4 Soldiers, Senators, and Gordians

Sources

  • Herodian, Roman History 7-8 (up to start of Gordian III) 
  • Historia Augusta – but Marius Maximus finishes with Elagabalus – should be used as secondary source with Herodian
  • Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle (Gordian c.263)
  • Byzantine sources:
    • Zosimus, New History (6th c) 
    • Jon Zonaras, Epitome of the Histories
    • George, Selection of Chronology
    • John Malalas, Chronicle of Antioch
      • All of them using earlier Athenian Historian, Publius 
      • Rhetorical set pieces
      • Pro-Aurelian
  • Res Gesta Divi Saporis 


I. MAXIMINUS THRAX


1. A barbarian emperor?

  • Slowly changing artistic style in 3rd century
  • Maximinus revolts in 235 – Alexander and mother killed
  • Voted normal honour and coopted priestly colleges within month
    • Senate don’t put up much conflict against this
  • Second equestrian emperor… worse than Macrinus?
    • Thrax – reference to Thracian
    • Thrace takes a key role in his identity because it is seen as being barbarian
    • Fighting constant Gothic invasions on northern frontier – where most battle=hardened troops are made and thus emperors originate
  • Constant usurpation continuously happening through 3rd century 
  • Fabric of what it means to be emperor is constantly changing 
  • Unclear how many usurpations are actual threats to empire or fabricated tales to create tension
  • In his 50s (based on coinage)
    • If so, entered under Septimius 
  • Son named Caesar in early 236


2. Universally unpopular

  • Distant from Rome - stays on German frontier through winter 235/6
  • Sends images of himself ot senate – cf. Elagabalus 
    • Evolving/changing question: to what extent is the capital still important, to what extent does the emperor have to be there?
    • If emperor constanly on campaign does it make sense for them to return to the capital?
  • Reign marked by military and financial woes
    • Ardashir attacks again… but Maximinus fights on northern frontier in 236/7
    • Warfare unremunerative
    • Necessary of type of warfare Rome has participated in during 3rd century
      • 2nd century wars of expansion – increased taxes, booty, territory
      • 3rd century wars are reactive, dealing with incursions, threats, invasions
        • Even if this warfare goes well, best hoping for is staying the same
        • Not changing nature of income
        • BUT still have to pay army – constantly in the red
        • Wars often go badly for Rome - losing tax revenue
        • Constantly trying to find money in the budget: budget cuts or increased taxes 
        • Rhetoric of defending frontier can justify tax increases and budget cuts, but if the war is being lost then this will not slide
        • As military situation gets worse, becomes increasingly difficult for emperors to get away with financial burdens that wars inevitably create 
  • Disliked on all fronts:
    • Plebs:reduces grain supplies, cash gifts and festival funds
    • Senate: cuts subsidy to cult deified emperors
      • Senate has few powers left – controlling cult of deified powers one of them – i.e. hamstringing minimal power that the senate has left
  • Too much of a soldier…but gets that wrong too
    • Army: fails to pay donative he promised when made emperor
      • Favouritism: Maximiniana only to rhine and danube frontiers
      • Own troops 2x revolts


II. YEAR OF THE SIX (238)


1. Gordian I & II

  • Chronology for 238 very confused
  • Begins with revolt in Agrica Proconsularis
    • Wealthy landowners arm rural client and resist procurator… accidentally kill procurator
    • Panic and acclaim the elderly governor Gordians emperor
    • Even more bizarrely, Gordianus accepts 
    • Sets up extraordinary seties of events
  • Moves to Carthage and appoints son co-ruler
  • Sends messenger to Rome (named Valerian (future emperor))
    • Promises donative and seeks support of senate
    • Privately urges assassination of Maximinus Thrax’s praetorian prefect Vitalianus
  • Senate does so!
    • Assassinates praetorian prefect
    • Declares maximinus Thrax and his son hostes publices
    • Appoints board of 20 in defense vs tyrant
    • Writes to all governors provinces
  • BUT revolt crushed by Capelianus, governor of Numidia
    • Gordianus has no military 
    • Gordianus commits suicide
    • Gordianus III combined reign of 3 weeks


2. Return of the senate?

  • Senate now has a big problem! Extraordinary response
    • Appoints 2 of their own as emperors – Balbinus and Pupienus – as if they were consuls in the res publica
    • Elderly senators – 60-70?
  • Numismatics go back to traditional images – bound hands, identical issues for both emperors
    • No apparent hierarchy between the two 
    • First 2 people to share the roel of pontifex maximus
    • Genuine shared imperial rule 
  • People riot (supposedly orchestrates by friends of Gordianus)
    • To appease the mob, son of Gordian declared Caesar – aged 13
  • Maximinus invades Italy – senate raises own army
    • Maximinus had huge military disadvantage – not well resourced
    • Decides to besiege Aquileia on the way – bogged down in siege
  • Murdered by his own troops and they assassinated him
  • But Papienus and Balbinus killed by praetorian guard
    • Feared a repeat of Septimius Severus’ action of trucking the praetorian guard into assembling, taking their weapons, and then dismissing them all
    • Upset that they were emperors chosen not by the army but by the senate
  • 238: 5 months; 6 claimants to emperorship are dead. 
    • Case study for where imperial power lies
    • Unhappiness visible when one factions acts against another 
  • Erasure of Pupienus and Balbinus on inscriptions 
  • When dust settles, Gordian III only person left and remains emperor


III.GORDIAN III


1. Child emperor

  • Gordian III rules for 6 years
  • Rule by committee? Did not become emperor of his own accord
  • Continued rise of equestrians
    • E,g, Timesitheus. Manage emperor’s property 
    • Increase number of inscirptions to senior equestrians 
  • Key players not so much the emperors but the Sassanid emperors
  • Sapor I, new king of kings, main driver - 240-272
    • Son of Ardashir
    • Stability gives Sapor legitimacy and agency to be key player in this period 
  • Res Gestae Divi Saporis
    • Rome only one of many issues Sapor dealing with
    • Not even the most important – one territory out of many
    • Transition away from Rome-centric ideology


2. War with Persia

  • Ongoing trouble with Persia and Sapor I – main concern
    • Worry Persia want their old empire back 
  • War declared in 241… troops only sent in 242
    • Takes 3 years to properly response to eastern threat
    • Gordianus weakness?
    • Dificulty in assuring power and control in this period?
  • Initial success in either 242 or 243; if 242, victory actually Timesthitheus, 243 Gordianus
  • Then goes very badly – 243; Gordianus defeated at Meshike
  • Then in early 244, Gordianus killed 
  • Sapor suggests he killed Gordianus
    • Relief image of Sapor trampling Gordianus 
    • Res Gestae Divi Saporis: 
    • Suggestions his own army killed him – at the instruction of Philip the Arab?
  • Campaign remembered as success
  • Narrative conferred to senate is that after initial successes in battle, Gordian killed by Sapor
    • If army and Philip killed, good representation of memory vs reality
    • Nature of campaign dictated as the individual in the east sees fit 
    • Sapor views it as defeat for Rome; but senate records it as a success
      • Cf. Alexander Severus’ ealier triumph
    • Limited mechanisms for recording history 
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