Nike is seen with wings in most statues and paintings. Most other winged
deities in the Greek pantheon had shed their wings by Classical times. Nike is
the goddess of strength, speed, and victory. Nike was a very close acquaintance
Athena, and is thought to have stood in
Athena's outstretched hand in the statue of Athena located in the Parthenon.
Nike is one of the most commonly portrayed figures on Greek coins.
Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius (c.
Western Roman Emperor from 306 to
He was the son of former emperor
and the son-in-law of
also an emperor.
and Caesar: 306-307 A.D.
Augustus: 307-308 (with Maximian and Constantine I)
308-312 A.D. (Sole Reign)
Birth and early life
Maxentius' exact date of birth is unknown; it was probably around 278. He was
the son of the emperor
and his wife Eutropia.
As his father became emperor in 285, he was regarded as crown prince who
would eventually follow his father on the throne. He seems not to have served in
any important military or administrative position during
and his father's reign, though. Early (the exact date is unknown) he married
Valeria Maximilla, the daughter of
He had two sons,
Valerius Romulus (ca. 295 – 309) and an unknown one.When he was about 8
years old he burned his carpet in his room which resulted in the death of his
brother, Pompulus Arenas.
In 305, Diocletian and Maximian resigned, and the former
Augusti. Although with
Constantine and Maxentius two sons of emperors were available, they were
left out from the new
Daia were appointed Caesars. Some sources (Lactantius,
Epitome) state that Galerius hated Maxentius and used his influence on
Diocletian that Maxentius be ignored in the succession; maybe Diocletianus also
thought that he was not qualified for the military duties of the imperial
office. Maxentius retired to an estate some miles from
When Constantius died in 306, his son Constantine was crowned emperor on
and subsequently accepted by Galerius into the
as Caesar. This set the precedent for Maxentius' accession later in the
When rumours reached the capital that the emperors tried to subject the Roman
population to the capitation tax, like every other city of the empire, and
wanted to dissolve the remains of the
Praetorian Guard which were still stationed at Rome, riots broke out. A
group of officers of the city's garrisons (Zosimus
calls them Marcellianus, Marcellus and Lucianus) turned to Maxentius to accept
the imperial purple, probably judging that the official recognition which was
granted to Constantine would not be withheld from Maxentius, son of an emperor
as well. Maxentius accepted the honour, promised donations to the city's troops,
and was publicly acclaimed emperor on
usurpation obviously went largely without bloodshed (Zosimus names only one
victim); the prefect of Rome went over to Maxentius and retained his office.
Apparently the conspirators turned to Maximian as well, who had retired to a
but he declined to resume power for the time being.
Maxentius managed to be recognized as emperor in central and southern Italy,
the islands of
Sicily, and the
African provinces. Northern Italy remained under the control of the western
Severus, who resided in
Maxentius refrained from using the titles Augustus or Caesar at first and
styled himself princeps invictus (Undefeated Prince), in the hope of
obtaining recognition of his reign by the senior emperor Galerius. However, the
latter refused to do so. Apart from his alleged antipathy towards Maxentius,
Galerius probably wanted to deter others from following the examples of
Constantine and Maxentius and declaring themselves emperors. Constantine firmly
controlled his father's army and territories, and Galerius could pretend that
his accession was part of the regular succession in the
but neither was the case with Maxentius: he would be the fifth emperor, and he
had only few troops at his command. Galerius reckoned that it would be not too
difficult to quell the usurpation, and early in 307, the Augustus Severus
marched on Rome with a large army.
The majority of this army consisted of soldiers who had fought under
for years, and as Severus reached Rome, the majority of his army went over to
Maxentius, rightful heir of their former commander, who dealt out a large amount
of money. When Maximian himself finally left his retreat and returned to Rome to
assume the imperial office once again and support his son, Severus with the rest
of his army retreated to
Shortly after he surrendered to Maximian, who promised that his life be spared.
After the defeat of Severus, Maxentius took possession of northern Italy up
Alps and the
peninsula to the east, and assumed the title of Augustus, which (in his eyes)
had become vacant with the surrender of Severus.
The joint rule of Maxentius and Maximian in Rome was tested further when
Galerius himself marched to Italy in the summer of 307 with an even larger army.
