The Lives of Maximus and Balbinus


Historia Augusta


1

1

When the elder Gordian and his son were now slain in Africa and Maximinus came raging toward the city to take vengeance because the Gordians had been named Augusti, the senate, in great terror, came together in the Temple of Concord on the seventh day before the Ides of July — the time, that is, of the Apollinarian Games — to seek some safeguard against the fury of that evil man.

2

When, then, two men of consular rank, and of distinction too, Maximus and Balbinus (Maximus is not mentioned in many histories, the name of Pupienus being inserted in his place, but both Dexippus and Arrianus say that Maximus and Balbinus were chosen against Maximinus after the Gordians), the one noted for his goodness the other for his courage and firmness — when these two came into the Senate-house, showing plainly on their brows their terror at Maximinus' coming, and the consul began to bring up other questions, he who gave the first opinion began thus:

3

"You are disturbed with petty things; while the world blazed we in the Senate-house are busied with an old woman's cares.

4

For what is the use of our discussing the restoration of temples, the embellishment of a basilica, and the Baths of Titus, or building the Amphitheatre, when Maximinus, whom you and I once declared a public enemy, is upon us, the two Gordians, in whom was our defence, are slain, and there is now no help whereby we can be relieved?

5

Come, then, Conscript Fathers, appoint emperors. Why do you delay? Do not be overcome while fearing each for himself and showing terror instead of courage."


2

1

Upon this all were silent; but finally, when Maximus, who was older and more famous by reason of his merits, his courage, and his firmness, began to give his opinion, maintaining that two emperors should be appointed, Vettius Sabinus, one of the family of the Ulpii, asked the consul that he might be permitted to interrupt and speak, and thus began:

2

"I am well aware, Conscript Fathers, that in revolution we should be so well agreed that plans should not be sought but seized; indeed, we should refrain from lengthy words and opinions when events press.

3

Let each look to his own neck, let him think of his wife and children, of his father's and his father's father's goods; all of these Maximinus threatens, by nature passionate, fierce, and bloody, and now with just cause, so it seems to him, still fiercer.

4

In battle-order, with camps pitched everywhere, he is coming towards the city; and you with sitting and consulting waste away the day.

5

There is no need for a long speech; we must make an emperor, nay we must make two princes, one to manage the affairs of state, one to manage the affairs of war; one to stay at home, and one to go out to meet these bandits with an army.

6

I, then, nominate for emperors — and do you confirm them, if it please you, or if not, show me better ones —

7

Maximus and Balbinus, of whom one is so great in war that he has concealed the lowness of his birth by the splendour of his valour, the other, as he is illustrious of birth, so he is dear to the state by reason of both of his gentle character and of his blameless life, which from his earliest years he has passed in study and letters.

8

Conscript Fathers, you have my opinion — one more perilous perchance to me than to you, but by no means safe for you unless you make these men or others emperors."

9

Upon this they cried out with one accord:

10

"It is right, it is just. We agree with the opinion of Sabinus, all of us. Maximus and Balbinus Augusti, may the gods keep you! The gods have made you emperors; may the gods keep you! Save the senate from the bandits; we entrust you with the war against the bandits.

11

May the public enemy Maximinus and his son perish! Hunt down the public enemy. You are happy in the judgment of the senate, the state is happy in your rule.

12

What the senate has given you, perform stoutly; what the senate has given you, take gladly."


3

1

With these and other acclamations Maximus and Balbinus were made emperors.

2

Coming out from the senate, then, they first mounted up to the Capitol and made sacrifice,

3

and then summoned the people to the Rostra. But there, after they had delivered speeches about the senate's decision and their own election, the Roman people, together with some soldiers who had by chance assembled, cried out, "We all ask Gordian for Caesar".

4

This was the grandson of Gordian by his daughter, being then, so most say, in his fourteenth year.

5

And so Gordian was hurried away, and by a new kind of senatorial decree, passed on that very same day, he was brought into the Senate-house and declared Caesar.


4

1

The first proposal, then, of the Emperors was that the two Gordians be entitled divine.

2

Some, indeed, think that only one, namely the elder, was so entitled; but I remember having read in the books which Junius Cordus wrote, of which there were plenty, that both were placed among the gods.

3

And truly the elder put an end to his life by hanging himself, whereas the younger was destroyed in war, and accordingly deserves greater respect because war took him.

4

At any rate, after these proposals were made, the city-prefecture was given to Sabinus, a serious man and suitable to one of Maximus' character, the prefecture of the guard to Pinarius Valens.

