Licinius, from his full name Imperator Caesar Flavius Galerius Valerius Licinianus Licinius Pius Felix Invictus Augustus, born in the second half of the third century and died in Thessaloniki in 325, is a Roman co-emperor who reigned from November 11, 308 to September 324, mainly on the eastern part of the Empire.
Military close to Galerius, having reached quickly in his wake the highest functions of the Empire, he eliminates his colleague Maximin Daia and gets closer to Constantine Ier whose half-sister Constantia he marries before engaging in a fight against this last one which ends in the final defeat of Licinius in September 324 and his execution in spring 325.
Access to power
Licinius was born in Mesia in the second half of the third century – perhaps towards 265 – in a family of peasants of Dacian origin. He appears to history as a high ranking military, close friend of Galerius with whom he has “his tent since the beginning of his military career”, and participates at his side in the campaign against the Sassanids in the last years of the 3rd century.
At the instigation of Galerius, who succeeded in bringing Diocletian out of his retreat for the occasion, an imperial meeting took place on November 11, 308 in the presence of Maximian Hercules at Carnuntum, in Pannonia, in an attempt to settle the crisis opened since the death of Severus. The usurper Constantine is recognized as a legitimate member of the imperial college as Caesar, while Maximian Hercules abdicates and Licinius is chosen as the new Augustus for the West without having been previously Caesar, either, as stated in ancient sources, by Galerius, or, according to several contemporary historians, by Diocletian, who adopts Licinius within the gens Valeria, which then takes the name Valerius Licinianus Licinius. In any case, Licinius is entrusted with the territories previously under the authority of Severus, namely Pannonia, Italy and Africa, part of which is actually under the control of Maxentius, son of Maximian Hercules.
At the end of the interview of Carnuntum, it is thus a new Tetrachy which is established, with Galerius and Licinius as Augustus and Maximin Daia and Constantine as their respective Caesars leaving aside two self-proclaimed emperors, Maxentius and Domitius Alexander. This situation leads to the protests of Maximin Daia who is the oldest Caesar after Galerius within the imperial college and receives then from the latter the title of “son of the Augustus” (filius Augustorum). Constantine, on his side, continues to use the title of “Augustus” so that in 310, of war weary, Galerius recognizes the title to all the members of the imperial college, with the exception of Maxentius.
Licinius opposes Maxentius in Istria, without convincing result, in 309 then 310 before engaging in a victorious campaign against the Sarmatians, that it overcomes during a battle on June 27 of this year.
When Galerius died in May 311, the Tetrarchy, undermined by rivalries, lived and it was four Augustinians who disputed the Empire: Maximin II Daia, Constantine, Licinius and Maxentius, who proclaimed himself Augustus after the execution of his father by Constantine.
As of the death of Galerius, Maximin invaded Asia Minor and seized all its provinces, conciliating the local populations there by tax liberalities. Licinius then gathers troops in haste in order to counter it but this last, maneuvering quickly, prevents it from establishing a bridgehead in Bithynia and the two Augustinians conclude a fragile peace at the time of a meeting on Hellespont, which however does not make disappear the reciprocal hostility.
On its side, Maxence, whose troops put an end to the usurpation of Domitius Alexander as of 310, benefited from these operations in the East to reinforce its positions in Italy in order to protect itself from an attack coming from Pannonia, area, with Dalmatie, in the hands of Licinius. On its side, this last ensures the fidelity of the army of Illyria by the granting of tax deductions to the legionnaires. Constantine, which is wary of Maxence, prepares with the war against him by recruiting troops and by seeking to obtain the neutrality of Licinius, to which it promises his half-sister Constantia in marriage. Constantine engages in the autumn 312 in an Italian campaign against the troops of Maxentius which ends in the defeat and the death of this last in Rome, at the time of the battle of the bridge Milvius on October 28.
Licinius and Constantine
In the first months of the year 313, Licinius meets his colleague Constantine in Milan in order to seal a political alliance directed against Maximin II Daia – then master of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt – by the marriage of Licinius with Constantia. The meeting also makes it possible to establish a series of measures which fix the general policy of the Empire in religious matter, of which one finds the traces in the circular letter of Licinius reported by Lactantius or the imperial orders of Constantine and Licinius according to the name of Eusebius of Caesarea. The historiography uses the title of “Edict of Milan”, which is a sort of decree applying the edict of tolerance of Galerius rather than a rescript of the decree of Licinius issued in Nicomedia.
