Gordian III

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Gordian III
Bust Gordianus III Louvre Ma1063.jpg
Bust of Gordian III, between 242 and 244
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Reign22 April – 29 July 238
(as Caesar to Pupienus
and Balbinus);
29 July 238 – 11 February 244 (sole, nominally, though government done by senate)
Predecessor Pupienus and Balbinus
Successor Philip the Arab
Born20 January 225
Died11 February 244(244-02-11) (aged 19)
Full name
Marcus Antonius Gordianus Pius (birth to accession)
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Marcus Antonius Gordianus Pius Augustus (as emperor)
Dynasty Gordian
FatherUnnamed Roman Senator
Mother Antonia Gordiana

Gordian III (Latin : Marcus Antonius Gordianus Pius Augustus; 20 January 225 AD – 11 February 244 AD) was Roman Emperor from 238 AD to 244 AD. At the age of 13, he became the youngest sole legal Roman emperor throughout the existence of the united Roman Empire. Gordian was the son of Antonia Gordiana and an unnamed Roman Senator who died before 238. Antonia Gordiana was the daughter of Emperor Gordian I and younger sister of Emperor Gordian II. Very little is known of his early life before his acclamation. Gordian had assumed the name of his maternal grandfather in 238 AD.

Roman Empire Period of Imperial Rome following the Roman Republic (27 BC–395 AD)

The Roman Empire was the post-Roman Republic period of the ancient Roman civilization. Ruled by emperors, it had large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, North Africa, and West Asia. From the constitutional reforms of Augustus to the military anarchy of the third century, the Empire was a principate ruled from the city of Rome. The Roman Empire was then divided between a Western Roman Empire, based in Milan and later Ravenna, and an Eastern Roman Empire, based in Nicomedia and later Constantinople, and it was ruled by multiple emperors.

Antonia Gordiana was a prominent, wealthy and noble Roman woman who lived in the troubled and unstable 3rd century. She was the daughter of Roman Emperor Gordian I; sister to Roman Emperor Gordian II and mother to Roman Emperor Gordian III. Gordiana’s mother may be the granddaughter of Greek Sophist, consul and tutor Herodes Atticus.

Gordian I Roman Emperor

Gordian I was Roman Emperor for 21 days with his son Gordian II in 238, the Year of the Six Emperors. Caught up in a rebellion against the Emperor Maximinus Thrax, he was defeated by forces loyal to Maximinus, and he committed suicide after the death of his son.


Rise to power

Antoninianus of Gordian III. Inscription: IMP. CAES. M. ANT. GORDIANVS AVG. Gordian III Antoninianus.jpg
Antoninianus of Gordian III. Inscription: IMP. CAES. M. ANT. GORDIANVS AVG.

In 235, following the murder of Emperor Alexander Severus in Moguntiacum (modern Mainz), the capital of the Roman province Germania Superior, Maximinus Thrax was acclaimed Emperor. In the following years, there was a growing opposition against Maximinus in the Roman senate and amongst the majority of the population of Rome. In 238 a rebellion broke out in the Africa Province, where Gordian's grandfather and uncle, Gordian I and II, were proclaimed joint emperors. This revolt was suppressed within a month by Cappellianus, governor of Numidia and a loyal supporter of Maximinus Thrax. The elder Gordians died, but public opinion cherished their memory as peace-loving and literate men, victims of Maximinus' oppression.

Mainz Place in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany

Mainz is the capital and largest city of Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. The city is located on the Rhine river at its confluence with the Main river, opposite Wiesbaden on the border with Hesse. Mainz is an independent city with a population of 206,628 (2015) and forms part of the Frankfurt Rhine-Main Metropolitan Region.

Roman province Major Roman administrative territorial entity outside of Italy

The Roman provinces were the lands and people outside of Rome itself that were controlled by the Republic and later the Empire. Each province was ruled by a Roman who was appointed as governor. Although different in many ways, they were similar to the states in Australia or the United States, the regions in the United kingdom or New Zealand, or the prefectures in Japan. Canada refers to some of its territory as provinces.

Germania Superior Roman province

Germania Superior was an imperial province of the Roman Empire. It comprised an area of today's western Switzerland, the French Jura and Alsace regions, and southwestern Germany. Important cities were Besançon (Vesontio), Strasbourg (Argentoratum), Wiesbaden, and Germania Superior's capital, Mainz (Mogontiacum). It comprised the Middle Rhine, bordering on the Limes Germanicus, and on the Alpine province of Raetia to the south-east. Although it had been occupied militarily since the reign of Augustus, Germania Superior was not made into an official province until c. 85 AD.

