Youngest Roman Emperor, Gordian III

A marble bust of Roman Emperor Gordian III
A marble bust of Roman Emperor Gordian III

Gordian III (born 20 January 225 as Marcus Antonius Gordianus Pius Augustus) was the Roman Emperor from 238 to 244.

He became the youngest only legal Roman emperor in the history of the undivided Roman Empire when he was just 13 years old. 

Gordian was the son of Antonia Gordiana, Emperor Gordian I’s daughter and Emperor Gordian II’s younger sister. Before his acclamation, little is known about his early life.

In 238, Gordian took up the name of his maternal grandfather. 

Gordian III’s rise to power begins with Maximinus Thrax’s proclamation as the emperor in 235, following the assassination of Emperor Alexander Severus in Moguntiacum.

The capital of the Roman province, Germania Superior, Monguntiacum, was the site of a Celtic settlement where the Romans established (14–9 BCE) a military camp. 

Which Roman legion crucified Jesus?

Jesus’s crucifixion is attributed to the Legio X Fretensis (“Tenth legion of the Strait”)- a legion of the Imperial Roman army.

How old was Gordian III when he died? 

Gordian III was 19 when he died. (225 AD–244 AD) 

Gordian III’s Ascencion as the Roman Emperor  

A sculpture of Roman Emperor Gordian III
A sculpture of Roman Emperor Gordian III

Gordian III ascended to the throne at the start of dubbed the “third-century crisis.” It came after the assassination of Alexander Severus in 235. This was a time of instability and brief imperial reigns; from 235 C.E. and 284 C.E.

Rome was controlled by no less than 25 different emperors. In the beginning, instability was created by a lack of agreed-upon succession laws, which led to competition and warfare amongst rival claimants after each emperor’s death.

In the consecutive years, there was growing hostility to Maximinus in the Roman Senate and among the majority of Rome’s populace. In 238, Gordian’s grandpa and uncle, Gordian I and II, were acclaimed joint rulers in the Africa Province.

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Cappellianus, governor of Numidia and a staunch supporter of Maximinus Thrax, put down the insurrection within a month. 

The Senate, expressing its displeasure with Maximinus by supporting the Gordiani, chose Pupienus and Balbinus as joint emperors. Because these senators were unpopular, the Senate resolved to elevate Marcus Antonius Gordianus to the position of Caesar.

Maximinus experienced problems deploying his army through an Alpine winter as he moved fast to fight the Senate’s newly elected emperors.

Upon his arrival in Aquileia, Maximinus besieged the city due to supplies.

Maximinus’ discouraged troops revolted four weeks later, and the Legio II Parthica assassinated him.

Despite Maximinus’ death, Pupienus and Balbinus were hopeless from the outset due to widespread rioting, military unrest, and a catastrophic fire that devastated Rome in June 238.

On 29 July, the Praetorian Guard assassinated Pupienus and Balbinus, and Gordian was proclaimed sole emperor.

The Reign of the Youngest Roman Emperor 

A bust of Roman Emperor Gordian III when young
A bust of Roman Emperor Gordian III when young

Because of Gordian’s age, he handed over the imperial government to the aristocratic families, who controlled Rome through the Senate. In 240, Sabinianus rebelled in the African province, but he was easily defeated. In 241, Gordian wedded Furia Sabinia Tranquillina, daughter of the recently appointed praetorian prefect, Timesitheus.

Timesitheus soon rose to the de facto leader of the Roman Empire as the commander of the Praetorian Guard and the emperor’s father-in-law.

During Gordian’s reign, significant earthquakes were so catastrophic that they destroyed cities and their inhabitants. Gordian examined the Sibylline texts regarding these tremors.

Furia Sabinia Tranquillina — Wife of Gordian III 

Daughter of the Praetorian Prefect Timesitheus, Furia Sabinia Tranquilina, wed the Roman Emperor Gordian III.

The young emperor named her father as the commander of the Praetorian Guard in 241. Tranquillina married Gordian in May of that year. 

She rose to the position of Roman Empress and was given the honorary title Augusta. The young emperor acknowledged Timesitheus’ diplomatic indispensability and Tranquillina’s eligibility as an empress through her nuptials to Gordian.

