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Philip the Arab › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Donald L. Wasson
published on 08 January 2014
Roman Coin of Philip the Arab (Christopher Willis)

Philip the Arab ruled as emperor of the Roman Empire briefly from 244 CE to 249 CE. In 244 CE Roman emperor Gordian III responded to an uprising in the eastern provinces instigated by the Persian king Shapur. Under the superb leadership of the Praetorian Guard prefect Gaius Furius Sabina Aquila Timesitheus, the revolt was swiftly suppressed. Unfortunately, after the commander's sudden death, his successor, Philip the Arab, grew disillusioned with his role as the new commander and set his sights much higher - the imperial throne. According to the Historia Augusta, “This Philip was low born but arrogant and now could not contain himself in his sudden rise to the office and immoderate good fortune, but immediately, through the soldiers, began to plot against Gordian, who had begun to trust him as a father.”
While pretending devotion to the inexperienced emperor, Philip spread false rumors among the troops that the emperor was incompetent and too young to rule. When Philip failed to follow the emperor's orders to attack Ctesiphon, Gordian grew impatient and “accused Philip of being unmindful of past favours and too little grateful.” He gave the army a choice: him or Philip. They chose Philip. Although the emperor pleaded for his life to be spared, Gordian met his death on February 25, 244 CE near the city of Zaitha on the Euphrates River. His body was cremated and returned to Rome. Without waiting for the Roman Senate to decide, Philip assumed the throne.
Marcus Julius Verus Philippus was born in 204 CE at Philippopolis in Southwestern Syria, the son of an Arab chieftain named Marinus. He would be the first of his race to become emperor. Philip rose quickly through the ranks and when King Shapur instigated his revolt in the east, he traveled with Gordian as deputy prefect of the Praetorian Guard. With the death of Timesitheus (possibly at the hands of the ambitious commander), Philip replaced him, but unlike his predecessor, decided he wanted the imperial throne. However, Gordian stood between him and his dream.
Behind the young emperor's back, the commander blamed the lack of food and late shipments of grain on Gordian's inability to rule. When orders were given to attack the Persian capital, Philip resisted, claiming that the emperor was incompetent.According to the Historia Augusta, the cunning Philip was behind the late shipments:
…Timesitheus had stored up such a quantity of supplies everywhere that the Roman administration could not break down. But now Philip intrigued first to have the grain-ships turned away, and then to have the troops moved to stations where they could not get provisions. In this way he speedily got them exasperated against Gordian, for they did not know that the youth had been betrayed through Philip's intriguing.
Afterwards Philip added, “…it was better for someone to rule who could command the army and understood public affairs.”
To the Roman Senate, Philip sent a letter, claiming that Gordian had died of natural causes. They accepted this assertion - Philip was seen as a very personable individual - and quickly appointed him as the new emperor. Seeing the need to consolidate his power and understanding the problems that had beset many of his predecessors, Philip realized the urgency in returning to Rome. He made a rather quick peace with King Shapur - one that included a large annual indemnity to be paid to the Persians - and departed for Rome. Before he left, he placed his brother Gaius Julius Priscus in control of the eastern provinces.


Regrettably, Philip would see little peace throughout his brief reign. Shortly after his arrival in Rome, the Dacian Carpi crossed the Danube River. When the Roman commander Severanus (Philip's brother-in-law) was unable to suppress the uprising, Philip was forced to intervene, but his victory did win him the title of Carpicus Maximus. There is also some evidence that he fought the Germans around the same time, because he was awarded the additional title of Germanicus Maximus. These victories afforded him the opportunity to appoint his five-year-old son Philip as Caesar. In 247 CE the young Caesar rose to the rank of Augustus with equal authority as his father; this included the title of chief priest. Sadly, peace did not remain along the Danube. Roman legions in Moesia and Pannonia voiced their dislike of the peace terms with the Carpi and declared their commander Tiberius Claudius Marinus Pacatianus as emperor. Pacatianus would be one among several who would soon claim the imperial throne. Philip offered to step down as emperor, but this idea was quickly dismissed. Luckily, the rebellion was short-lived, ending when Pacatinaus met his death at the hands of his own soldiers.
Philip's problems did not end there, however. His appointment of his brother to govern the east had proven to be a poor decision. Not only was Priscus financially irresponsible, but his harsh rule forced the army to name Iotapianus, who claimed to be related to the former emperor Alexander Severus, as emperor. The rebellion was stamped out in 249 CE; the would-be emperor was also killed by his own troops. Because of Philip's continued attempts to control the empire ’s finances through cuts in indemnity payments, other rebellions escalated along the Danube and Rhine Rivers - led by Silbannacus and Sponseanus respectively.
Roman Emperor Philip the Arab

Roman Emperor Philip the Arab

In 249 CE the Goths rebelled as, once again, Philip had cut payments promised by Gordian III. Roman legions under the ineffective command of Severanus were deserting to the Goths. Placing several legions under his command, Philip sent Quintus Decius Valerinus to be the new governor of both Moesia and Pannonian in an attempt to restore order. His leadership brought peace and stability. After the defeat of the Goths, Decius's men proclaimed him emperor. With additional legions at his disposal and the encouragement of his troops, in September of 249 CE Decius marched toward Rome. The armies of Philip and Decius met at Beroea in Macedonia where Philip met defeat and death. Shortly afterwards, his eleven-year-old son and heir was killed at the Praetorian camp in Rome, and Decius was proclaimed the new emperor.
Philip the Arab was the first of several short-lived emperors who would rule the vast Roman Empire for the next three decades.While Philip's brief reign was spent mostly in constant combat, he did make some contributions to the empire. Although his budgetary restraints caused rebellions along the borders, he did curtail abuses in the treasury. Among numerous public works projects, he built new reservoirs to relieve water shortages in Rome, and he made attempts to decentralize the government by appointing several new provincial governors. Also, despite the exorbitant price, he led the city's celebration of its one-thousandth anniversary with lavish games at the Circus Maximus. Oddly, years after his death, he was considered by some to be the first Christian emperor; a rumor circulated because of his favorable treatment of Christians; however, the fact that Philip had his father deified would seem to disprove this idea.

