barracks emperor

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A bust of Maximinus Thrax,[n 1] who was Roman emperor from 235 to 238 C.E. Regarded as the first barracks emperor, he commanded the Legio IV Italica legion of the Imperial Roman army until the Praetorian Guard proclaimed him emperor.


barracks emperor (plural barracks emperors)

  1. (Ancient Rome, historical) An emperor who seized power by virtue of his command of the army.
    • 1924, Charles H[erbert] Sylvester, “The History of Rome”, in The Writings of Mankind: [] Twenty Volumes, volume V (Greece·Latin), Kansas City, Mo.: The Epsilon Sigma Alpha Sorority, National Headquarters, OCLC 6044391, page 2481:
      The next twenty-nine emperors, who ruled Rome for ninety-two years, or until a.d. 284, were known as the Barracks Emperors, because most of them owed their elevation to the purchase of favors from the soldiers. A few of these men were of unblemished character, but most of them encouraged the progress of corruption and aided the downfall of Rome.
    • 1963, William H[ardy] McNeill, “Barbarian Onslaught and Civilized Response, 200–600 a.d.”, in The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community, Chicago, Ill.; London: University of Chicago Press, OCLC 809938797, part II (Eurasian Cultural Balance 500 B.C.–1500 A.D.), page 387:
      While Iran and Mesopotamia therefore enjoyed relative security in the third century a.d., the internal cohesion of the Roman state showed signs of serious disrepair. The civil war between 193 and 197 a.d., which brought the first "barracks emperor" to power, was a mere prelude to the distresses of the years 235 to 285 a.d., when recurrent struggles between rival candidates for the imperial throne opened the gates to barbarian invasion accompanied by pestilential disease of unusual severity.
    • 1974, Russell Kirk, The Roots of American Order[1], Malibu, Calif.: Pepperdine University Press, →ISBN; republished Newburyport, Mass.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2014, →ISBN:
      Abraham Lincoln had only one thing in common with a Roman barracks-emperor: that he had risen, as had Diocletian and others, from a poverty-stricken rural background.
    • 2010 March, Peter D’Epiro, “Third Century”, in The Book of Firsts: 150 World-changing People and Events from Caesar Augustus to the Internet, New York, N.Y.: Anchor Books, Random House, →ISBN, question 18, pages 56–57:
      Who was the first "barracks emperor" of Rome? [] The "barracks emperors" were Roman military leaders of this era who seized supreme power in the field or were elevated to the throne by the army against their will. They were often uncultured or semieducated, or natives of backward provinces, like Maximinus Thrax ("the Thracian"), the first common soldier who rose through the ranks to become Roman emperor.



  1. ^ From the collection of the Capitoline Museums in Rome, Italy.

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