30th Emperor of the Roman Empire

Bust of Pupienus
Reign 22 April – 29 July 238 (with Balbinus, and in revolt against Maximinus Thrax)
Full name Marcus Clodius Pupianus Maximus
(from birth to accession);
Imperator Caesar Marcus Clodius Pupienus Maximus Augustus (as emperor)
Born c. 164 or c. 178
Died 29 July 238 (aged 60)
Place of death Rome
Predecessor Gordian I and II
Successor Gordian III
Year of the Six Emperors238

Maximinus Thrax

Gordian I and Gordian II

Pupienus and Balbinus, nominally with Gordian III

Gordian III

v · d · e
Sestertius of Pupienus.

Pupienus (Latin: Marcus Clodius Pupienus Maximus Augustus;[1] born c. 164/178 – 29 July 238), also known as Pupienus Maximus, was Roman Emperor with Balbinus for three months in 238, the Year of the Six Emperors. The sources for this period are scant, and thus knowledge of the emperor is limited. In most contemporary texts Pupienus is referred to, incorrectly, as 'Maximus' rather than by his family name of Pupienus.


Origins, career and family

The Historia Augusta, whose testimony is not to be trusted unreservedly, paints Pupienus as an example of ascension in the Roman hierarchical system due to military success. It claims he was the son of a blacksmith, who started his career as a Centurio primus pilus and became a Tribunus Militum, and then Praetor. In truth, he was the son of Marcus Pupienus Maximus, a Senator, and wife Clodia Pulchra.[citation needed] Probably his father was not yet a Senator when he started his career. It further claims he was adopted by one Pescennia Marcellina (otherwise unknown), and served as Proconsul of Bithynia et Pontus, then of Achaea, and then Gallia Narbonensis before serving as a special Legatus in Illyricum and subsequently governing one of the German provinces. It is likely most of this is fiction: only the last post – probably the troublesome Germania Inferior – is independently attested (by Herodian). It was presumably then that Pupienus gained the personal bodyguard of Germans which is mentioned by Herodian as remaining with him when he became Emperor.

What is certain is that Pupienus, though he may not have been born a Patrician, was a leading member of the senatorial class during the latter half of the Severan dynasty. He may have come from the Etruscan city of Volterra, where inscriptions relating to his daughter, who carried the highly aristocratic name Pupiena Sextia Paulina Cethegilla, wife of Marcus Ulpius Eubiotus Leurus, show that Pupienus (and his father, needed not have been the blacksmith claimed by the Historia Augusta) married into the ancient Roman noble family of the Sextii, with his second cousin Sextia Cethegilla, born c. 170, daughter of Titus Sextius Africanus and wife Cornelia. He was twice Consul – the date of his first consulship is unknown, but was probably about 213, maybe as a Suffectus in July 205 or Ordinarius in 217. His second consulship was in 234 and in that year or c. 230 he was Praefectus Urbi of Rome and gained a reputation for severity, to the extent that he became unpopular with the Roman mob. In addition to his daughter, Pupienus had two sons, Tiberius Clodius Pupienus Pulcher Maximus, who was a Consul Suffectus about 224 or 226 or July 235, and Marcus Pupienus Africanus Maximus, Consul Ordinarius in 236 as colleague of the Emperor Maximinus Thrax. The second consulship, the city prefecture, and the son as consul of the year with the reigning Emperor, are all signs that the family was influential and in high favour. Evidently they owned property in Tibur outside Rome, where Pupienus Pulcher Maximus was a patron of the town.


According to Edward Gibbon (drawing on the narratives of Herodian and the Historia Augusta):

The mind of Maximus [Pupienus] was formed in a rougher mould [than that of Balbinus]. By his valour and abilities he had raised himself from the meanest origin to the first employments of the state and army. His victories over the Sarmatians and the Germans, the austerity of his life, and the rigid impartiality of his justice whilst he was prefect of the city, commanded the esteem of a people whose affections were engaged in favour of the more amiable Balbinus. The two colleagues 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.[2]

When the Gordians were proclaimed Emperors in Africa, the Senate appointed a committee of twenty men, including the old Senator Pupienus, to co-ordinate operations against Maximinus. On the news of the Gordians' defeat, the Senate met in closed session in the Temple of Jupiter and voted Pupienus and Balbinus as co-emperors, though they were soon forced to co-opt Gordian III as a colleague. Pupienus marched to Ravenna, where he oversaw the campaign against Maximinus; after the latter was assassinated by his soldiers just outside Aquileia he despatched both Maximinus's troops and his own back to their provinces and returned to Rome with just the Praetorian Guard and his German bodyguard. Balbinus had failed to keep public order in the capital. The sources suggest that 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 in the Praetorians, who resented serving under Senate-appointed emperors.

Scipio connection

Through his mother's family, Pupienus has a link to the great Roman General Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. As a descendant of Fulvia, through her marriage to popularis Publius Clodius Pulcher, the great granddaughter of Africanus; he could claim to be first Imperator of Rome to be a direct descendant of the Second Punic War Hero. On a side note, his grandson who was also a consul was a direct descendant of Augustus on his mother's side.


  1. ^ In Classical Latin, Pupienus' name would be inscribed as MARCVS CLODIVS PVPIENVS MAXIMVS AVGVSTVS.
  2. ^ The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. I, p. 225, Edward Gibbon (The Online Library of Liberty). [1].

External links

Media related to Pupienus at Wikimedia Commons

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Gordian I and Gordian II
Roman Emperor
Served alongside: Balbinus
Succeeded by
Gordian III
Political offices
Preceded by
Lucius Valerius Claudius Acilius Priscillianus Maximus,
Gnaeus Cornelius Paternus
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Marcus Munatius Sulla Urbanus
Succeeded by
Gnaeus Claudius Severus ,
Titus Claudius Quintianus

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