Maxentius (Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius) (măksĕn´shəs) , d. 312, Roman emperor (306󈝸), son of Maximian. After Diocletian and Maximian had retired, the successor to Maximian, Constantius, died. The Romans, discontented with the shift of power away from Rome, supported Maxentius, who claimed the throne. His father came out of retirement to help him when Severus (d. 307) and Galerius came to force him to submission. Severus was compelled to surrender, and Galerius had to withdraw from Italy, while a fourth seeker for power, Constantine (Constantine I) was persuaded to recognize Maxentius. Maxentius and his father fell out, however, and Constantine turned against Maxentius, whom he defeated (312) in the battle of Milvian Bridge.

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The Imperial Church — Constantine, Part 1

Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is James 1:17 which reads: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

Our History of Christianity quote today is from Constantine. He said: “The eternal, holy and unfathomable goodness of God does not allow us to wander in darkness, but shows us the way of salvation…This I have seen in others as well as in myself.”

Last time, in the History of Christianity, we looked at “The Great Persecution and the Final Victory.”

Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Imperial Church – Constantine” (Part 1) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

We left Constantine at the moment when, after defeating Maxentius at the Milvian bridge, he joined Licinius in ordering the end of persecution. Although we have already indicated that eventually he became sole ruler of the Roman Empire, it now remains to outline the process by which he achieved that goal. The question of the nature and sincerity of his conversion must also be discussed. But what is of paramount importance for the story of Christianity is not so much how sincere Constantine was, or how he understood the Christian faith, as the impact of his conversion and his rule both during his lifetime and thereafter. That impact was such that it has even been suggested that throughout most of its history the church has lived in its Constantinian era, and that even now, in the twenty-first century, we are going through crises connected with the end of that long era. Whether or not this is true is a question to be discussed when our narrative comes to the present day. In any case, Constantine’s religious policies had such enormous effect on the course of Christianity that this section may be seen as a series of reactions and adjustments in response to those policies.

From Rome to Constantinople

Long before the battle at the Milvian bridge, Constantine had been preparing to extend the territories under his rule. To that end, he took great care to develop a strong base of operations in Gaul and Great Britain. He spent over five years strengthening the borders along the Rhine, where the barbarians were a constant threat, and courting the favor of his subjects by his just and wise government. This did not make him an ideal ruler. His love of luxury and pomp was such that he built a grandiose and ornate palace in his capital city – Trier – while neglecting public works to such an extent that the drainage system of the nearby fields failed, and the vineyards that were the backbone of the local economy were flooded. Yet, he seems to have had that rare gift of rulers who know just how far they can tax their subjects without losing their loyalty. By securing the borders against barbarian incursions, Constantine won the gratitude of many in Gaul. Frequent and extravagant shows in the circus gained the support of those who preferred violence and blood – the barbarian captives thus sacrificed were so many that a chronicler of the times affirms that the shows lost some of their interest because the beasts grew tired of killing.

As astute statesman, Constantine challenged his rivals one at a time, always protecting his flanks before making his next move. Thus, although his campaign against Maxentius seemed sudden, he had been preparing for it, both militarily and politically, for many years. His military preparations were such that in his campaign against Maxentius he committed only one-fourth of his resources, thus making sure that during his absence there would not be a major barbarian invasions, or a revolt in his own territories. In the field of diplomacy, he had to make sure that Licinius, who was Maxentius’ neighbor to the east, would not take advantage of Constantine’s campaign to invade and lay claim to some of Maxentius’ territories. In order to preclude that possibility, Constantine offered his half-sister Constance in marriage to Licinius, and he may also have made a secret agreement with his future brother-in-law. This would seem to cover his flank. But even then, he waited until Licinius was involved in a conflict with Maximinus Daia before launching his own invasion of Italy.