5

But before I speak of their acts it seems best to tell of their characters and birth — not in the way in which Junius Cordus sought eagerly after everything, but rather as Suetonius Tranquillus and Valerius Marcellinus did. For although Curius Fortunatianus, who wrote the history of all this period, touched upon only a few things, Cordus wrote so much as to include a great mass of detail, some of which was not even decent.


5

1

The father of Maximus was also Maximus. He was one of the plebs, and according to some, a blacksmith, according to others, a carriage-maker.

2

He begot Maximus from a wife named Prima, together with four brothers and four sisters, all of whom died before the age of puberty.

3

At Maximus' birth an eagle, it is said, dropped a piece of beef — and a big one, too — into their dwelling where a narrow aperture lay open to the sky; and later, when it lay there, no one daring to touch it through superstitious fear, it picked it up again and carried it off to the nearest shrine, which was that of Jupiter Praestes.

4

At the time this did not seem anything of an omen; it was done, however, not without reason and showed his future rule.

5

All his childhood he passed in the house of his kinsman Pinarius, whom he promptly elevated, as soon as he was made emperor, to the prefecture of the guard.

6

He paid little attention to grammar and rhetoric, cultivating always a soldierly valour and sternness.

7

And at length he became military tribune and commander of many detachments; afterwards he served a praetorship, the expenses of which were borne by Pescennia Marcellina, who adopted and supported him as a son.

8

Thereafter he served as proconsul of Bithynia, then of Greece, and thirdly of Gallia Narbonensis.

9

Besides this, he was sent out as a special legate and crushed the Sarmatians in Illyricum; from there he was transferred to the Rhine and conducted a campaign against the Germans with very happy results.

10

After this he proved himself a very sagacious, very able, and very unbending city-prefect.

11

And so, although he was a man of new family, nevertheless, as though he were of noble birth, the senate, though it was contrary to law, bestowed on him the sovereignty — for all confessed that at that time there was no man in the senate fitter to receive the title of prince.


6

1

And since many desire even less important details, he was fond of food, very sparing of wine, exceedingly continent in affairs of love, and both at home and abroad always so stern as even to get the name of gloomy.

2

He was extremely grave and even morose of countenance, tall of stature, very healthy of body, repellent in manner, but none the less just, and never, even to the end of his activities, either cruel or unmerciful.

3

When asked, he always granted pardon and never grew angry except when it was only proper to be angered.

4

He never lent himself to conspiracies; he clung to an opinion and did not trust others before himself.

5

For these reasons he was greatly beloved by the senate and held in awe by the people; indeed, the people were not unmindful of his rigid conduct as prefect and saw that this might even increase in vigour when he became emperor.


7

1

Balbinus was of very noble birth, twice consul, and the ruler of innumerable provinces.

2

Indeed, he had managed the civil administration of Asia, Africa, Bithynia, Galatia, Pontus, Thrace, and the Gauls, and at times had commanded an army; he was less capable in military affairs, however, than in civil. Nevertheless, by his good, righteous, and modest life, he won himself great love.

3

He came of a very ancient family — or so he himself asserted, tracing his descent from Cornelius Balbus Theophanes, who became a citizen through the aid of Gnaeus Pompey; this Balbus was very noble in his own country and likewise a writer of history.

4

He was equally tall of stature, remarkable for the excellence of his body and excessive in his pleasures. In this he was encouraged by his abounding wealth; for he was rich by inheritance on the one hand, and had himself accumulated a great deal through legacies on the other.

5

He was renowned for eloquence and in poetry he ranked high among the poets of his time.

6

He was fond of wine, of eating, and of love, elegant in dress, nor was anything lacking to make him agreeable to the people. He was pleasing also to the senate.

7

This is what we have discovered about the lives of each. Some, indeed, have thought that these two should be compared in the fashion that Sallust compares Cato and Caesar — that the one was stern and the other genial, the one virtuous and the other steadfast, the one by no means munificent, the other rich in all possessions.


8

1

So much for their characters and birth.

All the imperial titles and trappings having been decreed them, they assumed the tribunician power, the proconsular command, the office of Pontifex Maximus, and the name Father of his Country, and entered upon their rule.

2

But while they any at the Capitol making sacrifice the Roman people objected to the rule of Maximus. For the men of the crowd feared his strictness, which, they believed, was very welcome to the senate and very hostile to themselves.

3

And for this reason it came about, as we have related, that they demanded the youthful Gordian as their prince; and thus he was straightway entitled. Indeed Maximus and Balbinus were not suffered to go to the Palace with armed attendants until they had invested the grandson of Gordian with the name of Caesar.

