tea leaf reading

The Search For Magnus Maximus

Who was Magnus Maximus? As a Brit I realised I knew nothing about this man who led an army from Britain and took Rome in 387ce becoming its Emperor and attempted to stop the Christian emperor’s destruction of the Altar of Victory and imposing more anti-pagan laws. Apparently, he died on 28th August 388ce and he took all the fighting men with him, leaving Britain in a bad way and was supposed to come back but never did. He served in the military for Rome in Africa and Britain. In Britain he married into royalty or important family. I knew little about him and was taught zero of this at school.

At the schools (all nine of them) I attended I was taught about the Crusades, our demise in the Conquest of 1066, the History of United States of America and Africa slave trade and our part in it and the abolition and the history of Israel. I went between British Forces schools and normal English state schools. For those that read my blog you will know I went to Israel in my early twenties and found my learning wanting. However, regarding my English heritage I was not taught very much at all. Like most Brits my age I left school at fifteen years old and needed to work so further education was not encouraged.

Looking online for Magnus Maximus was weird, as I searched wiki the posts I was reading were void of information and looking at the edits they’d not been touched for years until the last few days. Spooky. I got suspicious and headed for the bookshelf.

I have a copy of Oxford’s Who’s Who in the Classical world. Magnus Maximus is not listed. His name is not referenced in the index, glossary nor listed under “M”. This doesn’t stop a poet. I wrote his name out backwards and looked up Sumixam Sungam. It wasn’t there either (I can hear you laugh) but all was not lost because; bizarrely Symmachus, Quintus Aurelius was in the slot where Sumixam Sungam would have been and under Symmachus’s name it mentions Magnus Maximus.

Who would have guessed that? [Me]This is what it says:

Symmachus, Quintus Aurelius AD 340 – 402

Roman Senator, orator, epistolographer, and leading proponent of pagan religious cause against the Christian emperors. Educated by Gallic teachers and then it says, “Despite his support in a lost panegyric for the usurper Magnus Maximus he was made consul in 391”.

So, he did exist. I was beginning to think he’d been made up by the whole Gladiator film crew.

Now, I learnt some time ago that Oxford learning materials can be misleading, so I know I have to reference this again.

I look through my Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fables – no Magnus Maximus there either. Under “Magus” (without the n) it says see Magi; I go to page 1087 and it says MAGI; SIMON MAGUS – now, that did get me thinking. Because ‘Simon Magus’ appears to be a mash up of Magnus and Symmachus. But what can I do with that? I return to what it says under Simon Magus.

“Isidore of Seville writes that Simon Magus died in the reign of Nero and had proposed a dispute with St. Peter and St. Paul and had promised to fly up to heaven. He succeeded in rising high into the air, but at the prayers of the two apostles he was cast down to earth by the evil spirits who had enabled him to rise.”

As Nero died three hundred years before Magnus Maximus is reported to have died, we have no option but to assume it is not the same person. It cannot be. Yet I’ve come across a similar story before at a church up the road on Bushey High Street, St Peters. The story was that St Peter flew over the church, the older church on the site with the aid of prayer and won a bet with the local builder.

St. Peter always fascinated me as he used to be called Simon and Jesus renamed him. The reason given for the renamed was that Simon had been the first person to publicly say Jesus was the son of God and the Lord of all. Jesus is said to say that Simon Peter was the rock on which his words stood. That is a very interesting line.

‘Simon Peter’ Jesus’s disciple became Peter and is buried in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. In fact, St Peter is often called the first pope and is revered in his own right. No mean feat when you considered in his own lifetime, he denied he knew Jesus when the Romans were looking to arrest anyone following him. As I understand it is also the same St Peter (Peter Simon) who holds the keys to heaven. His brother Andrew was also a disciple.

So, where did my hunt lead me? Nowhere. Did someone call Magnus Maximus ever lead a warrior army from Britain and take Rome? I’ve no idea and did Simon Magus and Simon Peter have an argument here or anywhere about flying over a church? Who knows?

However, according to Brittanica.com Quintus Aurelius Memmius Eusebius Symmachus is said to have supported the man known as Magnus Maximus. He was a leading opponent in letters he wrote to St Ambrose, to the anti-pagan measures being enforced upon Rome and begged for the Altar of Victory to remain in the Senate House in 382. Symmachus stood alone against the Christian Emperors until Magnus Maximus drove out Valentinian II from Italy and became Emperor of Rome.

On the balance of information, I think he did exist and was probably the last of the pagan emperors and was certainly someone we should be taught about at school.

Why would Oxford and Brewers not list the man known as Maximus, but still mention him as fact????




  1. Hi Samantha,
    Quite fascinating exposé and research you put forth here! Isn’t history exciting especially when we can learn the facts and truth about all these things or events that took place so long ago and far removed from our present world; especially knowing who was who in this case! It only comes to me in dribs and drabs now but back in college days I know I did come across the name Magnus Maximus in World History, but, I’ve been out of that loop for so long this was like a breath of fresh air about the past, which does fascinate me and always did even as a boy I loved reading about Egypt and the Pyramids. Ya know come to think of it I did hear the name Quintus Aurelius in my past reading many years ago, but, in what context and whether the expanded name you listed I don’t recall. To get at the accurate facts and truth it appears you have to be a type of forensic specialist who can utilize many archives and old original texts while cross referencing those with others of the time if available, say those which were written in Greece, in order to correlate the most accuracy about the identity of a central figure like Magnus Maximus, who with others had an enormous impact on the peoples of the time and how the future civilization shaped up. I can’t take the time now to go on a fact finding hunt, but I would enjoy it sometime; so if you do find out more about any of this and related persons or events I would love to hear more from you on it! Great work here and you did a right fine job, that’s come out smashingly good!