The Year of the Six Emperors refers to the year 238,
during which six people were recognized as emperors of Rome.
27th Emperor of the Roman Empire
The emperor at the beginning of the year was Maximinus Thrax, who had ruled since 235. Later sources claim he was a cruel tyrant, and in January 238 a revolt erupted in North Africa. The Historia Augusta states: Maximinus is described by several ancient sources, though none are contemporary except Herodian's Roman History. Maximinus was the first emperor never to set foot in Rome. He was the first of the so-called barracks emperors of the 3rd century; his rule is often considered to mark the beginning of the Crisis of the Third Century. He died at Aquileia whilst attempting to put down a Senatorial revolt.
Most likely Maximinus was of Thraco-Roman origin (believed so by Herodian in his writings). According to the notoriously unreliable Augustan History (Historia Augusta), he was born in Thrace or Moesia to a Gothic father and an Alanic mother, an Iranian people of the Scythian-Sarmatian branch; however, the supposed parentage is highly unlikely, as the presence of the Goths in the Danubian area is first attested after the beginning of the Crisis of the Third Century. British historian Ronald Syme, writing that "the word 'Gothia' should have sufficed for condemnation" of the passage in the Augustan History, felt that the burden of evidence from Herodian, Syncellus and elsewhere pointed to Maximinus having been born in Moesia. The references to his "Gothic" ancestry might refer to a Thracian Getae origin (the two populations were often confused by later writers, most notably by Jordanes in his Getica), as suggested by the paragraphs describing how "he was singularly beloved by the Getae, moreover, as if he were one of themselves" and how he spoke "almost pure Thracian".
His background was, in any case, that of a provincial of low birth, and was seen by the Senate as a barbarian, not even a true Roman, despite CaracallaÕs edict granting citizenship to all freeborn inhabitants of the Empire. In many ways Maximinus was similar to the later Thraco-Roman Roman emperors of the 3rd-5th century (Licinius, Galerius, Aureolus, Leo the Thracian, etc.), elevating themselves, via a military career, from the condition of a common soldier in one of the Roman legions to the foremost positions of political power.
He joined the army during the reign of Septimius Severus, but did not rise to a powerful position until promoted by Alexander Severus. Maximinus was in command of Legio IV Italica, composed of recruits from Pannonia, who were angered by Alexander's payments to the Alemanni and his avoidance of war. The troops, among whom included the Legio XXII Primigenia, elected the stern Maximinus, killing young Alexander and his mother at Moguntiacum (modern Mainz). The Praetorian Guard acclaimed him emperor, and their choice was grudgingly confirmed by the Senate, who were displeased to have a peasant as emperor. His son Maximus became caesar.
Maximinus hated the nobility and was ruthless towards those he suspected of plotting against him. He began by eliminating the close advisors of Alexander. His suspicions may have been justified; two plots against Maximinus were foiled. The first was during a campaign across the Rhine, during which a group of officers, supported by influential senators, plotted the destruction of a bridge across the river, then leave Maximinus stranded on the other side. Afterwards they planned to elect senator Magnus emperor; however the plot was discovered and the conspirators executed. The second plot involved Mesopotamian archers who were loyal to Alexander. They planned to elevate Quartinus, but their leader Macedo changed sides and murdered Quartinus instead, although this was not enough to save his own life.
The accession of Maximinus is commonly seen as the beginning of the Crisis of the Third Century (also known as the "Military Anarchy" or the "Imperial Crisis"), the commonly applied name for the crumbling and near collapse of the Roman Empire between 235 and 284 caused by three simultaneous crises: external invasion, internal civil war, and economic collapse.
Maximinus' first campaign was against the Alamanni, whom Maximinus defeated despite heavy Roman casualties in a swamp in the Agri Decumates. After the victory, Maximinus took the title Germanicus Maximus, raised his son Maximus to the rank of Caesar and Prince of Youths, and deified his late wife Paulina. Maximinus may have launched a second campaign deep into Germania, defeating a Germanic tribe beyond the Weser in the Battle at the Harzhorn. Securing the German frontier, at least for a while, Maximinus then set up a winter encampment at Sirmium in Pannonia, and from that supply base fought the Dacians and the Sarmatians during the winter of 235-236.
28th Emperor of the Roman Empire
Gordian I (c. 159 - 12 April 238) was Roman Emperor for one month 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 before committing suicide.
Little is known on the early life and family background of Gordian. There is no reliable evidence on his family origins.= His family were of Equestrian rank, who were modest and very wealthy. Gordian was said to be related to prominent senators. His praenomen and nomen Marcus Antonius suggest that his paternal ancestors received Roman citizenship under the Triumvir Mark Antony, or one of his daughters, during the late Roman Republic. GordianÕs cognomen ŌGordianusÕ suggests that his family origins were from Anatolia, especially Galatia and Cappadocia.
