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The Story of the Romans by  H. A. Guerber


 

 

THE GIGANTIC EMPEROR

THE new emperor, Maximinus, was of peasant blood, and was a native of Thrace. He was of uncommon strength and size, and very ambitious indeed. As he found the occupation of herdsman too narrow for him, he entered the Roman army during the reign of Severus, and soon gained the emperor's attention by his feats of strength.

We are told that he was more than eight feet high, that his wife's bracelet served him as a thumb ring, and that he could easily draw a load which a team of oxen could not move. He could kill a horse with one blow of his fist, and it is said that he ate forty pounds of meat every day, and drank six gallons of wine.

A man who was so mighty an eater and so very tall and strong, was of course afraid of nothing; and you will not be surprised to hear that he was winner in all athletic games, and that he quickly won the respect of the Roman soldiers.

Maximinus was noted for his simplicity, discipline, and virtue as long as he was in the army; but he no sooner came to the throne than he became both cruel and wicked. [260] He persecuted the Christians, who had already suffered five terrible persecutions under Roman emperors; and he spent the greater part of his time in camp. He waged many wars against the revolted barbarians, and we are told that he fought in person at the head of his army in every battle.


[Illustration]

Christians in the Arena.

The cruelty and tyranny of Maximinus soon caused much discontent, so his reign lasted only about three years. At the end of that time, his troops suddenly mutinied, and murdered him and his son while they were sleeping at noon in their tent. Their heads were then sent to Rome, where they were publicly burned on the Field of Mars, amid the cheers of the crowd.

Three emperors now followed one another on the throne in quick succession. All that need be said of them is that they died by violence. But the twenty-ninth emperor of Rome was named Philip, and during his reign the Romans celebrated the one thousandth anniversary of the founding of their beloved city. It had been customary to greet each hundredth anniversary by great rejoicings; and a public festival, known as the Secular Games, had been founded by Augustus.

Philip ordered that these games should be celebrated with even more pomp than usual, and had coins struck with his effigy on one side, and the Latin words meaning "for a new century" on the other. None but Roman citizens were allowed to take part in this festival, and the religious ceremonies, public processions, and general illuminations are said to have been very grand indeed.

The games were scarcely over, when Philip heard that a revolt had broken out among the Roman soldiers along [262] the Danube River. To put an end to it as quickly as possible, he sent a Roman senator named Decius with orders to appease them.

Decius did his best to bring the soldiers back to obedience, but they were so excited that they would not listen to any of his speeches in favor of Philip. Instead of submitting they elected Decius emperor, much against his will, and forced him, under penalty of death, to lead them against Philip.

The army commanded by the unhappy Decius met Philip and defeated him. Philip was killed, and the new emperor marched on to Rome, where he soon began a fearful persecution of the Christians. Such was the severity used during the two years of this persecution, that the Romans fancied that all the Christians had been killed, and that their religion would never be heard of again.


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