Book Review: Maximinus Thrax: From Common Soldier to Emperor of Rome


by Paul N. Pearson

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen and Sword / New York: Skyhorse, 2017. Pp. xxiv, 296. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $27.99. ISBN: 1510708634

Rome’s “Giant Barbarian” Emperor

In this, the first book-length life of Maximinus, who ruled the empire for nearly three years (AD 235-238), Prof. Pearson (Cardiff), supplements the limited literary sources with evidence from archaeology, numismatics, and other disciplines. This has helped him get beyond the “giant barbarian thug” image created by the notoriously unreliable Historia Augusta, which has long dominated the image of Maximinus, to present a more nuanced picture of the man within the framework of his times.

Maximinus, who seems to have suffered from acromegaly, was of non-citizen, peasant roots in Thrace. He entered the Roman Army after catching the eye of Septimius Severus by his stature and physical feats. Maximinus rose steadily, became a citizen, a general, and then emperor in a bloody coup against the youthful Emperor Alexander Severus (r. 222-235). Pearson makes a convincing case that Maximinus’ reign was by no means the thugocracy commonly depicted. As Emperor, he successfully defeated barbarian incursions, and as recent archaeological evidence suggests, campaigned deeply into Germania, probably to the Elbe. But Maximinus’ lack of popularity with the senatorial classes, and the heavy taxation needed to defend the empire, led to a revolt in Africa in 235, which spread to Italy and much of the rest of the empire, and resulted in his death and that of his son at their hands of their own troops.

While the lack of better sources will always make the life of Maximinus rather murky, Pearson has done an excellent job.  Though written for the general reader, Maximinus Thrax, one of a series of biographies of notable Romans from Pen & Sword, will certainly prove of value to serious scholars of Roman history.


Note: Maximinus Thrax is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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