4

And now, this being done, sacred rites were performed, stage-plays and sports in the Circus given, a gladiatorial show was presented, and Maximus, after assuming vows in the Capitol, set out with a mighty army to war against Maximinus. The praetorian guard, however, remained at Rome.

5

Whence this custom arose, that emperors setting out to war gave an entertainment of gladiators and wild beasts, we must briefly discuss.

6

Many say that among the ancients this was a solemn ritual performed against the enemy in order that the blood of citizens being thus offered in sacrifice under the guise of battle, Nemesis (that is a certain avenging power of Fortune) might be appeased.

7

Others have related in books, and this I believe is nearer the truth, that when about to go to war the Romans felt it necessary to behold fighting and wounds and steel and naked men contending among themselves, so that in war they might not fear armed enemies or shudder at wounds and blood.


9

1

Now when Maximus set out to the war the guard remained at Rome;

2

and between them and the populace such a rioting broke out that it led to a domestic war, to the burning of the greater part of Rome, the defiling of the temples, and the pollution of all the streets with blood — when Balbinus, a somewhat mild man, proved unable to quell the rioting.

3

For, going out in public, he stretched out his hands to this person and that and almost suffered a blow from a stone and, according to some, was actually hit with a club;

4

nor would he have finally quelled the disturbance had not the young Gordian, clothed in the purple, been perched on the neck of a very tall man and displayed to the people. When he was seen, however, the populace and soldiers were reconciled and through love of him returned to harmony.

5

No one in that age was ever so beloved; this was because of his grandfather and uncle, who had died for the Roman people in Africa opposing Maximinus. So powerful among the Romans is the memory of noble deeds.

10

1

And now, after Maximus had set out to the war, the senate sent men of the rank of consul, praetor, quaestor, aedile, and tribune throughout the districts in order that each and every town should prepare provisions, arms, defences, and walls so that Maximinus should be harassed at each city.

2

It was further ordered that all supplies should be gathered into the cities from the fields, in order that the public enemy might find nothing.

3

Couriers were sent out to all the provinces, moreover, with written orders that whosoever aided Maximinus should be placed in the number of public enemies.

4

At Rome, meanwhile, rioting between the populace and soldiers broke out a second time.

5

And after Balbinus had issued a thousand edicts to which no one listened, the veterans, together with the guard itself, betook themselves to the Praetorian Camp, where the populace besieged them.

6

Nor would amity have ever been restored had not the populace cut the water-pipes.

7

In the city, however, before it was announced that the soldiers were coming peacefully, tiles were cast down from the roofs and all the pots in the houses were thrown out,

8

so that thereby the greater part of the city was ruined and the possessions of many lost. For robbers mingled with the soldiers and plundered things that they knew where to find.


11

1

While this was taking place at Rome, Maximus (or Pupienus) was at Ravenna making ready, with an enormous equipment, for war. He feared Maximinus mightily; very often, indeed, in referring to him he said that he was waging war against not a man but a Cyclops.

2

As it happened, however, Maximinus was beaten so badly at Aquileia that he was slain by his own men, and his head, with that of his son, was brought to Ravenna, whence it was despatched by Maximus to Rome.

3

We must not neglect to mention at this place the loyalty to the Romans displayed by the citizens of Aquileia, for it is said that they cut off their women's hair to make bow-strings to shoot their arrows.

4

Such was the joy of Balbinus, who was in even greater terror, that he sacrificed a hecatomb as soon as Maximinus' head was brought to him.

5

Now a hecatomb is sacrifice performed in the following manner: a hundred altars made of turf are erected at one place, and before them a hundred swine and a hundred sheep are slaughtered.

6

Furthermore, if it be an emperor's sacrifice, a hundred lions, a hundred eagles, and several hundreds of other animals of this kind are slain.

7

The Greeks, it is said, at one time used to do this when suffering from a pestilence, and it seems generally agreed that it was performed by many emperors.


12

1

When this sacrifice, then, had been performed, Balbinus began looking for Maximus with the greatest rejoicing as he returned from Ravenna with his untouched army and supplies.

2

For really Maximinus was conquered by the townsfolk of Aquileia, together with a few soldiers who were there and the consulars Crispinus and Menophilus, who had been sent thither by the senate,

3

and Maximus had only gone up to Aquileia, in order to leave everything safe and undisturbed up to the Alps, and also, if there were any of the barbarians who had favoured Maximinus left, to suppress these.

4

Twenty representatives of the senate (their names are in Cordus), among whom were four of the rank of consul, eight of the rank of praetor, and eight of the rank of quaestor, were sent out to meet him with crowns and a decree of the senate in which equestrian statues of gold were decreed him.