Taking advantage of the distance of Licinius caused by its nuptials, Maximin – dreading the danger of such an alliance – leaves Syria with its legions which it carries out victoriously against Byzantium then Heraclea before heading towards Andrinople where Licinius gathered in haste troops. After an unsuccessful negotiation between the two sovereigns then the hardly more conclusive attempt of purchase of the soldiers of Licinius by his rival, the confrontation takes place in Thrace, with the Campus Ergenus, between Tzurulum and Drusipara April 30, 313. Although largely inferior in number the army of Licinius quickly takes the top and Maximin flees towards Asia Minor then Cappadocia where, pursued by the troops of Licinius, it takes refuge in Tarsus; surrounded by the army of its adversary, it dies there of voluntary poisoning or disease in August 313.
After this victory, Licinius engaged in a purge, putting to death in the following months all those who could appear as dynastic rivals but also their relatives: he thus killed the two young children of Maximin as well as Candidianus, son of Galerius, Flavius Severianus, son of Severus and a few months later, Prisca, widow of Diocletian, as well as her daughter Galeria Valeria, widow of Galerius, although the two women did not represent any danger. The purge also extends to the political personnel having served Maximin, among which the governor of Palestine Firmilianus, the prefect of Egypt Culcianus, the curator of the finances of Antioch Théotecnos or still the proconsule of Asia and friend of Maximin Peucetius; nevertheless, Licinius takes care to integrate the armies of Galerius and Maximin into its own troops.
The Empire was then ruled by two co-emperors with equal rights, especially to legislate, Constantine leading the West and Licinius – who gave up his claims on Italy and recognized a certain precedence of his colleague – the East. The latter settled in Nicomedia and then in Antioch before having to lead various campaigns during the following years in Adiabene, in Media and in Armenia where he fought the Persians, then on the banks of the Danube where he fought victoriously the Goths. During the summer 315, Constantia gave birth to the son of Licinius, Flavius Valerius Constantinus Licinianus.
It is probable that, behind this appeasement of facade, each of the two Augustans sought to restore with its profit the unit of the empire. The relative concord between the two Augustans is thus broken around 316 – the date is uncertain – for unclear reasons involving Bassianus, brother-in-law of Constantine approached by the latter to become Caesar and perhaps pushed by Licinius to plot against him before being executed. In any case, the coinage of the time attests to a mistrust between the two sovereigns who respectively make disappear the other Augustus of the parts which it emits and the confrontation does not delay to materialize: in October 316, Constantine, at the head of an army of twenty thousand soldiers seizes the capital of Pannonia Siscia before heading towards city of Cibalis where Licinius has on its side gathered nearly thirty-five thousand men. The fight begins at dawn between the two armies composed of infantrymen and horsemen, to end the night fallen by the defeat of Licinius which flees to Sirmium then to Sardique. It proclaims there Augustus the general Aurelius Valerius Valens that it charges to gather a new army and to join him in Andrinople. After unsuccessful negotiations, the two armies confronted each other in December in the plain of Arda, halfway between Andrinople and Philippopolis but the outcome of the combat was undecided and the protagonists separated by leaving a very important number of killed on both sides.
New negotiations take place from January 317 in Sardique and lead to an agreement on March 1 according to which Licinius recognizes defeated and accepts the conditions of Constantine: acceptance of the consuls named by this one, dismissal then death of Aurelius Valens and transfer of Illyria, Licinius not preserving any more in Occident that Thrace, Mésie and Scythie. Constantine makes gestures of appeasement by naming the young son of Licinius “Nobilissime Caesar” beside his own sons Crispus and Constantine II but becomes the only one to be able to enact laws in the Empire, that Licinius must be satisfied to apply in the areas which it directs. Constantine having made of Sirmium and Sardique usual residences – he would have declared “my Rome, it is Sardique” -, Licinius establishes his capital in Nicomédie.
