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Gordian III

(20 January 225 - 11 February 244 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Gordian III

Marcus Antoninus Gordianus

Ruled as

Imperator Caesar Marcus Antoninus Gordianus Augustus


238 – 11 February 244 CE


20 January 225 CE


11 February 244 CE

Coin of Emperor Gordian III

Marcus Antoninus Gordianus, now known as Gordian III, was the son of Junius Balbus, but since he had the name of his grandfather, not his father, it is assumed that he died early and his grandfather adopted a boy, which was worthy of Roman practice. So Gordian III was grandson of Gordian I and nephew of Gordian II.

The sudden and unexpected death of the Gordian father and son in Carthage in March 238, and Maksymin Trak marching to Italy at the head of the Danube legions forced the Senate to act promptly and select successors, killed emperors, who would remedy the crisis. The choice fell on mature noblemen – Pupien and Balbin, who were to co-govern with the same rights. When the new rulers set off for the Capitol to make the usual sacrifices to the Gods, a hostile crowd threatened their path. The hatred of the pleb was caused primarily by the election to the highest office of Pupien, who earlier, as the prefect of Rome, treated the lowest masses of the capital sharply. An armed escort did not help – the emperors could not get to the temple, at some point the situation became very dangerous – the stones went into motion. Then someone from the crowd noticed that the grandson of Gordian I was in the city, and a member of such an excellent family would improve the image of the new authorities. To overcome this difficult situation, the emperors agreed to appoint the boy as a co-ruler.

Young ruler

Gordian III reigned as Emperor Caesar Marcus Antoninus Gordianus Augustus.

The young (thirteen-year-old) Gordian III, together with Balbin, solemnly welcomed Pupien who was returning from Aquileia after the death of Maximinus. However, soon both senior emperors were abducted by praetorians and then killed.

Approx. 242, the emperor married Sabinia Tranquillina, the daughter of his closest advisor and talented clerk Gaius Furius Sabinius Aquila Timesitheus. Soon Gordian’s father-in-law was appointed prefect of praetorians.

The emperor did not forget about the crime committed on his uncle and grandfather. Stationed in Numidia, the 3rd Augustus legion, who captured Carthage and overthrew the African Gordians, was dissolved. Soon the governor of Sabinian rebelled in Africa, but was quickly defeated by troops loyal to the emperor.

War with Persia

In 240, Shapur I assumed the Persian throne after Artaxerxes. Rychło demanded the return of the territories occupied by Rome that had previously belonged to Persian rule. Due to the lack of reaction on the Roman side, the king of kings invaded eastern provinces. In 241, the Persians mastered Mesopotamia and Syria, and then approached Antioch.

The emperor announced leaving for the war in an ancient way – opening in 242 the gate of the Temple of Janus in Rome, which for centuries meant the beginning of hostilities. Gordian personally led the army, which along the way marched through the Danube provinces to smash its power of the Goths and Sarmatians.

Initially, 243 brought successes to the Romans. Both Syria and Roman Mesopotamia were reflected. However, the events of the second half of the year ushered in a tragic sequence of events, which eventually led to the death of a young and brave emperor.

Philip the Arab conspiracy

In the autumn of 243, the prefect Praetorium Tymeszyusz, who accompanied the emperor during the expedition, died of illness, and in his place Marcus Julius Philip, known as the Arab, was appointed.

Roman troops in 244 began another campaign against the Persians. Along with Grdian, a new praetorian prefect stood – Philip. According to Zosimos, Philip sought to overthrow the emperor. Other ancient sources are also pushing this thesis. As Zosimos told us, Philip was deliberately sending away grain ships to cause dissatisfaction among the soldiers, but they were supposed to destroy him, apparently proclaiming Philip Augustus. The body of the young ruler was cremated and sent with honor to Rome, indicating as the official cause of death – illness. Probably the suspicions on Philip the Arab fell straight away, so to move them away he ordered to erect a magnificent tomb at Gordian’s place of death, but it remained empty. A hundred years later, the army of the great Julian marched on Ctesiphon.

Another version of the emperor’s death

In addition to the official version, i.e. the illness of the ruler and forced by Zosimos regarding the plot of the new prefect of the praetorium, there are at least two theories about the premature death of the ruler of Rome. Szapur I claimed that Gordian was killed in the battle of Misiche, where the Persians were to defeat the Roman expedition. However, a significant proportion of researchers reject this theory.

Author: Krzysztof Kaucz
  • Aleksander Krawczuk, Poczet Cesarzy Rzymskich: Dominat, Warszawa 1991
  • Zosimos, Nowa Historia (przeł. Helena Cichocka), Warszawa 2012
  • Photo of coin: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

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