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Gordian III was the grandson of Gordian I and nephew of Gordian II. He was proclaimed Caesar shortly before the murder of Balbinus and Pupienus, and he succeeded them. Little is known about his reign. In 242 A.D. he embarked on a campaign against the Persian Kingdom which was so successful the Persians had to evacuate Mesopotamia. However, Gordian III died shortly after, through illness or the machinations of his Praetorian prefect and successor, Philip I.
Also see: ERIC - GORDIAN III
Please add updates or make corrections to the NumisWiki text version as appropriate.
Gordian III —The year of this young prince 's birth is not ascertained.—All that appears certain is that his anniversary fell on the 13th of the calends of February (20th January). He was the grandson of Gordianus I. but whether by his son Gordianus II. or by his daughter, is still unknown. In the year of Rome 991 (A.D. 238), the youngest Gordian, who was at Rome when the two African Gordians were massacred, was named Prince of the Youth by the Senate. The people who loved him, in remembrance of his relations, had never ceased to besiege the capitol until the dignity of Cæsar had been conferred on him. He was then thirteen or sixteen years of age. Pupienus and Balbinus were elected Augusti. The same year Pupienus proceeded to the war against Maximinus, whilst Balbinus and Gordianus acted on the defensive at Rome. A serious tumult arising between the praetorian guards and the people, the young Cæsar was lifted up shown to the contending parties, which had the effect of allaying their excited feelings, and bringing about reconciliation. The authority of the new emperors was re-established by the death of Maximinus and of his son Maximus. At the end of the month of July, in the same year, Balbinus and Pupienus being put to death by the praetorians, Gordianus was formally declared Augustus by the unanimous voice of the praetorians and the Senate.—In 992 (A.D. 239), Gordianus III. proceeded consul for the first time. History records nothing certain respecting the events of this year.
A.D. 240—or the following year, Sabinianus usurped the imperial government in Africa, but was defeated and taken prisoner by the governor of Mauretania, through the treachery of his own party. The young emperor planted at Viminacium (see the word), a city of Upper Mæsia (now Widdin), a colony which dates its foundation from this year.
A.D. 241—This year, which was that of Gordian 's second consulate, Sapor I. king of the Persians, invaded Mesopotamia, then subject to the Romans; and the terror which his arms inspired, spread not only in the East, but through Italy itself. The Sapor in question was son of that Artaxerxes who, after overthrowing the Arsacidæ, brought Parthia again under Persian rule, as it is said, during the reign of Alexander Severus. Gordianus III. made immense preparations to meet this powerful foe. The same year he married Sabinia Tranquillina.
A.D. 242—Gordian left Rome and proceeded through Mæsia and Thrace into Asia, and thence into Syria. He defeated Sapor in several battles; and, recapturing from him many cities which the latter had taken from the Romans, drove the Persian monarch out of Mesopotamia.
A.D. 243—In consequence of his brilliant successes in war, a triumph in a biga of elephants was decreed to Gordianus III. (see the monetal record of this fact in p. 203).—Misitheus, prefect of the praetorian guard, father-in-law of the emperor, and who had greatly contributed to his successes, on the same occasion triumphed in a quadriga of horses. That wise and true friend of the emperor died the same year, poisoned, as it was believed, by Philippus, an Arabian, who fatally succeeded him in the dignity of praetorian prefect.
A.D. 244—This artful and ambitious man, having an eye upon empire, intercepted the supplies for the campaign, and thus irritated the army against their prince. Gordian was assassinated at Zeila, on the Euphrates, in the month of February, in the 22nd year of his age, after he had reigned about six years.
