According to Welsh legend, the
Emperor Magnus Maximus, known as Macsen Wledig (the
Imperator), was a widowed senator living in Rome.
Being a minor member of the Constantinian Imperial
family, he felt it unjust that the Empire was ruled by
the Emperors, Gratian & Valentinian, but there was
little he could do about it.
In about 365, Maximus
was out hunting one day when he rested beneath a tree and
fell asleep. He had a long dream about a palace far away.
He entered the palace and encountered an ageing King and
two young men playing chess. Turning, his eyes met the
most beautiful woman he could ever have imagined, sitting
on a golden throne. On waking, Maximus immediately sought
out a local oracle who urged him to search out this
beautiful maiden. So messengers were sent out across the
Empire but, dispite exhaustive searches, all returned
empty handed. There was no sign of Maximus' beauty.
Meanwhile, at the edge
of the Empire, High-King Eudaf Hen of Britain was getting
very old. He decided it was time to appoint his official
heir to the British Kingdom. His nephew, Cynan Meriadog,
was perhaps the most obvious choice, though the King's
direct heir was his only daughter, Elen. Eudaf's chief
advisor, Caradog, the King of Dumnonia, advocated
strengthening Roman links by marrying Elen to a man with
Imperial connections. The two could then inherit the
Kingdom together. He knew of such a steady young man in
Rome who would make an ideal husband. Eudaf was
intrigued. So had Caradog send his son, Meurig, to seek
this Roman out.
Meurig arrived in Rome
at the house of Magnus Maximus, just as he had received
the unfortunate news that his dream girl could not be
found. Glad of the distraction and persuaded by Meurig's
suggestion that he might find support in Britain for his
Imperial claims, Maximus gladly agreed to return with
him. Comes Theodosius' historical expedition to Britain
in order to quell barbarian risings actually brought
Magnus Maximus to these shores in 368. Legend tells how
the arrival on the island of a large army of men caused
quite a stir and, not realising who it was, Eudaf sent
Cynan with an army to disperse them. Fortunately, Meurig
persuaded all of their good intentions and Maximus was
able to ride off to Eudaf's court at Carnarfon (Caer-yn-Arfon
Upon being introduced
to everyone, Maximus was astounded to find that Eudaf was
the old man in his dream and Cynan, one of the
chess-players (some say the other was his son, Cadfan).
He was then overjoyed to find that Eudaf's daughter,
Elen, was his dream-girl. The two fell in love
immediately and were married with great pomp and
Eudaf died soon
afterward, and Maximus and Elen inherited his Kingdom.
Cynan was extremely annoyed and rode north to gather an
army of Picts & Scots to overthrow them. However,
Maximus defeated him and, being magnanimous in victory,
the two made peace. Cynan became Maximus' dearest friend
and also his magister militum.
this point, we return to more historic details. News
reached Britain that Maximus' relative, Theodosius had
been elevated to the Eastern Imperial throne. Incensed,
Maximus invaded the Western Empire, in 383, along with
his son Victorius and Prince Cynan. They withdrew troops
from Carnarfon (Caer-Segeint) & elsewhere in
Britain and his men quickly proclaimed Maximus as
Emperor. His armies marched across the continent,
establishing his rule as they went. Cynan eventually
killed the Western Emperor, Gratian, in battle (being
given Brittany as a reward), and Maximus became sole
ruler of the West.
Maximus set up his
capital at Trier and ruled well over Britain, Gaul &
Spain for four years. He was baptised a Christian, and
was recognised as Emperor by Theodosius who was occupied
with his own troubles elsewhere. Eventually however,
Maximus was forced to make a move against Gratian's
younger brother, Valentinian, the Southern Emperor, who
threatened his rule from Rome. He invaded Italy, took
Milan and for a whole year besieged Rome, before Cynan
arrived once more and finished the job. Unfortunately
though, Valentinian escaped. He soon returned, backed up
by the Roman Emperor of the East, Theodsoius. Maximus'
forces were twice defeated at Illyricum, before he was
finally killed, with his son, at Aquileia.
Geoffrey Ashe (1990) Mythology of the British
Gildas Badonicus (c.540) The Ruin of Britain.
Peter C. Bartrum (1993) A Welsh Classical Dictionary.
A.H.M. Jones (1964) The Later Roman Empire 284-602: A
Social, Economic, and Administrative Survey.
Geoffrey of Monmouth (1136) The History of the Kings
Nennius (c.829) The History of the Britons.
The Red Book of Hergest (14th c.) The Dream of Macsen
William Smith & Henry Wace (1877) The Dictionary
of Christian Biography.
The White Book of Rhydderch (14th c.) The Dream of
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