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E&D 15: The Soldier Emperors and the 3rd C "Crisis""

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James Corke-Webster

on 15 February 2016

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Transcript of E&D 15: The Soldier Emperors and the 3rd C "Crisis""

Gordian III rules for 6 years (
rule by committee?
continued rise of equestrians
subordination of prefecture
C. Attius Alcimus Felicianus
emperor goes east in 241; 2 extraordinary posts
prefect of the
prefect of grain supply
ongoing trouble with Persia & Sapor I
war declared in 241
Roman troops only sent 242
[really 6 years previous]
Maximian busy on northern frontier
still took Gordian III 3 years to respond
the difficulty of establishing unified government?
Jan 13 - Mar 14 244: died at war, at Zaitha
own army?

Maximinus (Thrax) Imp. Caesar C. Julius Verus Maximinus Augustus
a barbarian herdsman? unfair slander
in his 50s (based on coinage...)
if so, entered service under Septimius
equestrian - becoming the pattern
distant from Rome
soldier emperor through and through
financial woes
fail to pay donative
current warfare unremunerative
universally unpopular
plebs: cuts grain subsidies
senate: subsidy to cult deified emperors
army: fail to pay & favouritism
"Maximiniana" restricted to units on Rhine & Danubian frontiers pre-238
even own troops - 2x revolts
increasing factionalisation

Imp. Caesar M. Antonius
Sempronianus Romanus Africanus Senior Augustus
Imp. Caesar M. Antonius
Sempronianus Africanus Iunior Augustus
Imp. Caesar D. Caelius Calvinus
Imp. Caesar M. Clodius
Imp. Caesar M. Antonius

revolt vs. procurator Africa Proconsularis
elderly governor Gordianus acclaimed
messenger to Rome (Valerian!)
senate appointed a board of 20
defense vs. "tyrant"
rally provinces
revolt crushed by Capelianus, governor Numidia - Gordian had no troops!
Gordian committed suicide & son died in battle
3 week reign

senate appoints 2 of the 20 - Balbinus & Pupienus
riot [friends Gordian?] so Gordian's 13 y/o grandson made Caesar
then Praetorians vs. People [& gladiators]

Maximinus invades Italy - seige at Aquileia
murdered by own troops; son too
Papienus & Balbinus killed by Praetorians
feared a repeat of Severus post-Pertinax
senate chose, not military

not even a year - 5 months! - & 6 claimants dead...
reveals increasing divisions between the factions...

1) family business...
brother Priscus - governor Mesopotamia &
(Cor)rector totius orientis
[ILS 9005]
brother-in-law Severianus - Balkans:
vice Caesaris
Cod. Iust.
deputy emperors?
emperors as rulers... or managers...?

2) make peace with Persia
500000 aurei?
cease subsidies to tribes north of Danube who keep peace

3) rioting vs Christians in Alexandria

Imp. Caesar M. Julius Philippus Augustus
succession unclear [Herodian et al finished]
not the obvious successor [cf. Macrinus; Maximinus]
not Roman - Syrian
building at hometown Chahba, now Philippopolis
perhaps dynastic option - a son?
deification of Gordian III [cf. Severus]
248 - celebrates the millenium at Rome

The Soldier Emperors and the 3rd C "Crisis"



"This engagement and his own bravery Maximinus reported in dispatches to the Senate and Roman people; moreover,
he ordered the scene to be painted on huge canvases to be set up in front of the Senate house, so that the Romans might not only hear about the battle but also be able to see what happened there
. Later the Senate removed this picture together with the rest of his emblems of honor. "
Roman History
"When the army of Maximinus came into view,
the clamoring recruits called upon Alexander's soldiers to desert the miserly woman and the timid, mother-dominated youth
; at the same time they urged his soldiers to join them in supporting a brave and intelligent man,
a fellow soldier who was always under arms and busy with military matters
. Convinced, Alexander's troops deserted him for Maximinus, who was then proclaimed emperor by all."
Roman History