While negotiating with the invader, Maxentius could repeat what he did to
Severus: by the promise of large sums of money, and the authority of Maximian,
many soldiers of Galerius defected to him. Galerius was forced to withdraw,
plundering Italy on his way. Some time during the invasion, Severus was put to
death by Maxentius, probably at Tres Tabernae near Rome (the exact circumstances
of his death are not certain). After the failed campaign of Galerius, Maxentius'
reign over Italy and Africa was firmly established. Beginning in 307 already, he
tried to arrange friendly contacts with Constantine, and in the summer of that
year, Maximian travelled to
where Constantine married his daughter
Fausta and was
in turn appointed Augustus by the senior emperor. However, Constantine tried to
avoid breaking with Galerius, and did not openly support Maxentius during the
In 308, probably April, Maximian tried to depose his son in an assembly of
soldiers in Rome; surprisingly to him, the present troops remained faithful to
his son, and he had to flee to Constantine.
In the conference of
in the autumn of 308, Maxentius was once again denied recognition as legitimate
Licinius was appointed Augustus with the task of regaining the usurper's
Late in 308,
Domitius Alexander was acclaimed emperor in
and the African provinces seceded from Maxentian rule. This produced a dangerous
situation for Maxentius, as Africa was critical to Rome's food supply. Under the
command of his
praetorian prefect Rufius Volusianus, he sent a small army to Africa which
defeated and executed Alexander in 310 or 311; Maxentius used the opportunity to
seize the wealth of Alexander's supporters, and to bring large amounts of grain
to Rome. Also in 310, he lost
Licinius, who could not continue the campaign, however, as Galerius fell
mortally ill and died the next year.
Maxentius' eldest son
Valerius Romulus died in 309, at the age of about 14, was
and buried in a mausoleum in the
Villa of Maxentius at the
Via Appia. Near the villa, Maxentius also constructed the
Circus of Maxentius.
After the death of Maximian in 309 or 310, relations with Constantine rapidly
deteriorated, and Maxentius allied with
to counter an alliance between Constantine and Licinius. He allegedly tried to
secure the province of
Raetia north of
the Alps, thereby dividing the realms of Constantine and Licinius (reported by
Zosimus); the plan was not carried out, as Constantine acted first.
By the middle of 310 Galerius had become too ill to involve himself in
He died soon after
Galerius' death destabilized what remained of the Tetrarchic system.
On hearing the news, Maximinus mobilized against Licinius, and seized Asia Minor
before meeting Licinius on the Bosphorus to arrange terms for peace.
Maxentius fortified northern Italy against potential invasions. He also
strengthened his support among the Christians of Italy by allowing them to elect
Bishop of Rome,
Maxentius was far from secure, however. His early support was dissolving into
by 312, he was a man barely tolerated, not one actively supported.
Without the revenues of the empire, Maxentius was forced to resume taxation in
Italy to support his army and his building projects in Rome.
The election of a bishop did not aid much, either, as Diocletian's persecution
had split the Italian church into competing factions over the issue of apostasy.
The Christians of Italy could easily see that Constantine was more sympathetic
to their plight than Maxentius.
In the summer of 311, Maxentius mobilized against Constantine while Licinius was
occupied with affairs in the East. He declared war on Constantine, vowing to
avenge his father's "murder".
Constantine, in an attempt to prevent Maxentius from forming a hostile alliance
forged his own alliance with the man over the winter of 311–12 by offering to
him his sister Constantia in marriage. Maximin considered Constantine's
arrangement with Licinius an affront to his authority. In response, he sent
ambassadors to Rome, offering political recognition to Maxentius in exchange for
a military support.
Two alliances, Maximin and Maxentius, Constantine and Licinius, lined up against
one another. The emperors prepared for war.
War against Constantine
Maxentius expected an attack along his eastern flank from Licinius, and
stationed an army in Verona.
Constantine had smaller forces than his opponent: with his forces withdrawn from
Africa, with the praetorian and Imperial Horse Guard, and with the troops he had
taken from Severus, Maxentius had an army equal to approximately 100,000
soldiers to use against his opponents in the north. Many of these he used to
garrison fortified towns across the region, keeping most stationed with him in
Verona. Against this, Constantine could only bring a force of between
twenty-five and forty thousand men. The bulk of his troops simply could not be
withdrawn from the Rhine frontiers without negative consequences.
It was against the recommendations of his advisers and generals, against popular
expectation, that Constantine anticipated Maxentius, and struck first.
