Following the murder of emperor Alexander Severus in Moguntiacum (modern Mainz), the capital of the Roman province Germania Inferior, Maximinus Thrax was acclaimed emperor, despite strong opposition of the Roman senate and the majority of the population. In response to what was considered in Rome as a rebellion, Gordian's grandfather and uncle, Gordian I and II were proclaimed joint emperors in the African province. Their revolt was suppressed within a month by Cappellianus, governor of Numidia and a loyal supporter of Maximinus Thrax. The elder Gordians died, but public opinion cherished their memory as peace loving and literate men, victims of Maximinus' oppression.
Meanwhile, Maximinus was on the verge of marching in Rome and the Senate elected Pupienus and Balbinus as joint emperors. These senators were not popular men and the population of Rome, still shocked by the elder Gordian's fate, demanded that the teenager Gordian would be name Caesar and heir. Pupienus and Balbinus defeated Maximinus, mainly due to the defection of several legions, namely the II Parthica who assassinated Maximinus. But their joint reign was doomed from the start with popular riots, legions discontent and even an enormous fire that consumed Rome in June 238. On July 29, Pupienus and Balbinus were killed by the Praetorian guard and the boy proclaimed sole emperor.
Due to his age, the imperial government was surrendered to the aristocratic families, who controlled the affairs of Rome through the senate. In 241, Gordian was married to Furia Sabina Tranquilina, daughter of the newly appointed praetorian prefect, Timesitheus. As chief of the Praetorian guard and father in law of the emperor, Timesitheus quickly became the de facto ruler of the Roman empire.
In the 3rd century, the Roman frontiers weakened against the Germanic tribes across the Rhine and Danube, and the Persian kingdom across the Euphrates increased its won attacks. When the Persians under Shapur I invaded Mesopotamia, the young emperor opened the temple of Janus for the last time recorded in history, and marched in person to the East. The Persians were driven back over the Euphrates and defeated in the battle of Resaena (243). The campaign was being a success and Gordian was planning an invasion of the enemy's territory, when his father-in-law died in unclear circumstances. Without Timesitheus the campaign, and the emperor's security, were at risk.
Marcus Julius Philippus stepped in at this moment as the new Praetorian Prefect and the campaign proceeded. In the beginning of 244, the Persians counter-attacked. Persian sources claim that a battle was fought near modern Fajullah (Iraq) resulting in a major Roman defeat, which included the death of Gordian III. Roman cources do not mention this battle and suggest that Gordian died far away, upstream of the Euphrates. The causes of death are unknown, but the Praetorian Prefect Philip, who succeeded Gordian as emperor, is often described as a murderer.
Gordian's youth and good nature, along with the deaths of his grandfather and uncle and his own tragic fate at the hands of another usurper, granted him the everlasting esteem of the Romans. Despite opposition of the new emperor, Gordian was deified after his death, in order to appease the population and avoid riots.
This entry uses text from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Pupienus and Balbinus (238)
Philip the Arab (244-249)