Roman History
7-8 [up to start Gordian III]
Historia Augusta
but Marius Maximus finish with Elagabalus...
Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle
[Gordian - c.263]
Byzantine sources:
1. Zosimus,
New History
[6th C]
2. John Zonaras,
Epitome of the Histories
[12th C]
3. George,
Selection of Chronography
[8th-9th C]
4. John Malalas,
Chronicle of Antioch
[6th C]
all using Athenian historian Publius Herennius Dexippus...
rhetorical set pieces
Res Gestae Divi Saporis:
Sapor's trilingual inscriptions from Naqsh-i-Rustam
"The senate therefore thought it best to meet and consider what should be done. Since they had already cast the die, they voted to issue a declaration of war and c
hoose two men from their own ranks to be joint emperors, dividing the imperial authority so that the power might not be in one man's hands and thus plunge them again into autocracy.
They did not meet as usual in the Senate house but in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, the god whom the Romans worship on the Capitoline Hill.

They shut themselves up alone in this temple, as if to have Jupiter as their witness, fellow council member, and overseer of their actions.
Choosing the men most distinguished for their age and merit, they approved them by ballot. Other senators received votes, but on the final count [Pupienus] Maximus and Balbinus were elected joint emperors by majority opinion.
Roman History
"The success of their plan immediately put the youths in a desperate situation; they realized that a single avenue of safety lay open to them: to add to their bold act deeds even bolder and, enlisting the governor of the province as a partner in their peril, to rouse the whole province to revolt. They knew that the governor, who hated Maximinus, had long prayed for this, but was afraid to act.
As it was now noon, the entire group went to the house of the proconsul.
The governor, whose name was Gordian, had received the African post by lot when he was about eighty years old
, after he had previously governed many provinces and served in the highest public offices. For this reason the youths believed that he would accept with pleasure the office of emperor as the crowning achievement in his career in public office;
they thought that the Senate and the Roman people would be glad to accept as emperor a man from the aristocracy who had risen to the high office after many governorships as if in a regular cursus
Roman History
" [
the ideal emperor] should regularly associate with soldiers
and not stay in his chamber, for it showed that
goodwill, the one solid safeguard of kingship
, was strengthened by this daily contact."

De Regno
(‘On Kingship’) 21
His character was naturally barbaric, as his race was barbarian.
He had inherited the brutal disposition of his countrymen, and he intended to make his imperial position secure by acts of cruelty, fearing that he would become an object of contempt to the Senate and the people, who might be more conscious of his lowly origin than impressed by the honor he had won.
Everyone knew and spread the story that when he was a shepherd in the mountains of Thrace, he enlisted in a local auxiliary cohort because of his huge size and great strength, and by luck became the emperor of the Romans
Roman History

RIC 10, BMC 67: Antoninianus issued under Pupienus and Balbinus.
Obverse: bust of Balbinus (IMP CAES D CAEL BALBINVS AVG).
Reverse: clasped hands (CONCORDIA AVGG)
RIC 11a, BMC 81: Antoninianus issued under Pupienus & Balbinus.
Obverse: bust of Pupienus (IMP CAES M CLOD PVPIENVS AVG).
Reverse: clasped hands (PATRES SENATVS)
RIC 5, BMC 26: denarius issued under Pupienus & Balbinus.
Obverse: bust of Balbinus (IMP C D CAEL BALBINVS AVG).
Reverse: emperor with branch and scepter (PM TRP COS II PP)
RIC 6, BMC 52: denarius issued under Pupienus & Balbinus.
Obverse: bust of Pupienus (IMP C M CLOD PVPIENVS AVG).
Reverse: goddess (Felicitas?) with caduceus and scepter (PM TRP COS II PP)
"Embassies composed of senators and distinguished equestrians were sent to all the governors with letters which clearly
revealed the attitude of the Senate and the Roman people
. These letters requested the governors
to aid the common fatherland and the Senate
with their counsel, and urged the provinces to remain loyal to Rome, where the
power and authority from the beginning had been in the hands of the people
, whose friends and subjects the provinces were from the time of their ancestors."

