I’m not usually one for gruesome stories and gore, but when reading about Constantine, this stood out. The pagan emperor Maximinus Daia persecuted Christians before being defeated by the more tolerant emperor Licinius (who was in turn defeated by Constantine). After his defeat but before his death he did issue an edict of Edict of Toleration, granting Christians rights. It didn’t do much to restore his reputation amongst them, and some gleefully recorded his slow, painful death.
From the Christian author Lactantius:
When he saw that he was trapped, Maximinus took his own life with poison. Before this, he had filled himself with food and wine, as those who think they are doing it for the last time usually do, and then he took the poison. Because of the effect of the food and drink, this did not cause the rapid death he had expected but a malign weakness similar to the plague, and his life was prolonged for a time amidst great pain. His intestines started to burn with unbearable pain, which drove him mad. For four days, he picked up dry earth with his hands and devoured it like a starving man, he beat his head against the walls and his eyes leapt from their sockets. Finally, he lost his sight and had a vision in which God judged him surrounded by servants dressed in white. He shouted like someone being tortured and claimed that he had not done it, but others. Finally, as if giving way to the pain, he began to confess to God, pleading and imploring Him to take pity on him. In this way, moaning in pain, as if he were on fire, he delivered up his pernicious spirit amidst a kind of detestable death.
I did find the article Portrait of a Persecutor by Mar Marcos an interesting defence of sorts of an unimpressive emperor. Without doubt Maximinus was below par, but we only really have some very lopsided sources to go on for quite how nasty he was. Some of the details, particularly the death are standard cliches – the similarly gruesome descriptions of Galerius’ death are similar to the death of Antiochus IV as recorded in Maccabees. Unfortunately we have to work with the sources we have, but it does make for some good reading.
As another stranger aside, it seems that some people have interpreted these descriptions to show that Maximinus had Graves’ Disease or Thyrotoxicosis. I’ll leave that one as medical diagnosis is not my strong point, even when it isn’t at a range of 1700 years.