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Philip I the Arab, February 244 - End of September 249 A.D.

Ancient Roman coins of Philip I the Arab for sale in the Forum Ancient Coins consignment shop.

Marcus Julius Verus Philippus, known as Philip I "The Arab" was the Praetorian Prefect and the successor to Gordian III, whom he possibly had murdered. After signing a treaty with the Persians, he returned home. During his reign, the 1000th anniversary of the foundation of Rome (248 A.D.) was celebrated and magnificent games were held on a scale rarely seen. In 249 A.D., a series of rebellions occurred, both Philip and his son were killed after their army was defeated near Verona by the forces of Trajan Decius.

Also See - ERIC Philip I


Banti, A. & L. Simonetti. Corpus Nummorum Romanorum. (Florence, 1972-1979).
Bland, R. "Dr. Bland's List for Philip I and Family" - http://ettuantiquities.com/Philip_1/Philip1-Bland-list.htm
Calic, X. The Roman Avrei, vol. 2: From Didius Julianus to Constantius I, 193 AD - 335 AD. (Barcelona, 2003).
Cohen, H. Description historique des monnaies frappes sous l'Empire Romain, Vol. 5: Gordian I to Valerian II. (Paris, 1885).
Mattingly, H., E. Sydenham & C. Sutherland. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol IV, From Pertinax to Uranius Antoninus. (London, 1986).
Muona, J. "The Imperial mints of Philip the Arab" - https://www.forumancientcoins.com/Articles/Philip_Arab/index.html
vri, F. "Philippus antiochiai veretu antoninianusairl" in Numizmatikai Kzlny 88/89 (1989/90), pp. 41 - 48.
Robinson, A. Roman Imperial Coins in the Hunter Coin Cabinet, University of Glasgow, Vol. III. Pertinax to Aemilian. (Oxford, 1977).
Seaby, H. & D. Sear. Roman Silver Coins, Volume IV, Gordian III to Postumus. (London, 1982).
Sear, D. Roman Coins and Their Values III, The Accession of Maximinus I to the Death of Carinus AD 235 - AD 285. (London, 2005).
Thibaut, M. Antoniniani from the Mint of Antioch Under the Reign of Philip the Arab (244-249 AD) - http://marchal.thibaut.free.fr/e_index.htm
Vagi, D. Coinage and History of the Roman Empire. (Sidney, 1999).

Obverse Legends


Philip I by Tom Schroer

MARCVS IVLIVS PHILIPPVS was born in about 204 in a small Arabian town called Shahba (El-Leja in southwestern Syria), 45 miles southeast of Damascus in Trachonitis. His father's name was Julius Marinus, of whom there exist colonial coins in his deified name from the city of Philippopolis, which is what Shahba was renamed by Philip. Marinus is said to have achieved equestrian rank on his own merit. Philip's nickname of "the Arab" may have had more to do with his birthplace than his lineage.

Little is known of Philip's life prior to 243 although he married Marcia Otacilia Severa in about 234 and their son, also named Marcus Julius Philippus, was probably born in 237. Early Christian writers maintain that Philip was the first Christian emperor (and Otacilia the first Christian Empress), an assertion which is indeed supported by some of his actions and made more likely by the fact that he came from an area where large numbers of Christians were found. However, his alleged means of gaining the throne and his deification of his father dictate against the notion. In any event, by late 243 Philip was deputy to Timesitheus, the Praetorian Praefect under Gordian III, and was engaged in Gordian's Sassanian campaign. When Timesitheus sickened and died in late 243, rumors spread that Philip had had a hand in it. However, Gordian III appointed Philip to be the new Praetorian Praefect, either being intimidated by him or disbelieving the rumors.

