Today In History: Father and Son Gordian I and Gordian II Are Declared Joint Roman Emperors (238)

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When Gordian I accepted the role of the emperor he was so worried about his old age that on this day in 238, Gordian I along with his son, Gordian II, were both recognized as Emperors of Rome, sharing equal power over the throne. It was an unorthodox hierarchical arrangement, but it was an unusual year for Rome.

April 12 238 Gordian II lost the Battle of Carthage against the Numidian forces loyal to Maximinus Thrax and was killed., Weapons and Warfare

The tyrannical emperor Maximinus Thrax had ruled for a few years, but was so unpopular a revolt surged and successfully unseated him. Gordian I was a former military commander and served as governor of Roman Britain. His rise to power came during the reign of emperor Alexander Severus, who was eventually killed by the ever unpopular Thrax.

Thrax’s lack of popularity reached a tipping point when one of his tax collectors in Africa misused his position to impose massive fines and taxation, in addition to procuring fake documents to extract money from the aristocracy, who were so enraged that they killed him.

Fed up with Maximinus Thrax, the aristocracy insisted Gordian I take over the throne, which he did on March 22. When he later entered the city of Carthage, the decision was greeted by overwhelming support from citizens and aristocracy. The coup d’etat required that the Senate in Rome confirm the shift of power from Thrax to Gordian I and his son, which they did.

Problems came from a province that both supported Thrax and vehemently hated Gordian I. Numidia proclaimed its loyalty to Thrax by invading the few nearby Roman legions they could find. Gordian II was in the dubious position of serving at the head of a totally untrained military. He led his soldiers into the Battle of Carthage to fight Maximinus Thrax. When Gordian I heard about his son’s death in the battle he took his own life. The father and son ruled Rome for only 36 days.      

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