Childhood & Early Life
According to historical records, Maximinus, or Gaius lulius Verus Maximinus Augustus, was born in the year 173, to a Gothic father and an Alanic mother, in Thrace or Moesia. However, there are many conflicting stories about his origin. His father was an accountant in the governor’s office and was not considered a true Roman.
Maximinus grew up as a barbarian leader of shepherds and bandits till he joined the ‘Imperial Roman Army’ under the rule of Septimius Severus. He stared his career as a common soldier and got promoted under Alexander Severus, who was impressed by his massive size and strength.
Maximinus was appointed as the prefect of the legions of Parthica and Mesopotamia during his early career. He soon rose to become the commander of the ‘Legio IV Italica’ in the Rhine, which consisted of troops from Pannonia.
Alexander was not much liked by his troops because of his policy of appeasing the Germanic tribes of Alemanni and his habit of avoiding war. He was assassinated by his own troops, who chose Maximinus to be the emperor of Rome in his place.
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Maximinus was the first Roman emperor who was neither from the senatorial class nor from the equestrian class. He was elected to be the emperor by the ‘Praetorian Guard’ in March 235, because they wanted a man with a stern personality to rule after Alexander. The senate opposed his appointment but had to eventually accept him as the emperor because of the support he received from his army.
He was ruthless with those he suspected of plotting against him and soon eliminated the close advisors of Alexander. There were two attempts to plot against him during the first year of his rule, but both were foiled.
In the first plot, a group of senators conspired to destroy a bridge across the Rhine so that they could trap him in hostile territory and appoint senator Magnus as the new ruler. However, he discovered the conspiracy and got the culprits executed. In the second plot, the Mesopotamian archers, who were still loyal to Alexander, tried to make Quartinus the emperor of Rome. However, Quartinus was murdered by his own people due to differences of opinion and infighting.
The beginning of his rule is referred to as the beginning of the “Crisis of the Third Century,” during which the Roman Empire crumbled due to external invasions, internal civil war, and economic slowdown. It is also known as the period of “Military Anarchy” and “Imperial Crisis.”
Maximinus and his troops defeated the Alemanni in his first campaign in the swamps of Agri Decumates, despite suffering heavy casualties. He declared himself Germanicus Maximus and gave his son the title of “caesar” and “princeps iuventutis.” He is believed to have defeated the Germanic tribes in a second campaign beyond the Weser river, in the Battle at the Harzhorn.
After securing the German frontier, he set up camp at Sirmium in Pannonia to consolidate his empire. He fought the Dacians and the Sarmatians from his base in 235–236. During this period, he invested in infrastructure and built roads to improve the lines of communication and to sustain his army.
He paid his soldiers well and was engaged in continuous warfare, which required harsh tax-collection policies. This alienated the governing class from the rest of the population. He continued to be ruthless in his ways and was responsible for killing many innocent men who came in his way.
In early 238, a group of landowners revolted against a treasury official in the province of Africa, because of his atrocities while collecting tax. This escalated into a full-scale revolt that was supported by the senate in Rome.
The senate gave the title of “Augustus” to both the governor, Gordian I, and his son, Gordian II, who were declared co-emperors. On hearing this, Maximinus decided to march into Rome with his army to crush the rebellion. Meanwhile, Gordian II was killed while fighting with the army of governor Capelianus from the neighboring province of Numidia. Following this, Gordian I hanged himself.
Fearing the wrath of Maximinus for supporting Gordian I and II, the senate appointed Pupienus and Balbinus from the patrician class as co-emperors of Rome. However, the people of Rome were not happy with the choice, because both the senators were old. The senate was ultimately forced to appoint Gordian’s grandson, Gordian III, as the “caesar.”
When Maximinus marched into Rome with his army, the city of Aquileia closed its gates to his soldiers. He besieged the city, but his soldiers were dissatisfied and famished by then. They revolted against him and killed Maximinus and his son on May 10, 238. Both his and his son’s severed heads was carried to Rome.
Family, Personal Life & Legacy
Maximinus was a tall and well-built man, with an imposing personality. It is said that his thumb was so large that he wore his wife’s bracelet on it as a ring. He had superhuman strength and was feared by his enemies.
He was married to Caecilia Paulina. They had a son named Gaius Julius Verus Maximus. He was loyal to his wife and groomed his son to make him the emperor of Rome someday. However, his dynasty ended when his men killed him and his son because of his harsh ways.
Maximinus was believed to be over 8 feet tall. He had a protruding chin and an abnormally muscular body, apt for a warrior.
Maximinus opposed the church and ordered its leaders to be eliminated when he came to power. According to some historical reports, Pope Pontian was forced into exile in the year 235.
The senate opposed Maximinus because of his lowly birth and the fact that he did not spend much time in Rome due to his military campaigns. His ruthless ways of tax collection to support his army made him further unpopular.
After the death of Maximinus, Pupienus and Balbinus declared themselves co-emperors of Rome again. However, they did not trust each other and were both killed by the ‘Praetorian Guard.’ Ultimately, Gordian III became the emperor of Rome and reigned from 238 to 244.