244 - 249 CE
|Philip I came to power in a virtual replay of the way Maximinus had taken the emperorship from Severus Alexander in 235, by provoking his troops into murdering his predecessor. He did little of note (except for throwing lavish games for Rome's 1,000th birthday) before being murdered in turn by his troops.|
|Philip I "the Arab" Sestertius|
|About this coin:
This coin holds a special place in my personal collection
as the first ancient coin I ever purchased. In those
days, I just wanted "one really old coin".
Who'd have guessed where it would lead?
The reverse features Salus (personification of health, welfare, and safety.
Philip I's opportunity to become emperor came upon the death of Timesitheus, Gordian III's trusted (and trustworthy) advisor. Timesitheus had been the commander of the Praetorian Guard, and the mastermind behind Gordian's campaign against the Persian king Shapur I, which had started off quite well. Unfortunately for Rome and Gordian, but fortunately for Philip, Timesitheus got sick and died, and Philip was appointed to take his place.
Philip pursued the Persian campaign with considerably less vigor than Timesitheus had, and he also may have begun siphoning off supplies intended for the soldiers. Philip blamed the lack of military success and supply shortages on Gordian, and the soldiers believed him. When Gordian heard that the troops were unhappy with him, he confronted the soldiers and insisted that they choose between him and Philip. They voted in the usual Roman military style, and Gordian's remains were shipped back to Rome.
Philip's next act was one that would have serious repercussions for Rome for quite some time: He bought peace with Shapur I. He was in a hurry to get back to Rome to secure his position as the new Emperor, so he paid Shapur a half-million denarii and promised him ongoing payments as well. (For more on the "fun" that the Empire would have with Shapur, largely because Philip didn't finish him off when he had the chance, see the sad tale of Valerian)
Philip didn't do much of note. He did repel some border incursions by the Carpi across the Danube, and he celebrated a "triumph" for this, but the main thing he is remembered for is the magnificent party he threw for Rome's 1,000th birthday, a three day affair starting on 21 April, 248. However, a series of uprisings by would-be usurpers supported by various disaffected legions plagued the final year and a half of his reign. His confidence apparently broken, he is said to have offered to resign, but was talked out of it by the respected senator Quintus Decius Valerinus.
With the Goths taking advantage of the disarray in the unhappy Danubian legions, Philip did something rather foolish -- at least in hindsight. Since Decius had been the one who talked Philip out of resigning, he apparently believed it was safe to put Decius in charge of all the legions in the area.
He was wrong.
After successfully repelling the invasion under his leadership, Decius's troops "coaxed" him to declare himself Emperor in opposition to Philip. They marched on Rome, confronting Philip's larger army. Philip was killed in the fighting, possibly by his own soldiers.
There is a certain sense of justice in the fact that Philip lasted a year and a half less than his predecessor. But Rome had been teetering on the brink of chaos since the end of the Severan dynasty. Philip's accession pushed it over the edge, and his reign marked the beginning of a slide into chaos that would last for some thirty more years.