MARCVS ANTONIVS GORDIANVS SEMPRONIVS ROMANVS was born about 159 to Ulpia Gordiana and Maecius Marullus, who claimed descendence from Trajanand the Gracchi, respectively. The family was wealthy, and owned the estate outside of Rome which formerly had belonged to Pompey the Great. He was highly literate, of a mild disposition, dignified, and correct in behavior. He married Fabia Orestilia, and they had two children, Metia Faustina and, in 192, a son (see GORDIAN II) given the same names as his father.
He served as a consul for the first time under Caracalla in 213 and for the second time under Severus Alexander in 229. He seems also to have served as provincial governor of lower Britain. He was appointed Proconsul of Africa by Severus Alexander (or possibly by Maximinus), and his son was appointed as his lieutenant. They were serving in those capacities in March, 238 when a rebellion against Maximinus broke out in their territory.
Maximinus had raised taxes to pay for his incessant wars, and his procurator in Africa was particularly severe in his collection means. Several young men, whose fortunes were threatened, gathered their slaves and some peasants and fell upon the procurator in the city of Thysdrus (El Djem, Tunisia). Having thus killed the Emperor 's official, swift retribution by Maximinus was certain unless they could raise the entire province to general rebellion. The best means they could conceive of was to propose as emperor someone who was well known and diametrically opposed to Maximinus in character. Their choice naturally fell upon Gordianus - mild, just, aristocratic, learned, and highly respected. He by chance was also in Thysdrus at the time.
On March 19, 238 they compelled him by a combination of threats and pleas to accept their acclamation as Augustus, although he was very reluctant and begged them to leave him alone to die in peace of old age (he was nearly eighty at that time). Once proclaimed, he also realized that his only hope of survival was in spreading the rebellion, and he played upon the hatred between Maximinus and the Senate. He and his son immediately went to Carthage and dispatched a delegation to Rome asking for the Senate 's support. The Senate, mostly composed of friends of the Gordians, was overjoyed at the chance to be rid of Maximinus. On April 2, 238 the Senate confirmed them as co-Augusti (giving them the titles 'AFRICANVS '), deified Severus Alexander, organized a committee of twenty Senators to oversee the defense of Italy, and declared Maximinus and his son Maximus to be public enemies. Although both Gordians were given the title of Augustus, only the senior Gordianus was given the title of 'Pontifex Maximus ', implying superiority. The delegation also secured the assassination of Vitalianus, the Praetorian Praefect who had unswerving loyalty to the war-like Maximinus, and would have posed a threat to the security of the Senate itself.
However, in Africa events were moving swiftly, as Capellianus, the Governor of Numidia, had a personal grudge against Gordianus (it seems that Gordianus had sued Capellianus over some matter.) and moved quickly to crush the revolt. He moved his III Augusta legion and auxiliaries against the Gordians in Carthage. The younger Gordian tried to organize the few regular troops at Carthage and the enthusiastic citizenry into a fighting force, but they were completely overwhelmed by the disciplined legion of Capellianus just outside of Carthage. The younger Gordian was believed slain in the battle (although his body was never found), and his eighty-year-old father, who awaited the outcome of the battle in Carthage, committed suicide by hanging immediately afterward (April 12, 238).
GORDIANUS I. (Marcus Antonius) Africanus senior, was the issue of an illustrious
family. His father was Metius Marulus, his mother Ulpia Gordiana. He was born about the year of Rome 940 (A.D. 157) Of a mild, just and munificent disposition, correct in morals and dignified in manners; well versed in the higher branches of literature, loving and cultivating both eloquence and poetry, he soon obtained public offices and displayed his virtues and moderation in a remarkable manner. His edileship was a splendid one; for the riches of his family enabled him to serve that ruinously expensive magistrature with great brilliancy. In 966 (A.D.213) he was consul for the first time. In 982 (A.D. 229) his second consulate was in colleagueship with the Emperor Alexander Severus, replacing in the middle of the year Dion Cassius, the historian. The emperor sent Gordian into Africa, as proconsul and appointed his son to be his lieutenant. In that province, he won, as governor, the affection of the governed – and this popularity proved at once glorious and fatal to him.
991 (A.D. 238). – A procurator (commissioner) of Maximinus arriving in Africa, and having by his exactions exasperated the people, was killed by some young nobles. These rash men, to escape the anger of the Thracian savage, who would have been sure to avenge the death of his officers in a cruel manner compelled Gordian, then 80 years of age, and who was at the moment at Thysdras, to accept the empire, which they also decreed to his son. This choice of the army and province was approved by the Senate and by the whole city of Rome, who detested Maximimus on account of his ferocious tyranny. A senatus consultum proclaimed the desposition of Maximinus and the accession of the two Gordians. The new Augusti did not long enjoy the honors of imperial sovereignty. Capellianus, governor if Mauretania, enraged against Gordian, the father, who had superseded him in that lieutenancy, marched upon Carthage with a numerous army. On receiving this intelligence, the elder Gordian under the desponding impression, that he should not be able to resist so vast a multitude of assailants, put an end to his life by strangulation. His son was slain in the conflict which took place when the partisans of Capellianus entered Carthage. Thus perished both father and son, after having jointly held supreme power about forty-five days. The Senate in token of its regrets placed the two Augusti in the rank of the gods. Gordian senior had married Fabia Pius, by whom he had Gordian, afterwards his associate in the empire, and Metia Faustina, wife of Junius
Balbus, a consular personage.
His style is IMP C (or CAES) M ANT GORDIANVS AFR AVG. His coins consist of silver and brass and are of extreme rarity. The Latin pieces are considered (by Hennin) to have been struck at Carthage. If so they are a credit from their workmanship to the mint of the African province. But it is much more probable that they were minted at Rome.MINTAGES of GORDIANUS AFR. PATER. SILVER – CONCORDIA AVG. Woman seated. (Valued by Minnet at 110fr.) – P.M. TR. P. COS. P.P. Figure standing, in the toga, with laurel twig. (£3 15s. Pembroke; £7 5s. Thomas; £3 6s. Brumell; £4 4s. Tovey.) – SECVRITAS AVG. or AVGG. Woman seated. (£3 3s. Brummell; £3 19s Sabatier). – VICTORIA AVGG. (£3 8s. Thomas). – VIRTVS AVGG. (4 5s, Thomas; $4 0s Campana).
ROMAE AETERNAE. Rome the victory-bearer seated – Obv. IMP. M. ANT. GORDIANVS AFR. AVG. Head of the elder
Gordian. (£3 3s. Brumell; £3 6s. Sabatier sale. Engraved at the head of this article).
FIRST BRASS. – P.M. TR. P. COS. P.P. Figure standing, habited in the toga, holding in the right hand an olive branch, and a truncheon in the left. (Mt. 45fr.) Engraved in the Cabinet de Christine. – PROVIDENT. AVGG. S. A woman stands with cornucopia pointing to a globe. (£4 1s. Devonshire). Engraved in Akerman, i. P. 461, pl. 8, No. 1. – SECVRITAS AVGG. A woman seated (£3 1s 0d. Thomas). – ROMAE AETERNAE. Rome seated. (Mt. 45 fr.) – VICTORIA AVGG. Victory walking (£3 11s. 0d. Thomas; £2 12s. Campana).* The easiest method, according to M. Rollin of Paris, for classifying the rare medals of the first two Gordians is to remember that on the father 's the hair is fuller on the forehead, and the cheek is rather sunk in through old age, whilst the son is bald in front, but has a much fuller face. – Note in p.126 of the Campana Sale Catalogue.