"Thus terminated the life of Gordianus III. in whom nothing was wanting to establish the character of a first-rate prince, except a longer life. The love of the people, founded on the merits of his grandfather and father, conferred upon him first the title of Cæsar, and then that of Augustus; and so adored was he for the beauty of his person, and the suavity of his manners, that the Senate and army called him their son, and the people their darling. A remarkable proof of the excellence of his disposition was shown in the docility with which, at an age exposed to every temptation, he listened not to the voice of passion, but to the sage counsels of Misitheus, than whom the empire could boast no one more learned, eloquent, or distinguished in the arts of peace and war; and whom he had chosen, not only as his prefect of the praetorian guard, but as his father-in-law, by marrying his daughter Tranquillina. As he was happy, so long as he had the advantage of such a man 's assistance, so was he most unfortunate in his selection of a successor. For by appointing Philippus, through whose nefarious arts it was supposed that Misitheus himself met his death, he fell a victim to his ingratitude and hostility, in the atrocious manner above described. The soldiers afterwards erected his tomb at the Circesian camp on the borders of Persia, and Ammianus Marcellinus affirms, that as late as the time of Julianus II. it was seen by himself, and that it was a conspicuous object from a considerable distance. The life of Gordian III has been given at great length by Capitolinus."—D. N. V. vol. vii. 309, 310, 313.
Before his accession to the empire, the youngest Gordian is styled M. ANT. GORDIANVS CAES. (the head bare) A. D. 238. The same year, ascending the throne on the death of Balbinus and Pupienus, his coins exhibit the titles of IMP. CAES. M. ANT. GORDIANVS AVG. and these he bore during the two first years of his reign.—In A. D. 239, the title of PIVS was added; in 240, the further addition was made of FELIX; and to the end of his life he preserved the style of IMP. GORDIANVS PIVS FELix AVG.
MINTAGES OP GORDIANUS III.
GOLD MEDALLION.—MLETHRM (sic.) PROPVGNATOREN (sic.) Mars armed with buckler and lance.—Obv. IMP. GORDIANVS PIVS FELT. (sic.) AVG. Radiated head of Gordianus Pius. (Mionnet values this piece, which is of barbarous workmanship, at 200 fr. See De la Rareté des Med. T. i. p. 394).
SILVER MEDALLIONS.—AEQVITAS AVGVSTI. The three monetæ. (Mionnet, 200 fr.)—VIRTVS AVGVSTI. Emperor and the Sun supporting a globe, with trophy, standards, captives, and soldiers. (Brought £12 at the sale of Mr. Sabatier 's collection, lot 433).—MONETA AVGVSTI. The monetæ type. (Mt. 250 fr.)—PROPECTIO AVG. Emperor on horseback and other figures). Mt. 300 fr.)—VICTORIA AVG. Emperor and several attendants sacrificing before a round temple, on the front of which is read NEIKH ΟΠΛΟΦΟΡΟC. (Mt. 300 fr.)
GOLD.—AETERNITATI AVG. Sun standing. (£3 3s. Brumell sale).—AEQVITAS AVG. (£2. 2s. Pembroke; £2 12s. Sabatier).—CONCORDIA AVG.—FELICIT. TEMP.—FIDES MILITVM. (48 fr. each.)—IOVI STATORI. (£4 5s. Trattle; Sabatier, £2 12s.)—DIANA LVCIFERA. (£2 3s. Trattle).—LAETITIA AVG. N. (Trattle, £5 12s. 6d.) —LIBERALITAS AVG. II. (£4 5s. Trattle).—PIETAS AVGVSTI. (£5 12s. Trattle).—P. M. TR. P. II. and III. COS. II. P. P. Sacrificial group. (£3 10s. Brumell).—P. M. TR. P. II. Soldier standing (a finely-preserved specimen bought at the Thomas sale for £4 10s.)—PROVIDENTIA AVG. Providence with globe. (£3 10s. Thomas).—SECVRITAS AVG. (£2 Trattle; £1 8s. Sabatier).—SECVRIT. PERP. Security leaning on a column. (Mt. 48 fr.)—VICTORIA AVG. A Victory holding a wreath and palm branch. (£3 1s, Trattle; £3 10s. Thomas; £2 12s. Pembroke; £3 7s. Devonshire; £2 2s. Campana.—P. M. TR. P. II. Jupiter the protector and a little figure. (Mt. 50 fr.)—P. M. TR. P. IIII. COS. II. Figure seated with olive twig. (£3 6s. Sabatier sale).—P. M. TR. P. VI. COS. II. Emperor with lance and globe. (£2 5s. Trattle).—VIRTVTI AVGVSTI. Hercules (Farnese) resting on his club. (£3 10s. Thomas; £3 4s. Brumell).
