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Magnus Maximus: Emperor of the West

Magnus Flavius Clemens Maximus (b.AD 325 d.388)
(Welsh: Macsen; Latin: Maximus; English: Maximilian)

According to Welsh legend, the Emperor Magnus Maximus, known as Macsen Wledig (the Imperator), was a minor member of the Constantinian Imperial family and a widowed Roman Senator [314], [312], while other accounts make him a Spaniard (a Spanish Celt) [313] [218]. J E Lloyd describes him as a Spanish soldier of humble origin, who had held a minor post in the household of Theodosius when that emperor was with his father in Britain [218].

A more likely scenario is that he was the son of Flavius Julius Crispus (b. 305, executed in 326 on a false charge) and therefore the grandson of Constantine I (The Great) as this would fit with a birth in 320 and his high status in the Roman army [25], [37]. The Spanish origin story arose because prior to their deaths, Crispus and Fausta arranged for their young son to be sent to Spain for his safety where he was raised in the family of Severus Aelius [351]. He had no need to keep his origins secret once in Britain and in fact, being the gr-grandson of the deeply revered Queen Helen/Elaine (St Helena Britannica) undoubtedly explained his widespread acceptance and popularity by the Britains.

High-King Eudaf Hen of Britain was getting very old and his only heir was his daughter, Elen. Eudaf's chief advisor, Caradoc, the King of Dumnonia, advocated strengthening Roman links by marrying Elen to a man with Imperial connections. The two could then inherit the Kingdom together. He knew of such a steady young man in Rome who would make an ideal husband. Eudaf was intrigued. So had Caradoc send his son, Mauric, to seek this Roman out.

Mauric's suggestion that he might find support in Britain for his Imperial claims helped decide Maximus to go to Britain. Comes Theodosius' historical expedition to Britain in order to quell barbarian risings actually brought Magnus Maximus to these shores in 368. [314] Legend has it that Maximus had a dream about the girl he would marry and he was then overjoyed to find that Eudaf's daughter, Elen, was the girl he had dreamed of, and they did marry.

In 380 he was promoted to Comes Britanniae (General of the field army in Britain). In 381 he defeated an incursion of the Picts and Scots lead by Conan Meriadoc (the nephew of King Eudaf Hen), made peace with Conan, who became his friend and also his magister militum. In 383 he was acclaimed Emperor by his troops and crossed into Gaul to confront the Emperor Gratian. His reasons for revolting are not entirely clear but many now believe he was not a usurper but as the grandson of Constantine I (through Flavius Julius Crispus), he had a better claim to the Empire than Gratian and Valentinian who could only claim their mother had once been married to Constantius and were thus the real usurpers. Magnus named Elen as Empress.

Conan is reported to have chased and killed Gratian, although recent research has attributed this to Arthun (Andragathius), son of Maximus in 383 [351]. This Arthun was mistaken for "the" King Arthur by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his medieval literature "Historia Regum Britanniae" where he creates confusion by having Arthur fighting both Romasns and Saxons.

Maximus then set up his court at Trier and sent ambassadors to Theodosius I and Valentinian II. It seems, however, that he had intentions of continuing on to Italy and in 384 he named his son Victor as Augustus and no longer recognized Valentinian II.

Maximus' regime seemed to function smoothly for four years. He ruled in Britain, Gaul, Spain, and Africa. He issued coinage, promulgated laws, and had an imperial bureaucracy. Maximus was a staunch Nicene Christian.

He was recognised as Emperor by Theodosius who was occupied with his own troubles elsewhere. Eventually however, Maximus was forced to make a move against Gratian's younger brother, Valentinian II, the Southern Emperor, who threatened his rule from Rome. In 387 he invaded Italy, took Milan and for a whole year besieged Rome, before Conan arrived once more and finished the job. Unfortunately though, Valentinian escaped. He soon returned, backed up by the Roman Emperor of the East, Theodsoius. After several battles in Illyricum at Emona, Siscia, and Poetovio, Maximus was captured and executed at Aquileia on 28 August/July 388.

After the execution of Magnus, Elen (Helen) Luyddog returned to Britain with her children. There, she helped Christianize the Britons, establishing a series of Christian communities based on the monastic tradition introduced to Gaul by St Martin of Tours. She inspired or led the building of roads to connect the separate tribes, thus facilitating later unity. (In Wales, some Roman road sections are still called Elen's Highway.) [311] She is also known as Elen Llwyddawc ("the leader of Hosts"), St Helena of the Host and Elen Belipotent (Bellipotent) [310].

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