Imperial Portraits of Gordian III Home

Up to Imperial Portraiture


Gordian III was

Preceded by Pupienus and Balbinus

Succeeded by Philip the Arab

  Photos by Bill Storage and Laura Maish
Email us about this page
  Gordian III, grandson of Gordian I, ruled Rome along with his mother and the Praetorian prefect Timesitheus from 238, when he was 13 years old, to 244 when he was killed in battle involving Persia and Mesopotamia, or perhaps, as rumors reported, at the hand of his successor, Philip I.

Photos 1, 2 and 3 are of the colossal head of Gordian III, found in Ostia, now in the Palazzo Massimo. Photos 4, 5 and 6 are of the portrait of young Gordian in the Capitoline Museum. Note the extremely large nasofrontal angle in photo 6 (the nose is original). Photos 7 and 8 are of the Acilia sarcophagus, now in the Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Massimo. The boy, carved in a greatly different style than the other characters on the sarcophagus, is thought by some to be Gordian. The frontal view of this boy appears similar to Gordian primarily only in the large eyes and high arched eyebrows (see photo 1), which are obviously not intended to be naturalistically rendered. He also lacks the beaked upper lip present in all the other Gordian portraits. A comparison of profiles, however (photo 8 vs. photo 6) reveals a somewhat stronger similarity. Facial proportions differ greatly, but forehead shape and nose shape are similar. I will suggest the strongest argument against connecting the sarcophagus with Gordian is that the boy on the sarcophagus appears younger than Gordian was when he died at age 19.

The head from Ostia is a fine example of the sort of abstraction that, a few decades later, would overcome all portraits carved or painted. That this type of styling is often seen as a product of the Byzantine is clearly wrong; this portrait dates from about 240 AD. Giant arched brows, acute angles in the hairline (photo 2) and the parallel arches of brows and hairline make this colossal head unforgettable. The sculptor conveyed Gordian's prowess beyond his years by adding two vertical creases between his eyes, recalling the scowl of Caracalla, who would likely have been remembered as a strong capable leader by viewers of this statue.

            Enter gallery   

1 2
3 4
5 6
7 8


Copyright 2007 Bill Storage and Laura Maish. Created 2/9/2007