Alexander Severus’ death opened the halls of power to Maximinius Thrax. The military officer’s legion appointed him emperor upon the assassination of Thrax’s predecessor. The Senate disliked the commoner, but acquiesced to the military’s wishes. Maximinius’ reign marked the beginning of the Crisis of the Third Century. As a result, he spent his short tenure fighting revolts, foreign enemies, and other politicians until his own assassination.
Thrax emerged from peasant stock, joined the army, but gained little power until Alexander Severus promoted him to command. The military felt Severus weak, assassinated the emperor, and elected Thrax as his replacement. The Praetorian Guard agreed with the choice forcing the Senate to concur. Most senators privately opposed Thrax due to his low birth.
Maximinius I despised the upper classes and suspected plots. He ruthlessly moved to quell potential unrest. The emperor began by executing Severus’ advisors and confidants. He also spoiled at least two plots to overthrow his regime. The first plot involved several senators and the second included archers loyal to Severus. In each case, many conspirators died.
In addition to the internal threats, the Thrax faced unsettled frontier incursions. His very first campaign as emperor ended in a bloody triumph. He defeated a Germanic tribe despite taking heavy casualties. Eventually, the emperor temporarily secured the German border and moved on Dacia in 236.
The emperor’s campaigns kept him from setting foot in Rome. In 238, he faced an African insurrection. The rebels murdered imperial officials and proclaimed the governor Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus the emperor. He assumed the title Gordian I and his son became the co-emperor Gordian II. The Senate smelled an opportunity to rid themselves of the peasant emperor and proclaimed the two co-emperors.
Maximinius marched on Rome to assert his authority upon the treacherous Senate. Meanwhile, the African revolt collapsed ignominiously. Gordian II died in battle leading his father to hang himself in grief. The Gordian collapse left the Senate in a lurch. They supported the Gordians to the fullest extent and now had to face an enraged emperor and his troops. They nominated two of their own as co-emperors in defiance. The Roman people rioted in response. The mob did not necessarily support Thrax, but they did not like two patricians assuming power.
The emperor arrived in early 238. The Senate managed to close the gates leaving Maximinius I locked out of his own city. He prepared for an unexpected siege. The army grew disaffected when famine and disease struck. In April 238, a number of soldiers murdered Maximinius I, his son, and several advisors. They assassins lopped off their heads, placed them on pikes, and displayed them to the city. The Senate won the showdown.
Maximinius I was the first emperor to never set foot in Rome. The commoner rose quickly under Alexander Severus after a lengthy military career. His troops anointed him emperor upon Severus’ assassination. Maximinius spent his reign fighting on the frontiers and putting down revolts. In the end, impatient soldiers turned on him and Maximinius Thrax suffered Severus’ fate.