Roman Emperor Philip the Arab

Roman Emperor Philip the Arab

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Time Travel • Ancient Rome

Marcus Julius Philippus, commonly referred to as Philip the Arab, is an enigmatic figure of Roman imperial history. For all the major events of his life there are two different explanations of the motives behind them and various versions claiming to be the true story. His early life remains almost entirely a mystery. His father, Julius Marinus, was a local official of Arab background, possibly important but possibly not. Some later ancient historians even suggest that he came from the most entirely humble of origins, or that his father lead a band of brigands. All that is known for certain is that he was born in what is now modern Shahba, Syria, a town that he would invest no little time and money into expanding and improving, renamed Philippopolis in his honor.

Praetorian Prefect

Coming from less than stellar credentials of nobility, one can assume that Philip and his brother Gaius Julius Priscus were competent individuals, as they advanced militarily and politically despite little in the way of familial advantage. Indeed Priscus became a very high official to the thirteen year old emperor, Gordian III. In 243 A.D., as Gordian campaigned against Shapur I of Persia, his Praetorian prefect, Timesitheus, became ill and eventually died. The Historia Augusta blames the death on Philip, relating that Timesitheus was suffering from an illness that caused diarrhea. The physicians concocted a medicine to help, but Philip intercepted it and switched it with something that caused the diarrhea to worsen instead. Dehydrated and dreadfully ill, Timesitheus eventually died.

Roman mosaic, Philippopolis. Photo by Gianfranco Gazzetti, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Priscus immediately recommended his brother for the vacant position, and Philip became Praetorian prefect. He and Priscus essentially planned to act as regents for the young emperor. Yet Gordian III did not long survive either, and here the sources are again in disagreement. While several historians, including one Persian, claim that Gordian died in battle, others are equally convinced that Philip was involved in arranging for the emperor’s death.

Conspiring for the Throne

According to this tale, Philip diverted the supply ships and then instituted heavy rations on the soldiers under his command, under the pretense that the order had come from Gordian. As hunger overtook them, they became more desperate and frustrated. Philip began to spread the idea that Gordian was too young to be able to manage the empire, and that Rome needed a more able ruler. Eventually, weak with famine and enraged at their treatment, they revolted and named Philip emperor.

Sasanian king Shapur Ist’s rock relief at Naqsh-e Rostam (said Naqsh-e Rostam VI), celebrating his victories over roman emperors Valerian Ist and Philip the Arab. Photo by Pentocelo licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Gordian appeared before them to negotiate, thinking he could calm them down and regain his position through diplomacy, and it was not an insane belief. Gordian “was a light-hearted lad, handsome, winning, agreeable to everyone, merry in his life, eminent in letters in nothing, indeed, save in his age was he unqualified for empire. Before Philip’s conspiracy he was loved by the people, the senate, and the soldiers as no prince had ever been before. … all the soldiers spoke of him as their son, he was called son by the entire senate, and all the people said Gordian was their darling.”

Yet in this case, there was nothing he could do to sway them. Despite asking for progressively less, and finally just pleading that Philip would make him a general and allow him to live, Philip ordered his death, and the soldiers carried him away and killed him. Yet despite this violent end, the Historia Augusta claims that Philip always treated the memory of Philip with respect. He may have been subversive, but he was also shrewd, and he was under no delusions regarding the love that Rome had held for Gordian. Therefore he left up all statues and portraits of the young emperor and requested Gordian’s deifications as well.

Tradition and Construction

Whether gained through devious murder or popular support following the death of an emperor with no heir, Philip was now the first citizen of Rome. He had learned the lessons of previous failed emperors, and was determined to placate the various powerful factions of the empire. Determined to return as quickly as possible to Rome to present himself before the Senate, he negotiated peace terms to end the conflict with Shapur of Persia. His decision was unpopular, however, for he gave up significant portions of previously conquered land and agreed to pay a large indemnity to Persia, 500,000 denarii. Still, he was able to declare himself victor in Persia, issue special coins in commemoration, and return speedily to Rome.

Shahba Forum. Photo by Raki_Man, licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Philip successfully won the esteem of the Senate, after presenting himself humbly before the legislative body and promising to uphold traditional Roman laws, traditions, and virtues. One of his first endeavors was indeed very traditionally Roman: a public building project. Renaming his hometown Philippopolis, he poured money into a massive civic improvement program, at the same time commissioning statues of himself and his family to be displayed around the city. This largess, combined with the indemnity owed to the Persians and the massive monetary gift he had given to secure the loyalty of the army and the Praetorians left him hopelessly in debt.

The 1000 th Anniversary of Rome

Philip’s only recourse to address his financial issues was to institute exorbitant taxes, losing the support of the people, and stop subsidies to the border units which helped insure peace on the furthest reaches of the empire. This mitigated his debts for a time, but left him to deal with several barbarian incursions along the Danube. Just when he might have achieved stability, he was once again forced to pay out huge sums of money that he didn’t have to celebrate a momentous occasion: the 1000 year anniversary of Rome itself.

Philip I. AD 244-249. Æ Sestertius. Secular Games issue. Rome mint, AD 249. Obverse: Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right. reverse: Octostyle temple of Roma with statue of Roma seated facing in center. Source: Used by permission of CNG.