According to the Augustan History, his mother was a Roman woman called Ulpia Gordiana and his father Roman Senator Maecius Marullus. While modern historians have dismissed his father's name as false, there may be some truth behind the identity of his mother. Gordian's family history can be guessed through inscriptions. The name Sempronianus in his name may indicate a connection to his mother or grandmother. In Ankara Turkey, a funeral inscription has been found that names a Sempronia Romana, daughter of a named Sempronius Aquila (an imperial secretary). Romana erected this undated funeral inscription to her husband (whose name is lost) who died as a praetor-designate. Gordian might have been related to the gens Sempronia.
French historian Christian Settipani gives as his parents Marcus Antonius (b. ca 135), tr. pl., praet. des., and wife Sempronia Romana (b. ca 140), daughter of Titus Flavius Sempronius Aquila (b. ca 115), Secretarius ab epistulis Graecis, and wife Claudia (b. ca 120), daughter of an unknown father and wife Claudia Tisamenis (b. ca 100), sister of Herodes Atticus. It seems therefore that the person who was related to Herodes Atticus was Gordian I's mother or grandmother and not his wife. Also according to the Augustan History, his wife was a Roman woman called Fabia Orestilla, born circa 165, who the Augustan History claims was a descendant of Roman Emperors Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius through her father Fulvus Antoninus. Modern historians have dismissed this name and her information as false.
29th Emperor of the Roman Empire
With his wife, Gordian had at least two children: a son of the same name (Gordian II) and a daughter, Antonia Gordiana (who was the mother of the future Emperor Gordian III). His wife died before 238. Christian Settipani gives as her parents Marcus Annius Severus, who was a Suffect Consul, and wife Silvana, born circa 140, daughter of Lucius Plautius Lamia Silvanus and wife Aurelia Fadilla, daughter of Antoninus Pius and wife Annia Galeria Faustina or Faustina the Elder.
Gordian climbed the hierarchy until he entered the Roman Senate. His political career started relatively late in his life and probably his early years were spent in rhetoric and literary studies. As a military man, Gordian commanded the Legio IIII Scythica when the legion was stationed in Syria.He served as governor of Roman Britain in 216 and was a Suffect Consul sometime during the reign of Elagabalus. Inscriptions in Roman Britain bearing his name were partially erased suggesting some form of imperial displeasure during this role.
While he gained unbounded popularity by the magnificent games and shows he produced as aedile,his prudent and retired life did not excite the suspicion of Caracalla, in whose honor he wrote a long epic poem called Antoninias. Gordian certainly retained his wealth and political clout during the chaotic times of the Severan dynasty, which suggest his personal dislike for intrigue. Philostratus dedicated his work Lives of the Sophists to either him or his son, Gordian II.
During the reign of Alexander Severus, Gordian (who was by then in his late sixties), after serving his suffect consulship prior to 223, drew lots for the proconsular governorship of the province of Africa Proconsularis which he assumed in 237. However, prior to the commencement of his promagistrature, Maximinus Thrax killed Emperor Alexander Severus at Moguntiacum in Germania Inferior and assumed the throne.
Maximinus was not a popular emperor and universal discontent roused by his oppressive rule culminated in a revolt in Africa in 238. The trigger was the actions of MaximinusÕs procurator in Africa, who sought to extract the maximum level of taxation and fines possible, including falsifying charges against the local aristocracy. A riot saw the death of the procurator, after which they turned to Gordian and demanded that he accept the dangerous honor of the imperial throne. Gordian, after protesting that he was too old for the position, eventually yielded to the popular clamor and assumed both the purple and the cognomen Africanus on March 22.
Gordian had deserved his high reputation by his amiable character. Both he and his son were men reported to be fond of literature and achieved great accomplishments, publishing voluminous works. But they were more interested in intellectual pursuits, neither possessing the necessary skills or resources to be considered able statesmen or powerful rulers. Having embraced the cause of Gordian, the senate was obliged to continue the revolt against Maximinus, and appointed Pupienus and Balbinus, as joint emperors. Nevertheless, by the end of 238, the recognized emperor would be Gordian III, his grandson. Gordian and his son were deified by the Senate.
30th Emperor of the Roman Empire
Pupienus (c. 165/170 - 29 July 238), 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 by his agnomen "Maximus" rather than by his cognomen (family name) Pupienus.
PupienusÕs career was impressive, serving a number of important posts during the reign of the Severan dynasty throughout the late second and early third centuries. This included assignment as Proconsul of the senatorial propraetorial provinces of Bithynia et Pontus, Achaea, and Gallia Narbonensis. He was later assigned as imperial legate to one of the German provinces, most probably after his first suffect consulship, circa 207 AD. During his time as governor, he was quite popular and scored military victories over the Sarmatians and German tribes.
In 234 AD, during the last years of Severus AlexanderÕs reign, he was installed as Consul for the second time. In that same year he was also appointed Urban Prefect of Rome and gained a reputation for severity, to the extent that he became unpopular with the Roman mob.