The appeasement between the Augustans lasts a few years, of which testify among others the consulates allotted to Crispus and Licinius in 318 then to Constantine and Licinius II the following year. But from 320, a new climate of cold war is installed which sees Constantine naming two Western consuls, what Licinius reacts the following year by naming on his side two Eastern consuls. The tensions are soon exacerbated when the troops of Constantine, in the pursuit of barbarians Goths, penetrate in 323 in Mésie superior, on the territory governed by Licinius, perhaps in the objective to knowingly cause a casus belli. Licinius protests energetically with his colleague, arousing his anger and precipitating the rupture of the peace obtained in 317.
The reasons for the resumption of the war are exposed as much by the Constantinian propaganda as by the Christian literature which, following the example of Eusebius of Caesarea, present the facts not as an aggression of Constantine but well as a help procured to the Christians of the East victims of a persecuting policy of Licinius, in a polemical design which is to be regarded with circumspection. If, after 320 and as his hostility towards Constantine increased, Licinius seems to have wanted to favour the traditional religion and to revive the Jupiterian cult, the vexations undergone by the Christian communities do not seem to be directly imputed to him, at least in some of their excesses: Constantine reproaches the episcopates of Bithynia like Eusebius of Nicomedia for their closeness with his rival. In other sources, we find accusations of lechery, abduction of married women, rape, cruelty against philosophers, ignorance… against Licinius, all commonplaces usually used to blacken certain defeated rulers, also stigmatized with the title of tyrants, like his predecessors Galerius, Maxentius and Maximin Daia.
If a contrario, of the authors like Eutrope or Zosime lend to Constantin the initiative of the aggression, in any event, the two adversaries soon join together of strong important armies gathering each one of the forces of infantry, cavalry and maritime, composed of many barbarian elements originating from the Danubian areas. The first confrontations take place on July 3, 324 at the time of the battle of Andrinople where Licinius positioned its camp. If Constantine is slightly wounded during the attack, it leaves victorious of this confrontation which would have left thirty-four thousand victim on the ground. Licinius, pursued by Constantine, retreated to Byzantium, where the Augustus of the West immediately laid siege. In addition, the fleet of Licinius, commanded by Abantos, meets that of Constantine, commanded by his son Crispus, in Hellespont then at the entry of Propontide where Abantos is defeated, weakening the defense of Byzantium and pushing Licinius to withdraw beyond the Bosphorus, in Chalcedon, not without – as it had done with Valerius Valens – to join the services of a new Augustus in the person of his master of the offices Martinien that it raises with this title and sends to Lampsacus to protect itself from a landing of the Constantinian troops.
The garrison of Byzantium gives itself up to Constantine which seeks then to make pass its troops on the Asian bank: it succeeds in making them unload with 35 km in the north of Chalcedon before they do not go down towards the south to inflict a new stinging defeat to the forces of Licinius at the time of the battle of Chrysopolis which, on September 18, 324, causes again important human losses and obliges Licinius defeated to take refuge with the remainder of its troops with Nicomédie. The following day, this last sends his wife Constantia accompanied by the episcope Eusebius in delegation near Constantine in order to concede its defeat, to offer its submission to him and to solicit the safe life for his son and him, what has Constantine agrees: Licinius and Licinius II are sent to Thessalonica, reduced to the rank of simple private individuals, while Martinian is imprisoned in Cappadocia. However, as of spring 325, the henceforth single Augustus of the Empire changes his mind and makes execute Licinius and Martinian then, the following year, Licinius II.
If the legitimacy of Licinius was not contested, it was however struck of a damnatio memoriae from which results, following the example of what had been done for Maxentius and Maximian, the destruction of its inscriptions and images as well as the cancellation of its acts. If the Constantinian propaganda and the Christian apologetics largely blackened the portrait of Licinius presented, for the one, like a perverse tyrant, cruel, ignorant and, for the other, like a persecutor, other authors like that of the Epitome describe it like favorable to the peasants or underline, like Aurelius Victor, its economic policy even, following the example of Libanios, its moderation with regard to the cities. Thus if “like many defeated of the history, Licinius left a bad reputation, it is almost impossible to appreciate as it is appropriate his policy and his legislation”.