his abdication and imprisonment.  In other words, the panegyrist’s somewhat obscure account of the battle seems to concur with those of Zosimus and Lactantius (above), except that Maxentius’ bribes were replaced by the divine intervention of Roma.

Theology of Abdication

The panegyrist above affected to chide Maximian for having abdicated, even though he had only done so:

  1. “by fraternal piety, so that, in sharing the deed [with Diocletian], you would not desert a man whom you have always had had as a partner for the whole of your life” (9:2).

He insisted that Maximian could relinquish his imperium, even if he wanted to:

  1. “ ...imperial did not recede from you [when you claimed to have retired]: despite your wish to be called a private citizen, your inborn majesty clung to you.  ... none of your armies and none of your provinces ever believed that you had ceased to rule” (12:4-5)

He wondered allowed what Maximian had been thinking of:

  1. “What did you think Jupiter himself replied to you Maximian when you said ...:  ‘Take back, Jupiter, what you have lent’?  Assuredly, he replied: ‘I did not hand this over to you as a loan, but forever.  I am not taking it back, but saving it for you’” (12:6).

Thus, Maximian’s god-given imperium was eternal.  He might have chosen to manifest the “authority of a prince in private life” (above) for a period, but he had most certainly returned to his god-given rôle by the time the panegyric was delivered:

  1. “We marvelled that you were a private citizen after having been an Emperor: it is much more remarkable that you are [now] wielding imperial power, after having retired” (12:2).

Maximian’s New Position

Maximian had presumably been saluted as Augustus by the soldiers who deserted to him from Severus’ army.  The first demonstration of this renewed imperium followed shortly thereafter:

  1. Maximian had conferred the purple on Severus as Caesar at the time of his own abdication;

  2. when Severus gave himself up to Maximian after the failure of his march on Rome, if we accept the account of Lactantius (above):

  3. “.... he returned the purple to him from whom he had received it ...”.

This is probably the significance of an otherwise obscure passage in Panegyric VII (above):

  1. “They say that only [Apollo] was capable of taking up the reins that had been unwisely entrusted [to his son, Phaeton ] and of steering the chariot again when it had been thrown off course by its errant driver.  You, [Maximian], accomplished a similar feat, and even did it with ease” (12:3).

Maximian had bestowed the purple on Severus, thereby making him his son,  following an unwise decision by Diocletian, which had been compounded by another unwise decision by Galerius to elevate Severus to the rank of Augustus.  Severus’ subsequent actions had thrown the chariot of State wildly off-course.  Maximian had now reassumed control, taken up the reins of State, and easily restored the situation. 

Despite the purity of his views on abdication, the panegyrist above had identified a set of circumstances in which it would have been legitimate for Diocletian to abdicate:

  1. “What else, indeed, could have excused [Diocletian] for retiring, but that you [Maximian] would succeed to imperial power in place of both [i.e. as sole Augustus]” (9:6).

The panegyrist did not imply that this had ever been Diocletian’s intention: he merely stated that it should have been.  Maximian’s recent actions had demonstrated that he agreed: by forcing Severus to abdicate, he had over-ruled both Diocletian (who had created Severus as Caesar) and Galerius (who had elevated him to the rank of Augustus).  Thus, at least in his own eyes, Maximian was at the apex of the imperial government.

Maxentius as Augustus (307 AD)

Evidence of the Coinage


RIC VI Rome 163


                       IMP C MAXIMIANUS P F AVG                                 CONSTANTINUS NOB CAES

                                        RIC VI Rome 165                                                            RIC VI Rome 164

Evidence for the titles used by Maxentius and Maximian in the confused period following the defeat of Severus can be found in the coins that Maxentius minted at this time:

  1. Soon after he gained control of the mint at Aquileia, Maxentius issued unreformed  ‘full weight’ bronze coins (RIC VI p 324, 101-4 and 106) that commemorated him as Augustus.  As mentioned above, this must have occurred in the narrow window between Severus’ defeat and Maxentius reform of the coinage a few months later.  This series also contained:

  2. an issue (RIC VI 105) for Maximian, as  D N MAXIMIANO SEN INV AVG, which suggests that Maxentius still regarded his father as a retired Augustus at this time; and

  3. a number of coins (RIC VI 107-12) for Constantine as Caesar.