When the Gordian I and his son were proclaimed Emperors in Africa, the Senate appointed a committee of twenty men, including the elderly Senator Pupienus, to co-ordinate operations against Maximinus until the arrival of the Gordians. On the news of the Gordians' defeat and deaths, however, the Senate met in closed session in the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus and voted for two members of the committee to be installed as co-emperors - Pupienus and Balbinus.
However, factions within the Senate who had hoped to profit from the accession of the Gordians manipulated the people and the Praetorian Guard to agitate for the elevation of Gordian III as their imperial colleague. Leaving his senior colleague Balbinus in charge of the civil administration at Rome, sometime during late April Pupienus marched to Ravenna, where he oversaw the campaign against Maximinus, recruiting German auxiliary troops who had served under him whilst he was in Germania; after the latter was assassinated by his soldiers just outside Aquileia he despatched both Maximinus's troops and his own back to their provinces (along with a considerable donative) and returned to Rome with his newly acquired German bodyguard.
Balbinus, in the meantime, had failed to keep public order in the capital. The sources suggest that Balbinus suspected Pupienus of using his newly acquired German bodyguard to supplant him, and they were soon living in different parts of the Imperial palace., This meant that they were at the mercy of disaffected elements in the Praetorians, who resented serving under Senate-appointed emperors, and now plotted to kill them. Pupienus, becoming aware of the threat, begged Balbinus to call for the German bodyguard. Balbinus, believing that this news was part of a plot by Pupienus to have him assassinated, refused, and the two began to argue just as the Praetorians burst into the room. Both emperors were seized and dragged back to the Praetorian barracks where they were tortured and brutally hacked to death.
31st Emperor of the Roman Empire
Balbinus (c. 165 - 29 July 238), was Roman Emperor with Pupienus for three months in 238, the Year of the Six Emperors. Not much is known about Balbinus before his elevation to emperor. It has been conjectured that he descended from Publius Coelius Balbinus Vibullius Pius, the consul ordinarius of 136 or 137, and wife Aquilia. If this were true, he was also related to the family of Q. Pompeius Falco, which supplied many politicians of consular rank throughout the 3rd century, and to the 1st-century politician, engineer and author Julius Frontinus, as well as a descendant of a first cousin of Trajan.
He was a patrician from birth, and was the son (either by birth or adoption) of ... Caelius Calvinus, who was legate of Cappadocia in 184. He was one of the Salii priests of Mars. According to Herodian he had governed provinces, but the list of seven provinces given in the Historia Augusta, as well as the statement that Balbinus had been both Proconsul of Asia and of Africa, are likely to be mere invention. He had certainly been twice consul; his first consulate is not certainly known but is believed to have been about 203 or in July 211; he was consul for the second time in 213 as colleague of Caracalla, which suggests he enjoyed that emperor's favor.
When the Gordians were proclaimed Emperors in Africa, the Senate appointed a committee of twenty men, including Balbinus, to co-ordinate operations against Maximinus Thrax. On the news of the Gordians' defeat, the Senate met in closed session in the Temple of Jupiter and voted Pupienus and Balbinus as co-emperors, though they were soon forced to co-opt the child Gordian III as a colleague. Balbinus was probably in his early seventies: his qualifications for rule are unknown, except presumably that he was a senior senator, rich and well-connected. While Pupienus marched to Ravenna, where he oversaw the campaign against Maximinus, Balbinus remained in Rome, but failed to keep public order. The sources suggest that after Pupienus's victorious return following Maximinus' death, Balbinus suspected Pupienus of wanting to supplant him, and they were soon living in different parts of the Imperial palace, where they were later assassinated by disaffected elements of the Praetorian Guard.
The Sarcophagus of Balbinus has earned this Emperor a niche in the history of Roman Imperial art. When presumably holding the title of Emperor, Balbinus had a marble sarcophagus made for himself and his wife (whose name is unknown). Discovered in fragments near the Via Appia and restored, this is the only example of a Roman Imperial sarcophagus of this type to have survived. On the lid are reclining figures of Balbinus and his wife, the figure of the Emperor also being a fine portrait of him.
Although in accounts of their joint reign Balbinus is emphasized as the civilian as against Pupienus the military man, on the side of the sarcophagus he is portrayed in full military dress.
32nd Emperor of the Roman Empire
Gordian III 20 January 225 - 11 February 244), was Roman Emperor from 238 to 244. 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.
Following the murder of Emperor Alexander Severus in Moguntiacum (modern Mainz), the capital of the Roman province Germania Inferior, Maximinus Thrax was acclaimed Emperor, despite strong opposition of the Roman senate and the majority of the population. In response to what was considered in Rome as a rebellion, Gordian's grandfather and uncle, Gordian I and II, were proclaimed joint emperors in the Africa Province. Their 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. 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.
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