Meanwhile, Maximinus was on the verge of marching on Rome and the Senate elected Pupienus and Balbinus as joint emperors. These senators were not popular men and the population of Rome was still shocked by the elder Gordians' fate, so the Senate decided to take the teenage Gordian, rename him Marcus Antonius Gordianus like his grandfather, and raise him to the rank of Caesar and imperial heir. Pupienus and Balbinus defeated Maximinus, mainly due to the defection of several legions, particularly the II Parthica, who assassinated Maximinus. However, their joint reign was doomed from the start with popular riots, military discontent and an enormous fire that consumed Rome in June 238. On July 29, Pupienus and Balbinus were killed by the Praetorian Guard and Gordian proclaimed sole emperor.

Pupienus Roman Emperor

Pupienus, also known as Pupienus Maximus, was Roman Emperor with Balbinus for three months in 238, during the Year of the Six Emperors. The sources for this period are scant, and thus knowledge of the emperor is limited. In most contemporary texts Pupienus is referred to by his cognomen "Maximus" rather than by his second nomen Pupienus.

Balbinus Roman Emperor

Balbinus, was Roman Emperor with Pupienus for three months in 238, the Year of the Six Emperors.

Caesar (title) cognomen, later an imperial title of Roman empire

Caesar is a title of imperial character. It derives from the cognomen of Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator. The change from being a familial name to a title adopted by the Roman Emperors can be dated to about AD 68/69, the so-called "Year of the Four Emperors".


Silver Antoninianus of Gordian III, mint of Rome, 238-239 AD; Obverse: IMP CAES M ANT GORDIANVS AVG, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust right; Reverse: VIRTVS AVG, Virtus standing facing in military dress, head left, with shield and spear; Reference: RIC 6, RSC 381 Gordian III Antoninianus Virtus 1.jpg
Silver Antoninianus of Gordian III, mint of Rome, 238-239 AD; Obverse: IMP CAES M ANT GORDIANVS AVG, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust right; Reverse: VIRTVS AVG, Virtus standing facing in military dress, head left, with shield and spear; Reference: RIC 6, RSC 381

Due to Gordian's age, the imperial government was surrendered to the aristocratic families, who controlled the affairs of Rome through the Senate. In 240, Sabinianus revolted in the African province, but the situation was quickly brought under control. In 241, Gordian was married to Furia Sabinia Tranquillina, daughter of the newly appointed praetorian prefect, Timesitheus. As chief of the Praetorian Guard and father in law of the Emperor, Timesitheus quickly became the de facto ruler of the Roman Empire.

Sabinianus was the leader of a revolt against Gordian III in Africa. He proclaimed himself Emperor, but after being defeated by the governor of Mauretania (240), his supporters in Carthage surrendered him to the imperial authorities.

Tranquillina Roman empress

Furia Sabinia Tranquillina was the Empress of Rome and wife of Emperor Gordian III. She was the young daughter of the Praetorian Prefect Timesitheus by an unknown wife.

Gaius Furius Sabinius Aquila Timesitheus was an officer of the Roman Imperial government in the first half of Third Century. Most likely of Oriental-Greek origins, he was a Roman citizen, probably of equestrian rank.

In the 3rd century, the Roman frontiers weakened against the Germanic tribes across the Rhine and Danube, and the Sassanid Empire across the Euphrates increased its own attacks. When the Persians under Shapur I invaded Mesopotamia, the young emperor opened the doors of the Temple of Janus for the last time in Roman history, and sent a large army to the East. The Sassanids were driven back over the Euphrates and defeated in the Battle of Resaena (243). [1] The campaign was a success and Gordian, who had joined the army, was planning an invasion of the enemy's territory, when his father-in-law died in unclear circumstances. Without Timesitheus, the campaign, and the Emperor's security, were at risk.

Rhine river in Western Europe

The Rhine is one of the major European rivers, which has its sources in Switzerland and flows in an mostly northerly direction through Germany and The Netherlands to the North Sea. The river begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, forms part of the Swiss-Liechtenstein, Swiss-Austrian, Swiss-German and then the Franco-German border, then flows through the German Rhineland and the Netherlands and eventually empties into the North Sea.

Danube river in Central Europe

The Danube is Europe's second longest river, after the Volga. It is located in Central and Eastern Europe.

Euphrates River in Asia

The Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia. Originating in eastern Turkey, the Euphrates flows through Syria and Iraq to join the Tigris in the Shatt al-Arab, which empties into the Persian Gulf.

Gaius Julius Priscus and, later on, his own brother Marcus Julius Philippus, also known as Philip the Arab, stepped in at this moment as the new Praetorian Prefects [2] and the campaign proceeded. Around February 244, the Persians fought back fiercely to halt the Roman advance to Ctesiphon. Persian sources claim that a battle occurred (Battle of Misiche) near modern Fallujah (Iraq) and resulted in a major Roman defeat and the death of Gordian III. [3] Roman sources do not mention this battle and suggest that Gordian died far away from Misiche, at Zaitha (Qalat es Salihiyah) in northern Mesopotamia. Modern scholarship does not unanimously accept this course of the events. One view holds that Gordian died at Zaitha, murdered by his frustrated army, while the role of Philip is unknown. [4] Other scholars, such as Kettenhofen, Hartman and Winter have concluded that Gordian died in battle against the Sassanids.

