Gordian III died in battle and left no heir. Shortly thereafter, Philip the Arab grabbed the imperial mantle and assumed power. Philip’s reign lasted five years. The empire faced many challenges including war, border incursions, and intrigue. The overwhelmed emperor offered to resign, but was murdered instead.
The emperor Gordian III spent much of his reign campaigning leaving Rome’s affairs to his father-in-law, Timesitheus. The de facto emperor died under mysterious circumstances. As a result, Gordian promoted Philip the Arab to Praetorian prefect to replace Timesitheus. Philip owed his promotion to his brother Priscus, who held sway with Gordian. The emperor died in battle in 244 creating a power vacuum the brothers moved to fill. Philip the Arab became emperor.
Philip’s family originated in Arabia and literally emerged from nowhere to become Rome’s first citizen. He hoped to avoid the mistakes of his immediate predecessors and squelch any plots. Philip made peace with Persia and raced for Rome. The Senate confirmed his position and awarded the new emperor several titles and deified Philip’s father. At the same time, Philip worked to establish and maintain good relations with Rome’s aristocrats and politicians. Additionally, he began a public works program to legitimize his reign to the people.
Philip’s charm offensive seemed to work. He even had the good fortune to be in power for Rome’s millennial celebration. The emperor sponsored festivities throughout the city including dramas and games. Over 1,000 gladiators died in the Coliseum to commemorate the millennium. The mob roared with delight and Philip benefited.
The emperor seemed to be doing everything correct to mollify the people and politicians of Rome. However, his problems emerged from the provinces and military. Several legions revolted over his handling of military affairs. At the same time, barbarians invaded across the frontier. In the East, people revolted over high taxation. Phillip offered to resign to save his life, but the Senate refused. As a result, Phillip sent one senator, Decius, to put down a rebellion and fight off the barbarians in Pannonia and Moesia.
Decius mostly succeeded in his mission, but the military remained rebellious. They proclaimed their new leader emperor and marched on Rome in 249. Decius attempted to negotiate with Philip, but the emperor demurred. He probably feared for his safety if he retired. The two met in battle with Decius sweeping away Philip’s forces. The emperor either died fighting or was assassinated by his own troops. Philip’s son was murdered and Priscus disappeared. Decius assumed power for two years before dying in battle.