Maximus (2) Magnus, Christian emperor in the West, a.d. 383–388.
Authorities. —Besides the regular historians, of whom Zosimus (iv. 35–46) gives most original matter, St. Ambrose has special notices, Epp. 24 (narrative of his embassies), 20, § 23, and 40, § 23; Symmachus, Ep. ii. 31; Sulpicius Severus, almost contemporary, Chron. ii. 49–51, Vita S. Martini , 20, Dialogus , ii. 6, iii. 11. The best modern books are De Broglie, L’Eglise et l’Empire au IVme siècle (Paris, 1866), vol. vi. and H. Richter, Weströmische Reich (Berlin, 1865), pp. 568 ff., cf. T. Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders (Oxf. 1880), vol. i. pp. 147–155.
History. —Magnus Maximus was a Spaniard by birth (Zos. iv. 35) and a dependant of the family of Theodosius, with whom he served in Britain. In 383 he was proclaimed emperor by the soldiers in Britain, where he held some command, apparently not a very high one. He landed in Gaul at the mouth of the Rhine, and was met by the army of Gratian somewhere near Paris. The troops came over to him, and Maximus suddenly found himself in possession of the western provinces. Gratian was killed at Lyons, Aug. 25, and, as was generally reported, by the orders of Maximus himself: The Western empire was thus in great danger, since Valentinian II. was a mere weak boy, and Theodosius was occupied in the East. It shews the position of St. Ambrose that he was chosen by the empress-mother, Justina, to treat for peace at this crisis (S. Ambr. Ep. 24, §§ 3, 5, 7). Peace was made, Maximus being acknowledged as Augustus and sovereign of the Gauls, side by side with Valentinian and Theodosius.
This state of things lasted for some years, during which Maximus, who had been baptized just before his usurpation, busied himself much with church affairs, being desirous to obtain a reputation for the strictest orthodoxy. Western writers, Sulpicius Severus and Orosius, though treating Maximus as a usurper, give him, on the whole, a good character, Sulpicius making exception on the score of his persecution of the Priscillianists and his love of money (Sulp. Dial. ii. 6; Oros. vii. 34). Thus Maximus was in general an able and popular ruler, at least in his own dominions, giving his subjects what they most wanted, some feeling of security and peace. But we must join in the censure passed upon his treatment of the Priscillianists by pope Siricius (synod of Turin, a.d. 401, Song of Solomon 6, Hefele, Councils , § 113), St. Ambrose, and St. Martin of Tours. Ambrose, indeed, was a political opponent, but Maximus courted Siricius, and was very obsequious to Martin. The Priscillianist heretics, who held a mixture of Gnostic, Manichean, and Sabellian opinions, had been condemned by a synod at Saragossa in 380. Their opponents, Ithacius bp. of Ossonuba, and Idacius bp. of Emerita, found in Maximus a ready instrument of persecution. The Priscillianists were ordered to appear before a synod at Bordeaux in 384, where one of their chiefs, bp. Instantius, was condemned as unworthy of the episcopal office. Priscillian denied the competency of the synod, and appealed to the emperor. St. Martin besought him to abstain from bloodshed, and to remit the case to ecclesiastical judges. Ithacius, their most vehement accuser, did not hesitate to charge Martin himself with Priscillianism, but, for a time, better influences prevailed, and Maximus promised that no lives should be taken. After Martin's departure, however, other bishops persuaded Maximus to remit the case to a secular judge, Evodius, and finally the emperor condemned Priscillian and his companions, including a rich widow Euchrocia, to be beheaded. Instantius and same others were exiled. A second synod, held at Trèves in 385, approved by a majority the conduct of Ithacius, and urged Maximus to further measures of confiscation. St. Martin returned to intercede for some of his friends, and with this purpose communicated with the faction of Ithacius, who were then consecrating a bishop. There can be no doubt that Maximus wished to be regarded as a champion of catholicity, and to use this merit as a political instrument. As early as 385 he seems to have written to pope Siricius, professing his ardent love of the Catholic faith, offering to refer the case of a priest Agricius, whom the pope complained of as wrongly ordained, to ecclesiastical judges anywhere within his dominions. (This letter is only given at length by Baronius, s.a. 387, §§ 65, 66; cf. Tillemont, Les Priscillianistes , art. 10. The part about Agricius is given by Hänel, s.a. 385, from other MSS., thus confirming the genuineness of the letter.) At the beginning of 387 the struggle about the basilicas gave him a pretext for interfering on the Catholic side with the court of Milan, a proceeding which he may have thought would gain him the sympathy of his old opponent