Did Maximinus I Have Acromegaly?

 Maximinus I: The Giant Who Ruled Rome, 235-238 AD

Ancient Rome was a turbulent place, and a variety of Emperors attempted to consolidate and expand the empire, with variable results. Among them was the first of the “barracks emperors”: Maximinus Thrax, also known as Maximinus I.

Maximinus was said to be a huge man and was a soldier and general before he became emperor. One ancient source puts his height at over 8 feet tall, though this is likely an exaggeration. In any event, he was said to tower over his contemporaries, had a frightening visage and his hands were so large that he wore his wife’s bracelet on this thumb like a ring. Famous for his legendary appetite for food and drink, he was a violent man that was eventually killed by his own troops.

There has been speculation that Maximinus I suffered from acromegaly. A pituitary tumor will sometime secrete growth hormone. Before puberty, the excess growth hormone will give the person giganticism (think Andre the Giant). After puberty, the growth plates in most bones fuse so there no more enlargement, but the hands, feet, and face can continue to grow. Acromegaly is the condition where the face becomes misshapen from the prominent brow and jaw that gives rise to the “leonine facies”: Lion-like facial features common in acromegaly. The hands and feet continue to grow out of proportion to the body and can become enormous.


The tumor can do more than affect growth. If it expands, it can compress the optic chiasm where our visual fibers run. The vision gradually becomes constricted from both sides until there is only pinpoint vision left, then blindness. There may be pain as well, including a severe form of nerve pain called trigeminal neuralgia.

Did Maximinus I have acromegaly? No one will ever know unless his skull is discovered, but certainly the coins and busts showing his features support the diagnosis.