The Roman Secular games corresponded with this event, and no expense was spared to hold a magnificent and extravagant festival. Philip issued commemorative coins, organized theatre productions, showcased literary works, and offered lavish games. Over 1,000 gladiators died in the days of the festival, as did huge numbers of animals, such as hippos, leopards, lions, giraffes, and even one very special victim, a rhinoceros. Unfortunately for Philip, the party was short-lived, more barbarian invasions coincided with rebellions by several Roman legions.

Farewell to Philip

Overwrought, Philip came before the Senate and offered to resign, but Gaius Messius Quintus Decius led the Senators in insisting that he maintain the position. Gratified, Philip appointed Decius as commander of the legions to quell the uprisings, but instantly upon Decius entering camp, the soldiers declared him emperor. Some of the histories suggest that Decius suspected this would be the case, and warned Philip not to give him the command, but Philip insisted. When Decius tried to refuse the acclamation, his soldiers forced him at sword point to accept, and he then sent a message to Philip begging him not to take action against him and promising that he would hand power back to Philip the second he entered Rome. Whether this was true or not, Philip distrusted the army that marched toward Rome, and he brought his own forces out to meet them near Verona.

Marble bust of the Roman Emperor Traianus Decius from the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Photo by Mary Harrsch licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

Decius’s army easily crushed Philip’s, and Philip either died in the battle or was assassinated by his own soldiers shortly after, who hoped to gain favor with the emerging leader of Rome. Philip’s legacy is as confused as his life. Though many histories claim he took the throne through subterfuge and murder, there is no reference to the kind of widespread executions that often followed a planned coup. He enjoyed mutual respect with the Senate and even displayed an unusual tolerance towards Christians. Some later Christian authors even claim that Philip was actually the first Christian emperor, but no solid evidence supports this. He may have been a successful emperor had he not inherited an already unstable empire. As it was, his reign lasted only five years, and rule passed immediately out of his family line.

What to See in Philippopolis now ?

Ruins visible in Shahba include the ancient gates, a forum, temple, and palace. Two archeological sites lie in the middle of the modern city of Shahba and contain large sections of preserved architecture there is a significant segment of the walls of the Roman baths, and also a well preserved Roman theatre. Shahba also houses several intricate mosaics at the city’s mosaic museum.

Roman theater, Philippopolis. Picture by Gianfranco Gazzetti, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Philippopolis on Timetravelrome App:

Author: Marian Vermeulen for Timetravelrome

Header image: Portrait of the Emperor Philip the Arab, Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Sources: Historia Augusta, The Three Gordians Zosimus, New History Zonarus, Alexander Severus to Diocletian Sextus Aurelius Victor, Epitome De Caesaribus.


Enemies of Philip would later claim that his real name was Abdullah Al Kebbabi and that he had belonged to Anti-Roman subversive sect known as the 'Christians'. Others that Philip had worked as an illegal immigrant and had only become emperor when Gordian Ramases was murdered in his kitchen. Philip simply said these were all lies and blamed old fashioned Roman bigots. An inscription survives from this era makes Philip's views plain:

I hear from my enemies that I want to 'abolish' the Roman Empire and replace it with a peasant's paradise. Nothing can be further from the truth. I want the Roman world open to all, regardless of what they worshipped or what they wore when washing the family chariot on a sunday. I hide my Arabian background from no one but I am truer Roman than any of you can suspect.

Philip the Arab: Emperor of Rome

Philip the Arab is so named because his family came from Syria. However, this background does not appear to have affected his behavior in office to any extent – there was nothing noticeably “un-Roman” in how he treated the role of Emperor.

Marcus Julius Philippus was born in around 204 at Shahba in Syria (now in Jordan), a city that he later spent large sums of money on improving and beautifying, and which was renamed Philippopolis as a result.

He became co-prefect alongside his brother Julius Priscus in the year 243. This was an important role, because the Emperor, Gordian III, was aged 18 and had only been in titular charge of the empire since unexpectedly becoming emperor at the age of 13 in 238. The prefects were the people who made most of the decisions.

A military defeat in Syria in February 244 led to Gordian being assassinated, and Philip may have been part of the conspiracy that carried this out. The defeat led to an ignominious peace settlement with Persia that involved the payment of half a million denarii.

<a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Source</a>

Financial problems

As Emperor, Philip was perfectly happy to rule from Rome and do the things that emperors traditionally did, like spending huge sums of money on building projects, particularly in his home city as noted above.

Another huge drain on resources was the lavish celebration in 248 of the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Rome, which was believed to be in 753 BC.

Philip had to take measures to restore the coffers. One of these was to widen the tax base by including more people in each community who were to be held personally liable for any shortfall in the overall annual tax payments. Another was to cut the loyalty-buying subsidies paid to tribes north of the Danube. This latter move was undoubtedly less than wise.


Philip realized that running a huge empire from Rome created many strains and pressures on the administration, and it was not possible for one man to be able to make all the major decisions. He therefore appointed men who were – in effect – deputy emperors in the regions. The first of these deputies were family members, including his brother Julius Priscus in the eastern empire.

The empire had had joint emperors in the past, but this was really the first experiment in regional devolution. Later emperors would take this process even further, leading eventually to the split of the Roman Empire into virtually independent eastern and western empires.