The victory at the Milvian bridge gave Constantine control of the Western half of the empire, while the East was still partitioned, split between Licinius and Maximinus Daia. His meeting with Licinius in Milan seemed to strengthen their alliance, and forced Licinius to direct his efforts against their common rival, Maximinus Daia. Licinius moved rapidly. Maximinus was still near Byzantium – later Constantinople, and now Istanbul — when his enemy appeared before him with a smaller army and defeated him. Maximinus was forced to flee, and died shortly thereafter.

The empire was then divided between Licinius, who ruled over the entire area east of Italy, including Egypt, and Constantine, who controlled Italy as well as Western Europe and the western portion of North Africa. Since the two emperors were related by marriage, there was hope that the civil wars had come to an end. But the truth was that both Licinius and Constantine sought to rule the whole empire, which, in spite of its vastness, was too small for the two of them. For a while, each of the two rivals devoted himself to consolidate his power and to prepare for the inevitable conflict.

Finally, hostilities broke out. A conspiracy to murder Constantine was discovered, and the ensuing investigation implicated a relative of Licinius who had fled to his kinsman’s territories. Licinius refused to send his relative to Constantine to be executed, and eventually declared war on Constantine. Although Christian historians have usually laid all the blame for this conflict on Licinius, the truth is that Constantine wished to go to war with his brother-in-law, but was able to make his rival appear as the aggressor. Finding himself militarily outmaneuvered by Constantine, Licinius had to sue for peace. Once again, Constantine showed that he was an able statesman and a patient man, and was content with taking most of Licinius’ European territories.

A period of peace followed. Once again, Constantine used the time to consolidate his power in the newly conquered territories. Instead of residing in the West, he established his headquarters first in Sirmium and later in Sardica (now Sofia). Both cities were located in recently conquered territories, and thus Constantine was able to keep an eye on Licinius and to strengthen his rule over the area.

Next time, we will continue looking at The Imperial Church – Constantine.

The Battle of Milvian Bridge and the history of the book

On October 28 in 312 A.D. Constantine defeated the superior forces of his rival Maxentius at the battle of Milvian Bridge. Maxentius&rsquos forces attempted to retreat across the Tiber by way of the Milvian Bridge, but the bridge quickly became overcrowded. As Lactantius records in De Mortibus Persecutorum, or The Deaths of the Persecutors, "the army of Maxentius was seized with terror, and he himself fled in haste to the bridge which had been broken down pressed by the mass of fugitives, he was hurtled into the Tiber" (44.9 ).

Diocletian had planted the seeds of this civil war. In the 49 years before his accession, Rome had had 26 rulers, most of whom met with a violent end. In an attempt to stabilize imperial succession, he introduced the system of tetrarchy, in which the empire was divided into two halves, each governed by a senior emperor assisted by a junior emperor who would eventually accede to his office. When Diocletian and his co-emperor, Maximian, retired, their successors jointly acceded to their offices. But Diocletian's plan derailed when these new emperors appointed their successors. Many hopefuls, including Constantine and Maxentius, felt they had been denied their rightful claim. Constantine's claim arose from the fact that his father had been sub-emperor under Maximian and was now emperor of the West. Maxentius, as the son of the Maximian–the emperor whom Constantine&rsquos father had replaced–also felt slighted. When Constantine&rsquos father died, opening the office of emperor of the West, Constantine moved his army of 40,000 Gauls southward toward Rome, where his 40,000 troops would engage with the forces of Maxentius, 100,000 strong.

Many early literary sources of information about Constantine survive. Special Collections and Rare Books houses several editions of both Lactantius&rsquo De Mortibus Persecutorum and Eusebius&rsquos Historia Ecclesiastica, along with one edition of the Chronicon. We also have eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literary and historical works that are heavily indebted to these sources. Click on the images to learn more about the particular edition pictured.

Contemporary sources provide an idealized picture of Constantine, created to fulfill the various agenda of their authors. Lactantius lived in poverty until he found employment as tutor to Constantine&rsquos son Crispus. Eusebius was invested in his theory about the proper relation between the church and state, and it was convenient to have an example so near at hand. Averil Cameron has duly noted &ldquothe eagerness of all parties to make claims on the rising star&rdquo (Cameron 91).

