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Reigned: 238 A.D.

Marcus Clodius Pupienus Maximus was born about 164 to a family of unknown origins. He married Quintia Crispilla and had a daughter named Sextia Cethegilla. He held at least two governorships, of Bithynia and Germany. He was twice a consul (probably in 217 and 234) and sometime in the mid-230's became Praefect of Rome. The fateful year 238 found him a member of the Senate.

Maximinus I had come to the throne in 235 by the murder of the gentle Severus Alexander, but had never visited Rome after seizing the throne. His crude barbarian ways made him much more at home on the frontiers, and he despised the aristocracy. The Senate, although it had helplessly affirmed Maximinus' elevation, chafed under the heel of the huge barbarian. A rebellion in Africa, initially against oppressive taxation, gained respectability when the aged patrician Gordian I accepted the rebels' acclamation as Augustus (March 19, 238). Once proclaimed, he 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 of the same name (see GORDIAN II) 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, declared Maximinus and his son Maximus to be public enemies, and organized a committee of twenty Senators to oversee the defense of Italy. Pupienus was chosen to be one of the twenty. 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 Gordian I (it seems that he 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).

When word reached Rome of the disaster in Africa, the Senators at first re-acted with a stunned disbelief, but finally a senator descended from Trajan proposed that the Senate should nominate two men to replace the deceased Gordians, one to direct military defense and the other to direct the civil administration. He further proposed Pupienus and Balbinus, respectively. Both men were well qualified and respected and the proposal was unanimously carried. For the first time in Roman history, both Emperors were theoretically equal in rank, both having been given Tribunicial powers, proclaimed Fathers of their Country, and sharing the title of 'Pontifex Maximus'.

The Senate had barely finished congratulating itself when the populace violently demanded that a descendent of the Gordians should also share the throne. To appease the crowd, the thirteen-year-old grandson of Gordian I (and nephew of Gordian II), Marcus Antonius Gordianus (see GORDIAN III), was put forth and duly invested with the title of Caesar. The two co-Augusti vigorously set to their appointed tasks, with Balbinus taking charge of the civil administration in Rome while Pupienus with some Praetorians rode north to Ravenna to organize resistance to the onslaught of Maximinus, who had been at Sirmium when news of the revolt arrived.

Trouble soon developed in Rome however when two Praetorians were discovered in the Senate-house and summarily murdered by the distrustful senators. The Praetorians were still unsettled by the murder of their Praefect Vitalianus and, like nearly all soldiers, tended to favor the crude, war-like Maximinus over the refined senators. Having murdered the two 'spies', the senators rashly called upon the people (and bands of gladiators!) to fall upon the Praetorians. The Praetorians retreated to their fortified camp and there ensued many days of raids and counter-raids, carnage, fires and general destruction before both sides were exhausted and a truce of sorts enacted.

Meanwhile in the north things had gone very well for the senatorial party because Maximinus and his son Maximus were both murdered by their own men while besieging Aquileia (May 10, 238). Pupienus had only to accept the heads of the former rulers, and return to Rome with his troops, by now mingled with some of the former soldiers of Maximinus.

Although the triumphant entry to Rome went well enough, unfortunately the mixture of the still sullen Praetorians with the former troops of Maximinus proved to be a fatal combination for Balbinus and Pupienus, who had begun to regard each other with suspicion. Balbinus for his part had certainly suffered a loss of prestige from the riots at Rome, while Pupienus enjoyed popular acclaim from the success of the military (although Balbinus probably reminded everyone that Pupienus really had little to do with it). Pupienus surrounded himself with a large German guard, and, while suspicion grew, they were able at least to agree upon a plan to combat the Empire's foreign enemies: Balbinus would campaign against the Goths, while Pupienus would attack the Sassanians.

The Praetorian resentment against the 'Rulers of the Senate' was still simmering, and they were afraid that they might actually be disbanded and replaced with the German favorites of Pupienus. The Praetorians finally swung into action one evening while the Capitoline Games were being celebrated, making their way to the Palace. Balbinus was afraid to let the German bodyguard be called, fearful of treachery by Pupienus. The Praetorians accordingly entered the Palace, seized both Emperors, stripped them and drug them out into the streets. The faithful German guards finally became aware of what was happening, and rushed to the rescue. At the approach of the Germans, however, the Praetorians murdered both Balbinus and Pupienus (July 29, 238) and left their naked bodies lying in the streets.

Average well preserved denarius weight 3.05 grams. Average well preserved antoninianus weight 4.64 grams.


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