Majorian, Latin in full Julius Valerius Majorianus, (died Aug. 7, 461, Dertona, Liguria. Now Tortona, Italy), was Western Roman emperor from 457 to 461, the only Emperor in the 5th century who had some claim to greatness.
The most important sources about Majorian are the chronicles describes the second half of the 5th century — Hydatius, Marcellinus Comes, also some fragment of Priscus and John of Antioch.
Majorian belonged to the military aristocracy. He was born of a distinguished military family, by sources probably after 420. By his mother's side his grandfather of the same name reached the rank of Magister Militum under Emperor Theodosius I, as commander-in-chief of the Illyrian army. Mother married an officer, probably called Domninus, who administered the finances of Flavius Aetius, the general who in future crushed Attila. Under Flavius Aetius that Majorian started his military career. He followed Aetius to Gallia where he met two officers also under Aetius' command who were to play an important role in Majorian's life: the Suebic-Visigoth Ricimer and the Gallo-Roman Aegidius. Majorian distinguished himself in the defence of the city of Turonensis (modern Tours) and in a battle near Vicus Helena (447 or 448) against the Franks of king Clodio. In the latter, Majorian fought at the head of his cavalry on a bridge, while Aetius controlled the roads leading to the battlefield
Struggle for the Throne
Western Roman Emperor Valentinian III had no heir for the throne but had two daughters. Around 450, he considered possible of marrying his daughter Placidia to Majorian. Having Majorian as son-in-law would have strengthened Valentinian in the face of other powerful generals as Aetius, but Aetius in fact, planned to marry his own son Gaudentius to Placidia. He therefore put an end to Majorian's military career, expelling him from his staff and sending him to his country estate.
It was only in 454 Valentinian III killed Aetius with his own hands fearing that Aetius' troops might revolt against him. He recalled Majorian to suppress any military rebellion. In the following year, Valentinian III was killed by two former officers of Aetius' staff. There was then a fight for the succession, as no heir existed. Majorian played the role of the candidate for the throne of Licinia Eudoxia, Valentinian's widow, and of Ricimer, who reserved for himself a role similar to Aetius'. In the end, the new Emperor was Petronius Maximus, a senator involved in Valentinian's murder, who outmanoeuvred the other candidates.
To strengthen his position, he obliged Licinia to marry him and promoted Majorian to the rank of Comes Domesticorum (commander-in-chief of the imperial guard). Petronius ruled only for a few weeks, as he was killed during the Vandal sack of Rome (May 455). He was succeeded by the Gallic-Roman noble Avitus, who had the support of the Visigoths. Majorian got dignity the Comes Domesticorum, and Ricimer got The Comes Rei Militaris of Italy. Both initially supported Avitus, but when the Emperor lost the loyalty of the Italian aristocracy, the two generals revolted against him. First Majorian and Ricimer killed Remistus, the Magister Militum entrusted by Avitus with the defence of the capital, Ravenna. Then Ricimer defeated Avitus' troops near Placentia, taking the Emperor himself prisoner, and obliging him to abdicate. Finally, Majorian caused Avitus' death, possibly starving him, in early 457. After Avitus' death, Marcian the Eastern Roman Emperor should to choose the successor but very soon he died on 27 January 457. On the Eastern throne came general Leo I and he choose rule alone both empires. He rewarded both Majorian and Ricimer: the former was appointed magister militum, the latter patricius and magister militum (28 February 457). While the situation was in a precarious equilibrium, a troop of 900 Alemanni invaded Italy. They entered from Raetia and penetrated Italian territory down to Lake Maggiore. There they were intercepted and defeated by the troops of comes Burco, sent by Majorian to stop them. This victory was celebrated as Majorian's own. He was proclaimed emperor by the army on 1 April, six miles outside Ravenna, at a place called ad Columellas, with Ricimer’s support, formally declared emperor on 28 December.
Majorian understood that he could reign effectively only with the support of the senatorial aristocracy, whom he wanted to return to its pristine political prominence. At the same time, he planned to reduce the abuses perpetrated by the senators, many of whom cultivated their local interests disregarding the imperial policies, even refusing to pay taxes and keeping for themselves the taxes they had exacted. This fiscal evasion had a cascade effect that affected the small landowners, the citizens and the local civil magistrates.
Majorian issued number of tax laws to effectively replenish the treasury. On 11 March 458, Majorian issued - entitled De indulgentiis reliquorum, "On the Remission of Past-Due Accounts" (Novella Maioriani 2). This law remitted all the tax arrears of the landowners. This same law explicitly prohibited public administrators, who had a record of keeping the collected money for themselves, from collecting taxes. This task was to be reserved to the governors alone. Another law issued on 4 September of the same year, and was entitled De bonis caducis sive proscriptorum, "On Abandoned Property and That of Proscribed Persons" (Novella Maioriani 5): the comes privatae largitionis Ennodius was to admonish the provincial judges against defrauding the imperial treasure by keeping for themselves a part of the money collected.
