When Rome Tore Itself Apart: 5 Crucial Events in the Civil Wars of the Tetrarchy

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2 – Maxentius Consolidates

At the conference at Carnuntum, everyone in attendance agreed that Maxentius was a usurper with no justifiable claim to power. As a result, he was a marked man and could not call on any of the others as an ally. He suffered a blow in 308 when he lost the province of Africa. There, the troops rallied behind Alexander of Carthage and declared him Augustus of the province. Africa was effectively the ‘breadbasket’ of Rome, and it also meant that Alexander became an ally of Constantine’s through virtue of the fact they had an enemy in common.

Maxentius’ eldest son died in 309, and once Maximian died the following year, the relationship between Maxentius and Constantine quickly deteriorated. As a result, Maxentius formed an alliance with Maximinus Daia, but in 310, he lost Istria to Licinius. If things weren’t unstable enough already, Galerius fell ill and died in April 311. His death was the catalyst for an all-out civil war all across the vast Roman Empire.

As soon as Maximinus heard of Galerius’ death, he raised an army against Licinius and seized Asia Minor before his enemy could act. Maxentius got to work by strengthening his position in northern Italy before traveling to Africa to kill Alexander in 310/311. He seized the wealth of Alexander’s supporters in Africa and ensured Rome was flooded with grain. Despite his best efforts, Maxentius was never able to garner support and was soon forced to bring taxation back to Rome to gain extra revenue as he received nothing from the empire.

Although he tried to get Italy’s Christians on his side by allowing them to elect a Bishop of Rome, they sided with Constantine in the belief that he was more sympathetic to their needs. By the summer of 311, Maxentius had raised an army to fight Constantine while Licinius was busy in the east of the empire. For his part, Constantine quickly saw the danger and formed an alliance with Licinius by letting the man marry his sister Constantina. By the start of 312, two clear sides had formed; an alliance of Constantine and Licinius and an alliance of Maxentius and Maximinus Daia.

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