Petronius Maximus

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Solidus of Petronius Maximus.

Flavius ​​(Iulius) Petronius Maximus (* 396 ; † May 31, 455 ) was Emperor of the West from March 17, 455 until his death .


Petronius Maximus came from the old and wealthy senatorial family of the Anicier . He himself was also very wealthy, twice held the city prefecture of Rome and twice officiated as Praetorian prefect for Italy. In this function he was the most important civil servant of the Western Roman emperor. In addition, he was consul twice (433 and 443) - a very rare honor - and received the high honorary title patricius . He ruled from March 17 to May 31, 455 as Western Roman Emperor and was the successor to the last member of the Theodosian dynasty , Valentinian III . According to Prokopios of Caesarea and John of Antioch , whose reports presumably go back to Priskos , he was involved in both his murder (March 16, 455) and that of the influential magister militum Aëtius (September 454). It can hardly be decided whether these allegations are true. But there is little to suggest that there was an involvement in the murder of Aëtius by Valentinian, while it can be considered probable that Petronius of the attack on Valentinian III. at least knew. This is supported by the fact that the emperor's murderers immediately brought his insignia to Petronius, who made friends with them publicly. Apparently he was considered a loyal supporter of the dead Aëtius, because the two murderers were his followers. It is quite conceivable that as a noble and highly respected senator he should serve the supporters of the murdered imperial general as a figurehead for their own regime in order to externally maintain the authority of the empire (according to Börm 2013).

Valentinian's widow Eudoxia tried in vain to have the loyal guard commander Majorian proclaimed the new emperor, but Petronius' party prevailed instead. This now forced Eudoxia to marry him. He married their daughter Eudocia to his son Palladius, who was appointed Caesar (lower emperor) . Eudocia, however, was already betrothed to the son of the Vandal King Geiseric ; her marriage to Palladius served as a pretext for an attack on Italy. The sources also report that the imperial wives called the Vandals against Petronius Maximus for help ( John Malalas 14:26).

Maximus, who was only a weak emperor, because as a civilian he lacked military success and a following in the army, could not assert himself. He owed the throne to the power vacuum that had arisen after the deaths of Aëtius and Valentinian, which he was able to use in his favor, and sought to secure himself through an alliance with the Visigoths . Since Valentinian III. had been very popular with the urban Roman population, Petronius Maximus obviously failed to win popular support. A good two months after coming to power he tried to flee Rome after the surprise landing of the Vandal fleet under Geiserich and was killed (probably by the angry population) on May 31, 455; according to Jordanes , he was slain by a Roman legionnaire named Ursus. Sidonius Apollinaris suggests that Maximus was betrayed by a Burgundy, but without giving details. The emperor's body was thrown into the Tiber, while the fate of his son is unknown. (However, everything indicates that Palladius also died.)

Days after his death there was the second sack of Rome by the Vandals, which lasted from June 2 to 16, 455 and 45 years after the first by Alaric (from July 24 to 26, 410) (see Migration ). In addition, with his rule began a period of only short-term ruling emperors who could no longer master the difficult external and internal situation in the western part of the Roman Empire: During this time, the imperial general or army master owned the title comes et magister utriusque militiae et patricius as a rule, in fact, more power than the emperors and partly installed and removed them at will (see especially Ricimer ).


  • Henning Börm : Westrom. From Honorius to Justinian . Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-17-023276-1 .
  • Béla Czúth: Petronius Maximus, Emperor of the Italian Senatorial Aristocracy 455. In: Oikumene 4, 1983, pp. 253-258.
  • Dirk Henning: Periclitans res Publica: Empire and Elites in the Crisis of the Western Roman Empire 454 / 5-493. Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-515-07485-6 .

Web links

Commons : Petronius Maximus  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. The name Iulius only appears in a papyrus text , see FAJ Hoogendijk, Brian Paul Muhs (ed.): Sixty-five Papyrological Texts. Leiden 2008, pp. 203-212. With Iulius it can be a fourth part of the name, but it can also be a typo (ibid., P. 208).
predecessor Office successor
Valentinian III. Western Roman Emperor