Threats, both external and internal

Although Philip had bought off the Persians for time being, trouble from external enemies was never far away. The Alemanni made an incursion across the Rhine, and the Carpi and Goths were constantly making life difficult in the Danube region, especially after Philip’s subsidy cuts mentioned above.

Philip also faced challenges from a whole string of would-be emperors who gained support in various parts of the Empire. These all had to be dealt with in turn.

Philip’s undoing came from one such challenger, Gaius Messius Quintus Decius, who had been sent to deal with the trouble on the Danube. After successfully doing so, Decius was persuaded by his troops to declare himself emperor and march on Rome.

Battle was joined near Verona in September 249 when Philip was killed and Decius took over.

Suggestions were made in later centuries that Philip was the first Christian emperor, although if that was the case he did little to advertise the fact. However, the later actions of Decius to reinforce the worship of pagan gods may just possibly have been a response to what he saw as a dangerous tendency by Philip to tolerate a new religion.

Портрет императора Филиппа Араба

Филипп Араб (204 г. -249 г. император &ndash с 244 г.), относится к группе портретов «солдатских императоров». Он относится к периоду римской истории, который называют «кризисом третьего века», времени. когда правители быстро сменяли друга, и, будучи незнатного происхождения, приходили к власти в результате военного переворота. Филипп Старший, прозванный Арабом, происходил из Аравии. Филипп был назначен соправителем Гордиана III, а в 244 г., после его убийства, провозглашен сирийскими легионами императором. Придя к власти император быстро столкнулся с восстаниями, вспыхнувшими в разных уголках Империи. Во время одного из них войско провозгласило императором другого полководца, и в 249 г., Филипп был убит. Впечатляющий образ Филиппа &ndash первый в ряду изображений солдатских императоров, с появлением которых изменяется стиль официального портрета. Это правитель нового типа запечатлен в портрете: у Филиппа - тяжелый взгляд исподлобья, массивная шея, коротко остриженные волосы. Подчеркнуты склонность к насилию, хитрость и коварство - качества лидера, которые помогают мгновенно возвыситься в воинской среде. Усиленная экспрессия образа достигается художественными средствами, присущими искусству второй четверти - середины III века. В портретной скульптуре появляется предельный лаконизм. Волосы и борода Филиппа переданы насечками, абстрактная графичность сочетается с энергичной пластикой лица. Это направление знаменует возникновение абстрактного экспрессионизма, связанного с возрастающим влиянием варварских провинций.

Roman Emperor Philip the Arab - History

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributor

“Nabataean Arabs! They were in Petra. I never knew their kingdom extended to southern Syria.” Like most people who are familiar with the history of the Middle East, my friend did not connect Nabataeans with Syria. Yet, these pre-Islamic Arabs once had an empire that extended north to Palmyra, east to the Euphrates, and south to the heart of western Saudi Arabia. However, after their kingdom was overwhelmed by the Romans, they were almost lost in history.

From the fairyland Ebla Cham Palace on the outskirts of Damascus, we headed southward to tour the remains they, and their conquerors left behind. The luxurious atmosphere of one of the plush hotels we had left, contrasted sharply with the simple villages we passed. However, soon the enchantment of the 20th-century deluxe abode began to fade away, replaced by thoughts of Nabataeans and Romans who had once made southern Syria a leading part of the civilized world.

We drove through a semi-desert country, dotted with many new structures, symbols of evolving Syria until we passed past a volcanic mountain whose ashes are mined for use in paving roads. Soon the ancient town of Shahba, set amid orchards and vineyards, came into view.


The birthplace of Emperor Philippus (Philip) the Arab who ruled from 244 to 249 A.D., gets its name from one of the Nabataean kings, al-Shahba (the grey). In the Roman era, the city was re-named Philippopolis in Emperor Philip’s honor. He tried to make it a replica of Rome, erecting baths, palaces, theatres, and temples. The many ruins one sees in town and in all of southern Syria are to a great extent remains of structures built during his short reign.

In that ancient part of the world, he remains, even in our times, the hero par-excellence. When we discussed his few years as emperor of the Roman Empire with the inhabitants, they talked about him as if he had lived only a short time ago. After all these many centuries, in the town of his birth, the Arab/Roman son of Shahba was still alive in the minds of the people.

The heart of modern Shahba is built between the ruins of the Roman city. From the days of its emperor son and before, there is still to be found the modest tomb of Philip’s father and mother, sections of the Roman walls, four Roman gates, a small partially renovated theatre, parts of an impressive Roman bath, remains of the chief temple, two main streets which still have their original paving stones, and housed in a tiny museum some very admirable mosaics.

Shahba-Chief Roman Temple

A short distance from the city of Philip we stopped in Qanawat to examine its rich Nabataean/Roman remains. During the Roman era when it was called Decapolis, it had 60,000 inhabitants and was second in the league of commercial towns of which Damascus was the chief city. However, long before the Romans, it was a large Nabataean city, which was later taken over by the Greeks. Today, the village stretches along the crest of a hill and extends down the side of a valley, crowded with orchards and small-cultivated fields.

Shahba-Museum-Philip the Arab Head

From the town’s days of glory there remain parts of the Temple of Zeus built with decorated basalt, columns with Corinthian capitals from the Temple of the sun god Helios, and leftovers from two basilicas – one from the 4th and the other from the 6th centuries.

