Life: AD c. 192 – 238
- Name: Marcus Antonius Gordianus Sempronianus Romanus
- Born AD ca. 192.
- Became emperor in 19 March AD 238.
- Died at Carthage, 9 April AD 238.
- Deified AD 238.
The birth date of Gordian II in about AD 192.
He followed a senatorial career and on this path became governor of the province of Achae and later consul. When his old father was made proconsul of Africa by emperor Maximinus he accompanied him there as deputy.
Shortly after his father, Gordian I, had been hailed Augustus after the landowner’s revolt at Thysdrus (El Djem) on 19 March AD 238, he made his son his imperial colleague. The only difference between the two was to be that it was Gordian I only who held the position of pontifex maximus.
Gordian II was, it is said, a very fat man who got along very well with his father.
A great collector of books, a writer himself at times, he loved the easy life, spending much time in gardens and the baths. Also he is said to have been very fond of women. So much so he had as many as 22 mistresses, with each one of whom he is said to have had several children.
Once both the Gordians had been hailed emperor, a deputation was at once sent to Rome. Maximinus was hated and they were certain to find widespread support with the senate. The senators would obviously prefer the patrician Gordian and his son to the common Maximinus. And so the deputation carried several private letters to various powerful members of the senate.
But one dangerous obstacle needed to be removed quickly. Vitalianus was the emperor’s undyingly loyal praetorian prefect. With him in command of the praetorians, the capital would not be able to defy Maximinus. And so a meeting was requested with Vitalianus, at which Gordian’s men set upon him and simply murdered him. Thereafter the senate confirmed the two Gordians as emperors.
Next the two new emperors announced what they sought to do. The network of government informers and secret police, which had slowly arisen throughout the reign of successive emperors, was to be disbanded. They also promised an amnesty for exiles, and – naturally – a bonus payment to the troops.
Severus Alexander was deified and Maximinus was pronounced a public enemy.
Any supporters of Maximinus were rounded up and killed, including Sabinus, the city prefect of Rome.
Twenty senators, all ex-consuls, were each appointed a region of Italy which they were to defend against Maximinus’ expected invasion.
And Maximinus was indeed very soon on the march against them.
However, events in Africa now cut short the reign of the two Gordians. As a result of an old court case, the Gordians had an enemy in Capellianus, the governor of neighbouring Numidia.
Capellianus remained loyal to Maximinus, perhaps only to spite them. Attempts were made to remove him from office, but they failed.
But, decisively, the province of Numidia was home to the Third Legion ‘Augusta’, which therefore fell under Capellianus command. It was the only legion in the region. So when he marched on Carthage with it, there was little the Gordians could put in his way.
Gordian II led whatever troops he had against Capellianus, trying to defend the city. But he was defeated and killed. On hearing this his father hanged himself.
Why they did not flee to Rome, when faced by impossible odds and being in one of the Mediterranean’s most famous harbours is unknown. Perhaps they thought it dishonorable. Perhaps they indeed intended to depart if things could not be halted, but the younger Gordian’s death prevented this from happening.
In any case, theirs was a very brief reign, lasting only twenty-two days.
They were deified shortly after by their successors Balbinus and Pupienus.
Historian Franco Cavazzi dedicated hundreds of hours of his life to creating this website, roman-empire.net as a trove of educational material on this fascinating period of history. His work has been cited in a number of textbooks on the Roman Empire and mentioned on numerous publications such as the New York Times, PBS, The Guardian, and many more.