Constantine's contemporaries inflated his origins. In 310 A.D., an anonymous panegyrist of addressed Constantine as follows: &ldquo[Y]ou were born an Emperor, and so great is the nobility of your lineage that the attainment of imperial power has added nothing to your honor, nor can Fortune claim credit for your divinity, which is rightfully yours without campaigning and canvassing.&rdquo (Nixon 221) On the contrary, he had humble origins: he was the illegitimate child of a Jewish barmaid (allegedly a prostitute) and a Balkan peasant. When the latter's military success raised him into imperial ranks, he rearranged his personal affairs by adopting Constantine and making of Helen an honest woman.

His contemporaries also distorted his religious beliefs, seeing him as the hand of God, accomplishing His will on earth. Lactantius was one so inclined: "The hand of God was over the battle-line," he declares, in his account of the battle in De Mortibus Persecutorum (44.9). His was the earliest account we have of a vision that was to become very influential:

"Constantine was advised in a dream to mark the heavenly sign of God on the shields of his soldiers and then engage in battle. He did as he was commanded and by means of a slanted letter X with the top of its head bent round, he marked Christ on their shields. Armed with this sign, the army took up its weapons." (44.5)

Eusebius, on the other hand, is silent on the issue of the vision in Historia Ecclesiastica of c. 323 A.D. But in his Life of Constantine, written sometime around 338 A.D., he revises his earlier account, devoting all his rhetorical powers to describing the vision. In doing so, he creates a scene that would remain in collective memory to this day:

&ldquoAbout the time of the midday sun, when day was just turning, he [Constantine] said he saw with his own eyes, up in the sky and resting over the sun, a cross-shaped trophy formed from light, and a text attached to it which said, &lsquoBy this conquer&rsquo. Amazement at the spectacle seized both him and the whole company of soldiers which was then accompanying him on a campaign he was conducting somewhere, and witnessed the miracle.

He was, he said, wondering to himself what the manifestation might mean then, while he meditated, and thought long and hard, night overtook him. Thereupon, as he slept, the Christ of God appeared to him with the sign which had appeared in the sky, and urged him to make himself a copy of the sign which had appeared in the sky, and to use this a protection against the attacks of the enemy (1.28).

When Constantine arrived at the gates of Rome, Maxentius hunkered down inside with his 100,000 troops. He probably could have successfully waited out the siege had he not misapplied an oracle: according to Lactantius, "he ordered the Sibylline books to be inspected in these it was discovered that 'on that day the enemy of the Romans would perish.' Led by this reply to hope for victory, Maxentius marched out to battle" (DMP 44.7-8), and thereupon met his end. According to Eusebius, Constantine then "rode into Rome with songs of victory, and together with women and tiny children, all the members of the Senate and citizens of the highest distinction in other spheres, and the whole populace of Rome, turned out in force and with shining eyes and all their hearts welcomed him as deliverer, savior, and benefactor, singing his praises with insatiate joy." (HE 294)

Though the victory at Milvian Bridge has been associated in popular memory with the accession of Constantine and the triumph of Christianity, in fact, Maxentius was just one of several rivals for control of the Roman Empire there were six total, including old Maximian, who came back out of retirement. Of one of them, Will Winstanely, author of England's Worthies, comments, &ldquoman proposeth, and God disposeth for he who dreamt of nothing less than a glorious victory, was himself overcome by Licinius of Tarsus, where he shortly after died, being eaten up with Lice.&rdquo One by one, the contenders knocked each other off, until only Licinius remain. He was defeated in 323 A.D. , making Constantine the sole ruler of a united Empire until his death in 337 A.D.

