Gordian III

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Gordian III
Bust Gordianus III Louvre Ma1063.jpg
Bust of Gordian III, between 242 and 244
Roman emperor
Augustus 29 July 238 – 11 February 244 (nominally, though government done by senate)
Predecessor Pupienus and Balbinus
Successor Philip the Arab
Caesar 22 April – 29 July 238, subordinate to Pupienus and Balbinus
Born20 January 225
Died11 February 244(244-02-11) (aged 19)
SpouseFuria Sabinia Tranquillina
Marcus Antonius Gordianus [1]
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Marcus Antonius Gordianus Augustus
Dynasty Gordian
FatherJunius Balbus
Mother Antonia Gordiana

Gordian III (Latin : Marcus Antonius Gordianus; 20 January 225 – 11 February 244 AD) was Roman emperor from AD 238 to 244. At the age of 13, he became the youngest sole Roman emperor. Gordian was the son of Antonia Gordiana [2] and Junius Balbus who died before 238. [3] Antonia Gordiana was the daughter of Emperor Gordian I [2] 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.


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), [4] the capital of the Roman province Germania Superior, Maximinus Thrax was acclaimed Emperor. [5] 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. [6] This revolt was suppressed within a month by Cappellianus, governor of Numidia and a loyal supporter of Maximinus Thrax. [6]

The Senate, showing its hostility towards Maximinus by supporting the Gordiani, elected Pupienus and Balbinus as joint emperors. [7] These senators were not popular men, so the Senate decided to raise Marcus Antonius Gordianus to the rank of Caesar. [8] Maximinus, moving quickly to attack the senate's newly elected emperors, encountered difficulties marching his army through an Alpine winter. [8] Arriving at Aquileia and short on supplies, Maximinus besieged the city. [8] After four weeks, Maximinus' demoralized army mutinied and the Legio II Parthica murdered him. [9]

The situation for Pupienus and Balbinus, despite Maximinus' death, 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. [10]


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. [11] In 240, Sabinianus revolted in the African province, but he was quickly defeated. [12] In 241, Gordian was married to Furia Sabinia Tranquillina, [13] 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. [14]

During Gordian's reign there were severe earthquakes, so severe that cities fell into the ground along with their inhabitants. [15] In response to these earthquakes Gordian consulted the Sibylline books. [15]

By 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 Sasanians 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). [16] 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. Due to the campaign's success, Gordian celebrated with a triumph and boasted about his achievements to the Senate. [15]

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 [17] Gordian would then start a second campaign. Around February 244, the Sasanians fought back fiercely to halt the Roman advance to Ctesiphon.

The eventual fate of Gordian after the battle is unclear. Sasanian 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. [18] One view holds that Gordian died at Zaitha, murdered by his frustrated army, while the role of Philip is unknown. [19] Scholarly analyses suggest the Sasanian version "while defective is superior" to the Roman one. [20]

The deposition of Gordian's body is also a matter of controversy. According to David S. Potter, Philip transferred the body of the deceased emperor to Rome and arranged for his deification. [21] Edwell, Dodgeon, and Lieu state that Philip had Gordian buried at Zaitha after the campaign against the Sasanians had ended in failure. [22] [23]

Family tree

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

Nerva–Antonine family tree

Related Research Articles

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Gordian I Roman emperor in 238

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.

Gordian II Roman emperor in 238

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.

Philip the Arab Roman emperor from 244 to 249

Philip the Arab was Roman emperor from 244 to 249. He was born in Aurantis, 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 and returned to Rome to be confirmed by the senate. During his reign, the city of Rome celebrated its millennium. He also introduced the Actia-Dusaria Festivities in Bostra, capital of Arabia. Dusaria is Dushara, the main Nabataean deity.

Balbinus Roman emperor in 238

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

Pupienus Roman emperor in 238

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Battle of Carthage (238)

The Battle of Carthage was fought in 238 AD between a Roman army loyal to Emperor Maximinus Thrax and the forces of Emperors Gordian I and Gordian II.

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The Year of the Six Emperors was the year 238 AD, during which six men were recognized as emperors of Rome.

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.

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Manius Acilius Aviola was a Roman senator who served as Consul ordinarius in 239 as the colleague of Emperor Gordian III. He is considered a son of the Manius Acilius Aviola who is mentioned as being present as a child at the meetings of the Arval Brethren for the years 183 and 186; as well as the descendant of the homonymous consul of AD 122.

Gordian dynasty 238-244 Roman imperial 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 AD 244 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. Cooley 2012, p. 497.
  2. 1 2 D’Amato 2020, p. 54.
  3. Townsend 1934, p. 63.
  4. Drinkwater 2007, p. 28.
  5. Drinkwater 2007, p. 29.
  6. 1 2 Raven 1993, p. 142.
  7. Drinkwater 2007, pp. 31-32.
  8. 1 2 3 Drinkwater 2007, p. 32.
  9. Varner 2004, p. 200.
  10. Drinkwater 2007, p. 33.
  11. Potter 2004, p. 171.
  12. Wilhite 2007, p. 31.
  13. Townsend 1934, p. 84.
  14. Mennen 2011, p. 34.
  15. 1 2 3 Boin 2018, p. 61.
  16. Tucker 2010, p. 147.
  17. Potter 2004, p. 236.
  18. Brosius 2006, p. 144.
  19. Potter 2004, pp. 234,236.
  20. Shahbazi 2017.
  21. Potter 2004, p. 238.
  22. Edwell 2020.
  23. Dodgeon & Lieu 1991, p. 41.


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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