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“It's me or you kiddo. Here's chucking you off a bridge”
When Maxentius (306 AD-312 AD) met Constantine on a bridge near Rome, they were not there for a romantic snog. They were in fact brothers-in-law but ones with two armies standing behind them. Maxentius was there as a the representative of 'old Rome', the city of Venus, Mars, Julius Caesar and Nero. Constantine was there with his 'Christian soldiers', painting a big white cross on their shields to fend of pagan missiles. And their patron was a guy called Jesus, a cruficied Jewish troublemaker and enemy of the Roman crew cut.
If Maxentius had time to ponder the irony of this conflict, he would be unable to have included it in his memoirs. Because he lost. The battle on the Milvian Bridge barely lasted a game of soccer. Maxentius tried to leave the battlefield early, got stuck in fleeing traffic and was pushed off the bridge. Golden armour is a fine outfit when leading your soldiers to battle, less so when trying to swim to safety. Rome's former playboy emperor was fished out, identified and then that head with the 5,000 solidi haircut was chopped off and stuck on a lance. So Maxentius did return back to his Roman palace, though minus his life and body.
edit Last of the Great Roman Fun Lovers
Maxentius was a true son of Rome. He loved the city, it was him and had grown up there. If his own father, emperor Maximian was thicker than the forests of Germany, Maxentius had benefitted from a golden spoon inheritance. Growing up in Rome during the 290s, Maxentius went short for nothing. Since the big split in running the Roman empire between his father and Emperor Diocletian, Maxentius felt entitled to be sure that come the next imperial generation, he would be near or on the top. In the city his only rival was Constantine, son of Maximian's Deputy Caesar, the unfunny Constantius Chlorus. Maxentius enjoyed bullying 'Consty' as the boys ran around trying to kill each other in deadly games.
edit Retirement and What To Do
Diocletian's keeness to give up the job of Roman Emperor meant Maxentius's father would have to do the same. Since this wasn't the age of binding employment contracts, Maximian had taken the precaution to let Constantine get to know Maxentius sister 'Flusty' Fulvia very well. It seemed like a marital alliance was possible but neither 'golden boy' was going to become emperor by inheritance.
Diocletian had already decided that the next CEOs of Roman Empire Incorporated would have been chosen by ability. So in 305 Maxentius saw Constantine now become the 'son of an active emperor' when his father replaced Maximian as the top dog in the Roman West. Maxentius felt humiliated and, in Roman politics, supremely uncertain if would live out another day. His only advantage was that his wife Valeria was the daughter of the Emperor Galerius but their relationship was strained. Like Diocletian and Maximian, Galerius was another centurion promoted above his station - at least in Maxentius's eyes. Roman emperors had been distinctly 'plebby' in Maxentius's view.
edit Strike Fast
In 306 Constantius Chlorus died whilst in Britannia and his son Constantine was proclaimed emperor. Maxentius offered to fight for Galerius against his old rival, what with him being the emperor's son-in-law too but Galerius preferred one of Yes Men, an office nonentity called Severus. In bitter relation, Maxentius encouraged a rebellion against Severus and had him drowned in a bath of melted Italian ice cream.
The Roman Empire now had three emperors, soon to be increased to four when Maximian left behind his gardening sandals and joined in the struggle. Galerius who was outraged by the two 'boy-emperors' usurpations wanted them both deposed and called for an imperial conference call at Diocletian's retirement villa. Maxentius was to be demoted again, not even worthy to be a caesar. Maxentius was invited to take his downgrading personally and confident he wouldn't make it alive past dessert, blamed his father for the fiasco. Maximian was barred from Italy and Fausta who gone off to marry Constantine was added to Maxentius's growing shit list.
edit Bad Press
Maxentius's policy after this appeared to be 'wait and see'. Not confident in his war making skills, Maxentius stayed on the defensive against both Constantine, Galerius and his own family. No one loved him but he gained the special hatred of the Christians. Indeed, Maxentius's reputation was about to further on the 'baby eating' index the Christians used against pagans.
Oddly, Diocletian and certainly Galerius in the East were old fashioned 'throw the bastards to the lions' type of pagans but it seems Maxentius didn't mind them as such. The Imperial edict against Christianity was still in force but Maxentius wasn't an active persecutor. However in a classic piece of retrospective damnation, the Christians would later accuse Maxentius and condemning the whirligig St.Catherine of Alexandria, to a fiery fate and victim hood. In a strange story, Maxentius was supposed to have killed all his advisors for offering 'bum answers' in a protracted Q&A with Catherine.
Such was the event's impact, no contemporary Roman writer bothered to mention it and if the year of Catherine's martydom was in 305 AD, Maxentius wasn't emperor or anywhere near Alexandria.
edit Milvian Bridge
The battle between Constantine and Maxentius now moved to final stand-off in 312AD, a road side halt at the Milvian Bridge, outside Rome. Constantine had consolidated his position in the West whilst Galerius had recently died. With Maxentius now fully kitted out in the blood of christian martyrs (apparently), the two armies squared up to each other with a battle to happen the following day. Whilst Maxentius was said to indulge in some usual seedy pagan practises, Constantine had a dream inspired by God. One wonders who had the most fun that night.
So now fully coated in the blood of Christian martyrs, Maxentius was about to meet his maker. Not being a general, Maxentius had come up with a plan to lure Constantine and his army onto a collapsible bridge. It was a complicated idea straight out of the script pages of James Bond - and failed. Instead of Constantine meeting the fishes, it was Maxentius's fate when his soldiers panicked and started to dismantle the bridge too early in the battle. As they say in military conflict, 'keep it simple sunshine'
Constantine took out the full gamut of imperial revenge on Maxentius. Every monument that had his name on was defaced and replaced, statues overthrown. Nor was Maxentius's own family spared, though in a bit of extra muck spreading, it was alleged Empress Valeria had died defending St.Catherine earlier. Maxentius's son Aurelius Valerius was simply executed, despite being Constantine's nephew. Christian family values!
The death of Maxentius marked the end of Rome's importance when it came to making or breaking emperors. Constantine moved most of the valuables and really interesting bits to his new capital in the East. Future Roman emperors preferred to stay in Milan or Ravenna, Rome became the Las Vegas of the Ancient World. They still had some fantastic buildings, legendary parties and extreme amusement facilities at the Colosseum but real power was elsewhere.
At the time no one seemed to notice Rome's loss of importance. The Senate still sat there but most days it was on a semi-permanent holiday. The city was still attractive to some but almost unseen, the city was now specially important to the Christians. It was the city where St.Peter and St.Paul had died. It would be their Christian HQ,
There still there today, under the name of the Vatican.
Diocletian and Maximian
Constantine the Great