5

At this, indeed, Balbinus was a little nettled, saying that Maximus had had less toil than he, since he had suppressed mighty wars at home, while Maximus had sat tranquilly at Ravenna.

6

But such was the power of wishing, that to Maximus, merely because he had set out against Maximinus, a victory was decreed which he did not know had been gained.

7

At any rate, having taken up Maximinus' army, Maximus came to the city with a tremendous train and multitude, while the soldiers grieved that they had lost the emperor whom they themselves had chosen and now had emperors selected by the senate.

8

Nor could they hide their grief, but showed it severally on their faces; and now they no longer refrained from speech, although, in fact, Maximus had previously often addressed the soldiers, saying that there ought to be a general forgetting of the past, and had given them high pay and discharged the auxiliaries at whatever place they had chosen. But the minds of the soldiers, once they are infected with hate, cannot be restrained. And when they heard the acclamations of the senate which referred to them, they became even more bitter against Maximus and Balbinus and daily debated among themselves whom they ought to make emperor.


13

1

The decree of the senate by which they were aroused was of this nature: When Balbinus, Gordian, the senate, and the Roman people went out to meet Maximus as he entered the city, acclamations which referred to the soldiers were made publicly first.

2

Thereafter they went to the Senate-house, and there, after the ordinary acclamations which are usually made, they said: "So fare emperors wisely chosen, so perish emperors chosen by fools." For it was understood that Maximinus had been made emperor by the soldiers, Maximus and Balbinus by the senators.

3

And when they heard this, the soldiers began to rage even more furiously — especially at the senate, which believed it was triumphing over the soldiers.

4

And now, to the great joy of the senate and Roman people, Balbinus and Maximus began governing the city, doing so with great moderation. They showed great respect for the senate; they instituted excellent laws, they heard lawsuits with justice, they planned the military policy of the state with great wisdom.

5

But when it was now arranged that Maximus should set out against the Parthians and Balbinus against the Germans, while the young Gordian remained at Rome, the soldiers, who were seeking an opportunity of killing the Emperors, and at first could not find because Maximus and Balbinus were ever attended by a German guard, grew more menacing every day.


14

1

There was dissension, too, between Maximus and Balbinus — unspoken, however, and such as could be surmised rather than seen — for Balbinus scorned Maximus, as being humbly born, and Maximus despised Balbinus for a weakling.

2

And this fact gave the soldiers their opportunity, for they knew that emperors at variance could be slain easily. So finally, on the occasion of some scenic plays, when many of the soldiers and palace-attendants were busy, and the Emperors remained at the Palace alone with the German guard, they made a rush at them.

3

When the soldiers thus began to riot it was announced to Maximus that he could not escape from this disturbance and commotion unless he summoned the Germans, and they, as it happened, were in another part of the Palace with Balbinus. He sent to Balbinus, accordingly, asking him to send aid.

4

But Balbinus, suspecting that Maximus was asking for the guard to use against himself, since he believed that Maximus desired to rule alone, at first refused and finally began to wrangle over it.

5

And while they were engaged in this dispute the soldiers came upon them, and stripping them both of their royal robes and loading them with insults, they dragged them from the Palace. Thence, after handling them roughly, they started to hurry them through the centre of the city to the camp,

6

but when they learned that the Germans were following to defend them, they slew them both and left them in the middle of the street.

7

In the meantime Gordian Caesar was lifted up by the soldiers and hailed emperor (that is, Augustus), there being no one else at hand; and then, jeering at the senate and people, the soldiers betook themselves immediately to the Camp.

8

As for the German guard, not wishing to fight needlessly now that their Emperors were slain, they betook themselves to their quarters outside the city.


15

1

This was the end of these good emperors, an end unworthy of their life and characters. For never was anyone braver than Maximus (or Pupienus) or more kindly than Balbinus, as one may see from the facts in the case. The senate did not choose unworthy men when it had the power.

2

And besides this, they were tested by many honours and offices, for the one was consul twice and prefect, the other consul and prefect, and they were advanced in years when they attained the sovereignty. They were beloved by the senate and even by the people, although the latter were slightly in awe of Maximus.

3

This is the information we have gathered concerning Maximus, chiefly from the Greek author Herodian.

4

Many, however, say that Maximinus was conquered at Aquileia, not by Maximus, but by the Emperor Pupienus, and that it was he, also, who was slain with Balbinus; they omit the name of Maximus altogether.

