28 June 2007

Hatshepsut is Back! (Updated)

This seems to be my mummy week.

Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass announced that one of two female mummies found in a small and undecorated, robbed-out tomb (KV60) in the Valley of the Kings over a century ago has now been identified as Hatshepsut, "the greatest woman monarch of the ancient world." As the media will be full of this story -- and Dr Hawass has a lengthy, illustrated piece on his own website -- I would like to focus instead on two points of uncommon interest.

First, how and why did Hapshepsut (and her woman friend, thought to be the royal wet-nurse, Sitre-In) get moved out of the great mummy cache, known as Deir el Bahri 320?

Second, why was Hapshepsut's mummy long thought to be that of Sitre-In?

Royal Mummy Caches

The High Priests of Amun, who controlled the Theban area during the 21st and 22nd Dynasties hid the bodies of many of the kings and queens of the 18th, 19th, and 20th Dynasties in a series of secret tombs in the Valley of the Kings. For over a century, the official version goes, the High Priests had struggled in vain to check the plundering of the noble dead, the pharaohs and great families of the empire. It is equally likely -- particularly if you have an evil mind, like mine -- that the stripping of the dead had not been done by local robbers, but by the state itself, hungry for gold at a time of economic decline. Whichever the true story, undoubtedly, by the turn of the first millennium BC, it was a pretty battered set of royal mummies and relations that residual piety demanded should be saved.

In Pharaoh Siamum's tenth year (c. 969 BC) , it was decided to secure the remains by interment in one or two large groups of secret hiding-places. One group, including 50 kings, princes, and courtiers, with almost 6,000 accompanying objects, went into the secret tomb (DB320) of Pinudjem II, reigning High Priest and ruler of Thebes and southern Egypt. Some of these mummies had already been shifted one or more times, shedding treasures along the way, while this mass transfer also made it all too likely that, every now and again, one king's mummy would be placed in the coffin of another, or that a mummy, ready for rewrapping, would mistakenly be listed under the wrong name. Some mummies ended up with no identification at all associated with them any more.

The mummies of named kings found in this cache were Seqenenre-Tao, who had fought the Hyksos, Ahmose I, the founder of the New Kingdom, the revered Amenophis I, the first three Tutmosids [that is to say, Hatshepsut's father (I) and husband (II), as well as her ungrateful stepson (III)], Seti I, Ramesses II, III and IX, and the empty coffin of Ramesses I.

Among the objects was an ivory box that bore the cartouche of Hatshepsut (below the knob and between the two dark stripes), which contained the liver and inner bits of the queen and a single tooth: in principle, her mummy should have been there as well, because the box was never meant to have been separated from the mummy.

What happened to her mummy?

It was not in DB320, for the tooth (a molar) -- which must have fallen out while Hatshepsut was being embalmed and carefully placed with her viscera -- did not fit any likely female mummy in the cache.

Hatshepsut's original burial was in KV 20, a tomb consisting of 4 tunnels, each about 213 meters (650') long. Over the course of their length, the tunnels bend to form a half circle: it is believed that the tomb took this shape so that it would end at the axis of Queen Hatshepsut's splendid temple at Deir el Bahri, so that the burial chamber would lie directly beneath the holy of holies.

In 1902, Howard Carter and Theodore Davies discovered an empty sarcophagus made of sandstone inscribed for Hatshepsut as a pharaoh in the burial chamber of KV20, as well as a second empty sarcophagus belonging to her father, Thutmose I, presumably ordered by Hatshepsut so that she could move her father’s body into it.

The next year, in front of KV 20, Carter also discovered the tomb KV60. This tomb contained the two damaged female mummies, one in a decorated coffin, the other one on the floor. Because the tomb had been robbed and was undecorated, he closed the tomb again after a short inspection.

In 1906 Edward Ayrton opened KV60 again. He moved the mummy which was lying in the coffin together with the coffin to the Egyptian Museum at Cairo. This coffin is inscribed with the name of Sitre-In, who has been meanwhile identified as the nurse of Hatshepsut.

The 2nd mummy of a partially unwrapped, fat lady (with huge pendulous breasts) of middle age, worn-down teeth, and red-blond dyed hair was left in the tomb lying on the floor. The woman had been mummified with her arms in the position that has been usual for queens during the 18th Dynasty - with the left arm bent over the chest. The tomb was closed again.

Recently, Dr Hawass reopened KV60 and inspected the Fat Lady mummy. This convinced him that she was more likely the wet-nurse than the queen because:
  • the very obese lady died at an advance age,
  • was not very thoroughly mummified,
  • and had huge pendulous breasts (not unusual for a nurse),
  • the position of the left arm was not always restricted to royalty.
In contrast, the mummy brought to the Museum was more likely that of Hatshepsut, because :
  • the right arm is extended at her side, the left arm is resting across the abdomen,
  • the left hand is closed as if it was holding something,
  • the lady was very thoroughly mummified and originally wrapped in fine linen, the fingers bandaged individually,
  • the mummy had long wavy white hair, and is about 1,50 m tall, whereas the coffin is about 2,13 m and, therefore, suggesting that it was not intended for this person,
  • the mummy still in KV60 is significantly taller and would better fit in the coffin.
You can probably guess what happened next.

To the surprise of almost everyone (though some are disguising it better than others) the Fat Lady has now been identified as the mummy of Hatshepsut.

The key to this identification is the tooth found in the ivory box from the cache DB320: in recent CT-scans, the tooth can be seen to fit exactly into a gap in the upper jaw of this mummy.

Why was Hatshepsut's mummy unrecognized?

