The proclamation by the Roman army in Britain of Magnus Maximus as
emperor was not without precedent. In circa 286, Britain had been at the heart of an imperial
An admiral named Marcus Aurelius Carausius, equipped with a fleet to drive off
Saxon pirates, had set himself up as ruler of Britain and declared his independence. The
Emperor Constantius at last recaptured Britain, and remained in the country for some time,
rebuilding the economy and constructing a chain of forts on the east coast, the Saxon
When he died at York in 306, his son, the greater Constantine, was proclaimed
emperor by the army of Britain. He overthrew all his rivals, made Christianity the state
religion, and gave the Empire a peace marked in London by coins imprinted Beata
Tranquillitas. Maximus' revolt was seen in pretty much the same light, albeit more of
a revolt against degraded authority and government corruption, and seems to have been well
supported from within the island.
Although Magnus Maximus was a Roman general and of
high rank, he appears to have left (or charged) much of the organisation and protection of
the north to Coel Hen, whose territory came to be known as the Kingdom of Northern Britain, based at Eboracum (York).
He was effectively High King of Britain after Maximus,
and left his kingdom to his descendants to rule for the following century and a half.
Maximus concentrated his own efforts very much on the south and west of Britannia,
strengthening the coastal defences to prevent incursions by Irish raiders.
It seems he initially divided Wales between two of his sons. Antoninus
Donatus was to govern South
Wales, while Constantine protected North
Wales. While the former's descendants continued his role on the south,
it seems Constantine may not have lasted very long in the north, as Maximus
is also credited
with inviting the Manau Guotodin
chief (or sub-king) Cunedda Wledig to settle his clan in north west Wales.
Perhaps initially they operated under Constantine's authority. Eventually they
founded the kingdom of Gwynedd,
while at the same time
the Irish Deisi, practically homeless after a major feud in Ireland, were settled in south
west Wales, where they inherited Antoninus' Demetia territory, the
successful kingdom of Dyfed.
Thus, with Coel Hen in the North, and all of Wales shored against attack, the western
coast of Britain was as strong as its eastern coast with its line of Saxon Shore defences.
This became such a successful policy, that the raids on Britain dried up and the Irish Dalriata, instead of trying to grab
British land, went north beyond the Wall to carve out a successful kingdom on the western
edge of Pictland, which eventually
Magnus Maximus left Britain in AD 383 to pursue his own claim of emperor of Rome,
taking with him all the troops freed up by his reorganisations, and apparently leaving the
island in a fairly good defensive position, despite the loss of good, Roman-trained
troops, who never returned to Britain.
Because of his role in founding so many eventual
British kingdoms, he is forever remembered in their royal pedigrees, and his legendary
story forms part of The Mabinogion.