A five-minute drive from Qanawat and we were in Sia’a – once an important Nabataean town. Perched atop a hill it commands a rich agricultural valley below. The modern village is an unbelievable collection of black stone. It appeared to have been thrown about as if by accident. We examined the ruins of a part of the ancient town square and the Temple of Bel Shamin, then left for Sweida – known in the Nabataean period as Suwada (little black town) because it was built with black volcanic stone.

Syria-Bosra – The Amphitheatre

Known as Dionysus in Roman times, Sweida is the capital of the province of Jabal al-Arab or as it is more commonly called Jabal al-Druze. There is not much left from its Nabataean/Roman past except some Corinthian columns from a 3rd-century Roman temple which glorified the god Dusares, part of the great basilica, and an arch of a small 6th-century basilica. On the other hand, the best relics from southern Syria’s ancient past are housed in the large Sweida Museum which appears to be well organized. It contains a fine collection of Nabataean, Greek, and Roman statues and many well-preserved mosaics.


Modern Sweida, which is reputed to have the most beautiful women in Syria, is a fast expanding city, elegant in its charming stone villas and new public buildings. The construction-boom that in the last decade engulfed the whole of Syria is especially evident to the eye in the towns of Jabal al-Arab. In the past, the lava strewn countryside and black stone villages created an image of a lunar landscape. Today, the modern white cement and stone homes set in-between historic relics and volcanic rock give the land a refreshing yet historic appearance.

From Sweida we drove to Bosra or as the Arabs call it Bosra al-Sham, 140 km (87 mi) south of Damascus. The city was mentioned in Egyptian tablets dating from 1334 B.C. and later became the capital of an extensive Nabataean kingdom. The town location astride the caravan routes to the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf made it of strategic importance. The Romans, recognizing its significance, made it a capital of their Arab province. In the subsequent centuries, it became one of the most illustrious cities in the Roman Empire. For a time it minted its own coins and its scholars introduced a new calendar to the world of that era.

Today, modern Bosra is an important tourist town. Its profusion of monuments makes it a mecca for visitors in southern Syria seeking the Roman remains, which are being slowly excavated. Many of the village homes, erected atop Roman ruins, are being removed. Roman columns, triumphal arches, and engravings, once hidden under village homes, are beginning to see the light. The main street is still paved with the basalt blocks laid in the days when Rome ruled the civilized world.

We started our tour exploring the ruins of an immense basilica – once the leading Christian religious structure in southern Syria and the seat of an archbishopric. Nearby were the ruins of a church where, according to legend, the Prophet Muhammad encountered the monk Buhayra and discussed with him the Christian Gospels.

Leaving behind these Christian relics we moved on to examine the remains of the Nabataean walls, large Roman bath, two Roman gates, a pagan temple, Roman underground market, the Mabrak or al-Naqa Mosque where the first Koran brought to Syria was once kept, and the al-Arouss or Omar’s Mosque which retains the first minaret in the Fertile Crescent.

Overlooking all the monuments we had seen was the majestic Roman amphitheater with a seating capacity of 15,000. It is considered the best-preserved, most perfect, and beautiful theatre built in the ancient world. What saved the amphitheater where the massive walls built around it by the Muslims in the 12th century to hold back the Crusaders. This created an almost impregnable fortress that never fell to the Christians. The only damage to the citadel happened later during the Mongol invasion.

The theatre’s acoustics are still perfect. A mere whisper on the immense 45 m (148 ft) long and 8.5 m (28 ft) wide stage can be heard by the audience, in the furthest seats. Today, entertainment without electronics can still be enjoyed as in Roman times when, during annual festivals, against Roman columns and arches, actors, dancers, and singers perform within its walls.

Bosra-Ruins.Along Roman Main Street

After leaving this perfectly preserved Roman masterpiece, we dined in the Bosra Cham Palace – the only hotel in the area. Enjoying a tasty Arab meal amid the luxury of the 21st century, we looked out at the amphitheatre that loomed majestically in the distance. It was easy to dream of Nabataeans and Romans as we gorged ourselves with the best food Syria had to offer. It was a satisfying end to an exciting day of retracing the days of the Nabataean Arabs and the sons of Rome.

Bosra-Ruins-Women carrying Bread on Heads

My visit to Bosra was in 2010 just before the attacks by the Western-backed terrorists began. Many of Syria’s priceless and unique ancient structures were destroyed by them in their quest to erase the ancient heritage of this foundation of civilization. With the winding down of the vicious war against the country, Syria has now made it a priority to rebuild its ancient past and Bosra will be part of this revival.