Whatever role God might have played in the outcome of Constantine's military career, it is clear that Christianity is Constantine's legacy to European and Byzantine civilization. Constantine and Licinius jointly legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., which proclaimed that &ldquoChristians and all other men should be allowed full freedom to subscribe to whatever form of worship they desire, so that whatever divinity may be on the heavenly throne may be well disposed and propitious to us, and to all placed under us." Edward Gibbon, who was not fond of revealed religion, casts a less than favorable light on the legalization of Christianity in Rome. He attributes the &ldquofall&rdquo of the empire partially to the influence of Christianity to it because it instilled &ldquopatience and pusillanimity&rdquo until the &ldquolast remains of the military spirit were buried in the cloister.&rdquo Nonetheless, he concedes that &ldquoif the decline of the Roman empire was hastened by the conversion of Constantine, his victorious religion broke the violence of the fall, and mollified the ferocious temper of the conquerors.&rdquo For different reasons, modern historians concur in locating some of the blame in Constantine's policies. His founding of Constantinople exacerbated the division between Eastern and Western Empire, (a division started by Diocletian&rsquos system of tetrarchy) and the concentration of wealth in the Eastern half. Both of these developments left the Western Empire an easy target for the barbarians, who would soon come flooding through the gates.

Constantine is responsible for many developments that would be important in European and Byzantine civilization. Under his rule, the church gained the right to inherit property. Clergy were relieved from paying taxes.He convened and presided over the Council of Nicea in 325 and had a major role in the formulation of the Nicene Creed, thus setting a precedent for the state's involvement in settling matters of doctrine. Whereas previously Christians had met clandestinely in houses, now great basilicas were erected, as Constantine funded building projects all over the Empire, including Lateran basilica and St. Peters in Rome. He also funded building projects over important sites in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, creating the concept of the Holy Land while doing so. Most significantly for bibliophiles, however, are the developments in the history of the book. These grand basilicas and churches required equally magnificent copies of sacred texts so that services could be carried out. To that end he ordered Eusebius to arrange for fifty lavish copies of Scriptures to be prepared. Before Constantine's reign, Christian texts were copied into a small, inconspicuous codices. During this period, however, Christian texts came out of the closet, eventually resulting in the illuminated display Bibles of the early Middle Ages.

Brown, Michelle. In the Beginning: Bibles before the Year 1000. Smithsonian Books, 2006.

Cameron, Averil. &ldquoThe Reign of Constantine,&rdquo The Cambridge Ancient History: The Crisis of Empire A.D. 193-337. Vol. XII. 2 nd ed. Ed. Alan Bowman, Peter Garnsey, and Averil Cameron. 90.109.

–. &ldquoLate Antiquity,&rdquo Christianity: Two Thousand Years. Ed. Richard Harries and Henry Mayr-Harting. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. 21-43.

Davis, Paul K. &ldquoMilvian Bridge,&rdquo 100 Decisive Battles from Ancient Times to the Present. Oxford UP, 1999. 78-82.

Eusebius. The History of the Church. Tr. G.A. Williamson. Penguin. 1965.

–. Life of Constantine. Tr. Averil Cameron and Stuart Hall. Oxford UP. 1999.

Circus of Maxentius Facts - Ancient Structure in Rome

The Circus of Maxentius is an ancient Roman circus built by the emperor Maxentius between year 306 and 312 AD. It was a part of a complex of buildings on the Via Appia - one of the earliest and strategically most important ancient Roman roads. Games and races were held in honor of Maxentius' son Valerius Romulus, who died in AD 309 and who was buried nearby.

The Circus of Maxentius is the best preserved ancient Roman circus and only the Circus Maximus in Rome was larger than it. Circus was made of concrete faced with opus vittatum (parallel horizontal courses of tuff blocks alternated with bricks). It is 513 meters long and 91 meters wide, and could have some 10,000 people as audience. Its “spina”, the barrier that divides the circus in half and makes for one circular track is constructed to be exactly 1000 Roman feet long, which translates to today's 296 meters, and was cased in marble. As one more tribute to his son, Maxentius placed the Obelisk of Domitian in the center of circus. This obelisk Maxentius brought from the Isaeum.It was covered in hieroglyphs and in time it broke in five pieces. It was restored by Bernini and it now stands at Rome's Piazza Navona. Near the circus was the villa of Maxentius which was connected to the imperial box (so called “pulvinar”). It was connected via a covered portico so an emperor could enter and exit circus without mixing with plebs. Outer walls of circus are not entirely parallel. They make track wider at the start which allowed chariots to spread before reaching the spina. Track is also wider at the turning point. East end of the track has a small triumphal arch. On the southern side of the track is a place for judges' box from where judge has a clear sight of the finishing line.