Marsyas › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by James Lloyd
published on 27 June 2014
Marsyas ()

Marsyas the satyr, or silen, was seen as a mythological founder of aulos playing or a divine judge of it by the ancient Greeks.The way in which his aulos playing enraptured his audience was likened to the way in which Socrates mesmerised his audience with his philosophising words, and the fact that the two were both quite ugly is also picked up on in Plato 's Symposium. For some time, Marsyas held a prominent position within the minds of the ancient Greeks, particularly the Athenians. There are many mentions of him within the textual record, and various fine examples of Athenian artisanship represent him, such as the statue group by Myron that would have sat atop the Acropolis.
The standard myth of Marsyas involves him picking up the auloi (plural of aulos) cast down by Athena. Athena threw down the auloi, so Melanippides relates, because she saw her reflection in a mirror as she played, and she thought that her puffed out cheeks were inelegant and unbecoming, though Telestes argued against this:
...somebody said that Melanippides, in his Marsyas, disparaging the art of playing the flute, had said very cleverly about Minerva :—
Athena cast away those instruments
Down from her sacred hand; and said, in scorn,
"Away, you shameful things—you stains of the body!
Shall I now yield myself to such malpractices'"
And some one, replying to him, said,—But Telestes of Selinus, in opposition to Melanippides, says in his Argo (and it is of Athena that he too is speaking):—
It seems to me a scarcely credible thing
That the wise Pallas, holiest of goddesses,
Should in the mountain groves have taken up
That clever instrument, and then again
Thrown it away, fearing to draw her mouth
Into an unseemly shape, to be a glory
To the nymph -born, noisy monster Marsyas.
For how should chaste Athena be so anxious
About her beauty, when the Fates had given her
A childless, husbandless virginity? (Ath. 616e ff.)


The satyr Marsyas picked up Athena's auloi, however, and at some point challenged Apollo to a contest ( agon in the Greek ).Apollo chose to play the lyre and, either through skill alone or a certain degree of trickery, beat Marsyas. Marsyas' punishment for thinking that he could out skill an Olympian was that he was hung up and skinned alive. The story of Marsyas has often been discussed within the context of New Music in Athens. A good example of this is the passages of Melanippides and Telestes preserved in Athanaeus which seemingly argue different corners in support of the aulos. However, due to Marsyas thinking himself superior to Apollo, it is a myth that is also used as an example of the dangers of hubris.
Marsyas also held appeal in Hellenistic and Roman times, but the focus becomes less on his agon with Apollo, or his picking up of the auloi from Athena, and more specifically on his punishment at the hands of Apollo. This can be seen clearly in a changing interest in iconographies of Marsyas, which show interest in depicting the flaying of Marsyas. We also know that a statue of Marsyas resided in the Roman forum ( Horace S.1.6), and our surviving statues of Myron's Athenian group are in fact later Roman copies.
Various mythological genealogies were applied to Marsyas; he is often said to have been the son of an elder Olympus, sometimes of Hyagnis, or of Oeagrus. He was also said to have taught a younger Olympus (who was variably also recorded as Marsyas' son), who was famous for his music making, how to play the aulos.
Apollo and Marsyas

Apollo and Marsyas

Marsyas could also refer to a river in Phrygia named after the famous satyr. This part of the myth is recounted in Herodotus7.26, Xenophon Anabasis 1.2, referred to at Plato Euthyd. 285d, and beautifully retold by Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.382, where the tears of Marsyas' companions collect in the river, another example of the Roman interest in the flaying of Marsyas:
The Satyr Marsyas, when he played the flute
in rivalry against Apollo's lyre,
lost that audacious contest and, alas!
His life was forfeit; for, they had agreed
the one who lost should be the victor's prey.
And, as Apollo punished him, he cried,
“Ah-hh! why are you now tearing me apart?
A flute has not the value of my life!”
Even as he shrieked out in his agony,
his living skin was ripped off from his limbs,
till his whole body was a flaming wound,
with nerves and veins and viscera exposed.
But all the weeping people of that land,
and all the Fauns and Sylvan Deities,
and all the Satyrs, and Olympus, his
loved pupil—even then renowned in song,
and all the Nymphs, lamented his sad fate;
and all the shepherds, roaming on the hills,
lamented as they tended fleecy flocks.
And all those falling tears, on fruitful Earth,
descended to her deepest veins, as drip
the moistening dews,—and, gathering as a fount,
turned upward from her secret-winding caves,
to issue, sparkling, in the sun-kissed air,
the clearest river in the land of Phrygia,—
through which it swiftly flows between steep banks
down to the sea: and, therefore, from his name,
'Tis called “The Marsyas” to this very day.


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with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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