It’s always fun when I get to share something from a blog I’ve never introduced you to before! Here is an article from the Trowels & Temples blog, which is about archaeology and history of the Roman Empire. This article is a profile of Maxentius, one of the late Roman emperors who figures heavily in the early history of the Byzantine Empire, chiefly as the foil to Byzantium’s founder Constantine the Great. A fun and interesting rundown of who Maxentius was, this article is studded with great visuals and is a terrific look at a little-known personality of this period. Great job!
On a recent trip to Rome I was asked to give a tour of the Roman Forum, so in order to be on my game I went away and brushed up on the history of the various buildings that littered the space at the heart of Rome and its Empire. While I was reading, one name that cropped up a number of times was that of the emperor Maxentius (AD 306-312), who restored the temples of Venus and Roma as well as building the (possible) temple of the Divine Romulus (his deceased four year old son). Between these temples, you’ll also find the massive remains of the basilica he had constructed.
So quite a few of the ancient monuments you see in Rome were built or repaired by Maxentius. However, unless you’re up on your late antique history, you’re probably wondering why you never hear much about him. There’s no statue to him on the Via dei Fori Imperiali alongside the likes of Augustus and Trajan. Who was this guy? While out in Rome I took a wander down the Via Appia Antica, one the major (and probably most famous) ancient roads leading into the city. On my stroll, I came across the huge remains of the circus, villa and mausoleum that had also been built by Maxentius.* Heading back up into the city, I passed through the large gate house ‘Porta S. Sebastiano’ (originally the Porta Appia), which was also enlarged by Maxentius. If you keep following this road for long enough, you reach the the Circus Maximus, which – you guessed it – Maxentius also restored.
Maxentius was the son of Maximian, who had been made Diocletian’s co-Augustus in the Tetrarchic system in AD 286. In this arrangement, Maximian ruled over the western half of the Empire with Constantius Chlorus as his Caesar (essentially his deputy), while Diocletian reigned in the eastern provinces with his Caesar, Galerius. When Diocletian decided to retire in AD 305 to look after his cabbages (I’m not joking), he forced Maximian to do the same (retire, not look after cabbages) and raised Constantius Chlorus to Augustus in the West while Galerius became Augustus in the East. Constantius’ son Constantine (you may have heard of him) and Maxentius may have expected to become the new Caesars, but both were overlooked in favour of other candidates. Unsurprisingly, neither was happy about this and significant crack now began to form in the Tetrarchy…