Games played at circus were intended to be inaugural games but they became funeral games after Maxentius' only son died and was entombed in the nearby mausoleum. Some say that the reason why the circus is in such a good shape even today is because it was not used too much. Maxentius usurped power in 306 but was not recognized by the other emperors. He was defeated in 312 near the Milvian bridge, north of Rome, by Constantine I the Great. Circus is today under the care of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma.

The End of the Tetrarchy

After Diocletian divided the Roman empire in three in 298, each of the three regions was assigned to a separate dominus and all of them together ruled the enormous empire. In 306, the western parts of the empire were under the rule of Constantine. He was the dominus of Britain, Gaul and the Iberian Peninsula. The southeast dominions were under the rule of Maxentius, and the eastern lands were governed by Licinius.

In 312 a feud between the two ruling emperors, Maxentius and Constantine, was already in motion. Maxentius, who was also a brother-in-law of Constantine, claimed that the other was responsible for the death of Maximianus – father of Maxentius. Seeking revenge, Maxentius decided to start a campaign and remove Constantine from his position as ruler of the Western Roman Empire.


Maxentius: emperor of the Roman world (r. 306-312).

  • ±278: Marcus Valerius Maxentius
  • 28 October 306:Imperator Maxentius
  • April 307: Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius Augustus Herculius
  • 28 October 312: kiled in action

ruled in Italy and Africa

  • father:Maximianus
  • mother:Eutropa
  • married to: Valeria Maximilla, daughter of Galerius
  • children: Valerius Romulus

Main deeds

  • 306 Death of Constantius I Chlorus, Severus II becomes emperor he is forced to recognize Constantine, the son of Constantius, as caesar in this situation, Maxentius is proclaimed emperor in Rome, and recognized by the Senate
  • 307 Severus marches on Rome, but is forced to return to Ravenna Maxentius accepts the imperial title and is recognized in Sicily and Africa his father Maximianus defeats Severus note [Zosimus, New History 2.10.1-2.] although Maxentius is recognized by Constantine, he fails to obtain recognition from Galerius
  • 308 Consul (with his son Romulus) Maximinianus unsuccessfully tries to dethrone his son Maxentius is not recognized by the other rulers, who gather in Carnuntum Africa lost to the usurper Lucius Domitius Alexander, whose residence is in Cirta
  • 309 Consul II (with Romulus) death of Romulus break with Constantine
  • 310 Consul III Africa recovered Lucius Domitius Alexander executed
  • 312 Consul IV defeat and death at the Milvian Bridge

Buildings: Basilica of Maxentius Circus of Maxentius temple of Venus and Roma (all in Rome)

Basilica of Maxentius

The Basilica of Maxentius, also known by its longer name as the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine and shorter name as Basilica Nova, is an ancient building that was considered to be the largest one in Roman Forum, which is located in the capital city of the Italian Republic, Rome.

This large, roofed hall began being constructed bu the Emperor Maxentius in 308, but it was completed in 312 by Constantine I, the Great, when he defeated Maxentius in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. This enormously large building once covered an area of about 5,600 square m (60,278 square ft), and it included a nave that was supposed to be 80 meters (265 feet) long and 25 meters (83 feet) wide.

The nave was covered by three groin vaults suspended 39 meters (128 feet) above the floor on four large piers, ending in an apse at the western end.