The volume of commerce between Rome and India via Red Sea and Arabian Sea was huge since the conquest of Egypt by the Romans in 30 BC, according to the historian Strabo: 120 Roman vessels sailed every year from Berenice Troglodytica and many times touched southern Arabia Felix on their travel to India, while doing the Spice Route. [2] Mostly in order to secure the maritime route from piracy, the Romans organized an expedition under Aelius Gallus in which the port of Aden (then called Eudaemon) in southern Arabia was occupied temporarily. The Romans furthermore maintained a small legionary garrison in the Nabataean port of Leuke Kome ("meaning "the white village", located north of the Arabian port of Jeddah) in the 1st century in order to control the commerce of spices, according to the academic Theodor Mommsen (see Indo-Roman trade relations). [3]

Frankincense and myrrh, two spices highly prized in antiquity as fragrances, could only be obtained from trees growing in southern Arabia, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Arab merchants brought these goods to Roman markets by means of camel caravans along the Incense Route. This Incense Route originally commenced at Shabwah in Hadhramaut, the easternmost kingdom of South Arabia, and ended at Petra. Strabo compared the immense traffic along the desert routes to that of an army. The Incense Route ran along the western edge of Arabia's central desert about 100 miles inland from the Red Sea coast. The Roman Pliny the Elder stated that the journey consisted of sixty-five stages divided by halts for the camels. Both the Nabataeans and the South Arabians grew tremendously wealthy through the transport of these goods destined for the Roman Empire.

Gaius Aelius Gallus was the second praefectus Aegypti (governor of Roman Egypt) (Latin: Aegyptus), from 26 to 24 BC. Accounts of his expedition to Arabia Felix are given by Strabo, [4] Cassius Dio [5] and Pliny the Elder. [6] Strabo's account is particularly detailed, [7] and derives most of its information from Aelius Gallus himself, who was a personal friend of Strabo. [8]

Then part of the Kingdom of Sabaʾ, the area of modern-day Yemen was called Arabia Felix (Latin for 'Fertile Arabia' or 'Fortunate Arabia') by the Romans, reflecting its perceived prosperity. The success of the Sabaeans was based on their cultivation and trade of valuable spices and aromatics, including frankincense and myrrh. Irrigation of these crops was enabled by the Great Dam of Ma'rib. Strabo mentions that Ilasaros was the ruler of Hadhramaut at that time.

Augustus commanded Gallus to undertake a military expedition to Arabia Felix in 26 BC, where he was to either conclude treaties making the Arabian people foederati (i.e. client states), or to subdue them if they resisted. According to Theodor Mommsen, Aelius Gallus sailed with 10,000 legionaries from Egypt and landed at Leuce Kome, a trading port of the Nabateans in the northwestern Arabian coast. [9] Gallus' subsequent movements relied on a Nabataean guide called Syllaeus, who proved to be untrustworthy. [5] [10] [11] As a result of Syllaeus' misdirections, the army took six months to reach Ma'rib, the Sabaean capital.

Gallus besieged Ma'rib unsuccessfully for a week, before being forced to withdraw. Mommsen ascribes this to a combination of disease, over-extended supply lines, and a tougher desert environment than the Romans had expected. [ citation needed ] Gallus' retreat to Alexandria was completed in sixty days. The supporting Roman fleet had more success: they occupied and destroyed the port of Eudaemon (modern Aden), securing the Roman merchant route to India.

The Nabateans maintained close relations with the Romans since their arrival in the southeastern Mediterranean area. Under Augustus they were a Roman client kingdom.

When the emperor Trajan started his military expansions toward the east, Rabbel II Soter -one of Rome's client kings- died. This event prompted the annexation of his Nabataean Kingdom, although the manner and the formal reasons for the annexation are unclear. Some epigraphic evidence suggests a military operation, with forces from Syria and Egypt.

What is clear, however, is that by 107 AD, Roman legions were stationed in the area around Petra and Bostra, as is shown by a papyrus (and other evidences) found in Egypt.

Trajan also promoted a "client state" in the Himyarite Kingdom of the southwestern Arabian peninsula and the creation of a canal between the Nile delta and the Red sea (often historically called "Trajan canal") that was important for the growing commerce between Rome and India.

Furthermore, he also established a legionary garrison on the Farasan Island (called "Portus Ferresanus" in Latin language) in the southern Red Sea off the coast of southern Arabia, possibly to guard the lucrative trade routes passing through the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb: [12]

A subsequent Roman and Byzantine presence in the east of Greater Farasan is confirmed by scattered column fragments and amphora sherds at a number of the Wadi Matar sites and Gharrain.The second-century Latin inscription mentioning "Portus Ferrasan", found at nearby al-Qusar, points to a Roman naval presence in the area in the decades following the opening of Trajanus canal, which connected the Nile at "Babylon to the Red Sea" at Clysma, modern Suez, and during the prosperity of the Roman ports of Myos Hormos and Berenike, when Roman interest in trade with South Arabia and India centred around exotic products such as frankincense and pepper. The fact that another second-century Latin inscription has been found in the present-day cemetery serving nearby Farasan Town further indicates an ancient Roman military presence in the area. Cooper John, Zazzaro Chiara. "The Farasan Islands, Saudi Arabia: Towards a Chronology of Settlement" [13]

This Farasan garrison was the southernmost presence of roman legionaries, according to recent archeological discoveries.

