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Flavius Anicius Petronius Maximus
Emperor of the Western Roman Empire
Solidus Petronius Maximus-RIC 2201.jpg
Petronius Maximus on a coin.
Reign 17 March - 22 April 455 (in competition with Majorian and Maximianus)
Born c. 396
Died 22 April 455 (aged 60)
Predecessor Valentinian III
Successor Avitus
Wife Licinia Eudoxia

Flavius Petronius Maximus[1] (c. 396 - 22 April 455), was a Roman aristocrat, and briefly Western Roman Emperor from 17 March 455 to 31 May 455.

Petronius was of senatorial rank. His earliest known office was praetor, held about 411; around 415 he served as a tribunus et notarius, which was an entry position to the imperial bureaucracy, and led to his serving as Comes sacrarum largitionum (Count of the Sacred Largess) between 416 and 419, as well as Urban Prefect between the years 419 and 433. In 433, he was consul, in 439 Praetorian Prefect of Italy, and in 443 he was consul a second time. When he was granted the title of Patrician in 445, he was briefly the most honored of all non-Imperial Romans, until the third consulate of Aëtius, generalissimo of the Western empire, the following year.

Petronius Maximus, a wealthy senator of the Anician family, who had been twice consul, was possessed of a chaste and beautiful wife; her obstinate resistance served only to irritate the desires of Valentinian; and he resolved to accomplish them either by stratagem or force. Deep gamimg was one of the vices of the court; the emperor, who, by chance or contrivance, had gained from Maximus a considerable sum, uncourteously exacted his ring as a security for the dept and sent it by a trusty messenger to his wife, with an order, in her husband's name, that she should immediately attend the Empress Eudoxia. The unsuspecting wife of Maximus was conveyed in her litter to the Imperial palace; the emissaries of her impatient lover conducted her to a remote and silent bedchamber; and Valentinian violated, without remorse, the laws of hospitality. Her tears, when she returned home, her deep affliction, and her bitter reproaches against a husband whom she considered as the accomplice of his own shame, excited Maximus to a just revenge. (Ref; The decline and fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon)

It is clear that the enmity between Maximus and Aetius led to the gradual events that brought down the Western Roman Empire. According to the account of John of Antioch, Maximus and the eunuch Heraclius persuaded the emperor Valentinian III to have Aëtius killed – which he did by his own hands. The historian John further alleges that Valentinian's death (March 16, 455) at the hands of Optila and Thranstila was also at Maximus' instigation.

Following Valentinian's death, there was no one obvious successor to the throne: Maximus competed with one Maximianus, son of Domninus, who had been a bodyguard of Aëtius, and with the future emperor Majorian, who had the backing of the empress Licinia Eudoxia. Maximus managed to defeat his rivals by gaining control of the palace and forced Eudoxia to marry him.

Maximus quickly appointed Avitus as Master of Soldiers, and sent him on a mission to Toulouse to gain the support of the Visigoths; however, by the time Avitus arrived, Maximus was dead, and the mission pointless. Within two months of Maximus gaining the throne, word came that Gaiseric, king of the Vandals, had arrived in Italy, news that panicked the inhabitants of Rome. In the disorder Maximus was killed, either by a mob or by "a certain Roman soldier named Ursus". Petronius Maximus was stoned to death.

Three days after Maximus' death on April 22, Gaiseric entered Rome with his army. While the Vandals looted the city and captured people as slaves or hostages, in response to the pleas of Pope Leo I, they desisted from more destructive behavior that accompanied a sack of a city – arson, torture, and murder.


Early life

Petronius Maximus was born in about 396, his birthplace being unknown.

Being of obscure origin, yet belonging to the Anicii family - related to later Emperor Olybrius -, a son either of Probinus or Olybrius, sons of Sextus Claudius Petronius Probus - Prefect of Illyricum in 364, Prefect of Gaul in 366, Prefect of Italy in 368-375 and again in 383 and consul in 371 -, and wife and first cousin once removed Anicia Faltonia Proba, Petronius Maximus achieved remarkable career early on in his life. He served as tribune and in 415 as notarius and already by 416 he had become finance minister, a post he held until about 419.

After this he became praetorian prefect for Italy two, perhaps even three times and was twice city prefect of Rome and twice consul. His career in 445 earned him promotion to the rank of patrician (patricius). And by this time he had become exceedingly wealthy, even building a forum in Rome.

With the murder of Valentinian III in 455 there was no heir to the western throne. The eastern emperor Marcian was not consulted, but his choice would most likely have been the military commander Majorian (who did in fact become emperor later). Another contender was a certain Maximianus who had been a follower of Aetius.


However, it was Petronius Maximus who eventually was chosen. True, he had great experience in administration, through having held high offices earlier. And yet, it is largely believed that he used his extensive wealth to buy himself favour and hence literally bought himself the throne.

On taking up office as emperor, Maximus immediately married Licinia Eudoxia, the widow of Valentinian III. She only married him reluctantly, suspecting that he in fact had been involved in the murder of her late husband. And indeed Maximus treated Valentinian III's assassins with considerable favour.

Despairing, Licinia Eudoxia eventually appealed for help to the Vandal king Geiseric. Licinia Eudoxia of course already had contacts to the Vandal court as her daughter Eudocia had been betrothed to Geiseric's son Huneric - before Petronius Maximus had cancelled the arrangement.


By May news reached Rome that Geiseric was sailing for Italy. As the news spread, panic gripped the city and many of its people took to fleeing the place. The emperor too was not concerned with staging a defence but far more with organizing his escape, urging the senate to accompany him.

Though in the panic Petronius Maximus was completely abandoned, left to fend for himself by his bodyguard and entourage. As he rode out of the city on his own on April 22, 455, an angry mob set upon him and stoned him to death. His body was mutilated and flung into the Tiber. He had reigned for only seventy one days.

His son from his first marriage, Flavius Palladius, then Flavius Palladius Caesar between March 17 and April 22, who had married his stepsister Eudocia, was also executed.

On June 2, 455 Geiseric captured the city of Rome and thoroughly sacked it for two weeks. He left, carrying away a great amount of loot as well as the empress Licinia Eudoxia and her daughters Placidia and Eudocia. (Eudocia married Huneric in 456 as had been originally intended.)


  1. ^ Prosopgraphy of the Later Roman Empire II.749

External links

Petronius Maximus
Born: 396 Died: 31 May 455
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Valentinian III
Western Roman Emperor
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Flavius Aëtius,
Flavius Valerius
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Imp. Caesar Flavius Theodosius Augustus XIV
Succeeded by
Flavius Ardaburius Asparus,
Flavius Areobindus
Preceded by
Flavius Dioscorus,
Flavius Eudoxius
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Flavius Paterius
Succeeded by
Imp. Caesar Flavius Theodosius Augustus XVIII,
Flavius Caecina Decius Aginatius Albinus

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