World Coins

Silver denarius of Gordianus II's short-lived reign

A rare silver denarius of the brief reign of Gordian Africanus II highlights a March 11 auction from Fritz Rudolph Künker.

Coin images courtesy of Fritz Rudolph Künker.

The Roman Empire was notable for upheaval, but no more so than in 238 A.D., the so-called “Year of Six Emperors.”

The rapid succession of rulers led to some fairly scarce coins, including those for Gordianus II Africanus. A silver denarius from his brief reign is a highlight of Fritz Rudolph Künker’s March 11 auction. 

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Gordianus II Africanus was born around 192, the son of Gordianus I. His mother’s name is not known and an ancient history text (Historia Augusta) created the fictional name Fabia Orestilla, but his mother was possibly a granddaughter of the sophist Herod Atticus, according to the auction house.

Little is known about the life and career of Gordianus, so again the Historia Augusta created fabulous tales about him, including various cravings (a reported 22 concubines leading to one in every three or four births being his children) and a library with 62,000 volumes.

Bibliophile or no, what is certain is that Gordianus II was consul suffectus before serving his father as a legate in Africa. 

It is unclear whether he was elevated to emperor in Thysdrus together with his father, a few days later in Carthage or only by the Senate in Rome. When Capelianus, the governor of Numidia loyal to Maximinus Thrax, marched with his army to Carthage, Gordianus II became the commander of an army and faced the enemy to fight at the Battle of Carthage. 

Short reign, rare coins

He fell dead, and his father committed suicide as a result that same day, April 12. 

Their reign would measure 21 days, or shorter than the length of some American government shutdowns. 

The coins of the two Gordiani Africani (father and son) are among the rare and particularly coveted mintages of the Roman Empire.

Though their reign was short, the quality of their coins is notably high, creating an enduring mystery about whether the revolt had actually been carefully planned, or the production of coins continued long after their reign.

The offered coin has “excellent patina” and is graded Extremely Fine by the auction house.

It has an estimate of 4,000 (about $4,514 U.S.).  

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