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Gordian II (Latin: Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus Romanus Africanus Augustus;[3] c. 192 – April 12, 238) was Roman Emperor for 21 days with his father Gordian I in 238, the Year of the Six Emperors. Seeking to overthrow Emperor Maximinus Thrax, he died in battle outside Carthage. Since he died before his father, Gordian II had the shortest reign of any Roman Emperor in the whole of the Empire's history, at 21 days.

Gordian II
Denarius featuring Gordian II. Inscription: IMP. M. ANT. GORDIANVS AFR. AVG.
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Reign22 March – 12 April 238 (with Gordian, and in revolt against Maximinus Thrax)
PredecessorMaximinus Thrax
SuccessorPupienus and Balbinus
Co-emperorGordian I
Bornc. 192
Died12 April 238 (aged 46)
Carthage, Africa Proconsularis
IssueClaudius II possibly illegitimate son
Full name
Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus (from birth to accession);[1]
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus Romanus Africanus Augustus (as emperor)
DynastyGordian dynasty
FatherGordian I
MotherUnknown, possibly Fabia Orestilla[2]

Early lifeEdit

Born c. 192, Gordian II was the only known son of Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus the Elder. His family were of Equestrian rank, who were modest and very wealthy.[citation needed] Gordian was said to be related to prominent senators.[4] 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.[4] Gordian’s cognomen ‘Gordianus’ suggests that his family origins were from Anatolia, especially Galatia and Cappadocia.[5]

According to the notoriously unreliable Historia Augusta, his mother was a Roman woman called Fabia Orestilla,[2] born circa 165, who the Augustan History claims was a descendant of Emperors Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius through her father Fulvus Antoninus.[2] Modern historians have dismissed this name and her information as false.[6] There is some evidence to suggest that Gordian's mother might have been the granddaughter of the Greek Sophist, consul and tutor Herodes Atticus.[7] 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.[8] According to this source, Gordian served as quaestor in Elagabalus' reign[9] and as praetor and consul suffect with Emperor Alexander Severus.[10][11] In 237 or 238, Gordian went to the province of Africa Proconsularis as a legatus under his father, who served as proconsular governor.[12]

Gordian II on a coin, celebrating his military prowess. IMP. CAES. M. ANT. GORDIANVS AFR. AVG. / VIRTVS AVG. S C.

Revolt against Maximinus ThraxEdit

Early in 235, Emperor Alexander Severus and his mother Julia Avita Mamaea were assassinated by mutinous troops at Moguntiacum (now Mainz) in Germania Inferior.[13] The leader of the rebellion, Maximinus Thrax, became Emperor, despite his low-born background and the disapproval of the Roman Senate.[14] Confronted by a local elite that had just killed Maximinus's procurator,[1] Gordian's father was forced to participate in a full-scale revolt against Maximinus in 238 and became Augustus on March 22.[7] Due to Gordian I's advanced age, the younger Gordian was attached to the imperial throne and acclaimed Augustus too.[1][15] Like his father, he too was awarded the cognomen Africanus.[7]

Father and son saw their claim to the throne ratified both by the Senate[16] and most of the other provinces, due to Maximinus' unpopularity.[17]

Opposition would come from the neighbouring province of Numidia.[17] Capelianus, governor of Numidia, a loyal supporter of Maximinus Thrax, and who held a grudge against Gordian,[17] renewed his allegiance to the reigning emperor[18] and invaded Africa province with the only legion stationed in the region, III Augusta, and other veteran units.[19] Gordian II, at the head of a militia army of untrained soldiers, lost the Battle of Carthage and was killed.[7] According to the Historia Augusta, his body was never recovered.[20] Hearing the news, his father took his own life.[7] This first rebellion against Maximinus Thrax was unsuccessful, but by the end of 238 Gordian II's nephew would be recognised emperor by the whole Roman world as Gordian III.[21]

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."[22]

Family treeEdit

Maximinus Thrax
Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
Gordian I
Roman Emperor
∞ (?) Fabia Orestilla
Roman Emperor
Gordian II
Antonia Gordiana
Junius Licinius Balbus
consul suffectus
Gaius Furius Sabinius Aquila Timesitheus
praetorian prefect
Philip the Arab
Roman Emperor
Gordian III
Roman Emperor
Furia Sabinia Tranquillina
Philip II
Roman Emperor

See alsoEdit


Primary sourcesEdit

Secondary sourcesEdit

  • Adkins, Lesley; Adkins, Roy A. (2004) [1994]. Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome: Updated Edition. New York: Facts on File. ISBN 0-8160-5026-0.
  • Birley, Anthony (2005), The Roman Government in Britain, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-925237-4
  • Gibbon, Edward, Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire (1888)
  • Meckler, Michael L., Gordian II (238 A.D.), De Imperatoribus Romanis (2001)
  • Potter, David Stone, The Roman Empire at Bay, AD 180–395, Routledge, 2004
  • Southern, Pat, The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine, Routledge, 2001
  • Syme, Ronald, Emperors and Biography, Oxford University Press, 1971


  1. ^ a b c Southern, pg. 66
  2. ^ a b c Historia Augusta, The Three Gordians, 17:4
  3. ^ In Classical Latin, Gordian's name would be inscribed as MARCVS ANTONIVS GORDIANVS SEMPRONIANVS ROMANVS AFRICANVS AVGVSTVS.
  4. ^ a b Birley, pg. 340
  5. ^ Peuch, Bernadette, "Orateurs et sophistes grecs dans les inscriptions d'époque impériale", (2002), pg. 128
  6. ^ Syme, pp.100–101
  7. ^ a b c d e Meckler, Gordian II
  8. ^ Syme, pp. 1–16
  9. ^ Historia Augusta, The Three Gordians, 18:4
  10. ^ Historia Augusta, The Three Gordians, 18:5
  11. ^ Birley, pg. 341. An inscription confirming this fact has been found at Caesarea in Palestine.
  12. ^ Barnes, Timothy D. (September 1968). "Philostratus and Gordian". Latomus. 27: 587, 590.
  13. ^ Potter, pg. 167
  14. ^ Southern, pg. 64
  15. ^ Adkins and Adkins, p. 27
  16. ^ Herodian, 7:7:2
  17. ^ a b c Potter, pg. 170
  18. ^ Southern, pg. 67
  19. ^ Herodian, 7:9:3
  20. ^ Historia Augusta, The Three Gordians, 16:1
  21. ^ Southern, pg. 68
  22. ^ Quoted in "From the Editor. Ambition, Style and Sacrifices", History Today, June 2017, p. 3.

External linksEdit

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Maximinus Thrax
Roman Emperor
Served alongside: Gordian I
Succeeded by
Pupienus and Balbinus