As early as weather permitted,
late in the spring of 312,
Constantine crossed the Alps with a quarter of his total army, a force
equivalent to something less than forty thousand men.
Having crossed the
Alps at the
he first came to Segusium (Susa,
Italy), a heavily
fortified town containing a military garrison, which shut its gates to him.
Constantine ordered his forces set its gates on fire, scaled its walls, and took
the town quickly. Constantine forbade the plunder of the town, and advanced into
At the approach to the west of the important city of Augusta Taurinorum (Turin,
Italy), Constantine encountered a large force of heavily armed Maxentian
in the ancient sources. In the ensuing
battle Constantine spread his forces into a line, allowing Maxentius'
cavalry to ride into the middle of his forces. As his forces broadly encircled
the enemy cavalry, Constantine's own cavalry charged at the sides of the
Maxentian cataphracts, beating them with iron-tipped clubs. Many Maxentian
cavalrymen were dismounted, while most others were variously incapacitated by
the blows. Constantine then commanded his foot soldiers to advance against the
surviving Maxentian infantry, cutting them down as they fled.
Victory, the panegyrist who speaks of the events declares, came easily.
Turin refused to give refuge to the retreating forces of Maxentius. It opened
its gates to Constantine instead. Other cities of the north Italian plain,
recognizing Constantine's quick and clement victories, sent him embassies of
congratulation for his victory. He moved on to Milan, where he was met with open
gates and jubilant rejoicing. He resided there until the middle of the summer of
312 before moving on.
It was expected that Maxentius would try the same strategy as against Severus
and Galerius earlier; that is, remaining in the well-defended city of Rome, and
sit out a siege which would cost his enemy much more. For somewhat uncertain
reasons, he abandoned this plan, however, and offered battle to Constantine near
Milvian Bridge on
sources usually attribute this action to superstition or (if pro-Constantinian)
divine providence. Maxentius of course had consulted soothsayers before battle,
as was customary practice, and it can be assumed that they reported favourable
as the day of battle would be his dies imperii, the day of his accession
to the throne (which was October 28, 306). What else may have motivated him, is
open to speculation.
The armies of Maxentius and Constantine met north of the city, some distance
outside the walls, beyond the
Tiber river on
Flaminia. Christian tradition, especially
Eusebius of Caesarea, claims that Constantine fought under the
that battle, revealed to him in a dream. Of the battle itself, not much is known
– Constantine's forces defeated Maxentius's troops, who retreated to the Tiber,
and in the chaos of the fleeing army trying to cross the river, Maxentius fell
into the water and drowned. His body was found the next day and paraded through
the city, and later sent to Africa, as a sign that he had surely perished.
Overview and legacy
After Constantine's victory, Maxentius was systematically vilified and
presented as a cruel, bloodthirsty and incompetent tyrant. While he was not
counted under the persecutors of the Christians by early sources like
under the influence of the official propaganda later Christian tradition framed
Maxentius as hostile to Christianity as well. This image has left its traces in
all of our sources and has dominated the view of Maxentius well into the 20th
century, when a more extensive use and analysis of non-literary sources like
coins and inscriptions have led to a more balanced image. Maxentius was a
prolific builder, whose achievements were overshadowed by Constantine's issue of
a damnatio memoriae against him. Many buildings in Rome that are commonly
associated with Constantine, such as the great basilica in the
forum Romanum, were in fact built by Maxentius.
Discovery of Imperial insignia
In December 2006, Italian archeologists announced that an excavation under a
shrine near the
Palatine Hill had unearthed several items in wooden boxes, which they
identified as the imperial
possibly belonging to Maxentius. The items in these boxes, which were wrapped in
linen and what appears to be silk, include 3 complete lances, 4 javelins, what
appears to be a base for standards, and three glass and
spheres. The most important find was a scepter of a flower holding a blue-green
globe, which is believed to have belonged to the Emperor himself because of its
intricate worksmanship, and has been dated to his rule
These are the only known imperial insignia so far recovered, which hitherto
had only been known from coins and wall paintings. Clementina Panella, the
archaeologist who made the discovery states that "These artifacts clearly
belonged to the emperor, especially the scepter, which is very elaborated, it's
not an item you would let someone else have." Panella notes that the insignia
were likely hidden by Maxentius' supporters in an attempt to preserve the
emperor's memory after he was defeated at the
Battle of Milvian Bridge by Constantine.
The items have been restored and are on temporary display at the
Museo Nazionale Romano at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.