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One of the Greatest Roman battles, The Battle of Resaena

Roman Battle
Roman Battle

By the third century, the Roman boundaries had eroded against the Germanic tribes of the Rhine and Danube, while the Sassanid Empire of the Euphrates had intensified its attacks.

When the Sasanians led by Shapur I conquered Mesopotamia, the young emperor opened the gates of the Temple of Janus for the final time in Roman history and dispatched several troops to the East.

After being driven back across the Euphrates, the Sassanids were defeated in the Battle of Resaena (243). The campaign was successful, and Gordian, who had enlisted in the army, prepared to invade the enemy’s country when his father-in-law died under mysterious circumstances.

Without Timesitheus, the unrest and the enemy jeopardized the campaign and the emperor’s safety. Gordian triumphed over the campaign’s victory and talked about his accomplishments to the Senate.

Gaius Julius Priscus and his brother Marcus Julius Philippus, also known as Philip the Arab, came in as the new Praetorian Prefects.

Gordian would then launch a second war. Around February 244, the Sasanians launched a vigorous counter-offensive to prevent the Roman march on Ctesiphon.

Minting of Coins During Gordian III’s Reign 

Coins made during Roman Emperor Gordian III's reign
Coins made during Roman Emperor Gordian III’s reign

Gordian’s rule marked the beginning of a new era in the mint’s history: Antioch had not created tetradrachms since 219, denarii since 223, and no coins since 235.

Down to 238, its supply of precious metal currency, particularly denarii, was therefore infrequent, and it remained, in some ways, a local mint, albeit a huge one.

However, after Gordian’s accession, it became a significant center of coin manufacture, second only to Rome.

During the reign of Gordian III, the emperor changed the mint of Antioch from a regional mint producing mostly Greek-legend coins in silver and bronze to one that only made Roman values with Latin inscriptions in base silver and gold.

Death of Gordian III

The reign of Emperor Gordian III came to an end on 11 February 244. The details of his death are unknown; nonetheless, people widely assumed across the empire that his successor, Philip the Arab, had commanded the young emperor to be lynched by his soldiers.

However, evidence from the Sassanid Empire indicates that the war killed him in combat with their monarch, Shapur I. The rumor that Philip had slain the famous young monarch Gordian would follow the new emperor for the duration of his five-year rule.

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As aforementioned, Gordian’s fate after the war is unknown. According to Sasanian sources, a war (Battle of Misiche) took place in modern Fallujah (Iraq), resulting in a significant Roman setback and the demise of Gordian III.

One school of thought says that Gordian died at Zaitha, assassinated by his disgruntled troops, whereas Philip’s role is unknown. According to academic studies, the Sasanian version, “although imperfect, is preferable” to the Roman version.

The burial of Gordian’s body is likewise contentious. According to David S. Potter, Philip brought the departed emperor’s body to Rome and organized for his deification. According to Edwell, Dodgeon, and Lieu, Philip had Gordian laid to rest at Zaitha after the Sasanian expedition failed.

Legacy 

Gordian’s innocence and good temperament, as well as the deaths of his grandpa and uncle, as well as his tragic destiny at the hands of another usurper, gained him the Roman people’s respect. Despite the new emperor’s resistance, Gordian was deified by the Senate after his death to pacify the populace and prevent unrest.

However, during most of the century, emperors reigned for only a short time. Philip the Arab lived only until 249 when he was defeated in combat by a usurper. 

Philip may have been Rome’s first Christian emperor, albeit not legitimizing the faith. Constantine, I was given the duty. The same year, his kid was assassinated.

Gordian III did not have much time to leave his impact on history, despite being one of the most influential people in the world for just over a decade.

Conclusion 

Gordian’s reign was part of the empire’s decline. However, in terms of the cultural development of Europe and its debt to Rome, the realm had yet to transition from a pagan to a Christian power.

At the very least, Gordian III figuratively led and, to some extent, permitted the continuation of what was culturally a unified space, across which religious beliefs, philosophical ideas, and many shared goals tied people collectively.

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