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Maximian: A man whose neck was as wide as his head.

“..I flushed before leaving”

“I hate cabbages.”

“ I would have chosen a donkey as an imperial colleage but Max was less trouble”

He was built like a Roman brick bathhouse and possibly one of the ugliest man to become Roman Emperor in the 3rd century AD. History knows him as Maximian 'Mulcher' (Maximian Brutalus Biceps) (c. 250 – c. July 31), emperor 285-305, 306-308, 310. He co-ruled the Roman Empire with Diocletian from 285 to 305 until forced to take a 'new career move' by being compulsory retired. But like an old boxer, Maximian found retirement tiresome and boring and made two more comebacks until his own son-in-law and rival Emperor Constantine the Great 'persuaded' him to go hang himself or face a public execution. It was a tatty end to an imperial career but justly deserved for Maximian.

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If Maximian had a motto it would have been 'ignorance and loyal'. Born in Belgrade, Maximian was drafted into the Roman army at a very early age. Fighting and brawling (in uniform) were his meat and drink and all night taverna wine crawls, a regularity. It would have been hard to see what future Maximian was going to achieve though to his friends surprise, he was convential enough to have a family by wife Eutropia. From this marriage he would have a son Maxentius and Fausta, later wife of Constantine.


Diocletian (Left) and Maximian (right). Pretty boys they were not.

When Diocletian reunited the Roman empire under his rule, it was a surprise when the emperor pulled Maximian away from his bar room antics to make him an imperial Deputy under the title of Caesar in 285. A year later Maximian got upgraded to Augustus and therefore Diolcletian's equal. However an added title of 'Jupiter' for Diocletian and 'Hercules' for Maximian indicated the true balance between the two men. If Maximian was aware of Diocletian's subtle political oneupmanship, he didn't show it. Maximian had failed the idiot test. He would make an ideal colleague for Diocletian.

Since Diocletian preferred to stay out East, Maximian moved to Italy to run his half of the Roman Empire. It was expected Maximian would be based in Rome but Maximian had no wish do be sneered at by the Roman elite class. They saw themselves as the heirs of Cicero, Pliny and Virgil and had previously mocked emperors before for their bad latin and uncouth table manners. Instead Maximian chose as his capital Milan. It was more of a surface city where what you looked liked too you further than what you knew. Maximian said he needed to be 'closer to the borders' and preferred cutting and slashing his enemies than to suffer whispered contempt behind marble pillars.

Diocletian had chosen well as Maximian showed no inclination to rebel or attempt to reconquer all the Roman Empire under his control. When Diocletian introduced his new 'Tetrarchy' system of of government, Maximian appears not to have understood what this meant. There were to be Four rulers of the Roman Empire, two as Augustus level with another two Constantius the Colourless and Galerius at the supposed junior level as Caesar. Maximian's area of control was thus in effect halved but he saw that as less work for him to do and spent more time in carousing around pubs and brothels with his close friends.


Officially there were only four rulers of the Roman empire but they were joined by a fifth when the fleet commander Carausius proclaimed himself emperor in Britannia in 286. It seemed a minor problem and Maximian commissioned the appropriate victorious poetry and statues once he had crushed the Brits. Carausias had other ideas and invaded Gaul instead, chasing Maximian as far south as he dared. This was a grave insult and Diocletian was tempted to remove his useless old friend, with or without pushing Maximian off a high ledge. Yet once again Diocletian hesitated, there was a danger Maximian's replacement would be more dangerous to him. In the end Carausias saved Maximian's career when he was killed by his deputy Allectus and the whole mess in Britannia fixed with a successful invasion by Constantius in 296. Allectus was killed and Carausias's bones dug up and fed to the dogs

Persecution Complex[edit]

The Dominate.

Maximian's imperial policy was stay in power but since he had no ideas, he had to rely on Diocletian to come up them. It's fairly certain that Maximian just signed (more likely stamped) what was put in front of him and went back to his drinking and whoring. Instructions were also sent by Diocletian about the status of an emperor, no longer a Prince 'first citizen' but as the Domus, Lord Absolute. You could no longer shake hands but had to lie belly down, prostate on the floor when introduced to the imperial prescence. Very often this would lead to farcical scenes with Maximian (if he had been drinking) equally lying on the floor in a pool of vomit and alcohol when receiving visitors.

