Maximus and Priscillian: (Post)tetrarchic imperial ideology and deviance Event as iCalendar

(School of Humanities, Classics and Ancient History)

09 April 2019


Venue: Room 220, Te Puna Aronui / Humanities Building (206-220)

Contact info: Alecia Bland

Contact email:

Nova Petrechko | University of Auckland

Condemned to history as a deceitful usurper and an arch-heretic, Magnus Maximus and Priscillian have remained entwined in relative obscurity, the controversy binding them together elevated to mythic proportion. Was Maximus really the first emperor to condemn someone for heresy, or was the five-year-long dispute, ending in Priscillian's execution as a magician and sorcerer, very unusual?

This seminar will illustrate that the Priscillianist controversy had very little to do with heresy and Maximus was, in fact, acting the same way all fourth century emperors acted towards perceived deviance. (Post)tetrarchic imperial ideology emphasised the religious nature of the emperor and the emperor's duty to enforce proper Roman religion and behaviour in an increasingly diverse religious landscape. Further, the prominent place of women in Priscillian's circle caused the kind of scandal Maximus simply could not ignore if he wanted to gain recognition from the powerful Theodosius I in the East and the increasingly influential bishops in Italy. As Priscillian's battles with his opponents in Hispania escalated, pressure mounted on Maximus to deal with the slightly odd group who had caused so much trouble in the West.