Pupienus and Balbinus

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Marcus Clodius Pupienus Maximus and Decius Caelius Calvinus Balbinus (both died on July 29, 238) were two Roman co-emperors elected by the Roman senate on April 22, 238 after the failure of Gordian I and Gordian II to defeat the usurper Maximinus Thrax.



Pupienus, born about 178, was an example of ascension in the Roman hierarchical system due to military success. He started as a primus pilus and became a military tribune, praetor, consul (twice) and governor of several Roman provinces including the troublesome Germania Inferior. In 234 he was prefect of Rome and gained a reputation for severity.


Balbinus had an equal share of consular status and political clout. As with Pupienus, he belonged to a special senatorial commission to deal with the problem of Maximinus Thrax. The usurper emperor had been declared a public enemy and, after the defeat in Africa of the senate's candidates, Gordian I and Gordian II, was marching on Rome. Without other candidates in view, the senate elected Pupienus and Balbinus joint emperors. Marcus Antonius Gordianus Pius, the thirteen-year-old grandson of Gordian I, was nominated as Caesar to appease the population of capital, which was still loyal to the Gordian family. Pupienus was sent at the head of an army to face Maximinus, and Balbinus stayed in Rome.

Meanwhile, Maximinus' situation was not easy. Discontent due to lack of supplies and the strong opposition of the senate, forced his legionaries to rethink their allegiance. Soldiers of the II Parthica killed the usurper and surrendered to Pupienus in the end of June. The co-emperor then returned to Rome, only to find the city in riot. Balbinus had not managed to control the situation and the city had burned in a fire resulting in mutiny. With both emperors present, the situation calmed down but the unease remained.

Relationship between Balbinus and Pupienus

The relation between Balbinus and Pupienus had been clouded with suspicion from the start, with both fearing an assassination from the other. They were planning an enormous double campaign, Pupienus against the Parthians and Balbinus against the Carpians, but they quarrelled frequently. It was during one of these heavy discussions, on July 29, that the Praetorian guard decided to intervene. They stormed into the room containing the emperors and killed them both. On the same day, the young Caesar, generally known in English as Gordian III, was proclaimed emperor.

Together Pupienus and Balbinus had ruled for a little more than three months. Coins from their short reign show one of them on one side and two clasped hands on the other to show their joint power.

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