Roman History
"And so the completely confused army was in the depths of despair. [Early May 238] Then one day, during a lull in the fighting, when most of the soldiers had gone to their quarters or their stations, Maximinus was resting in his tent. Without warning, the soldiers whose camp was near Rome at the foot of Mount Alba, where they had left their wives and children,
decided that the best solution was to kill Maximinus and end the interminable siege. They resolved no longer to ravage Italy for an emperor they now knew to be a despicable tyrant
Roman History
"For the rest of the time the two emperors governed in an orderly and well-regulated manner, winning approval on every hand both privately and publicly. The people honored and respected them as patriotic and admirable rulers of the empire.
The praetorians, however, were privately disgruntled
, not at all pleased that the people had demonstrated their approval of the emperors.
The noble birth of the two men was an affront to the praetorians, and they were indignant also because the emperors had received the imperial office from the Senate
The praetorians feared that the German troops with [Pupienus] Maximus in Rome would oppose them if they should instigate a revolt. They suspected that the Germans were lying in wait for them; if the praetorians were discharged from service by trickery, the Germans would be at hand to replace them as the imperial bodyguard.
They recalled the example of Severus, who dismissed the praetorians who had killed Pertinax
Roman History
Lecture 17: Valerian & Shapur
Lecture 16: Decius
RIC 25b: Antoninianus of Philip ‘the Arab’ (AD 249). Obverse: bust of Philip (IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG), Reverse: hexastyle temple with statue of Roma (SAECVLVM NOVVM)
Monumental building (in honour of the emperor) at Shahba
City gate of Roman Phillipolis, Shahba
Head of Philip the Arab from the local museum in Shahba
Bust of Philip the Arab from the Hermitage
"He made a treaty under oath with Sapor, ending the war and returned to Rome, taking care of the soldiers with abundant gifts of money, sending ahead to Rom the report that Gordian had died of disease. Whe he came to Rome, he seduced the most important senators with moderate discourses. He judged it necessary to give the most important positionsto those who were closest to him.
He appointed his brother, Priscus, to the command of the legions in Syria and entrusted his brother in law, Severianus, with the forces in Moesia and Macedonia
Zosimus 1.19.1-2
"...what was formerly called the greater Armenia, but afterwards Persarmenia----
this country was formerly subject to the Romans, but when Philip, the successor of Gordian, had betrayed it to Sapor
, what is called the lesser Armenia alone was possessed by the Romans, but the remainder by the Persians"
Ecclesiastical History
"And now, that he might not seem to have obtained the imperial office by bloody means, Philip sent a letter to Rome saying that Gordian had died of a disease and that he, Philip, had been chosen emperor by all the soldiers. The senate was naturally deceived in these matters of which it knew nothing, and so it entitled Philip emperor and gave him the name Augustus and then placed the young Gordian among the gods.
He was a light-hearted lad, handsome, winning, agreeable to everyone, merry in his life, eminent in letters; in nothing, indeed, save in his age was he unqualified for empire. Before Philip's conspiracy he was loved by the people, the senate, and the soldiers as no prince had ever been before. Cordus says that all the soldiers spoke of him as their son, that he was called son by the entire senate, and that all the people said Gordian was their darling.
And indeed Philip, after he had killed him, did not remove his portraits or throw down his statues or erase his name, but always called him divine, even among the soldiers with whom he had made his conspiracy, and worshipped him with a mixture of a serious spirit and the shrewdness of an alien
SHA, Three Gordians
"To Good Fortune

To M(arcus) Gn(aeus) Licin(ius) Rufinus,
of equestrian rank
of the Emperor, having handled Greek letters,
a studiis Augusti
, in charge of the accounts (
a rationibus?
), in charge of the
a libellis?
), praetor of the Romans, governor of the province of Noricum, priest of the
of Titus Tatius, in the
of the Twenty Men, chosen as
amicus Caesaris
, having acted often as ambassadors to the Emperors, and having secured all the rights for his native city, the
clarissimus consularis
, and, on account of the generosity of his provision and his construction of many major works, both a communal and individual benefactor, the gardeners (gave honor)."