The building rose close to the Templum Pacis and the Templum Veneris et Romae, whose reconstruction was part of the interventions which were carried out by Maxnetius, nonetheless, the Basilica Nova to the western side contained a colossal statue of Constantine, which remnants nowadays can be seen in a courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Musei Capitolini.

This marvel of Roman engineering work is a unique architectural work as it used the most advanced engineering techniques that were known for that period.

Unfortunately, the south and central sections are considered to have been destroyed by the earthquake of 847, and furthermore in 1347 the vault of the nave collapsed in another earthquake, where the only one of the eight columns which survived the devastation was brought in 1614 by Pope Paul V to Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore.

Today the only remnants that we are able to see in its original location are the north aisle with its colossal three concrete barrel vaults, with the ceilings of the barrel vaults that show quite visible advanced weight-saving structural skill with octagonal ceiling coffers.

This simply shows the extraordinary and striking testimony to the marvelous cohesion and enduring strength the structure once had, and as the wrestling events of the 1969 Summer Olympics were held here, Basilica of Maxentius shall be in the highlight of every photo the visitors are taking from the impressive Roman Forum.

On October 29th of that year, Constantine victoriously matched his troops into Rome and had a grand ceremony. The body of the deceased Maxentius was recovered, decapitated, paraded in the streets, and the head was sent to Carthage to show his failure. Consequently, Constantine became the sole and undisputed emperor of the western side of Rome. He also ordered that Maxentius be subjected to damnatio memoriae and all his memories and legislations wiped from the records. In addition, the emperor neutralized all the supporters of Maxentius.

Everyone believed that Maxentius would see out the siege as he had done before. In fact, he had stockpiled vast food resources within the walls of Rome. However, on the night before the battle, Maxentius visited an oracle who made a prophecy about the death of an enemy of Rome on the day of the battle. Assuming the prophecy implied Constantine, he went out to meet the tactically superior Constantine by the bridge. Constantine and his troops inflicted heavy losses on his opponent’s troops. Seeing that the battle was going unfavorably, Maxentius ordered a retreat while on the bridge. However, he fell into the river and drowned while trying to cross by swimming.

‘With This Sign, You Shall Conquer’

After a series of other events and much political machination, Maxentius offered Constantine battle in the year 312. Although Constantine’s force was significantly smaller than that of Maxentius, Constantine would have history revised to explain his victory. The Greek historian Eusebius wrote the following:

Accordingly he [Constantine] called on [God] with earnest prayer and supplications that he would reveal to him who he was, and stretch forth his right hand to help him in his present difficulties. And while constantine was thus praying … a most marvelous sight appeared to him in heaven. He said that about mid-day, when the sun was beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription “by this sign, you shall conquer” [in hoc signo vinces]. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which happened to be following him on some expedition and witnessed the miracle.

He said, also, that he doubted within himself what this apparition could mean. [presently he fell asleep] and in his sleep the christ of god appeared to him with the same sign which he had seen in the heavens, and commanded him to procure a standard made in the likeness of that sign, and to use it as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies.

After waking up, Constantine had his troops create new battle standards (seen above) that symbolized his vision. The first two letters of the Greek word for ‘Christ’ – ΧΡ – were placed at the top of the cross.

With a new standard leading them, the cavalries of Constantine charged into the front lines of Maxentius’ force pushing them into the river that was to their backs and causing a fleeing Maxentius to drown.

Victorious, Constantine fished the body of his enemy from the river, cut his head off, and paraded it through the Roman capital for all to see. Constantine also ordered that every achievement of Maxentius, every honor that Maxentius had bestowed, and every monument that he had built be destroyed, forgotten, or stricken from the record.

1. Historical Significance and Legacy

With Maxentius dead, Constantine consolidated his dominance over the Western Roman Empire expanding his territories to include the entire Roman Empire by 324. Maxentius was vilified as a crude and incompetent tyrant. His death in the battle paved way for the growth of Christianity which became a dominant religion for the Roman Empire and the entirety of Europe. In 313, an Edict of Milan was issued by Constantine making Christianity an officially recognized religion in the Roman Empire.