Balbinus (Latin: Decimus Caelius Calvinus Balbinus Pius Augustus; c. 178
– 29 July 238), was Roman Emperor with Pupienus for three months in 238,
the Year of the Six Emperors.
Origins and career:
Not much is known about Balbinus before his elevation to emperor.
It has been conjectured that he descended from Publius Coelius Balbinus
Vibullius Pius, the consul ordinarius of 136 or 137, and wife Aquilia.
If this were true, he was also related to the family of Q. Pompeius Falco,
which supplied many politicians of consular rank throughout the 3rd century,
and to the 1st-century politician, engineer and author Julius Frontinus,
as well as a descendant of a first cousin of Trajan. He was born
around 178. He was a patrician from birth, and was the son (either
by birth or adoption) of Caelius Calvinus, who was legate of Cappadocia
in 184. He was one of the Salii priests of Mars. According
to Herodian he had governed provinces, but the list of seven provinces
given in the Historia Augusta, as well as the statement that Balbinus had
been both Proconsul of Asia and of Africa, are likely to be mere invention.
He had certainly been twice consul; his first consulate is not certainly
known but is believed to have been about 203 or in July 211; he was consul
for the second time in 213 as colleague of Caracalla, which suggests he
enjoyed that emperor's favour.
According to Edward Gibbon (drawing upon the narratives of Herodian and
the Historia Augusta):
Balbinus was an admired orator,
a poet of distinguished fame, and a wise magistrate, who had exercised
with innocence and applause the civil jurisdiction in almost all the interior
provinces of the empire. His birth was noble, his fortune affluent,
his manners liberal and affable. In him, the love of pleasure was
corrected by a sense of dignity, nor had the habits of ease deprived him
of a capacity for business. (...) The two colleagues [Pupienus and
Balbinus] had both been consul (Balbinus had twice enjoyed that honourable
office), both had been named among the twenty lieutenants of the senate;
and, since the one was sixty and the other seventy-four years old, they
had both attained the full maturity of age and experience.
When the Gordians were proclaimed Emperors in Africa, the Senate appointed
a committee of twenty men, including Balbinus, to co-ordinate operations
against Maximinus Thrax. On the news of the Gordians' defeat, the
Senate voted Pupienus and Balbinus as co-emperors on 22 April 238, though
they were soon forced to co-opt the child Gordian III as a colleague.
Unlike the situation in 161, both emperors were elected as pontifices maximi,
chief priests of the official cults. This would be unthinkable in
Republican times. Balbinus was probably in his early seventies: his
qualifications for rule are unknown, except presumably that he was a senior
senator, rich and well-connected. While Pupienus marched to Ravenna,
where he oversaw the campaign against Maximinus, Balbinus remained in Rome,
but failed to keep public order. The sources suggest that after Pupienus's
victorious return following Maximinus' death, Balbinus suspected Pupienus
of wanting to supplant him, and they were soon living in different parts
of the Imperial palace, where they were later assassinated by disaffected
elements of the Praetorian Guard, with Balbinus' death occurring on 29
The 'sarcophagus of Balbinus' has earned this Emperor a niche in the history
of Roman Imperial art. Presumably while holding the title of Emperor,
Balbinus had a marble sarcophagus made for himself and his wife (whose
name is unknown). Discovered in fragments near the Via Appia and
restored, this is the only example of a Roman Imperial sarcophagus of this
type to have survived. On the lid are reclining figures of Balbinus
and his wife, the figure of the Emperor also being a fine portrait of him.
The sarcophagus is held in collection at the Museo di Pretastato (at the
catacombs of Praetextatus) in the Park of the Caffarella near the Appian
Way at Rome.
Although in accounts of their joint reign Balbinus is emphasized as the
civilian as against Pupienus the military man, on the side of the sarcophagus
he is portrayed in full military dress.
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