The Roman Empire gained -thanks to Trajan- what became the province of Arabia Petraea (modern southern Jordan and north west Saudi Arabia). [14]

The Hedjaz region was integrated into the Roman province of Arabia in 106 CE. A monumental Roman epigraph of 175-177 was recently discovered at Al-Hijr (then called "Hegra"). The region then formed part of Roman history, and then Byzantine history, until the 7th century. In 356, the city of Hegra is again mentioned, as being led by a mayor of local origin, but it seems to have been very little. [15]

The conquest of Arabia was not officially exulted until the completion of the Via Traiana Nova in 120's. This road extended down the center of the province from Bostra to Aqaba. It wasn't until the project was finished that coins, featuring Trajan's bust on the obverse and a camel on the reverse, appeared commemorating the acquisition of Arabia. These coins were minted until 115, at which time the Roman imperial focus was turning farther eastward. The road links not only Bostra and Aqaba, but also Petra and was continued by a "caravan road" south the coast of western Arabia until the port of Leuce Kome.

Recently further evidence has been discovered that Roman legions occupied Mada'in Saleh in the Hijaz Mountains area of northwestern Arabia, increasing the extension of the "Arabia Petraea" province. [16]

Hadrian probably restructured the province after the Trajan expansion, reducing the area to nearly half the original size (at the west of what was called the Limes Arabicus) in order to better defend Arabia Petraea from raiders and enemies. The same process occurred in Caledonia, when he abandoned the Roman forts around Inchtuthil and the Gask Ridge and created Hadrian's Wall in Roman Britain (reducing the Roman-controlled area of Scotland).

Under emperor Septimius Severus Arabia Petraea was expanded to include the Leja’ and Jabal al-Druze, rough terrain south of Damascus, and also the birthplace of M. Julius Phillipus (Philip the Arab).

Indeed, the Romans found a powerful ally in the Arabs called Ghassanids, who moved from the area of Marib to southern Syria mainly in the 2nd century. The Ghassanids were the buffer zone against the other Bedouins penetrating Roman territory in those years. More accurately their kings can be described as phylarchs, native rulers of subject frontier states. Their capital was at Jabiyah in the Golan Heights. Geographically, the Ghassanid kingdom occupied much of Syria, Mount Hermon (Lebanon), Jordan and Palestine, and its authority extended via tribal alliances with other "Azdi" tribes all the way to the northern Hejaz as far south as Yathrib (Medina).

Furthermore, precise Arab ancestry of the Roman emperor Philip the Arab is not known, since all sources give only the Latin names of him and his family members. However, having originated from the general area in which the Ghassanids settled, many historians consider he may have been of that origin. His being mentioned either as a Christian himself or at least tolerant of Christians would fit with his originating from a people which was in the process of Christianization at the time of his rule.

Septimius Severus enlarged a province that was already huge. He then proceeded to enlarge the empire, through the conquest of Mesopotamia. The transfer of the Leja’ and Jebel Drūz seemed to have been part of a shrewd series of political acts on the emperor's part to consolidate control of the area before this conquest. Arabia became the ideological power base for Septemius Severus in the Roman Near East.

Arabia became such a symbol of loyalty to Severus and the empire, according to Bowersock, [17] that during his war against Clodius Albinus, in Gaul, Syrian opponents propagated a rumour that the Third Cyrenaica legion controlling Arabia Petraea had defected. That it would matter to an issue in France/Gaul that a single legion in a backwater province on the other side of the empire would rebel indicates the political sway that Arabia had amassed. Not a land of significant population, resources, or even strategic position, it had become a bedrock of Roman culture. That it was an Eastern Roman culture didn't seem to dilute its effectiveness in matters in the west. It is precisely because Arabia Petraea had so little that it was able to define itself as Roman and that spurred its loyalty to Imperial Rome.

Another example of the loyalty to Rome of the Arab tribes of northern Arabia was Lucius Septimius Odaenathus. He was "the son of Lucius Septimius Herod (Hairān), the senator and chief of Tadmor, the son of Vaballathus (Wahballath), the son of Nasor" [18] and was the romanized Arab ruler of Palmyra and later his wife Zenobia and son Vaballathus ruled the short lived Palmyrene Empire. Odenatus, in the second half of the 3rd century, succeeded in recovering the Roman East from the Persians and restoring it to the Empire.

With Emperor Diocletian's restructuring of the empire in 284–305, Arabia Petraea province was enlarged to include parts of modern-day Palestine. Arabia after Diocletian was a part of the Diocese of the East, which was part of the Praetorian prefecture of the East and was largely Christian.

The province was conquered by the Arab Muslims under the Caliph Umar in the early 7th century: the Legio III Cyrenaica was destroyed defending Bosra in 630, ending the Roman presence in Arabia. [19]

File:The triumph of Shapur I over the Roman emperors Valerian and Philip the Arab, Naqsh-e Rostam, Iran (48098710736).jpg

The triumph relief of Shapur I (r.241-272), the most famous Sasanian rock relief from Naqš-e Rustam, is very close to the tomb of Darius I the Great. It shows how king Shapur has defeated two Roman emperors.

The historical events depicted are these. In 244, the Roman legions invaded Mesopotamia and besieged the Sasanian capital Ctesiphon, but the war lasted long, and the Roman emperor Gordian III was replaced by Philippus Arabs, who was forced to conclude a peace treaty with Shapur. Philip even paid a ransom and was happy to return alive, allowing Shapur to present the events as if the new Roman ruler owed the throne to the Sasanian king. So, we can see the emperor Philip kneeling in front of the king's horse.

