Maximinus I 'Thrax'

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by savitale, Oct 14, 2022.

  1. savitale

    savitale Well-Known Member

    A recent purchase: a flashy Maximinus I denarius.

    Maximinus I Thrax.jpg

    Maximinus I (AD 235-238). AR denarius (21mm,3.00gm 6h). NGC MS 5/5 - 5/5. Rome, AD 235-236. IMP MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Maximinus right, seen from behind / SALVS AVGVSTI, Salus seated left, feeding serpent rising from altar at left. RIC IV 14. [Description from Heritage Auctions, lot 61256, February 2, 2022.]

    Below is a summary of one account of the rise and fall of Maximinus, as told by Herodian in his Roman History. There are several other textual sources for Maximinus, which I have not fully investigated. So this post represents one author’s view of the story of Maximinus, which may or may not be completely historically accurate. But Herodian’s account is a good read.

    Maximinus was raised as a shepherd-boy in a semi-barbarous tribe in the interior of Thrace. Due to his enormous size and strength he was drafted into the army and quickly rose through all the ranks. He became very popular among the troops as a teacher of military skill and as someone who always took the lead in every task. The soldiers admired Maximinus for his strength and courage. (Herodian VI. 8) In contrast, the emperor Severus Alexander is portrayed as a weak individual under the constant control of his malevolent and domineering mother. In the 14th year of his reign, 235 CE, Alexander found himself leading the Roman army against Germanic tribes which were causing trouble at the borders of the empire. Uncomfortable with war, Alexander decided to try to make peace with the Germans by paying them off with gold. This did not sit well with the army who instead wanted to “punish the Germans for their insolence”, and, presumably, to bring home spoils of war. In their eyes, Alexander “preferred chariot racing and a life of ease” over battle. (Herodian VI. 7)

    As you might guess, bereft of the respect of the troops, things soon turned ugly for Alexander. In approximately April of 235 the army declared Maximinus emperor. The new emperor immediately doubled their salary but required that they prove their allegiance by killing Alexander.

    Upon hearing news of the mutiny Alexander roused his personal guard who had served him for the past fourteen years. But his own troops began to grumble and blame him for avaricious acts he committed on account of his mother’s miserliness. They could also hear Maximinus’ troops in the distance urging them to abandon their “mean little sissy” and join the army led by one of their own, a brave soldier. Once inside Alexander’s tent, Maximinus’ soldiers slaughtered him, his mother, and his close companions. (Herodian VI. 9)

    Though tainted by the shadow of his wicked mother, Alexander had been inclined toward benevolent and humane behavior. By many measures his reign could be seen as benign if not successful, (Herodian VI. 9) though by his nature he was the wrong emperor at the wrong time as the empire came under attack from all sides. The murder of Alexander and the ascent of Maximinus marks the beginning of the crisis of the 3rd century as well as the 50-year span of short-lived “barracks emperors”.

    There could not have been a greater contrast between Alexander and Maximinus, who, on account of the “bloodthirsty temperament derived from his [barbarian] ancestors,” exercised power through cruelty and fear. (Herodian VII. 1) He dismissed, or killed, all the remaining members of Alexander’s administration and surrounded himself by his army. Many feared Maximinus, his vicious behavior being reinforced by the man’s colossal size and frightful appearance. (Herodian VII. 1) After dispatching a couple coup attempts, Maximinus led a great army against the Germans, himself fighting at the fore and killing many enemies. His troops won many victories and it is said that he would have subdued the entirety of the Germanic tribes if he had continued. (Herodian VII. 2)

    Though he was a successful military leader, Maximinus’ domestic policy was by no means popular. He seized the fortunes of wealthy aristocrats based on false charges and used the money to pay the army. The victims were either exiled or put to death. When that source of money ran low, he raided the public treasury, including money intended for the public dole. Furthermore, statues, architectural decorations, and other objects of precious metal were melted down and turned into coin. While the common Roman man might choose to turn a blind eye to the dispatching of a few wealthy families, when their temples became at risk they became resentful of Maximinus’ pillaging of their cultural heritage. Even the allegiance of some of the army started to faulter as their families began to suffer the effects. (Herodian VII. 3)

    The widespread discontent among the people of both Rome and of some provinces led to several revolts, and eventually to the people of Libya declaring Gordian I emperor. Such was the unpopularity of Maximinus among the Romans that the Senate confirmed Gordian I and his son Gordian II as co-emperors. The people of Rome then turned to violence, slaughtering those who had carried out Maximinus’ orders as well as those with only weak ties to the tyrant. Determined to erase his name, throughout Rome dedications and monuments to Maximinus were torn down. (Herodian VII. 5-11)

    While all this was going on, Maximinus and his army were still fighting in Germany. But after hearing that he had been effectively stripped of his title by the Senate, he quickly ordered his troops to pull out and march toward the city of Rome. He led an enormous force, supplemented by Germans who had been captured or who had made peace, as well as artillery and mechanical devices of war.