SEG 47. no. 1656, trans. F. Millar, JRS 89 [1999], 95 [under Gordian III]

"Philip was a native of Arabia, a nation in bad repute, and had advanced his fortune by no very honourable means. As soon as he was fixed in his office, he aspired at the imperial dignity, and endeavoured to seduce all the soldiers that were disposed to innovation. Observing that abundance of military provisions was supplied, while the emperor was staying about Carrae and Nisibis,
he ordered the ships that brought those provisions to go further up the country, in order that the army, being oppressed with famine, might be provoked to mutiny
. His design succeeded to his wish; for
the soldiers, under pretence of want of necessaries, surrounded Gordianus in a violent manner, and having killed him
, as the chief cause of so many perishing, conferred the purple on Philip according to their engagement. He therefore made peace with Sapores, and marched towards Rome; and as he had bound the soldiers to him by large presents, he sent messengers to Rome to report that Gordianus had died of a disease."
New History
"Immediately as I entered into kingship over the nations, Gordian Caesar gathered a force from all the Roman empire and the Gothic and German nations and advanced into Assyria against the race of the Assyrians and us. At the borders of Assyria at Meshike there was a great all-out war.
And Gordian Caesar was killed and I destroyed the army of the Romans
and the Romans chose Philip Caesar. And
Philip the Caesar came to a parley and gave us five hundred thousand dnars [=500,000 Roman aurei] for their lives and became tributary to us
, and because of this we have named M[e]shike" "Peroz-Sapor" ("Victorious is Sapor").

6-8 [Greek text]
(Philip) Caesar lied again and acted unjustly towards Armenia
. We rose up against the nation of the Romans and annihilated a force of 60,000 Romans at Barbalissos."
RGDS 9 [Greek text]
"When they (Philip father and son) will rule in wars and become lawgivers,
there will briefly be an end to war, but not for long
; when the wolf shall swear oaths to the dogs of gleaming teeth against the flock he will ravage, harming the wool-fleeced sheep, and
he will break the oaths and then there will be the lawless strife of arrogant kings
Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle, ll. 25-32 trans. David Potter
Lecture 18: Aurelian
Detail from narrative relief of Sapor at Bishapur. Sapor's horse tramples Gordian III, while Philip the Arab surrenders.
"1. The same writer, in an epistle to Fabius, bishop of Antioch, relates as follows the sufferings of the martyrs in Alexandria under Decius:
The persecution among us did not begin with the royal decree, but preceded it an entire year.
The prophet and author of evils
to this city
, whoever he was, previously moved and aroused against us the masses of the heathen, rekindling among them the superstition of their country.
2. And being thus excited by him and finding full opportunity for any wickedness, they considered this the only pious service of their demons, that they should slay us.
3. They seized first an old man named Metras, and commanded him to utter impious words. But as he would not obey, they beat him with clubs, and tore his face and eyes with sharp sticks, and dragged him out of the city and stoned him."

Eusebius, Church History 6.41.1-3
"But what especially irked the people and aroused public indignation was the fact that, although no fighting was going on and no enemy was under arms anywhere, Rome appeared to be a city under siege. Some citizens, with angry shaking of fists, set guards around the temples, preferring to die before the altars than to stand by and see their country ravaged.
From that time on, particularly in the cities and the provinces, the hearts of the people were filled with rage. The soldiers too were disgusted with his activities, for their relatives and fellow citizens complained that Maximinus was acting solely for the benefit of the military

Roman History
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