Gaius Julius Priscus was a Roman soldier and member of the Praetorian Guard in the reign of Gordian III.

Philip the Arab Roman Emperor

Marcus Julius Philippus, also known commonly by his nickname Philip the Arab, was Roman Emperor from February 244 to September 249. He was born in Arabia Petraea, the Roman province of Arabia, in a city situated in modern-day Syria. He went on to become a major figure in the Roman Empire. After the death of Gordian III in February 244, Philip, who had been Praetorian prefect, achieved power. He quickly negotiated peace with the Persian Sassanid Empire. During his reign, the city of Rome celebrated its millennium.

The Battle of Misiche, Mesiche (Μεσιχη), or Massice was fought between the Sasanians and the Romans in Misiche, Mesopotamia.

Philip transferred the body of the deceased emperor to Rome and arranged for his deification. [5] Gordian's youth and good nature, along with the deaths of his grandfather and uncle and his own tragic fate at the hands of the enemy, earned him the lasting esteem of the Romans.

Family tree

Maximinus Thrax
Roman Emperor
Vexilloid of the Roman Empire.svg
Gordian I
Roman Emperor
∞ (?) Fabia Orestilla
Roman Emperor
Vexilloid of the Roman Empire.svg
Gordian II
Antonia Gordiana
Junius Licinius Balbus
consul suffectus
Gaius Furius Sabinius Aquila Timesitheus
praetorian prefect
Philip the Arab
Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
Vexilloid of the Roman Empire.svg
Gordian III
Roman Emperor
Furia Sabinia Tranquillina
Philip II
Roman Emperor

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Gordian II Roman Emperor in 238 AD

Gordian II was Roman Emperor for 21 days with his father Gordian I in 238, the Year of the Six Emperors. Seeking to overthrow Emperor Maximinus Thrax, he died in battle outside Carthage. Since he died before his father, Gordian II had the shortest reign of any Roman Emperor in the whole of the Empire's history, at 21 days.

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The Battle of Resaena or Resaina, near present-day Ceylanpınar, Turkey, was fought in 243 AD between the forces of the Roman Empire, led by the Emperor Gordian III and the Praetorian Prefect Timesitheus against the Sassanid Empire's forces during the reign of Shapur I. The Romans were victorious.

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Gordian dynasty

The Gordian dynasty, sometimes known as the Gordianic dynasty, was short-lived, ruling the Roman Empire from 238–244 AD. The dynasty achieved the throne in 238 AD, after Gordian I and his son Gordian II rose up against Emperor Maximinus Thrax and were proclaimed co-emperors by the Roman Senate. Gordian II was killed by the governor of Numidia, Capillianus and Gordian I killed himself shortly after, either 21 or 36 days after he was declared emperor. On 22 April 238, Pupienus and Balbinus, who were not of the Gordian dynasty, were declared co-emperors but the Senate was forced to make Gordian III a third co-emperor on 27 May 238, due to the demands of the Roman people. Maximinus attempted to invade Italy but he was killed by his own soldiers when his army became frustrated. After this, the Praetorian Guard killed Pupienus and Balbinus, leaving Gordian III as the sole emperor. Gordian III ruled until 244 AD when he was either killed after his betrayal by Philip the Arab, killed by Philip the Arab or killed at the Battle of Misiche; with his death, the dynasty was ended and Philip the Arab became emperor.


  1. A Global Chronology of Conflict: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East, ed. Spencer C. Tucker, (ABC-CLIO, 2010), p.147.
  2. Potter 2004, p.236.
  3. Res Gestae Divi Saporis, 3–4 (translation of Shapur's inscription at Naqsh-i Rustam)
  4. Potter 2004, pp.234,236.
  5. Potter 2004, p.238.


Katrin Herrmann: Gordian III. - Kaiser einer Umbruchszeit. Speyer 2013. ISBN   978-3-939526-20-9

Potter, David.S., The Roman Empire At Bay AD 180-392, Routledge, 2004, ISBN   0-203-67387-5

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Gordian III at Wikimedia Commons

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Pupienus and Balbinus
Roman Emperor
Succeeded by
Philip the Arab
Political offices
Preceded by
Fulvius Pius, and
Pontius Proculus Pontianus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Manius Acilius Aviola
Succeeded by
Gaius Octavius Appius Suetrius Sabinus,
and Lucius Ragonius Venustus
Preceded by
Gaius Octavius Appius Suetrius Sabinus,
and Lucius Ragonius Venustus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Clodius Pompeianus
Succeeded by
Gaius Vettius Gratus Atticus Sabinianus,
and Gaius Asinius Lepidus Praetextatus