    Meanwhile, the empire devolved into a state of civil war. In Carthage, troops loyal to Maximinus defeated the supporters of the Gordians, in part because the common Carthaginian people had little military experience at this time. By the end of the battle both Gordians were dead. Acting quickly in the face of the advancing threat, the Senate elected two of their own, Balbinus and Pupienus, as co-emperors. They rapidly conscripted an army of young men. But many of the people, particularly the experienced soldiers, were still loyal to Maximinus. Fighting between these two sides broke out everywhere, many were killed, and much wealth was plundered. A large section of Rome was consumed in a great fire. (Herodian VII. 12) With Maximinus’ huge army still approaching the situation in Rome was now dire.

    Maximinus marched into Italy and across the Alps encountering no resistance. Upon reaching the city of Aquileia, a large Italian city, he found the gates closed against him. Maximinus decided that to break the will of the Romans, he needed to conquer the city. Aquileia was a large city to begin with, but now its population was swelled by residents of the countryside who came inside for the protection offered by the strong city walls. On account of the ample notification of Maximinus’ approach, the city had been well provisioned for siege and possessed many wells with a prodigious water supply. But the army of Maximinus encircled the city with an enormous number of men and many engines of war and began to attack. (Herodian VIII. 1-6)

    The Aquileians responded by pouring a burning mixture of pitch, oil, bitumen and sulfur down upon the attacking soldiers. They shot arrows lit aflame into the wooden siege engines which immediately set them on fire. For several days fighting continued, with the spirits of the Aquileians rising on account of their successes and the spirits of the besieging army dropping because they had not expected such fierce resistance. Furthermore, the army, though very large, was not well provisioned for its size, as they had prepared for march in haste, and had to rely upon scavenging in the countryside for food and supplies. (Herodian VIII. 7)

    The Senate had all the roads and ports blockaded to prevent supplies from reaching Maximinus’ army and to prevent them from sending out ships. Though they could not help defend Aquileia directly, the Roman people had essentially besieged the besiegers. (Herodian VIII. 7) The army began to run out of food for people and for animals, as well as fresh water, for the local river was contaminated by dead bodies thrown into the river by both sides.

    With morale low, there was a break in fighting for a day during which the soldiers and guards rested in their tents. Men from Mount Alba near Rome then hatched a daring plan. They entered Maximinus’ camp and murdered the emperor and his son. Maximinus’ army, in distress due to the lack of provisions, chose to make peace with Aquileians in return for food which was delivered over the walls; the army never succeeded in entering city. The heads of the deposed emperor and his son were cut off and sent to Rome, and so ended the reign of the disgraceful tyrant Maximinus. (Herodian VIII. 7)
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  3. Abramthegreat

    Abramthegreat Well-Known Member

    Neat read, Thanks! How long did it take you to type that?
    savitale likes this.
  4. Mr.MonkeySwag96

    Mr.MonkeySwag96 Well-Known Member

    One of the first Roman coins I bought was a Maximinus Thrax denarius:


    Maximinus, 235 - 238 AD Silver Denarius, Rome Mint, 20mm, 3.30 grams Obverse: IMP MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG, Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Maximinus right. Reverse: VICTORIA AVG, Victory advancing right holding wreath and palm. RIC16

    Ex. Ken Dorney
  5. El Cazador

    El Cazador Well-Known Member

    @savitale - great coin! Here is mine: MS ⭐️ 5/5 4/5
  6. savitale

    savitale Well-Known Member

    About three days including research. Only a few hours per day.
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  7. savitale

    savitale Well-Known Member

    Great coins @Mr.MonkeySwag96 and @El Cazador ! I was initially surprised how available and relatively inexpensive high-grade Maximinus denarii are, considering he ruled for only three years. But after doing the historical reading it makes more sense. He melted down basically everything he could find and turned it into coin to pay the army, as he was a big army-guy himself. And since this coinage occurred at the beginning of or perhaps just prior to the crisis of the 3rd century, the coins were still of good metal. But as the crisis quickly unfurled and coinage was rapidly debased, the Maximinus coins were horded as a store of good silver. Clearly many of the hordes were not recovered as people and territory were lost around the edges of the empire. At least that is what I think.
    kevin McGonigal likes this.
  8. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Maximinus 2.jpg
    AE Sestertius
    OBVERSE: IMP MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG - Laureate, draped bust right.
    REVERSE: SALVS AVGVSTI - Salus seated left, feeding snake on altar
    Struck at Rome, 235-236 AD March - January
    20.7g, 29.5mm
    RIC 85
  9. Julius Germanicus

    Julius Germanicus Well-Known Member

    MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG GERM - laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Maximinus right VICTORIA GERMANICA S C - Maximinus, in military attire, standing left, his right hand raised, holding spear in left, German captive seated left at his feet, looking back, emperor crowned by Victory standing left behind him, also holding palm. Sestertius, Rome ca. September-December 236 32,34 mm / 21,64 gr RIC VI 93; BMCRE 198 and pl. 40; Cohen 114; MIR 26-5; Sear 8342; Banti 33
  10. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Maximinus 1.jpg
    AR Denarius
    OBVERSE: Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right
    REVERSE: VICTORIAAVG - Victory advancing right, holding wreath and palm
    Struck at Rome, 235-236 AD March - January
    2.8g, 21mm
    RIC 16, BMC 25, C 99
  11. Mr.MonkeySwag96

    Mr.MonkeySwag96 Well-Known Member

    Maximinus’s denarii are a great choice for novice collectors as they’re relatively affordable, plentiful in high grades, and most examples are sharply struck.

