Gordian II
Grey coin depicting Gordian II
Sestertius featuring Gordian II. The inscription reads imp caes m ant gordianvs afr avg.
Roman emperor
Reignc. March – April 238[1]
PredecessorMaximinus Thrax
SuccessorPupienus and Balbinus
Co-emperorGordian I
Bornc. 192 (?)
DiedApril 238 (aged c. 46)
Carthage, Africa Proconsularis
Marcus Antonius Gordianus[2]
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus Romanus Africanus Augustus[3]
FatherGordian I
MotherUnknown, possibly Fabia Orestilla[4]

Gordian II (Latin: Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus Romanus; c. 192 – April 238) was Roman emperor with his father Gordian I in 238 AD, the Year of the Six Emperors. Seeking to overthrow Maximinus Thrax, he died in battle outside Carthage. Since he died before his father, Gordian II had the shortest reign of any Roman emperor, at 22 days.

Early life

Born c. 192, Gordian II was the only known son of Gordian I, who was said to be related to prominent senators.[5] 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.[5] Gordian's cognomen "Gordianus" suggests that his family origins were from Anatolia, especially Galatia and Cappadocia.[6]

According to the notoriously unreliable Historia Augusta, his mother was a Roman woman called Fabia Orestilla,[4] born circa 165, who the Historia claims was a descendant of emperors Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius through her father Fulvus Antoninus.[4] Modern historians have dismissed this name and her information as false.[7] There is some evidence to suggest that Gordian's mother might have been the granddaughter of the Greek Sophist, consul and tutor Herodes Atticus.[8] His younger sister was Antonia Gordiana, who was the mother of Emperor Gordian III.

Although the memory of the Gordians would have been cherished by the Senate and thus appear sympathetic in any senatorial documentation of the period, the only account of Gordian's early career that has survived is contained within the Historia Augusta, and it cannot be taken as an accurate or reliable description of his life story prior to his elevation to the purple in 238.[9] According to this source, Gordian served as quaestor in Elagabalus' reign[10] and as praetor and consul suffect with Emperor Severus Alexander.[11][12] In 237 or 238, Gordian went to the province of Africa Proconsularis as a legatus under his father, who served as proconsular governor.[13]

Revolt against Maximinus Thrax

Early in 235, Emperor Alexander Severus and his mother Julia Avita Mamaea were assassinated by mutinous troops at Moguntiacum (now Mainz) in Germania Inferior.[14] The leader of the rebellion, Maximinus Thrax, became Emperor, despite his low-born background and the disapproval of the Roman Senate.[15] Confronted by a local elite that had just killed Maximinus's procurator,[16] Gordian's father was forced to participate in a full-scale revolt against Maximinus in 238, probably at the end of March.[8] Due to Gordian I's advanced age, the younger Gordian, said to be 46 years old,[17] was attached to the imperial throne and acclaimed augustus too. Like his father, he too was awarded the cognomen "Africanus".[8]

Father and son saw their claim to the throne ratified both by the Senate[18] and most of the other provinces, due to Maximinus' unpopularity.[19]

Opposition would come from the neighbouring province of Numidia.[19] Capelianus, governor of Numidia, a loyal supporter of Maximinus Thrax, and who held a grudge against Gordian,[19] renewed his allegiance to the reigning emperor[16] and invaded Africa (province) with the only legion stationed in the region, III Augusta, and other veteran units.[20] Gordian II, at the head of a militia army of untrained soldiers, lost the Battle of Carthage and was killed.[8] According to the Historia Augusta, his body was never recovered.[21] Hearing the news, his father killed himself.[8] The Gordians ruled only 22 days.[22][23][24] This first rebellion against Maximinus Thrax was unsuccessful, but by the end of 238 Gordian II's nephew, Gordian III, would be recognised as emperor by the whole Roman world.[25]

According to Edward Gibbon, in the first volume of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–89), "Twenty-two acknowledged concubines, and a library of sixty-two thousand volumes, attested to the variety of [Gordian's] inclinations; and from the productions that he left behind him, it appears that the former as well as the latter were designed for use rather than ostentation."[26]

Family tree

See also


  1. ^ The exact chronology of events is unknown. See: Rea, J. (1972). "O. Leid. 144 and the Chronology of A.D. 238". ZPE 9, 1-19.
  2. ^ Cooley, Alison E. (2012). The Cambridge Manual of Latin Epigraphy. Cambridge University Press. p. 497. ISBN 978-0-521-84026-2.
  3. ^ Cooley, Alison E. (2012). The Cambridge Manual of Latin Epigraphy. Cambridge University Press. p. 497. ISBN 978-0-521-84026-2.
  4. ^ a b c Historia Augusta, The Three Gordians, 17:4
  5. ^ a b Birley 2005, p. 340.
  6. ^ Peuch, Bernadette, "Orateurs et sophistes grecs dans les inscriptions d'époque impériale", (2002), pg. 128
  7. ^ Syme 1971, pp. 100–101.
  8. ^ a b c d e Meckler 2001.
  9. ^ Syme 1971, pp. 1–16.
  10. ^ Historia Augusta, The Three Gordians, 18:4
  11. ^ Historia Augusta, The Three Gordians, 18:5
  12. ^ Birley 2005, p. 341. An inscription confirming this fact has been found at Caesarea in Palestine..
  13. ^ Barnes, Timothy D. (September 1968). "Philostratus and Gordian". Latomus. 27: 587, 590.
  14. ^ Potter 2004, p. 167.
  15. ^ Southern, p. 83.
  16. ^ a b Southern, p. 86.
  17. ^ Historia Augusta, The Three Gordians, 15:2
  18. ^ Herodian, 7:7:2
  19. ^ a b c Potter 2004, p. 170.
  20. ^ Herodian, 7:9:3
  21. ^ Historia Augusta, The Three Gordians, 16:1
  22. ^ Filocalus, Chronograph of 354, Part 16: "The two Gordians ruled for 20 days. They died in Africa."
  23. ^ Laterculus Imperatorum Malalianus (7th century): "Gordian ruled 22 days."
  24. ^ Zonaras (c. 1120) Epitome xvii.17: "According to some they reigned about twenty-two days, but according to others not quite three months". He confuses the Gordians with Balbinus and Pupienus.
  25. ^ Southern, p. 87.
  26. ^ Quoted in "From the Editor. Ambition, Style and Sacrifices", History Today, June 2017, p. 3.


Primary sources

Secondary sources

Regnal titles Preceded byMaximinus Thrax Roman emperor 238 With: Gordian I Succeeded byPupienusBalbinus