5

Such is the ignorance, moreover, or the usage of these disputing historians, that many desire to call Maximus the same as Pupienus, although Herodian, who wrote of his own lifetime, speaks of Maximus, not of Pupienus, and Dexippus, the Greek author, says that Maximus and Balbinus were made emperors against Maximinus after the two Gordians, and that Maximinus was conquered by Maximus, not by Pupienus.

6

In addition to this, they show their ignorance by saying that the child Gordian was prefect of the guard, not knowing that he was often carried on a man's neck to be displayed to the soldiers.

7

Maximus and Balbinus reigned for one year, after Maximinus and his son had reigned for two years, according to some, for three according to others.


16

1

Balbinus' house is shown in Rome to this day in the Carinae, large and impressive and still in the possession of his family.

2

Maximus, who many think was Pupienus, was of slender substance, though of the most ample courage.

3

In their reign the Carpi waged war with the Moesians. The Scythian war began, and the destruction of Istria or, as Dexippus calls it, the Istrian city, took place at the same time.

4

Dexippus praises Balbinus highly, and declares that he rushed at the soldiers with a gallant spirit and so died. He did not fear death, he says, being trained in all the philosophical disciplines. Maximus, he declares, was not the sort of man that most of the Greeks said he was.

5

He adds that such was the hatred of the citizens of Aquileia for Maximinus that they made strings for their bows from their women's hair, and thus shot their arrows.

6

Dexippus and Herodian, who investigated the history of these princes, say that Maximus and Balbinus were the princes selected by the senate to oppose Maximinus after the death of the two Gordians in Africa, and that the third Gordian, the child, was chosen with them.

7

In the majority of the Latin authors, however, I do not find the name of Maximus, and as emperor with Balbinus I discover Pupienus; indeed this same Pupienus is said to have fought against Maximinus at Aquileia, whereas, according to the testimony of the afore-mentioned writers, we are told that Maximus did not even fight against Maximinus but remained at Ravenna and there learned that the victory had been gained. And so it seems to me that Pupienus and he who is called Maximus are the same.


17

1

For this reason I have appended a congratulatory letter that was written about Maximus and Balbinus by a consul of their time. In it he rejoices that they had restored the state after it had been in the hands of wicked bandits.

2

"Claudius Julianus to the Emperors Pupienus and Balbinus. When first I learned that by choice of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, of the immortal gods and of the senate, together with the agreement of all mankind, you had undertaken to preserve the state from the sins of that impious bandit and rule it in accordance with Roman law, my lords and most holy and unconquerable Augusti, when first I learned this, not yet from your own sacred proclamations but from the decree of the senate that my illustrious colleague Celsus Aelianus forwarded to me, I felicitated the city of Rome, that you had been chosen to preserve it; I felicitated the senate, that you, in returned for its choosing you, had restored to it its early dignity; I felicitated Italy, that you are defending it particularly from spoliation by the enemy; I felicitated the provinces, torn in pieces by the insatiable greed of tyrants, that you are restoring them to some hope of safety; I felicitated the legions, lastly, and the auxiliaries, which now worship your images everywhere, that they have thrust away their former disgrace and have now, in your name, a worthy symbol of the Roman principate.

3

No voice will ever be so strong, no speech will ever be so happy, no talent will ever be so fortunate, as ever adequately to express the state's felicity.

4

How great this felicity is, and of what sort, we can see at the very beginning of your reign. You have restored Roman laws, you have restored justice that was abolished, mercy that was non-existent, life, morality, liberty, and the hope of heirs and successors.

5

It is difficult even to enumerate these things,

6

and much more to describe them with a fit dignity of speech. How shall I tell or describe how you have restored us our very lives, after that accursed bandit, sending the executioners everywhere throughout the provinces, had sought them to the point of openly confessing that he was enraged at our whole order,

7

especially when my insignificance cannot express even the personal rejoicing of my own mind, to say nothing of the public felicity, and when I behold as Augusti and lords of the human race those by the unwavering elegance of whose lives I would like my own conduct and sobriety to be approved as by the ancient censors? And though I might trust to have them approved by the attestation of former princes,

8

still I would glory in your judgment as a weightier one. May the gods preserve — and they will preserve — this felicity for the Roman world! For when I observe you, I can hope for nothing else than what the conqueror of Carthage is said to have implored of the gods, namely, that they preserve the state in the condition in which it was then, since no better one could be found.

9

And, therefore, I pray that they may preserve this state, that has tottered up to now, in the condition in which you have established it."


18

1

This letter shows that

2

Pupienus and he whom most call Maximus were the same. Among the Greeks, indeed, Pupienus is not easily discovered in this period and among the Latins, Maximus; but what was done against Maximinus is sometimes related as done by Pupienus, sometimes as by Maximinus.