BRASS MEDALLIONS.—ADLOCVTIO AVGVSTI. Emperor and four other military figures.— (Brought £7 10s. at the Thomas sale. In Mionnet it is valued at 120 fr.)—MVNIFICENTIA GORDIANI AVG.—Amphitheater, bull and elephant combating.—See Munificentia. (Mionnet 300 fr.)—P. M. TR. P. V. COS. II. The great circus, with wrestling, chariot racing, &c. (Mt. 300 fr.)
P. M. TR. P. V. COS. II. Rome presenting a globe to the emperor, in presence of two praetorian.—TRAIECTVS. Trireme, with several figures.—VICTORIA AVGVSTI. Emperor and attendants, sacrificing before a round temple, as in the silver medallion described above.— (Mionnet values these three medallions at 200 fr. each).—LIBERALITAS AVGVSTI II. The emperor and several other figures. (Mt. 150 fr.)—PAX AETERNA. Sun in a quadriga, the emperor sacrificing, &c. (A specimen, partially injured, obtained £4 19s. at the Thomas sale.)—PONTIFEX MAX. TR. P. IIII. COS. II. Emperor in a quadriga, full-faced, crowned by a victory, a foot soldier on each side of the horses. (£7 5s. Thomas.)
FELICITAS AVGVSTI.—VICT. GORDIANI. Pretorian galley.— PONTIFEX MAX. TR. P. II. COS. II. Emperor in a quadriga, holding a Roman eagle.—PONT. MAX. TR. P. III. Rome presenting a globe to the emperor, accompanied by two soldiers.—PONT. MAX. TR. P. IIII. cos. II. Emperor in a quadriga crowned by Victory; Rome leads the horses, preceded by soldiers holding palms.—VICTORIA AVG. Emperor seated. Victory crowning him; in the group are captives with military ensigns.—VICTORIA AVGVSTI. Emperor on horseback, preceded by a Victory, and escorted by soldiers bearing trophies and eagles. This alludes to Gordian 's successes over the Persians. (The foregoing seven are valued by Mionnet at 120 fr. each.)
VIRTVS AVGVSTI. Emperor crowned by Victory; and three other figures. (Mt. 150 fr.)— FIDES EXERCITVS. Two military figures joining hands—P. M. TR. P. VI. COS. II. Imperator eques, Victory, and soldiers. (The two foregoing 100 franks. each, Mionnet).
P. M. TR. P. VII. COS. II. P. P.—The interior of a circus. In the center of the spina is an obelisk; at each of the two extremities are three metæ of a conic form. In the fore-ground, several groups; the first, to the right, exhibits two gladiators fighting; the second, two wrestlers; the third, two athletes, exercising themselves in the use of the halteres (the dumbbells of modern gymnastics); the fourth, two other athletes combating with the cestus; the fifth, a wounded gladiator, led out of the circus by an apparitor. Behind the spina are two quadrigæ driven at a racing pace by their respective aurigæ. And lastly, quite in the back-ground, a car drawn by six horses, in which stands the emperor, holding a branch of laurel, accompanied by Victory, and preceded by three praetorians carrying palms.—Obv. IMPerator GORDIANVS PIVS FELIX AVGustus. Bust of Gordianus III. laureated, clothed in the paludamentum, the lance resting on his right shoulder. On the front of his cuirass, the emperor is figured on horseback, overthrowing two barbarians.
This fine monument belongs to the last year of Gordian 's reign. For an engraving of the reverse, see p. 203. That of the obverse is placed at the head of the biographical summary, (p. 435). The original is in the Cabinet de France. Mionnet values it at 300 francs.
MIDDLE BRASS.—MART. VICTOR. Sacrifice before a round temple, on the frieze is inscribed ΘΕΟΤ ΟΠΛΟΦΟΡΟΤ. (Mt 48 fr.)— PONTIF. MAXIM. TR. P. Rome seated, three figures standing. (20 fr.)—PONTIF. MAX. COS. II. Emperor in a quadriga, crowned by Victory, preceded by a soldier. (40 fr.)
P. M. TR. P. VI. COS. II. Apollo seated on a throne, resting on the lyre, holding a laurel branch. Engraved in Lenormant, Iconog. Rom. p. 92, pl. vi. No. 8.—SECVRIT(AS) PERPET(VA). Security stands resting herself on a column.— Engraved in Iconog. Rom. p. 92. pl. vi. No. 8.