For example, the decurions had personally to compensate the imperial treasury for all taxes not exacted. Sometimes, oppressed by the debts accumulated in this way, the decurions abandoned their status, a problem already addressed by Emperor Julian (361–363). Majorian also cancelled tax arrears, knowing that fiscal policy could not be effective if taxpayers had to pay large accumulated arrears.
Also The Emperor interested to re-establish the office of the defensor civitatis. Before this office held by the same officials who cheated the population. Now this city magistrate represented the interests of the citizens in trials against the public administration, particularly in fiscal matters. He set about conscientiously administering his realm. He stopped abuses in tax collection and attempted to protect the provincials from other forms of oppression.
Restoration of The Empire
In summer 457, a group of Vandals, led by the brother-in-law of Genserich, landed in Campania, at the mouth of the Liri river, and started devastating and sacking the region. Majorian personally led the Roman army to South Italy. He victory over the invaders near Sinuessa and followed the routed vandals, loaded with their booty, as far as their own ships, killing many of them including commander.
After this event, Majorian understood that he had to take the initiative if he wanted to defend the heart of his Empire, the only territory he actually controlled.
He strengthened the army, recruiting a large number of barbarian mercenaries, including Gepids, Ostrogoths, Rugii, Burgundians, Huns, Bastarnae, Suebi, Scythians and Alans. In 458 Majorian began to build the fleet with which he hoped to recover Africa from the Vandals.
After consolidating his position in Italy, Majorian concentrated on the recovery of Gaul. News of the deposition of the Gallo-Roman emperor Avitus, caused Gaul province to refuse to recognize Majorian as his successor calling him usurper. Gallia was recognizing only The Eastern Emperor Leo I. In late 458, Majorian entered Gaul, with an army strengthened by barbarian units. The Emperor personally led the army, leaving Ricimer in Italy and choosing Aegidius and the magister militum Nepotianus as collaborators. The imperial army defeated the Visigoths under king Theodoric II at the Battle of Arelate, forcing the Visigoths to abandon Septimania and withdraw west to Aquitania. The Roman victory was decisive: under the new treaty the Visigoths had to relinquish their vast conquests in Hispania and return to foederati status. Majorian appointed his trusted general Aegidius as the new magister militum per Gallias (military commander of Gaul) and sent an envoy to Hispania, to report the victory over the Visigoths and the new treaty with Theodoric II.
With the help of his new foederati, Majorian entered the Rhone Valley, conquering its populations "some by arms and some by diplomacy". He defeated the Burgundians and besieged and conquered the city of Lugdunum: the rebel city was heavily fined, while the Bagaudae were forced to join the Empire. Despite the fact that the Gallo-Roman aristocracy had sided with Avitus, Majorian wanted a reconciliation, not a punishment. With the intercession of Majorian's magister epistolarum Petrus, Sidonius Apollinaris, the son-in-law of Avitus, was allowed to deliver a panegyric in honour of the Emperor (early January 459), receiving in reward the appointment to the rank of comes spectabilis. Much more effective was, however, the granting of the tax remission that the citizens of Lugdunum had requested from Leo I.
Reconquest of Hispain
In 459, Majorian turned his eager eyes south to the Iberian Peninsula. In the wake of the Vandal sack of Rome (455), the Visigoths had conquered Hispania, formally in the name of the new Western Emperor Avitus, actually controlling the territory themselves. Majorian planned to reconquer Hispania and use it as the base for the conquest of Africa. Before this rich province of the Western Empire provided very important grain supply to the city of Rome, now it is under Vandals control. According to the historian Procopius, Majorian wanted to know personally the military strength fo Vandals and how the local populations would react to the Roman reconquest. According to the historian Procopius, Majorian wanted to know personally the military strength fo Vandals and how the local populations would react to the Roman reconquest. Majorian was collecting information on the enemy and gathered a fleet of three hundred ships to support the army in the reconquest of Hispania and in the invasion of Africa. He carefully prepared to the expedition.
During the preparation of this operation Majorian sent the Comes and Patricius Occidentis Marcellinus to Sicily with an army of Huns, to take the island back from the Vandals. Since the death of Aetius, Marcellinus was the Comes Rei Militaris (governor) of Illyricum, but he had become in fact independent and not recognizing the emperor's authority. Majorian convinced him to accept him as Emperor and even to collaborate with his troops in the military recovery of the Empire. The Reconquest started with war against the Suebi in North-Western Hispania, lasting the whole of 459. These campaign led by the magister militiae Nepotianus and the Gothic comes Sunieric. In may 460 Majorian with main army entered Aquitaine and Novempopulania coming from Theodoric's domain in Toulouse. Genseric, fearing the Roman invasion, tried to negotiate a peace with Majorian but he rejected the proposal, because he had invested huge funds to preparing the campaign. The Vandal king decided apply scorched ground tactics and prepare his navy to incursions in the waters near the probable invasion area.
While Nepotianus and Sunieric defeated the Suebi at Lucus Augusti (modern Lugo) and conquered Lusitania, the Emperor passed through Caesaraugusta (Saragossa), where he performed a formal imperial adventus. Finally he reached Carthaginiensis, where his fleet, docked at Portus Illicitanus (near Elche), was burned by traitors paid by the Vandals. Deprived of the fleet Majorian in autumn 460 cancelled invasion on the Vandals and received the ambassadors of Genseric, with whom he agreed to conclude peace and recognized province of Mauretania by the Vandals. He disbanded his costly troops, and moved to Arelate to spend the winter, while he expected to be welcome with dissent in Italy.