  4. A broadly contemporary issue of ‘full weight’ bronze coins at Rome (RIC VI p 371, 161 and 160 respectively) commemorated:

  5. Maximian as IMP C MAXIMIANO P F AVG, which suggests that Maxentius now recognised Maximian’s active imperium; and

  6. Constantine as Caesar.

  7. RIC noted (at note 2):

  8. “The absence of Maxentius from this issue is remarkable.  [Scholars have] speculated on the possibility of the existence of related [uncatalogued] Maxentian issues ... It is probable, however, that no Maxentian coins were included.”

  9. This suggests, at least to me, that the Senate had yet to recognise his title Augustus.

  10. Immediately after the currency reform, both of the functioning Italian mints (at Rome, as illustrated above, and at Aquileia) produced bronze coins in the reduced weights for: 

  11. Maxentius and Maximian, each designated as an active Augustus; and

  12. Constantine, as Caesar (yet again).

  13. All these coins had the variants of the same reverse legend: CONSERVATOR URBIS SUAE (conservator of his city, Rome).

Thereafter, the titulature of all three on Maxentius’ coins remained stable until Maximian’s designation of Constantine as Augustus later in the year (discussed on the following page).

Maxentius’ Auctor Imperii

It was argued above that, when Maximian returned to Rome (probably at Maxentius’ invitation) in response to an imminent attack from Severus, the two men probably entered into an uneasy alliance within which the status of each was unclear.  Maximian probably exercised “the authority of a prince in private life” (appropriate to a retired Augustus) until the soldiers of Severus’ besieging army deserted to him and acclaimed him as Augustus. His first act thereafter was to take Severus’ surrender and to require his abdication.

Maxentius adopted the title Augustus at this time: the question is, upon whose authority?  He had conceivably initially acted on his own authority , as evidenced by the unreformed bronzes from Aquileia.  However, once he had recognised his father’s restored imperium (as he had done when he minted the unreformed bronzes in Rome), he was free to acknowledge him as his own auctor imperii.  (As we shall see on the following page, Maximian was soon to remove the purple from Maxentius’ shoulder, which suggests that he had put it there in the first place).  As noted above, the absence of  coins for Maxentius himself in this issue from Rome that commemorated his elevation suggests that the issue pre-dated the Senate’s subsequent ratification.

By the time of the first issue of reformed bronze coins at Rome, probably in the summer of 307 AD, the situation had probably stabilised, with Maxentius’ legitimacy established by his designation by his father and the Senate’s ratification.  As we shall see on the following page, Maximian was soon to confer the rank of Augustus additionally on Constantine, thereby creating a revived (and, as it turned out, short-lived) Herculean dynasty.

Urban Prefects

Annius Anullinus (19th March 306 AD - 27th August 307 AD)

As Timothy Barnes (referenced below, at p 116-7) pointed out:

  1. “ The Anullini of the 3rd and early 4th centuries AD present problems of identity that probably cannot be solved on the available evidence”. 

For example:

  1. an Annius Anullinus was one of the Consuls of 295 AD; and

  2. Caius Annius Anullinus was widely documented as Proconsul of Africa in 303-5 AD, when he was very much involved in the persecution of Christians under Maximian. 

Timothy Barnes (as above) argued that it would have been unusual for a former Consul to hold this lesser position of Proconsul of Africa.   Thus, it seems likely (although by no means certain) that these were two different men from the same family, possibly father and son.

