Roman Empire, Pupienus, 238, AE Sesterz
Laureated bust r.
Seated Concordia l. with patera and cornucopia
Marcus Clodius Pupienus Maximus (* c. 164; † 238 in Rome) was one of two Roman emperors ruling simultaneously from late January or early February (?) 238 until his death a few months later.
Little is known about Pupienus' origins, and many details of his career also remain obscure. An important but very problematic (and often absolutely unreliable) source is his vita in the late antique and hotly disputed Historia Augusta.
Today, most historians assume that Pupienus (a very rare name, attested only three times in all of Roman history) was first governor in one of the two Germanic provinces and later perhaps in Asia Minor. In 234 he held his second consulship (his first, a suffect consulship, is not tangible, perhaps c. 205 or 217), and from c. 234 Pupienus headed the administration of the city of Rome as praefectus urbi. In this honourable position he is said to have been extraordinarily tough, especially in security policy.
Finally, it is certain that Pupienus was a member of a committee for the defence of Inner Italy against Maximinus Thrax during the turmoil of the Six Years' War.
After the death of the emperors Gordian I and Gordian II, who had risen against Maximinus, he was appointed emperor by the senate together with Balbinus himself.
The short reign of the two emperors was marked by mutual distrust and the rejection of the urban Roman population towards them. After their appointment, the two had to leave the Capitol, protected by a quickly improvised bodyguard, to protect themselves from popular anger. The plebs apparently preferred the elevation of Gordian I's young grandson to emperor. Pupienus and Balbinus had to bow to the pressure of the street and elevated him to Caesar.
Pupienus, who in his advanced age is described as grumpy and bad-tempered, subsequently took charge of the struggle against Maximinus Thrax, while Balbinus organised the affairs of state.
But before Pupienus could even raise the necessary troops, news reached him that Maximinus had been murdered by his own soldiers. He then immediately rushed to Aquileia, the scene of the event, and ended the civil war by simply disbanding the armies of both sides and sending the soldiers home.
In the following triumphal procession of the two Augusti through the capital, Pupienus in particular was cheered frenetically. These ovations were then supposedly the cause of the rift between the two emperors.
Behind the conflict, however, was a deeper structural problem:
At that time, the Roman Empire was a monarchy in which a multiple emperorship could only function if (as with Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus) it was clear which ruler had the highest rank and the last word.
Caracalla and Geta had already failed over this problem a few years earlier. And the rivalry between Pupienus and Balbinus also escalated as soon as their common enemy Maximinus was dead. But for the time being they continued to rule in apparent agreement.
Both emperors seem to have planned to surpass the other through military glory. Pupienus apparently planned a Persian campaign, while Balbinus wanted to move against the Germanic tribes.
During a loud argument between the two emperors, the Praetorian Guard invaded the imperial palace. Pupienus is said to have refused to summon Balbinus' Germanic bodyguards, believing that his colleague wanted to have him treacherously murdered.
Instead, the praetorians took both emperors into their power and cruelly killed them.