Philippus Arabs

Philip the Arab remains among the most enigmatic of Roman emperors. Widely divergent views of his life and reign may be found in the spotty references in late-antique sources, as well as in modern histories. Was Philip a tolerant, effective administrator whose five-year reign saw the culmination of the multicultural empire of the Severans? Or was he a bumbling schemer who could not manage the ever-growing military threats along the empire’s frontiers?

Compounding these difficulties in interpretation is the recent interest in viewing Philip as a model for Arab interaction with the West. As Arabs today, wherever they may live, grapple with defining their identity in relation to Europe and America, Philip represents either a positive example of integration or a warning on the dangers of engagement. Christian Körner’s study of Philip the Arab has appeared at a particularly opportune time.

The study developed out of Körner’s dissertation at the University of Bern, and the book is very dissertation-like in its tone and presentation. Körner’s work is neither biography nor narrative history. Instead, Körner has fourteen discreet chapters analyzing various aspects of Philip’s life and reign (family, chronology, coins, legal decisions, and so forth), with the chapters themselves divided into sections which are further subdivided into subsections. Körner also includes three appendices (prosopography on senators and procurators, unknown and fictitious usurpers, and two plans from the emperor’s hometown of Philippopolis). As seen in publications in the social sciences, each subsection is labeled with a number and title (such as 𔄜. Fazit zu den Quellen,” from the chapter on Philip’s rise to power).

This method of organization is extremely helpful to the researcher who wants to focus upon a particular problem, and Körner is nothing if not thorough in the sifting of evidence and the gathering of scholarly opinions. The difficulty in such a diffuse presentation is that no comprehensive view of Philip appears. From the various chapter subsections a reader may piece together some of Körner’s ideas about the man and his reign, and a summary may be found in Körner’s concluding chapter (pp.323-328). Körner connects Philip to the models of Severan governance but finds the personally ambitious emperor overwhelmed by financial and military demands. Such ideas fit well within the scholarly consensus.

A useful way to review a book organized in this fashion is to examine Körner’s answers to the three major questions that have consumed historians of Philip the Arab: 1) was Philip involved in the death of his predecessor, Gordian III? 2) was Philip a Christian?, and 3) what were the circumstances surrounding Philip’s own death?

Gordian III died in late January or early February of 244, when the Roman army was on campaign in Mesopotamia against the Sassanian ruler Shapur. Around that time, a battle took place near the city of Misiche (roughly 40 miles west of modern Baghdad) in which Shapur’s forces were triumphant, or so we are told on the famous relief and trilingual inscription Shapur had cut at Naqsh-i-Rustam in modern-day Iran. Shapur’s monument claims that Gordian III was killed in the battle.

Roman and Byzantine sources do not mention this battle. Instead, these sources claim Gordian III died with the army in Mesopotamia, either on the way to Ctesiphon or, more specifically, near Circesium, along the Euphrates some 250 miles upstream from Misiche. Several of these sources also mention a cenotaph built at nearby Zaitha. Philip, one of Gordian’s praetorian prefects, is often blamed for the emperor’s death, which in these versions is said to have occurred at the hands of the soldiers. Philip either directly planned the assassination, or he fomented discontent at the emperor by cutting off the troops’ supplies.

Körner suggests that Gordian III was murdered at Misiche in a plot hatched by Philip and that the murder took place before the battle. Körner further explains the location of the cenotaph by claiming that Zaitha was where the retreating Roman army first returned safely inside the borders of the empire (pp.89-90). This analysis fails to convince, on several grounds.

Roman emperors did not get killed by their own troops while the soldiers were on the march beyond the frontier and anticipating iminent battle with non-Roman forces. Although both Caracalla and Severus Alexander were murdered on campaign by some of their own troops, neither was killed with the army on the march. (Caracalla was murdered returning to winter camp from a visit to a religious site Alexander was killed in winter camp for refusing to launch a military strike across the frontier.) It is unrealistic to believe that Roman troops would have participated in such a plot during a successful march hundreds of miles into Persian territory and facing the very present possibility of engagement. The discontent necessary for such a coup would have been far more likely during the long retreat that followed a military defeat.

Körner’s reconstruction of events does not really follow any of the ancient sources. He does not accept the version in the monument of Shapur that has Gordian killed in battle, nor does he accept Roman versions that place Gordian’s death near Circesium. Indeed, the most likely explanation for the cenotaph is precisely the one given by some late-antique sources, namely that it marked the location of Gordian’s death.

Was Philip a Christian? Eusebius claimed so, and the claim was elaborated by later Christian authors. Non-Christian sources from antiquity, however, never mention anything unusual about Philip’s religious views. Moreover, Philip appears indistinguishable from other third-century emperors in his use of pagan symbols and titles, and he made no improvements in the legal status of Christians or their religion.

On the question of Philip’s Christianity Körner’s judgment is far sounder (pp.260-276). He accepts the possibility that Origen wrote letters to Philip and his wife, as Eusebius claims however, he is unwilling to go any farther in crediting the idea that Philip was a Christian. According to Körner, the persecution of Christians under Philip’s successor, Decius, gave Christians a nostalgia for Philip’s reign. This nostalgia, coupled with the letters known from Origen’s correspondence, gave birth later in the third century to the legend of Philip’s Christianity.

