The life of Balbinus
Cause of death:
Early Life (c. 178-238)
Much like his future co-emperor, not much his known about the early life of Balbinus. He is thought to have been born in or around 178. He may have been a descendant of Publius Coelius Balbinus Vibullius Pius who served as consul around 40 years before the birth of Balbinus. It is known that Balbinus was born to a family with patrician status and he later went on to serve twice as consul, both in the early 3rd Century, the latter of which was in 213 alongside the emperor Caracalla. He also served as a Priest of Mars prior to his consulships. It is possible that he also served as the proconsul in various provinces, however this information comes from the Historia Augusta which is not always accurate.
During the rebellion of Gordian I & Gordian II, Balbinus was appointed to an organisation of 20 men whose responsibility was to thwart the efforts of the emperor Maximinus Thrax, who was desperately trying to crush the revolt. Before any real actions could take place, Gordian II was defeated and killed in battle at Carthage by the governor of Numidia, and as a result Gordian I committed suicide, leaving a power vacuum in Rome. As a result, two members of the committee set up against Maximinus Thrax were chosen by the Senate to take the places of the deceased Gordians. On the 22 April 238, the Senate voted for Balbinus, and fellow committee member Pupienus.
Reign with Pupienus (238)
Both Pupienus and Balbinus had served as consuls and had extensive experience in the political arena, they were seen as the most logical candidates to for the position of Emperor. Those in the Senate hoped that by appointing them as joint Emperors they would finally bring stability to the Roman Empire after some years of turmoil. Many in Rome and the Senate wanted Gordian III, the grandson of Gordian I, to be elevated to the purple due to the popularity of his father and grandfather among the people. To appease the masses, Balbinus and Pupienus eventually appointed Gordian III as their colleague and the imperial heir.
Balbinus remained in Rome to keep public order while Pupienus left to march on Ravenna where he conducted his campaign against Maximinus Thrax. Pupienus would never need to reach his destination as the soldiers of Maximinus Thrax mutinied and killed him at Aquileia.
His work in northern Italy essentially complete, Pupienus returned to Rome with the intent of celebrating a triumph with Balbinus and Gordian III. The Rome he returned to was now engulfed in chaos. Balbinus had not managed to maintain order and riots were erupting throughout the city, destroying much in the process. Balbinus was now growing suspicious of Pupienus, believing he was going to overthrow him to become the sole Emperor of Rome. The two emperors eventually started to live in separate parts of the imperial palace, much as Geta and Caracalla had done. The Praetorian Guard were not fond of the new emperors, especially considering they had been elected by the Senate, and now plotted to kill them.
Death & legacy (238)
Just before leaving for campaigns against the Persians and Goths, Balbinus and Pupienus stopped co-operating completely, which left them at the mercy of the Praetorian Guard's plot. Pupienus soon became aware that their assassinations were imminent, calling on Balbinus to summon their German bodyguard. However, Balbinus suspected this was a ploy by Pupienus to have him assassinated. The Praetorian Guard entered the room where the defenceless emperor's argued and were subsequently dragged away and killed. The deaths of Balbinus and Pupienus left Gordian III as the Emperor of Rome.
- Balbinus was known for being a skilled orator and poet.
- Pupienus and Balbinus lived in different parts of the Imperial Palace as their paranoia grew, believing they were each plotting against the other.
- Pupienus and Balbinus are two of the shortest reigning Roman Emperors, lasting for only 3 months and 7 days.
- Pupienus and Balbinus were also granted the position of pontifex maximus, the chief priest of Rome.
- Pupienus and Balbinus make up part of the Year of the Six Emperors, the others being Maximinus Thrax, Gordian I, Gordian II and Gordian III.