According to some sources, Philip immediately contrived to disrupt the Roman supply system so that the troops began to grumble, and Gordian's death soon followed. The circumstances of Gordian's death in Mesopotamia are murky, but three main stories persist:
1) Gordian died of disease (possibly with a poisonous assist from Philip).
2) Gordian died of wounds received at the Battle of Misiche.
3) Philip inspired the legions to revolt by stressing their lack of supplies so deep in enemy territory, and insinuating that only a man like himself, not a youth like Gordian, was necessary to be in command. A story is told that Gordian addressed the troops and offered to make Philip co-Augustus, but they only jeered. He offered to become Caesar to Philip, but they still jeered. He then asked to be made Praetorian Praefect, and met with the same response. He finally was reduced to begging for his life, whereupon Philip ordered Gordian to be killed.

The most likely scenario is that he died of disease on February 25, 244. That is what Philip reported to the Senate, which promptly deified Gordian III. Philip arranged a proper funeral and had the young Emperor's ashes escorted back to Rome. He also raised a cenotaph near Zaitha, the city where Gordian died, but he was never able to clear himself of suspected implication in Gordian's death.

Philip professed the greatest respect for the Senate and had no trouble being confirmed by them, as well as having Otacilia made Augusta and their son raised to the rank of Caesar. Philip had no doubt seen the problems which Maximinus had because of his refusal to visit Rome after becoming Emperor, and he resolved to return to Rome as quickly as possible. He therefore arranged a hasty peace with the Sassanians (and issued coins proclaiming "PAX FVNDATA CVM PERSIS"), thus ending a campaign in which the Romans were enjoying quite a bit of success. He began his journey back to Rome almost immediately, arriving by July, 244.

He appointed his brother Gaius Julius Priscus to be Governor of Mesopotamia and his brother-in-law Severianus to be governor of Moesia, appointments which he was to regret. He declared an amnesty, gave donatives to the people, outlawed male prostitution, and in general seems to have ingratiated himself with the "Senate and the People of Rome". He became Consul for the first time in 245. Continued unrest along the Danubian frontier caused him to go to his brother-in-law's assistance in late 245.

His campaign on the Danube, lasting throughout 246, was very successful and resulted in his assuming the appellations of 'Germanicus Maximus' and 'Carpicus Maximus' in 247. He had his son declared 'Augustus' soon after his arrival back in Rome, even sharing the title 'Pontifex Maximus' (which indicated an association of equals rather than any subordinate relationship). He and his son were both declared consuls for 247, an honor which was repeated the following momentous year.

The traditional founding of Rome was April 21, 753 BC, which put the 1,000 anniversary in 248 since there was no year 'zero' (by our reckoning - the Romans used AUC (from the founding of the city) for their reckoning). The event was celebrated lavishly as the opening of a new age, hence the associated games were known as the 'Saecular Games' even though properly the next Saecular Games would not have been held until 314. Since by then the empire was being Christianized the games in 248 are the last 'Saecular Games' known to have been held. The festivities were spectacular, with another donative to the people of Rome, and thousands of men and beasts meeting their doom in gladiatorial contests.

In the provinces, however, it had been life as usual, and discontent under both Priscus (who had been promoted to 'Praetorian Praefect and Ruler of the East') and Severianus had risen to the point of rebellion. In Syria a usurper named Marcus Fulvius Rufus Jotapianus arose long enough to issue coins, but he was murdered by his own men early in 249. Likewise along the ever-troublesome Danube a Roman officer named Claudius Marinus Pacatianus was hailed by his legions as Augustus. Pacatian had the distinction of issuing one of the most unique coins of the Roman series, an antoninianus which proclaimed 'ROMAE AETER AN MILL ET PRIMO' - the "thousand and first year of eternal Rome". Pacatian was also eventually struck down by his own men. However, the ever-alert barbarians along the Danube took advantage of the events to launch more raids, and Philip's confidence was shaken by the revolts (a third in Gaul, under Silbannacus, may have also occurred at this time).

Philip offered to abdicate, but the Praefect of Rome, Gaius Messius Quintus Decius, wisely countered that rebellions such as these would quickly extinguish themselves. However, the situation along the Danube did demand that Severianus be replaced, and Philip convinced a hesitant Decius to take command.

