3. M. Antonius
Gordianus, according to most of the authorities consulted by Capitolinus, was the son of a daughter of the elder Gordianus, although some maintained that he was the son of the younger Gordianus. Having been elevated to the rank of Caesar, under circumstances narrated in the life of Balbinus [BALBINUS
], after the murder of Balbinus and Pupienus by the praetorians a few weeks afterwards, in July A. D. 238, he was proclaimed Augustus, with the full approbation of the troops and the senate, although at this time a mere boy, probably not more than fifteen years old.
The annals of his reign are singularly meagre.
In the consulship of Venustus and Sabinus (A. D. 240), a rebellion broke out in Africa, but was promptly suppressed. In 241, which marks his second consulship, the young prince determined to proceed in person to the Persian war, which had assumed a most formidable aspect, but before setting out married Sabinia Tranquillina, the daughter of Misitheus [MISITHEUS], a man distinguished for learning, eloquence, and virtue, who was straightway appointed praefect of the praetorium, and became the trusty counsellor of his son-in-law in all matters of importance.
By their joint exertions, the power of the eunuchs, whose baneful influence in the palace had first acquired strength under Elagabalus and been tolerated by his successor, was at once suppressed.
In 242 Gordianus, having thrown open the temple of Janus with all the ancient formalities, quitted Rome for the East. Passing through Moesia, he routed and destroyed some barbarous tribes upon the confines of Thrace, who sought to arrest his progress; crossing over from thence to Syria, he defeated Sapor in a succession of engagements, and compelled him to evacuate Mesopotamia, the chief merit of these achievements being probably due to Misitheus, to whom they were, with fitting modesty, ascribed in the despatches to the senate.
But this prosperity did not long endure : Misitheus perished by disease, or, as many historians have asserted, by the treachery of Philip, an Arabian, who, in an evil hour, was chosen by the prince to supply the place of the trusty friend whom he had lost. Philip, from the moment of his elevation, appears to have exerted every art to prejudice the soldiers against their sovereign.
He contrived that the supplies destined for the use of the camp should be intercepted or sent in a wrong direction, and then aggravated the discontent which arose among the troops by attributing these disasters to the carelessness and incapacity of the emperor.
At length lie so roused their passions by artful misrepresentations, that the legions rising tumultuously, attacked Gordianus as the cause of their sufferings; and having gained possession of his person, first deposed, and then put him to death.
The narrative of the circumstances attending this event, as recorded by Capitolinus, is evidently largely mingled with fable, but no doubt exists as to the manner in which Gordian perished, nor of the treachery by which the deed was accomplished.
Of a lively but tractable disposition, endowed with high abilities, of amiable temper and winning address, Gordian had gained the hearts of all, and was the idol alike of the senate, the people, and the armies, until betrayed by the perfidy of his general. So well aware was Philip of the popularity of his victim, that, instead of commanding his statues to be thrown down, and his name to be erased from public monuments, as was the common practice under such circumstances, he requested the senate to grant him divine honours, announcing in his despatch that the young prince had died a natural death, and that he himself had been chosen unanimously to fill the vacant throne.
Gordian was buried near Castrum Circesium or Cercusium, in Mesopotamia, and an epitaph, enumerating his exploits, was engraved upon the tomb in Greek, Latin, Persian, Hebrew, and Egyptian characters.
The inscription itself is said to have been destroyed by Licinius, but the sepulchre, which formed a conspicuous object as viewed from the surrounding country, was still to be seen in the days of Julian (A. n. 363), as we are told by Ammianus Marcellinus, who calls the spot Zaithu,
or the olive-tree.
(Capitolin. Maximin. duo, Gordiani tres ;
Herodian, lib. vii. viii.; Victor, de Cues.
xxvi. xxvii., Epit.
xxvi. xxvii.; Eutrop. 9.2
; Amm. Marc. 23.5.7
; Zosim.1.14-16,19, 3.14; Eckhel, vol. vii. p. 293.)