So when Diocletian declared war against the Christians for refusing to say or print nice things about him, Maximian signed that too. He had no illusions that he was actually Hercules Reborn and didn't show much enthusiasm for Diocletian's attempt to 'man up' the Roman Empire by introducing full throttle paganism. Maximian believed in spirits all right, the ones in his drink cabinet. Still orders were orders (even if you co-signed them) and Christians who caused a fuss or caused trouble were dealt with. Maximian saw Christian martyrs as trouble makers, spitting on sacred entrails or interrupting temple worship by trying to topple over statues. They rebelled, they died. Later on when Maximian was dead, his memory as that of his colleague were to be equally damned and that Maximiam had holy blood on his coarse, rough hands.

Retirement and then a Comeback Or Two[edit]

It's probably Maximian didn't actually believe Diocletian would retire, perhaps he had heard it many times before. His friend had vegetables to fall back on but Maximian had no other discernable interests. Then in 305 the message came through from Nicomedia to Milan, Maximian would have to retire and be replaced by Constantius as emperor and new caesar by the name of Severus would join the Tetrarchy.

Maximian's retirement party in Milan was a strange affair. The former 'Dominator Maximus' removed his purple cloak and placed it on a table. Constantius wasn't there and nor was Severus either. Maximian's son Maxentius was present, angry that he hadn't become Caesar and promptly blanked his father once he ceased to be emperor. All of Maximian's drinking friends melted away and by the end of the evening, Maximian was sitting alone with his leaving presents and the keys to his retirement villa.

When he arrived there with his daughter Fulvia, there was a list of local 'veterans' associations and Vintage Chariot racing clubs he could join. Maximian made a half hearted attempt to get involved but felt like a dead man walking. There had never been an example of an emperor abdicating and now he knew why. He just wasn't feeling safe.

In 306 the news that Constantius had died in Britannia and that his son Constantine had been proclaimed his successor made the situation in the West confused. Severus was now emperor and tried to co-opt Constantine as his caesar. However in Rome Maxentius though he should be emperor and made himself imperial ruler. Now there five emperors and caesars (in the East there was Galerius and his caesar Maximinimal) and when Maximian arrived in Rome to 'reclaim' his power, that made it six. Diocletian's 'system' had broken down.

Perhaps Maximian was hoping to be senior to his son and they would take on Severus and Constantine together. Severus was soon out of the game, losing his army and surrendering. Just to make sure he didn't change his mind, Maximian and Maxentius had Severus 'severed'. Now seemed the perfect opportunity to bring Diolcetian out of his 'stupid retirement' and go back to ruling the empire. But Diocletian stayed retired, alone with his cabbage patch and told Maximian he should let go of his purple booties too. Still under the influence of his mentor, Maximian struck a deal with Constantine:Marry my daughter Faustia, it's a bargain! Then I will go quietly.Constantine agreed but told Maximian to pay for the wedding.

Drop Dead Max[edit]

Some Christians were so eager to be first in the queue to be martyred, they brought along their sleeping bags. That's religious dedication for you!

Along the way Maximian appears to have forgotten about his son Maxentius with all his deal making and fixing. His son didn' take to this treatment at all well and told his father to pack his bags and get out of Italy. When Maximian refused to move, Maxentius had all his father's medals, trophies, drinking mugs and mosaics destroyed or dug up. He was given a week to go.

Maximian retreated to Gaul, cursing his ungrateful son. He moved in with Fausta and Constantine, being given a wing of one of their palaces. It wasn't a happy reunion and within a few months Constantine had banned Maximian from all breakfast and dinner time meals. Maximian tried to persuade his daughter to kill Constantine - or failing that, allow him into their bedroom so he could have a stab at 'the shit' himself. She betrayed her own father and told Constantine.

It must have been an odd final meeting. Constantine told Maximian he knew all about the plot and asked his father-in-law if he felt suicidal that day. When Maximian showed signs of being slow once again on the uptake, Constantine threw down a sword at his Maximian's sandals.

Be quick about it Maximian. You could have stayed retired or shacked up with Diocletian in his oversized greenhouse. Now go, I am going out to dinner with Fausta tonight.

Taking orders once again, Maximian did what he was asked. There was no 'Nero-like speech or any talk at all. Maximian just did it without protest.

See Also[edit]

Preceded by:
Roman Emperor
285-305, 306-308, 310
Succeeded by:
Constantine the Great