St. Ambrose. He wrote a threatening letter to Valentinian II., which we still possess, bidding him desist from the persecution of the church (Soz. vii. 13; Theod. v. 14. This letter is given only by Baronius, s.a. 387, §§ 33–36, cf. Tillem. Saint Ambroise , art. 48. Its genuineness seems not absolutely certain). Justina in this emergency, again used the political skill and intrepidity of St. Ambrose, whose loyalty was unshaken and whose disinterestedness was universally recognized. Ambrose went on a second embassy to Maximus, of which he has left us a lively record in his 24th epistle. He set out after that memorable Easter which witnessed the baptism of St. Augustine, and found the emperor at Trèves. His high spirit and sincerity seem to have disappointed Maximus, who found fault with him for acting against his interest, accused count Bauto of turning barbarians upon his territory, and refused to restore the still unburied remains of Gratian; thus clearly shewing that he meant war. Ambrose's refusal to communicate with the Ithacians was the final offence, and the emperor suddenly commanded him to depart (cf. Ep. 24, § 3, for his judgment on this party). On his return to Milan Ambrose warned Valentinian to prepare for war, but his wise counsels were disregarded. A second ambassador Domninus was sent, and was entirely deceived by the soft words of Maximus, who persuaded him that Valentinian had no better friend than himself, and cajoled him into taking back into Italy a part of his army, under pretence of serving against the barbarians who were invading Pannonia. Having thus cleverly got his soldiers across the Alps, he followed rapidly in person, and entered Italy as an invader (Zos. iv. 42). Justina and her son and daughters fled to Theodosius at Thessalonica. Maximus was thus left in possession of Italy. The details of the campaign that followed belong to secular history. Theodosius defeated the troops of Maximus at Siscia and Petovio, and seized the emperor himself at Aquileia, where he was put to death, after some form of trial (Zos. iv. 46; Pacatus, 43, 44), on July 25 or August 28, 388, after a reign of rather more than five years. His son Victor, whom he had named Augustus, was put to death shortly after. Andragathius, his able general, who was accused of the murder of Gratian, threw himself into the Adriatic. It is not said what became of Marcellinus, who had been defeated at Petovio.
Legend. —The connexion of Maximus with Britain is obscure, but it has given rise to a considerable aftergrowth of legend. He is called "Rutupinus latro" by Ausonius, perhaps merely because he started from Richborough to invade Gaul. Welsh tradition has incorporated him into its genealogies of saints and royal heroes, under the name of Macsen Wledig, or Guledig, a title considered to be equivalent to imperator. (See H. Rowland's Mona Antiqua Restaurata , pp. 166 ff., ed. 2, Lond, 1766, and cf. Skene's Four Ancient Books of Wales , vol. i. pp. 45, 48, vol. ii. 405. He is usually called Macsen , which rather suggests a confusion with Maxentius, but Skene quotes his Welsh name also as Maxim , i. p. 48.) The "dream of Maxen Wledig" in the Mabinogion (ed. Guest, vol. iii. pp. 263–294, Lond. 1849) represents him as already emperor of Rome, and brought to Britain by a dream of a royal maiden Helen Luyddawc or Luyddog, daughter of Eudav ( = Octavius?) of Caer Segont, or Carnarvon, and then returning after seven years with his brother-in-law Kynan to reconquer his old dominions. Another mythical account describes Kynan as raising an army of sixty thousand men, who afterwards settled in Armorica. The desolation of Britain thus left the country exposed to the attacks of the Picts and Saxons (cf. Mabinogion , l.c. pp. 29 ff.; R. Rees, Essay on Welsh Saints , pp. 104, 105, Lond. 1836; Nennius, Hist. Brit. § 23). A further development of the legend represents St. Ursula and her company of virgins as sent out as wives for these emigrated hosts. The term Sarn Helen applied to Roman roads in N. Wales is explained as referring to the wife of Maximus.
It is difficult to say what historical facts may be at the bottom of this. That the withdrawal of Roman troops by Maximus exposed Britain to invasion is an obvious fact, and is already asserted by Gildas (Historia , cc. 10, 11). The colonization of Armorica by some of his auxiliaries is also possible enough. On the other hand, the name of Helen may merely be borrowed from the mother of Constantine, and Sarn Helen may be explained as Sarn-y-lleng , "the legion's causeway," just as the story of the cutting out the tongues of the women of Armorica by Kynan's soldiers appears to be only an etymological myth to explain the name Llydaw applied to that country. For further refs., see R. Williams, Biogr. Dict. of Eminent Welshmen (Llandovery, 1852), art. "Maxen Wledig."