Annius Anullinus (presumably the Proconsul of Africa of 303-5 AD) became Urban Prefect in March 306 AD.  He had presumably been appointed by Constantius, and he had retained his post under Severus when Constantius died in July of that year.  He seems to have been away from the city at the time of Maxentius’  coup in the following October: Pierfrancesco Porena (referenced below, at p 248) suggested that he might well have travelled to Severus‘ court to offer the city’s congratulations on his recent elevation.  The unfortunate Abellius, who was murdered in Rome during the coup, seems to have been acting his vicarius

Annius Anullinus was replaced as Urban Prefect in August 307 AD, just before Galerius’ invasion of Italy (below).

Attius Insteius Tertullus (27th August 307 AD - 13th April 308 AD))

Attius Insteius Tertullus replaced Annius Anullinus at this crucial moment.   His earlier career was summarised in the inscription  (CIL VI 1696, LSA-1401) on the base of a statue of him that had been dedicated by the Corpus Magnariorum (guild of wholesale dealers).  The inscription recorded the help that Attius had given them when they were “struck by grave poverty”, and explained that they had made the dedication after they had been “freed from fear and crisis”.  This presumably related to a temporary period of economic instability associated with Galerius’ impending (but ultimately unsuccessful) attack on the city.  Among the posts he had held before before his time as Urban Prefect was that of “praeposito fabri[cas]” (which seems to mean something like ‘supervisor of the workshops’), an unprecedented role in a senatorial career.  Fabiola Fraioli (referenced below, at note 436) suggested that this must have involved the oversight of one or more construction projects that were of particular importance, presumably because they were part of Maxentius’ policy of demonstrating his ‘Romanitas’ (as described in the page on Maxentius’ Public Works). 

Maxentius replaced Attius Insteius Tertullus as Urban Prefect in April 308 AD.  The timing suggests that his decision might thus have been associated with Maximian’s rebellion in some way (as discussed in the page on Maxentius in Rome (308-11 AD)).

Galerius’ March on Rome (late 307 AD)

If Maxentius’ coup had been an insolent and provocative act, Maximian’s imprisonment of Severus and his forced abdication represented an outright rejection of Galerius’ authority.  As Lactantius reported that:

  1. “... Maximian, who knew the outrageous temper of Galerius, began to consider that, fired with rage on hearing of the death [sic] of Severus, he would march into Italy, and that possibly he might be joined by [Maximinus], and so bring into the field forces too powerful to be resisted. Having therefore fortified Rome, and made diligent provision for a defensive war, Maximian went into Gaul, that he might give his younger daughter Fausta in marriage to Constantine, and thus win over that prince to his interest” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 27:1).

In fact, he offered much more than the hand of his daughter: he also offered to elevate Constantine to the rank of Augustus.  Thus, at the start of Panegyric VII (above), which was delivered at the ceremony that followed Constantine’s acceptance, the panegyrist saluted the:

  1. “... most sacred rulers:

  2. -Maximian, forever Augustus, whether you will or nay; and

  3. -Constantine, rising Emperor” (1:1)

C. E. V. Nixon surveyed the evidence for the date of the celebration in his introduction to the translation (referenced above, at p 179-84).  Having dismissed evidence put forward for March and December 307 AD, he concluded that:

  1. “We are then free ... to adopt a date of September 307 AD for the marriage and promotion of Constantine and for the delivery of this speech”.

The details of Maximian’s stay at Constantine’s court are discussed in the page on Constantine in Gaul (308-11 AD).

Maximian must believed that the situation on the Danube (above) would detain Galerius until the new campaigning season in 308 AD: he surely would not have left Rome had he anticipated an invasion during his absence.  However, he was wrong: as Bill Leadbetter (referenced below, at p 194) surmised:

  1. “[Galerius] put an end to his Danubian campaign as swiftly as he responsibly could, gathered his court and army together and marched on Rome”.

It is clear that this news had not reached Rome at the time of the wedding: in the speech (Pangyric VII, above) given on that occasion, the panegyrist celebrated the defeat of Severus and then warned:

  1. “....if anywhere in some distant lands, some darkness hovers still, or some residual dashing of waves still sounds faintly, yet at your nod [Maximian] light must dawn and silence reign” (12:8).