Philip’s reign came to an end in 249 after Roman troops along the Danube revolted and proclaimed their commander Decius as emperor. Philip marched north with an army from Rome, while Decius traveled south with his Danubian troops. Late-antique Latin sources claim that Philip was killed in Verona, perhaps after a battle but certainly by his own troops, and that Philip’s young son (who had received the title of Augustus from his father) was subsequently killed by the praetorian guard in Rome. Zosimus and Zonaras claim both Philip and his son were killed in a battle against Decius’ troops, while John of Antioch has Decius’ uprising originate in Rome and has Philip assassinated in Beroea in Macedonia.

Körner (pp.305-322) rightly accepts the version of events outlined in the Latin sources, and he refutes alternatives proposed by modern historians who wish to rely more heavily upon Byzantine accounts.

Many other aspects of Philip’s reign are examined by Körner, including the celebrations of Rome’s millennium in 248 (pp.248-259) and Philip’s military campaigns along the frontiers (pp.120-157). In workmanlike manner, Körner regularly follows the pattern of listing and analyzing ancient sources, reporting modern scholarship, and finally providing his view of the evidence.

Although the need remains for a narrative history that would interpret Philip’s life with sweep and scale, it is wrong to criticize Körner’s book for what it is not. As a thorough study into the particulars of Philip’s reign, Körner has fulfilled his task admirably. Historians of the mid third century will want to consult the book as a reference guide in preparing their own research on Philip the Arab.

Europe 249: Decius vs Philip the Arab

In late 248 and early 249 almost simultaneous revolts broke out against Philip the Arab in Moesia and Syria. To restore order in Moesia, Philip gave his advisor Decius command of the Danube legions, only for the legions to proclaim Decius as Emperor instead. Philip marched north against the usurper, but was defeated and killed by Decius at Verona.

Main Events

244?–247? Shapur I’s Kushan War▲

During the reign of Kushan emperor Kanishka II (c.225–c.247), Shah Shapur I of Persia invaded the Kushan lands in Central Asia, possibly due to Kushan support of Armenia. Very little is known about this conflict, except that Shapur claimed to have conquered as far as Peshawar and that by c.247 the Kushan Empire had been reduced to its territories in India. in wikipedia

246–247 Philip the Arab’s Dacian War▲

In 246 the Carpi invaded Dacia, attacking the town of Romula and ravaging the countryside. The Roman emperor Philip the Arab led his army into the province, defeated them in several battles, and forced them to sue for peace. However, soon afterwards, the Romans seem to have abandoned the Limes Transalutanus, moving the eastern border of Dacia westward to the Aluta (Olt) river. in wikipedia

Apr 248 Roman Millennium▲

In the Roman calendar, the traditional founding of Rome on 21 April 753 BC was the first date in ab urbe condita 1 (AUC 1), making April 248 the beginning of AUC 1001, or the start of the new millennium. Emperor Philip the Arab spent lavishly on the celebrations, staging spectacular games in the Colossum in which more than 1,000 gladiators were killed along with hundreds of exotic animals including hippos, leopards, lions, giraffes, and one rhinoceros. The festivities, however, do not seem to have improved Philip’s popularity outside of Rome, and he would face growing problems in the provinces over the coming year. in wikipedia

248 First Siege of Marcianople▲

In the year of Rome’s Millennial celebrations (248), Roman emperor Philip the Arab brought an end to tributes to the Goths and the Carpi. In retaliation, the two tribes invaded Roman Moesia and the Goths besieged the major city of Marcianople. After a number of unsuccessful assaults on the city, the invaders accepted a payment from the Romans and withdrew. in wikipedia

Dec 248–Apr 249 Pacatian▲

In late 248 Marinus Pacatianus (Pacatian), an officer of the Danube legions, led a revolt in Moesia and Pannonia. Proclaiming himself Emperor, Pacatian nonetheless soon lost the support of his followers. In April 249 they murdered him and resumed their allegiance to the Roman emperor Philip. in wikipedia

249 Jotapian▲

During Philip the Arab’s reign, Syria was restive due to both high taxation and Philip’s favoritism towards Arabia Petraea. In early 249 Marcus Iotapianus (Jotapian), an aristocrat claiming descent from either Alexander Severus or the royal house of Commagene, proclaimed himself Emperor, launching a revolt in Syria and Cappadocia. More concerned with the Danube revolts, Philip largely ignored Jotapian, who, in any case, failed to win military support and was eventually killed by his own men. in wikipedia

May 249 Revolt of Decius▲

Following the revolt of Pacatian on the Danube, Roman emperor Philip the Arab ordered his advisor, senator Gaius Messius Quintus Decius, to travel to the region and restore order, granting him command over the legions of Moesia and Pannonia. On arrival Decius began punishing the former rebels, but was soon himself compromised when the troops proclaimed him Emperor. Hearing of this, Philip rejected Decius’ protests of innocence and prepared for war. in wikipedia

Sep 249 Battle of Verona▲

In summer 249 Roman emperor Philip the Arab marched north to face the usurper Decius. The two armies met at Verona and, although Philip had the larger force, he was defeated and killed. Decius continued south to Rome, where he was recognized as Emperor by the Senate. Philip II, Philip’s 12-year-old son and co-emperor, was apparently murdered in Rome shortly before Decius’ arrival. in wikipedia

Portrait bust of the Roman Emperor Philip the Arab, c mid 3rd century

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