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Gordian III
32nd Emperor of the Roman Empire
Bust Gordianus III Louvre Ma1063.jpg
Bust of Gordian III, between 242 and 244
Reign 22 April – 29 July 238
(as Caesar to Pupienus
and Balbinus);
29 July 238 – 11 February 244 (sole, nominally, though government done by senate)
Full name Marcus Antonius Gordianus Pius {birth to accession} Caesar Marcus Antonius Gordianus Pius Augustus {as emperor}
Born (225-01-20)20 January 225
Died 11 February 244(244-02-11) (aged 19)
Place of death Zaitha
Predecessor Pupienus and Balbinus
Successor Philip the Arab
Wife Furia Sabinia Tranquillina,
subsequently Augusta
Dynasty Gordiani
Father Unnamed Roman Senator
Mother Antonia Gordiana

Gordian III (Latin: Marcus Antonius Gordianus Pius Augustus;[1] 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 on his early life before his acclamation. Gordian had assumed the name of his maternal grandfather in 238 AD.

Rise to power[edit]

Antoninianus of Gordian III

In 235, following the murder of Emperor Alexander Severus in Moguntiacum (modern Mainz), the capital of the Roman province Germania Inferior, 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.

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 Gordian's fate, so that the Senate decided to take the teenager Gordian, rename him Marcus Antonius Gordianus as 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. But 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.


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.

In the 3rd century, the Roman frontiers weakened against the Germanic tribes across the Rhine and Danube, and the Sassanid kingdom 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). 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.

Marcus Julius Philippus, also known as Philip the Arab, stepped in at this moment as the new Praetorian Prefect and the campaign proceeded. In the beginning of 244, the Persians counter-attacked. Persian sources claim that a battle was fought (Battle of Misiche) near modern Fallujah (Iraq) and resulted in a major Roman defeat and the death of Gordian III.[2] Roman sources do not mention this battle and suggest that Gordian died far away, upstream of the Euphrates. Although ancient sources often described Philip, who succeeded Gordian as emperor, as having murdered Gordian at Zaitha (Qalat es Salihiyah), the cause of Gordian's death is unknown.

Gordian's youth and good nature, along with the deaths of his grandfather and uncle and his own tragic fate at the hands of another usurper, earned him the lasting esteem of the Romans. Despite the opposition of the new Emperor, Gordian was deified by the Senate after his death, in order to appease the population and avoid riots.


  1. ^ In Classical Latin, Gordian's name would be inscribed as MARCVS ANTONIVS GORDIANVS PIVS AVGVSTVS.
  2. ^ Res Gestae Divi Saporis, 3–4 (translation of Shapur's inscription at Naqsh-i Rustam)


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

External links[edit]

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,
Pontius Proculus Pontianus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Manius Acilius Aviola
Succeeded by
Gaius Octavius Appius Suetrius Sabinus ,
Ragonius Venustus
Preceded by
Gaius Octavius Appius Suetrius Sabinus ,
Ragonius Venustus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Clodius Pompeianus
Succeeded by
Gaius Vettius Gratus Atticus Sabinianus ,
Gaius Asinius Lepidus Praetextatus

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Roman Imperial: Gordian III (AD 238-244). AV aureus. Rome, AD 242. RIC 103. Calicó 3225. NGC MS 5/5 – 4/5. Byzantine Empire: Michael III 'the Drunkard' (AD 842-867). AV solidus. Constantinople, AD 856-866. Sear 1688. DOC III 3. NGC MS 5/5 – 4/5.

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