Unfortunately for him, Galerius had already pre-empted Maximian’s alliance by marching on Rome, and Maxentius was to prove himself perfectly able to rebuff him without the assistance of the new alliance.

Severus was probably among the first casualties of Galerius’ invasion: as noted above, he probably died on 16th September 307 AD.  The most likely scenario is that Maxentius executed him then, as Galerius moved on Rome, judging that his value as a hostage was at an end.   The chain of events was probably as described in the ‘Origo Constantini Imperatoris’:

  1. “[In his negotiations with Severus at Ravenna after his failed attempt on Rome (above)], Maximian deceived Severus by a false oath, gave him into custody, and took him to Rome in the condition of a captive; there he had him kept under guard in a villa belonging to the state, situated 30 miles from Rome on the Appian Way.  When Galerius later [invaded] Italy, Severus was executed; then his body was taken to a place 8 miles from [Rome] and laid in the tomb of Gallienus” (4:10).

As noted in the page on Valerian (253-60 AD) and Gallienus (253-68 AD), Mark Johnson (referenced below,  in Appendix B (at p 210) that the accounts above relating to the burial of Severus in the mausoleum of Gallienus:

  1. “... have been questioned, but there is no reason to doubt their veracity”.

Lactantius gave a vivid account of Galerius’ invasion: 

  1. “Meantime [i.e. while Maximian was in Gaul], Galerius assembled his troops, invaded Italy, and advanced towards Rome, [allegedly] resolving to extinguish the Senate and put the whole people to the sword.  But he found everything shut and fortified against him.  There was no hope of taking the city by storm, and to besiege it would have been an arduous undertaking; for Galerius had not brought with him an army sufficient to invest the walls. Probably, having never seen Rome, he imagined it to be little superior in size to those cities with which be was acquainted.  But some of his legions, detesting the wicked enterprise of a father against his son-in-law, and of Romans against Rome, renounced his authority, and carried over their ensigns to the enemy.  When his remaining soldiers began to waver, Galerius, dreading a fate like that of Severus, .... [prevailed upon them] by the promise of mighty largesses.  Then he retreated from Rome and fled in great disorder.  Easily might he have been cut off in his flight, had any one pursued him even with a small body of troops.  He was aware of his danger, and allowed his soldiers to disperse themselves, and to plunder and destroy far and wide, so that, if there were any pursuers, they might be deprived of all means of subsistence  ... And thus did he, once a Roman Emperor, but now the ravager of Italy, retire into his own territories ...” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 27: 2-7).

The ‘Origo Constantini Imperatoris’ included a similar, albeit more objective, account:

  1. “[Following the defeat of Severus], Galerius, marched against Rome with a great army, threatening the destruction of the city, and encamped at Interamna ad Tiberim [modern Terni, on the Tiber in Umbria].  Then he sent Licinius and Probus to [Rome] as envoys, suggesting that the son-in‑law (that is Maxentius) should attain his desires from the father-in‑law (that is Galerius) by the use of requests rather than of arms.  Galerius' proposal was scorned, and having learned that through Maxentius' promises many of his own men had been led to desert his cause, he was distressed and turned back; and in order to furnish his men with whatever booty he could, he gave orders that the Via Flaminia should be plundered” (3: 6-7).

It seems that Galerius had moved too quickly and was poorly prepared: he had probably underestimated the difficulties that he would face and lacked the resources for a long siege of Rome.  In addition, Maxentius probably employed the tactics that he had used to lure the army of Severus. 

Galerius might well have been unaware of the execution of Severus when he sent envoys to Maxentius. I nterestingly, we can probably identify them:

  1. Licinius is probably the man whom Galerius appointed as Augustus in 308 AD (as described on the page on the Conference at Carnuntum); and

  2. Probus is probably Pompeius Probus,  one of the two Consuls and Praetorian Prefects of Galerius in 310 AD (as described by Pierfrancesco Porena (referenced below, at pp 189-91).

