Gordian I and his son, Gordian II, challenged Emperor Maximinius Thrax for the throne in 238. The aged Gordian demanded his son be named co-emperor. The pair spent their month in power battling the emperor before defeat ended their lives. They never set foot in Rome and never exercised real power. Their inclusion amongst the list of emperors derives from Senatorial confirmation.
The elder Gordian assumed the African governorship in 237. He began his political career much later than many Romans. By 237, he was in his seventies. Then, Maximinius Thrax murdered the emperor Alexander Severus, but proved unable to consolidate power. His unpopularity fomented rebelliousness within the Senate. Gordian remained neutral until Thrax raised taxes to confiscatory levels in Africa. People rioted against the emperor and proclaimed Gordian emperor.
Gordian was reticent to accept the position. His advanced age gave him pause. However, he acquiesced once his son, Gordian II, was proclaimed co-emperor. Romans in Africa celebrated Gordian’s ascension. At the same time, the usurper sent an embassy to Rome seeking Senatorial support. The Senate proclaimed Gordian emperor, but Thrax remained viable.
The Senate invalidated Maximinius’ emperorship, but Thrax retained a battle hardened army and political supporters. The Numidian governor attacked the Senate’s emperor and defeated and killed Gordian II at the Battle of Carthage in 238. A grief-stricken Gordian I committed suicide by hanging himself with a belt. The pair ruled for little over a month. The Senate deified father and son before turning their attention to Maximinius. They did not have to wait very long. Assassins felled the emperor opening the door for the Senate to name one of their own to rule.
The Senate despised Emperor Maximinius Thrax and proclaimed Gordian I and his son co-emperors. The pair ruled for 36 days before dying. Thrax’s Numidian ally defeated and killed Gordian II in battle while Gordian I committed suicide. In the end, the Senate won the showdown at least temporarily. However, the Crisis of the Third Century had just begun.