Decius went and within six months had the situation under control. Unfortunately his troops then forced the title of Augustus upon him. Decius sent word to Philip that he would abdicate when he was safely back in Rome, but Philip believed that was merely a trick to allow Decius to approach Rome unmolested. Accordingly he set out to meet Decius, and the armies met at Verona in August, 249. Philip seems to have been killed by his own men in the battle, although he may have perished fighting. Some sources indicate that his son died with him, although the prevailing opinion is that Philip II had remained in Rome and was slain by Praetorians when news of the events at Verona was received. Otacilia Severa survived to sink into obscurity.

Philip's reign is generally regarded as benevolent, there was no persecution of Christians during his reign, and he was one of the few so-called 'soldier Emperors' to have established good relations with the Senate. It is indeed remarkable that the Empire had become so far-flung and yet so integrated that an Emperor born east of the Jordan River would preside over the millennial celebrations of Rome.


PHILIPPVS (Marcus Julius), commonly called the Arab, or Senior, or the Father, was, according to Zonarus, born in the Arabian colony of Bostra, his father being, it is said, a captain of robbers. Rising through the various grades of office in the Roman army, on the death of Misitheus (in which he is supposed to have had a secret hand), he became Praetorian Prefect under Gordian III. And when that young prince was (at his instigation) slain in Mesopotamia, Philip was proclaimed Emperor by the soldiers, A.D. 244. He is said, by historians, to have been a man of wonderful craftiness, and of the greatest military skill. He won the mercenary hearts of the troops with ample largesses, whilst he sent the discharged veterans into colonies which he had himself established, viz., Damascus in Coelesyria, Neapolis in Samaria, Philippolis in Arabia, which latter city he himself founded. Immediately on his accession to the throne, he made an inglorious peace with Sapor, King of the Persians, and returned to Rome. He marched afterwards against the Carpi, a Scythian or Gothic people, who had given trouble (during the reign of Balbinus and Pupienus and the younger Gordian), to the Roman provinces bordering on the Danube, and compelled them to be peaceable. And that Dacia should owe its preservation to him, he declared it to be a free province. He was the first ipse primus alien foreigner presented with the rights of a Roman citizen. He celebrated the saecularia or secular games on the thousandth anniversary of the foundation of Rome. He took to wife Marcia Otacilia Severa, who is believed to have been a Christian. By this marriage he had a son and a daughter, the former bore his own name of Philip, and was declared Caesar and Augustus. Marching against Trajanus Decius, who had been saluted Emperor by the army in Pannonia, Philip was killed at Verona by his own troops, about the sixth year of his reign, A.D. 249.
The monies of this Emperor are very numerous; the gold very rare; the silver and brass, with certain exceptions, common. Some pieces represent him with Otacilia and with Philip jun. His numismatic titles are IMP. M. IVL. FILIPPVS (sic.) - IMP. PHILIPPVS AVG. or P. F. AVG.

PHILIPPVS (Marcus Julius), junior, the son of Philip and Otacilia, appears to have been seven years old when his father usurped the empire, and immediately proclaimed him Caesar, A.D. 244. The Roman Senate granted to him the title of Nobilissimus, as if to conceal the ignobleness of his Arab sire; although Philip is said to have boasted of his origin from Anchiscs, and consequent connection with the Julia family. In 247 the son was associated, as imperii consors, with Philip, who bestowed on this mere child the title of Augustus. The unhappy youth shared the fate of his clever but unprincipled father; and when the latter was, under a just retribution, slain at Verona by his own soldiers, his innocent son was murdered by the same praetorian banditti, in the very arms of his mother, A.D. 249, in the 12th year of his age. From the period when the younger Philip was declared Augustus, and admitted to all the honors of the sovereign power, the reverses of most of the coins both of father and son exhibit similar types. The coins of Philip junior are numerous, and for the most part common in brass, and also in silver, but are very rare in gold. On them he is styled M. IVL. PHILIP. CAES. - PRINCEPS IVVENTVTIS. - M. IVL. PHILIPPVS. NOBIL. CAES. - IMP. PHILIPPVS. P. F. AVG. - Some pieces represent him with Philip senior and Otacilia.

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sequent connection with the Julia family. In 247 the son was associated, as imperii censores,

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