If, as suggested above, Maxentius had already executed Severus, he had no alternative but to rebuff their overtures.  Thus, all Galerius could do, in the short term, was to retreat, ordering the sack of the towns and villages along Via Flaminia, in order to obstruct any pursuing army and/or to provide his remaining soldiers with a more profitable alternative to desertion.

Sutherland and Carson (referenced below, p 340) suggested that an aureus (RIC  369; 152) minted at Rome, which had the legends:


reflected the failure of Galerius’ campaign.

Maximian’s Return to Rome (late 307 AD)

Lactantius provided a plausible account of the deterioration in the relationship between Maximian and Maxentius when the former returned to Rome, having successfully concluded the alliance with Constantine:

  1. “After the flight of Galerius, Maximian, having returned [to Rome] from Gaul, held authority in common with his son; but more obedience was yielded to [Maxentius] ...: he had most power and had been longest in possession of it; and it was to him that Maximian owed on this occasion the imperial dignity [i.e. his recognition after his return from retirement]” (‘De Mortibus Persecutorum’, 28:1).

The causes of the poor relations between the Roman Augustii probably went beyond those put forward by Lactantius:

  1. Maxentius’ prestige must have been transformed by his single-handed defeat of Galerius;

  2. he might well have suspected that Maximian had become suspiciously close to Constantine; and

  3. Maximian was probably appalled by Maxentius’ execution of Severus (or, at least, of its likely effect of ending any possibility of an accommodation with Galerius).

The way that this tension resolved itself is described in the following page, of Maximian’s revived Herculean dynasty.

Read more:

‘RIC’ - see Sutherland (1967) below

J. Fabiano, “Roma, Auctrix Imperii? Rome's Role in Imperial Propaganda and Policy from 293 CE until 324 CE”, (2013) Thesis of University of Toronto

I. Sellars, “The Monetary System of the Romans: A Description of the Roman Coinage from Early Times to the Reform of Anastasius”, (2013) Google Books

T. Barnes, “Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire”, (2011) Chichester

E. Marlowe, “Liberator Urbis Suae: Constantine and the Ghost of Maxentius” in

  1. B. C. Ewald and C. F. Noreňa (eds.) “The Emperor and Rome: Space, Representation and Ritual’ (2010) Yale

M. Johnson, “The Roman Imperial Mausoleum in Late Antiquity”, (2009) Cambridge

W. Leadbetter, “Galerius and the Will of Diocletian”, London 2009

R. Chenault, “Rome Without Emperors: The Revival of a Senatorial City in the Fourth Century CE”, (2008) Thesis of the University of Michigan

S. Corcoran, “Galerius, Maximinus and the Titulature of the Third Tetrarchy”, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies , 49 (2006) 231-40

P. Porena, “Le Origini della Prefettura del Pretorio Tardoantica”, (2003) Rome

C. E. V. Nixon and B. S. Rodgers, “In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini”, (1994) Berkeley

M. Cullhed, "Maxentius as Princeps", Opuscula Romana, 17 (1989) 9-19

T. Barnes, “New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine” (1982) Harvard

C. Sutherland, “Roman Imperial Coinage: Volume VI: From Diocletian’s Reform to the Death of Maximinus (294-313 AD)”, (1967, reprinted 1973) London

C. H. V. Sutherland, “Some Political Notions in Coin Types between 294 and 313 AD”, Journal of Roman Studies, 53: 1-2 (1963) 14-20

O. Marucchi, “Christian Epigraphy; an Elementary Treatise, with a Collection of Ancient Christian Inscriptions mainly of Roman Origin”, (1912)

Galerius I (305-7 AD)     Constantius as Augustus (305-6 AD)

Accession of Constantine (306 AD)   Maxentius and Maximian in Rome (306-7 AD)

Maximian’s Herculean Dynasty (306-7 AD)

Diocletian to Constantine (285-337 AD): Literary Sources

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