Tiberius Claudius Maximus

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Cast (Cichorius 108) of panel on Trajan's Column, showing the severed head of Dacian king Decebalus (left background) displayed on a shield to Roman troops (AD 106). The head was later taken to Rome to form the central exhibit in the emperor Trajan's official Triumph

Tiberius Claudius Maximus (died after AD 117) was a cavalryman in the Imperial Roman army who served in the Roman legions and Auxilia under the emperors Domitian and Trajan in the period AD 85-117. He is noted for presenting Trajan with the head of Dacian king Decebalus, who had committed suicide after being surrounded by Roman cavalry at the end of Dacian Wars (AD 106).


The sole source for Maximus' career is inscription Année Épigraphique (1985) 721, engraved on the memorial Maximus erected to himself while still alive, found at Philippi, Greece:[1]

Ti(berius) Claudius / Maximus vet(eranus) / [s(e)] v(ivo) f(aciendum) c(uravit) militavit / eque(s) in leg(ione) VII C(laudia) P(ia) F(ideli) fac/ tus qu(a)estor equit(um) / singularis legati le/ gionis eiusdem vexil/ larius equitum item / bello Dacico ob virtu/ te(m) donis donatus ab Im/ p(eratore) Domitiano factus dupli(carius) / a divo Troiano(!) in ala secu(n)d(a) / Pannoniorum a quo et fa©/ tus explorator in bello Da/ cico et ob virtute(m) bis donis / donatus bello Dacico et / Parthico et ab eode(m) factus / decurio in ala eade(m) quod / cepisset Decebalu(m) et caput / eius pertulisset ei Ranissto/ ro missus voluntarius ho/ nesta missione a Terent[io Scau]/ riano consulare [exerci]/ tus provinciae nov[ae Mes]/[opotamiae....


Tiberius Claudius Maximus, veteran, arranged this memorial while he was alive. He served as trooper in Legio VII Claudia Pia Fidelis, was made quaestor equitum, then singularis of the legatus legionis of the same legion, then vexillarius of the troopers of that unit, received awards from Emperor Domitian for bravery in the Dacian War, was made duplicarius in the Ala II Pannoniorum by the Emperor Trajan and was made explorator in the Dacian War and twice received awards for bravery in the Dacian and the Parthian War and was made decurio in the same ala by him because he had captured Decebalus and bore his head to him in Ranisstorum. He received his honourable discharge as a voluntarius from the consular commander Terentius Scaurianus, of the army of the Provincia Mesopotamia Nova.


If the location of his tombstone represents his home-town, Maximus was born in Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis, a colony of Roman military veterans originally founded in 42 BC (Philippi, northern Greece) and much expanded under emperor Augustus (ruled 30 BC - AD 14). He was a Roman citizen at birth, as evidenced by his initial enlistment in a Roman legion, for which citizenship was required (at this time, only 10-20% of the Roman empire's inhabitants held citizenship). It is thus likely that Maximus was a descendant of an Italian veteran settled at Philippi by Augustus.

Early military career[edit]

Maximus joined the army in AD 85 at a young age and served as an eques (cavalry trooper) in the cavalry contingent (just 120-strong) of the legion VII Claudia in Moesia. He advanced steadily in the ranks of the legion's cavalry contingent, first as quaestor equitum, (a junior officer), followed by singularis legati legionis (member of the legion commander's personal cavalry guard) and then vexillarius (standard-bearer).

Maximus fought in the Dacian War of emperor Domitian (ruled 81-96). It is thus probable that he fought in the First Battle of Tapae (86) and Second Battle of Tapae (88). He was decorated for bravery by the Emperor Domitian.

Conquest of Dacia[edit]

The emperor Trajan promoted Maximus out of the legionary cavalry, into the alae, the elite cavalry of the Auxilia corps, gazetting him as a duplicarius (junior officer) in the regiment Ala II Pannoniorum. Maximus served in Trajan's Dacian Wars (101-2 and 105-6).

In AD 106, in the closing stage of the conquest of Dacia, Maximus, serving as an explorator (scout) with his unit, was involved in the pursuit of the defeated Dacian king Decebalus, now a fugitive with only his personal bodyguard of Dacian noblemen left to him. It appears that Maximus and his men cornered Decebalus in a mountainous location. However, before Maximus could reach him, Decebalus committed suicide by cutting his own throat, an incident shown on Trajan's Column. Maximus severed Decebalus' head and presented it to the emperor Trajan at his campaign-base at Ranisstorum. As reward, Trajan decorated Maximus and promoted him to the rank of decurion (leader of a squadron of 30 troopers), the cavalry equivalent of centurion in the infantry.

