May 1, 2014, by Helen Lovatt
The emperors resign!
Today’s anniversary by Will Leveritt.
1709 years ago today, on the first of May A.D. 305, the joint emperors Diocletian and Maximian took the incredible decision to resign the imperial power, the former at Nicomedia, the latter at Milan.
This coin is an antoninianus, and on the obverse shows Maximian wearing the radiate crown. The legend reads IMP C MAXIMIANVS PF AVG. The reverse shows Pax standing, holding Victoria on a globe, with a transverse staff. The legend reads PAX AVGG; the double-g indicates the plural, augustorum, since both he and Diocletian ruled at that time.
Gibbon, in his monumental work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, draws the character of the two emperors through a series of contrasts:
Maximian was born a peasant… in the territory of Sirmium. Ignorant of letters, careless of laws, the rusticity of his appearance and manners still betrayed in the most elevated fortune the meanness of his extraction. War was the only art which he professed … Notwithstanding the difference of their characters, the two emperors maintained, on the throne, that friendship which they had contracted in a private station. The haughty, turbulent spirit of Maximian, so fatal afterwards to himself and to the public peace, was accustomed to respect the genius of Diocletian, and confessed the ascendant of reason over brutal violence. From a motive either of pride or superstition, the two emperors assumed the titles, [Diocletian] of Jovius, [Maximian] of Herculius. Whilst the motion of the world (such was the language of their venal orators) was maintained by the all-seeing wisdom of Jupiter, the invincible arm of Hercules purged the earth from monsters and tyrants. [Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. 13]
A bigger/more detailed image of the coins is below.
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