    I find it interesting that Maximinus’s coinage featured three different obverse bust types.

    The first bust type depicts Maximinus with a similar appearance to Severus Alexander. Presumably, Maximinus’s early coins were struck using reworked dies of Severus Alexander.

    The 2nd bust type depicts Maximinus as a more mature, hardened military man. My denarius features this 2nd bust type.

    The final bust type is notorious for depicting Maximinus with a prominent brow ridge and large chin. This 3rd portrait hints at Maximinus’s acromegaly, a genetic condition in which individuals grow to enormous sizes. Roman historians claimed that Maximinus was an 8 foot tall giant.
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  12. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Excellent analysis and quite correct.
    savitale likes this.
  13. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ...Max Thrax...1st of the 'year of the 6 emperors'. IMG_0394.JPG IMG_0397.JPG .Maximinus Thrax(235-238AD) sestertius emperor bust right obverse, winged Germania holding wreath over captive left reverse. 30mm,19.05gms
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  14. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    Here is a recent purchase of mine. The coin shows the early bust type of Maximinus I Thrax. This bust type is much rarer than the later bust types.

  15. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    This is probably a gross understatement. Between 233 and 235 Germanic warrior bands repeatedly invaded the empire, penetrating several hundred kilometers deep into Roman territory and destroying and plundering numerous Roman forts, settlements and towns.
    The so called "horizon of destruction" reached as far south as Raetia. Excavations show that sometimes forts were taken by complete surprise. At Vetoniana (Pfünz) the soldiers didn't even have time to grab their shields, which were still found stacked up in the remains of a tower. The attack may have come at night. Many large hoard originate from these events, like the treasure of Wiggenbach with 407 silver coins.
    Interestingly, the invasions may have been motivated by more than just the thirst for plunder. Roman altars, statues of deities and stelae were deliberately smashed in many places. The anger may have been directed against everything representing the Roman state. Important settlements and forts, like the eastern fort of Sorviodurum (Straubing) never recovered from the attacks of these years.
    While these events and especially the devastating extend of the destruction are only scarcely mentioned in Roman sources, they can be reconstructed mostly from archaeology (including many coin hoards).
    While Maximianus I Thrax retaliation campaign was celebrated with much pomp in Rome it was probably more of a hit and run affair. The ominous battle in the swamps may have been little more then a skirmish. In general, the Germanic people fled into forests and swamps and it took them a while to gather warriors who could attempt an ambush. The place for this ambush was the Harzhorn. The archaeology suggests that the Roman army managed to break through the Germanic lines, but they apparently they had little appetite for staying in the area for fear that more warriors were on their way.
    In a sense the story reconstructed from archaeology is confirmed by later historical events. Some 20 years after the battle the Roman limes was completely overrun by Germanic invaders and the Rome retreated to a new line of defence in what is now Switzerland.

    Last edited: Oct 17, 2022
  16. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Good write up.
    savitale likes this.
  17. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    This is second Maximinus piece I have owned. It's just a common denarius.

    Maximinus Thrax All.jpg

    Four of the other five emperors who served in 238, the year of the six emperors are a lot harder.

    Gordian I

    Gordian I Africa DE All.jpg

    Gordian II

    Gordian II Africanus All.jpg

    Balbinus and Pupienus, the argumentative fools who got themselves killed.

    Balbinus Denarius.jpg Pupienus Denarius.jpg

    And Gordian III, one of the more common pieces. I had an example during my brief flirtation with ancients when I was in high school.

    Gordian III All.jpg
  18. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    According to the Historia Augusta, Severus Alexander made Maximinus "tribune of the Fourth Legion, which he himself had formed out of recruits, giving him his promotion with the following words: "I have not entrusted veterans to you, my most dear and loving Maximinus, because I feared that you cannot root out the faults that have grown in them under other commanders. You have fresh recruits; after the pattern of your habits, your courage, your industry, make them learn their service (...)" "Having therefore accepted the legion, he immediately began to train it. On every fifth day he had his men parade in armour and fight a sham battle against one another. Their swords, corselets, helmets, shields, tunics, in fact all their arms, he inspected daily (...)" etc.

    Thus I always imagined Maximinus Thrax like this :

    max le thrax.jpg

    On the other hand, I also like this dupondius (scarce, I have not seen many dupondii of this emperor) :

    Max le Thrax dupondius.jpg
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  19. Valentinian

    Valentinian Well-Known Member

  20. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    That is a very nice and useful overview of Maximianus' coins, Warren. I didn't realize that the LIBERALITAS issue was so closely linked with the accession donative. This reminds me that I have to learn more about the reverse types. I'm often so focused on the portraits and condition, that I pay little to no attention to the meaning of the reverse types.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2022
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  21. Guilder Pincher

    Guilder Pincher Well-Known Member

    My only Maximinus, a RIC 20.
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