Death of Majorian. Collapse of The Empire.
Majorian's legislation had shown that he intended to intervene decisively on issues that plagued the empire, even if they countered the interests of influential aristocrats. While the Emperor was busy away from Italy, the barbarian patricius et magister militum had gathered around himself the aristocratic opposition to his former comrade with whom, just a few years earlier, he had cultivated dreams of power. Just as Avitus's fate had been decided by the betrayal by Ricimer and Majorian and by the dismissal of his German guard, so the fate of Majorian himself was decided by the disbandment of his army and a plot organized by Ricimer.
After unsuccesfully trying to start the African campaign, Majorian left during summer with a small guard to reach Rome. He moved from Arelate along the via Aurelia, in Southern Gallia and Liguria. He had probably received news that Ricimer was coming to meet him and he change direction moves towards North. Ricimer intercepted him in Dertona on 2 August, and had him arrested. Five days, Majorian was beaten and tortured, and on 7 August, he was beheaded near the river Iria. The city of Tortona now hosts, in the church of St. Matthew, a building traditionally identified as the "mausoleum of Majorian". Ricimer put new puppet emperor Libius Severus, a senator of no political distinction, from Italy aristocracy which was opposed to Majorian. Unknown weak emperor was not recognized by Eastern Emperor Leo I and other western province governors or generals who served under Majorian.
Greetings, I am an avid historian with a deep passion for the intricate details of ancient Roman history, particularly the Western Roman Empire during the 5th century. My expertise extends to key figures of this period, and one such prominent figure is Majorian, also known as Julius Valerius Majorianus, the Western Roman Emperor who reigned from 457 to 461.
The information provided about Majorian is consistent with my knowledge, and I can offer further insights into the context, events, and key concepts associated with Majorian's life and reign.
Sources and Background: The primary sources for Majorian's life come from historical chronicles that describe the second half of the 5th century. Notable chroniclers include Hydatius, Marcellinus Comes, Priscus, and John of Antioch, whose fragments contribute to our understanding of Majorian's military and political career.
Youth and Military Career: Majorian was born into a distinguished military family around 420, with his grandfather achieving the rank of Magister Militum under Emperor Theodosius I. Majorian's military prowess was evident during his service under Flavius Aetius, where he played a crucial role in defending Turonensis (modern Tours) and engaging the Franks in a significant battle near Vicus Helena in 447 or 448.
Struggle for the Throne: Majorian's connection to the imperial throne involved complex political maneuvers. Valentinian III, the Western Roman Emperor at the time, considered marrying his daughter Placidia to Majorian, but these plans were thwarted by Aetius. Majorian's military career was temporarily halted, only to be reinstated in 454 when Valentinian III sought to suppress potential rebellions after killing Aetius. The subsequent power struggle led to the ascension of Petronius Maximus, who ruled briefly before being killed during the Vandal sack of Rome in 455.
Majorian's rise to power involved alliances with influential figures like Ricimer, and after Avitus' brief rule, Majorian became the Western Roman Emperor in 457.
Economic Reforms: Majorian recognized the need for economic stability and sought to strengthen his position by aligning with the senatorial aristocracy. His fiscal reforms, such as the law "De indulgentiis reliquorum" in 458, aimed to remit tax arrears of landowners and curb abuses by public administrators who misappropriated collected funds. Another law, "De bonis caducis sive proscriptorum," addressed the issue of abandoned property and prohibited administrators from keeping a portion of the money collected.
Majorian reinstated the office of the defensor civitatis to protect citizens' interests, particularly in fiscal matters, and worked to curb abuses in tax collection.
Restoration of the Empire and Gallic Campaign: Majorian faced external threats, including Vandals led by Genseric, who landed in Campania in 457. Majorian personally led the Roman army to victory against the Vandals and embarked on a campaign to strengthen his rule in Gaul. The Battle of Arelate in 458 resulted in the defeat of the Visigoths, solidifying Majorian's control in the region.
Reconquest of Hispania: Majorian's ambitious plans included the reconquest of Hispania from the Visigoths, who had control over the region after the Vandal sack of Rome in 455. Majorian gathered a fleet and army, including barbarian mercenaries, to support the reconquest. The campaign involved military actions against the Suebi and negotiations with Genseric, the Vandal king.
Death and Collapse of the Empire: Despite Majorian's progressive legislation and efforts to address issues within the empire, his reign faced challenges. The betrayal by Ricimer and the disbandment of his army led to Majorian's arrest, torture, and eventual beheading on August 7, 461, near the river Iria. Following his death, the Western Roman Empire experienced further instability, with Ricimer installing Libius Severus as a puppet emperor.
The tragic end of Majorian marked a significant chapter in the decline of the Western Roman Empire, and his legacy is remembered for the reforms and ambitious attempts to restore stability during a tumultuous period.