Parthian War[edit]

Cast (Cichorius 104) of panel on Trajan's Column, showing start of sequence leading to the capture and death of Dacian king Decebalus. Roman ala cavalry troopers (those wearing neck kerchiefs and mail cuirasses, presumably from Maximus' regiment, Ala II Pannoniorum) and Praetorian Horseguards (troopers wearing mantles, foreground) ride out in pursuit of Decebalus and his remaining supporters. (The previous panel (Cichorius 103) shows many Dacian pileati (noblemen) surrendering to Roman emperor Trajan)
Cast (Cichorius 105) of panel on Trajan's Column, showing Roman cavalry (top right corner) intercepting fleeing Dacian pileati (noblemen) of king Decebalus' bodyguard in mountainous terrain. The pileatus in centre foreground bears a resemblance to king Decebalus as portrayed in the succeeding panel, and may portray the king in flight. Note the fallen Dacian (right foregound) and the falx (curved Dacian-style sword), fallen out of his hand (centre foreground)
Cast (Cichorius 106) of panel on Trajan's Column, showing the cornering and suicide of Decebalus AD 106. Note the trampled Dacian pileatus (left foreground) and the falx held by Decebalus to his own throat (centre foreground)

Maximus later served in Trajan's Parthian War (114-6), and was again decorated for valour by the emperor. Maximus describes himself as a voluntarius ("volunteer") in this war, probably because his contracted term of service (25 years in the Auxilia) had expired (in c. 110).


Maximus was finally granted an honourable discharge (honesta missio) in AD 116-7 by Decimus Terentius Scaurianus, Trajan's top general and then commander of Roman forces in the newly established (and soon relinquished) province of Mesopotamia Nova.

He died after AD 117. While still alive, he designed his own tombstone, which was found at Philippi in Greece (now in the museum at Drama). This bears a representation of 2 torcs that he was awarded for valour and states his claim to have captured Decebalus.

Death of Decebalus[edit]

There are two depictions of the incident that made Maximus famous, the pursuit and suicide of king Decebalus.

(A) The bas-relief above the epitaph on his tombstone depicts Maximus, on horseback, bearing a sword as well as shield, approaching king Decebalus, shown wearing a Phrygian cap, the typical headgear of Dacian noblemen (hence their Roman name of pileati - "the capped ones"). Decebalus is shown lying on his back, holding a curved Dacian sword (known to the Romans as a falx, literally "sickle"). This image seems stylised to reflect the Thracian Heros stereotype (of a rider spearing an animal or human on the ground).

(B) Another, much more detailed and less stylised (i.e. probably more factually accurate), depiction of Decebalus' capture is provided by a panel on Trajan's Column (Spiral 22, Panel B; Cichorius 106, above). This should be viewed together with the two preceding panels, which show the sequence of events leading to Decebalus' death.

The panels indicate that Decebalus was cornered by an entire Ala of Roman troopers (presumably Maximus' unit, the Ala II Pannoniorum).

  1. In the first panel, the Ala rides out in hot pursuit of Decebalus and his personal mounted bodyguard of select pileati. Three of the Roman troopers are shown wearing mantles: in line with the stereotypes of military units as portrayed on the Column, these were probably members of the Emperor's own horseguards, the equites singulares Augusti, the cavalry arm of the Praetorian Guard, most of which had accompanied Trajan from Rome to Dacia. This suggests that the operation to capture Decebalus was entrusted to a joint task-force of Imperial Horseguards and crack Ala cavalrymen.
  2. The second panel shows the Roman cavalry catching up with and intercepting Decebalus' riders (and possibly Decebalus himself). The Roman troopers' weapons (spears and swords) have disappeared due to stone erosion by pollution. The sequence of events (conflated in order to fit the panels) shows that Decebalus' bodyguards were destroyed: note the one trampled under the Roman horses' hooves (right foreground).
  3. According to the third panel, after the last of his bodyguards fell (left foreground), the king escaped alone to a rocky peak, where he was reached by a Roman trooper who had dismounted and was leading his horse on foot (right foreground). It is this trooper who is most likely to represent Maximus, given his role as scout leader. Most likely, troopers were under orders to capture Decebalus alive if possible, so that he could form the centrepiece of Trajan's forthcoming Triumph in Rome, to celebrate his Dacian victory. (The traditional format would have the defeated enemy leader dragged in chains before the triumphator's chariot. The climax of the show was when the Emperor decided the captive's fate: either he would spare his life, or order his execution by decapitation: his head would then be thrown down the Gemonian Steps).

As a result of these images, it has been suggested by some scholars that Decebalus was still alive (although mortally wounded) when seized by the Romans. Maximus himself claimed to have "captured" Decebalus. But a passage in the Epitome of the History of Rome of Cassius Dio makes clear that he was already dead: "Decebalus, when his capital had been destroyed and his whole territory occupied, and he was himself in danger of being captured, killed himself. His head was brought to Rome".[2]


  1. ^ EDH entry HD012322, EDCS entry (retrieved 2014-9-20)
  2. ^ Cassius Dio Epitome LXVIII.15.3


  • Boris Rankov: Singulares Legati Legionis: A problem in the interpretation of the Ti. Claudius Maximus inscription from Philippi, in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, Bd. 80, Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habel GmbH, 1990, p. 165-175. (JSTOR)
  • J. B. Campell: The Roman Army, 31 BC-AD 337: A Sourcebook. Routledge 1994, ISBN 978-0-415-07173-4, pp. 32-33 (has a full translation of the Philippi Monument and also a photograph of it.)
  • Michael Alexander Speidel: Roman army pay scales, in The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 82, Cambridge : Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 1992, p. 87-106.
  • Michael P. Speidel: The Captor of Decebalus. A New Inscription from Philippi, in Mr. Speidels' Roman Army Studies, Vol. 1, Amsterdam: J. C. Gieben, 1984, p. 173-187.
  • Yann Le Bohec: Die römische Armee. Franz Steiner Verlag 1993, ISBN 978-3-515-06300-5 (excerpt, p. 164, at Google Books)

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