Maximus Last Coin ------------------ Next Coin Gordian II

Roman Empire

Ruler: Gordian I Africanus
Reigned: 22 March - 12 April 238 AD
Denomination: AE Sestertius
Mint: Rome
Date of Issue: 1-22 April 238
Obverse: Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right. "IMP. CAES. M. ANT. GORDIANVS AFR. AVG."
Reverse: Providentia standing facing, head left, with legs crossed, leaning on short column, holding wand over globe in right hand and cornucopia in left. "PROVIDENTIA AVGG. S.C."
Reference: RIC IV 9; BMCRE 5; Banti 5; RCVM 8450
Weight: 16.8 gms
Diameter: 29.7 mm

Gordian I (Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus)

The reaction to Maximinus's unpopular taxation when it came was centred not in Rome or Italy but in the wealthy North African province of Africa Proconsularis (roughly equivalent to modern Tunisia), where the fiscal procurator had shown himself particularly zealous on Maximinus's behalf. Popular feeling against the imperial administration ran high, both among peasant farmers and the rich landowners. It was a group of young aristocrats who in January 238 organized this seething resentment into a plan of action. They ordered their tenants and retainers to gather at Thysdrus (modern El Djem) where the procurator was supervising the revenues from the olive harvest. Choosing a suitable moment the young aristocrats went up to the man and killed him. They then approached the governor of the province, who was also in Thysdrus at the time, and obliged him to don the imperial purple.

The governor in question was Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus, an old man of 80. Gordian accepted the title of Augustus with some reluctance, but returned from Thysdrus to Carthage, the capital of the province, with all the trappings of imperial office. From there he sent messages to his friends in Rome, where the senate hastened to recognize him as emperor: he was after all one of their own number, a distinguished ex-consul claiming descent from Trajan and the Gracchi, and much preferable in their eyes to the low-born Maximinus. They gave both the aged Gordian and his 46-year-old son (Gordian II) the title of Augustus, and set about rousing the provinces in support of the pair.

News of these events in Rome reached Maximinus at Sirmium near Belgrade some 10 days later. He at once assembled his army and advanced on Rome, the Pannonian legions leading the way. Meanwhile, however, the Gordian revolt had not gone as planned. The province of Africa Proconsularis where Gordian held sway was bordered on the west by Numidia, whose governor Capellianus nurtured a long-standing grudge against the Gordians. He also controlled the forces of the Third Legion 'Augusta', the only legionary unit in the region, and a substantial body of frontier troops. With these at his back he marched on Carthage and easily overwhelmed the local militias which sought to defend the city. The younger Gordian was killed in the fighting, and when his father heard the news he withdrew into a private room, took off his belt and hanged himself. It was late January; their joint reign had lasted only 20 days.

The elder Gordian was said to be 80 years old when he was proclaimed emperor in 238. A wealthy man, he was fond of literature, and wrote an account in verse of the lives of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, the Antoniniad, in 30 books. High office came to him only late in life: governor of Lower Britain in 216, consul under either Caracalla or Elagabalus, and governor of Africa in 237. Both Gordians were condemned by Maximinus but deified soon afterwards by the senate under Pupienus and Balbinus.

Back to main page