Philip Arabs

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Bust of Philip the Arab

Marcus Iulius Philippus (known as Philippus Arabs "Philip the Arab", rarely referred to as Philip I ; * around 204 in Shahba , † 249 near Verona ) was Roman emperor from 244 until his death .


Rise to the emperor

Philip was born in the city of Shahba, which he later re-founded as Philippopolis , in the Trachonitis region in today's Syria , and came from a family with Arabic roots. His father was Iulius Marinus, who may have been an Arab nomad leader in Roman service. Despite its relatively simple origins, he rose quickly in the Roman professional army and brought it under Gordian III. to the Praetorian Prefect . He married Marcia Otacilia Severa when he was still an officer in the cavalry forces under Gordian. After his death, of which, according to several sources, he was not entirely innocent (whether this is true, however, cannot be clearly answered and is also controversial in modern research; it is possible that Gordian fell against the Sassanids in the Battle of Mesiche ), he had the army proclaim himself emperor in 244. He is considered to be the first Roman emperor to come from Arabia . The Roman Senate of necessity confirmed the decision of the troops and formally granted Philip the powers of a princeps .

Back of an Antoninian on the arrival ( adventus ) of Philip and his son in Rome, Kampmann 74.1, RIC 26
Shapur's triumphal relief near Naqsch-e Rostam: Emperor Philip Arabs kneels in front of the Persian king (on horseback); Emperor Valerian stands next to Shapur, who has grabbed his arm as a sign of imprisonment.

Immediately after taking office, he made a peace with the Sassanids , which cost Rome rulership over Armenia and 500,000 gold pieces, but at least secured Lower Armenia and northern Mesopotamia for the time being. Shapur I , of course, clearly saw himself as the victor, in front of whom the Roman emperor fell on his knees on the reliefs near Bischapur and Naqsch-e Rostam ; on a gold coin and in the res gestae divi Saporis the Romans were designated as paying tribute . Indeed, peace was far more beneficial to the Sassanids than to Rome. However, this did not prevent Philip from being celebrated as the Persian winner on coins. Philip was able to calm the situation on the Roman borders in the east, but was unable to pacify the important northern border permanently. He made his brother Gaius Iulius Priscus the praetorian prefect and governor of the Roman province of Mesopotamia (North Mesopotamia ) and appointed his father-in-law or brother-in-law Severianus as governor in Moesia ( Moesia ). However, this did not succeed in repelling the Carps there, which plundered the Danube at the turn of the year 244/245. So at the end of 245 Philip himself moved from Rome to the border area, where he first defeated the Teutons in 246 and then forced the Carps to peace in Dacia (Dacia) the following year .

Antoninian of Philip Arab

The millennium

Even if he is traditionally counted among the soldier emperors, Philip was clearly in the tradition of the Severians and was able to give the empire a certain stability: at least for his time, one cannot speak of a general imperial crisis . In the year 248 the millennium of the city of Rome was celebrated under his rule , since according to the Roman calendar the eleventh century began in this year. For this occasion, coins were minted with the portrait of Philip the Arab or that of his wife or son Philip Caesar on the obverse and various motifs and the inscription SAECVLARES AVGG on the lapel. The letters AVGG with two G indicate that these coins were minted in the name of both emperors, i.e. by Philip Arabs and his son.

Reverse of a coin of Philip the Arab for the millennium

The religious celebrations, which were accompanied by extremely elaborate gladiator fights , chariot races and animal fights , lasted for days . In order to be able to celebrate the big event properly, the population of Rome received generous monetary gifts from the emperor. The beginning of a new age was propagated, with a dynasty founded by Philip at its head.

Defeat and death

In the year of the celebration, usurpers in the provinces claimed the throne. Philip was said to be about to abdicate, but it is questionable whether this news is true. The revolts fizzled out, however, as their leaders were murdered, but the Goths and Karpen were encouraged to invade Moesia inferior (Lower Moesia ). Severianus was again overwhelmed with the defense, whereupon the emperor gave the senator Decius the supreme command over Moesia and Pannonia (Pannonia). He was able to restore order quickly, but in 249 his legions proclaimed him emperor. There was a very bloody decisive battle near Verona , which Philip lost despite his numerical superiority. In this battle he was killed; his son Philip Caesar was later slain by the Praetorians. Decius succeeded him as emperor.


Eusebius of Caesarea reports in his church history around 340 that Philip Arabs was the first Roman emperor who wanted to participate "as a Christian at the Easter vigil with the crowd in the prayers of the church [...] as a Christian," but that the bishop after the emperor had joined the penitents, allowed them to attend mass. However, according to the current state of research, this claim is completely implausible. The legend that Philip was a Christian probably originated in order to later distinguish the relatively tolerant emperor from Decius, who at the end of 249 issued a nationwide sacrifice that in fact led to violent persecution of Christians.


Overview representations


  • Christian Körner: Philippus Arabs. A soldier emperor in the tradition of the Antonine-Severan principate (= studies of ancient literature and history 61). Berlin et al. 2002, ISBN 3-11-017205-4 ( review by H-Soz-u-Kult )
  • Xavier Loriot: Chronologie du règne de Philippe l'Arabe (244−249 après JC) . In: Rise and Fall of the Roman World , Volume II 2. De Gruyter, Berlin 1975, ISBN 3-11-004971-6 , pp. 788–797
  • Michael Peachin: Roman Imperial Titulature and Chronology, AD 235-284 . Gieben, Amsterdam 1990, ISBN 90-5063-034-0 , pp. 30f., 62–66 (discussion of the chronology) and 198–238 (compilation of evidence in numismatic, inscribed and narrative sources)

Web links

Commons : Philippus Arabs  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. Cf. general description in Körner, pp. 75ff., Who, unlike many other researchers, blames Philip for the death of the emperor.
  2. Eusebius 6:34.
  3. Klaus Martin Girardet: Christian emperors before Konstantin the Elder. Gr.? . In: Klaus Martin Girardet: The Constantinian Turn , Darmstadt 2006, p. 13ff .; Brigitte Klein: Tranquillina, Otacilia, Etruscilla, Salonina: four empresses of the 3rd century AD . Dissertation, Saarbrücken 1998, p. 138f.
predecessor Office successor
Gordian III. Roman emperor