Just ten days ago (and not for the first time) on the EEF-List, Egyptologist Marianne Luban questioned all the unspoken assumptions including:
  • Why does there have to be a "wet-nurse" involved at all? The presence of "large breasts" on an obese old lady is hardly an uncommon phenomenon indicating that profession!
  • The inscribed coffin was obviously made for someone named Sitre-In, but now could perfectly well be occupied by someone else.
  • If the body found on the floor was taller than the one in the coffin, it still doesn't mean that it belonged to her either.

So Marianne's view before yesterday's announcement: "Some years back, I got hold of a large photo of the profile of this [fat] lady and did a reconstruction. The result was very like the profile of Ahmes, the mother of Hatshepsut, with her strong features. I'd place my money on those two women [in KV 60] being related--not royal lady and servant."

Well, she picked a winner with Hapshepsut's mummy.

Who says that "a fat, big breasted, woman with dyed long hair" could not possibly be a queen? Though she never would have let herself be pictured like that, of course.

Who would?

Hatshepsut died at around the age of 50 -- in those days, already an old woman -- probably as a result of bone cancer (not liver cancer as also reported, but "a 2cm wide tumor in her left leg"), and she was obese and suffered from diabetes.

Despite her hard end, she was undoubtedly "the greatest woman monarch of the ancient world."

Nonetheless, she was sadly and rudely transported and robbed. But when? Two last speculations:

First, she may never have been in DB320. It would make sense for her (and the second female) to have been moved the short distance directly from KV20 to KV 60 during the 21st Dynasty, when so many other kings were moved. If so, how did the ivory box get to DB320? One possibility is that it was accidentally removed when her father, Thutmosis I, was taken from KV20 and given a new tomb, KV38, by his grandson, Thutmosis III. He did end up (it seems) much later in DB320.

More importantly, if unlikely, that would mean that her reign was still remembered as late as the 21st Dynasty, despite the destruction of her monuments and erasure of her name.

Or, of course, a cruelly vindictive Thutmosis III unceremoniously booted her out of KV20 right after removing his grandfather. Stuff happens.

Update: Mark Rose has a good review of Discovery Channel's 'Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen' (aired 15 July at 9 pm EST), Hatshepsut Found; Thutmose I Lost -- knowledgeable and a more than a little bit tongue-in-cheek.

Updated 19 March 2009: The April issue of National Geographic has a rather overwritten story by Chip Brown, "The King Herself. What motivated Hatshepsut to rule ancient Egypt as a man while her stepson stood in the shadows? Her mummy, and her true story, have come to light". Little that is new except for the failure of DNA tests to come up with a clear answer to the 'Is She or Isn't She?' question:

"With ancient specimens you never have a 100 percent match, because the genetic sequences aren't complete," says Angélique Corthals, a professor of biomedicine and forensic studies at Stony Brook University in New York. "We looked at mitochondrial DNA for the suspected Hatshepsut mummy and her grandmother Ahmose Nefertari. There is about a 30 to 35 percent chance that the two samples are not related, but I cannot emphasize enough that these are just preliminary results." Another round of tests may soon deliver a clearer verdict.

Stupendous photographs, especially the close-ups of the mummy.

My thanks to David Gill at the Ancient World Bloggers Group for the tip-off.

23 June 2007

New Salt Mummy from Persia (with multiple updates)

Not long after the last Parthian emperor fell before the sword of Ardashir, the first Sassanian Persian King of Kings (228 AD) -- thus setting off the events that would lead to the death of Severus Alexander and his mother, Julia Mamaea, and to a lot more blogging on my part -- an insignificant salt-mine worker from northwestern Iran lost his life in a catastrophic rock collapse. Just this month, the man's body — preserved in salt — was discovered in the very same spot where he died. The unlucky fellow is the sixth "salt man" to be found at the Chehr Abad mine in Zanjan province.

The head pictured above is not from the new mummy -- who will be left in situ under a pile of salt and dirt until better means of museum preservation are developed -- but part of a body discovered in 1993/1994. This miner was about 35 years old, with long white hair (bleached by the salt?) and a beard. When discovered, he was wearing leather boots and had on or near him three iron knives, a silver needle, a sling, parts of a leather rope, a grindstone, a walnut (one?!?), some pottery sherds, a woollen half trouser and other textile fragments, and a few broken bones. He sported at least one earring. C14 tests date the mummy to ± 1745 BP ("Before Present", as scientists like to say).

Salt Mummy 4, found in March 2005, is the best preserved body. He was about sixteen years of age and 165-170 cm (5' 3-4") tall. The lad wore two earrings and was dressed in a knee-length quilted garment and thigh-high leggings, and had an iron dagger in a scabbard around his waist. Nearby were two pottery vessels (containing oil) that may have been used as lanterns. Niels Lynnerup, a mummification expert from the University of Copenhagen, will attempt to reconstruct the teenager's face, too youthful to have had any trace of a beard. To do this, he will use around 1,000 MRI images of the body and face. After the reconstruction of the face, a polymer statue of the 'salt boy' will be produced.

The salt mummies are virtually unique. Two flattened 'salt men' were recovered in the world's most ancient salt mine in Hallstatt, Austria in 1573 and 1734 . This mine was in operation until the 4th century BC, and closed down after a catastrophic landslide which devastated the Salzberg Valley and buried the unhappy miners. Their skin was said to have been intact and only tinged brown from the effects of salt. Both were both given decent burial but, as heathens, outside of the church graveyard.

No chance of that today: we are all ghouls now.

Mark Pollard of Oxford University (with whom I had the pleasure of working many years ago) and Don Brothwell of York University will study the mummies in the coming year. They’ll take DNA samples of the five ‘salt men’ and will examine their diet, health, and age before death. It is ironic in a way that, when the scientists are finished, we shall know more about their way of life and genes than we do about Ardashir, King of Kings.

You can stay updated on the fate of the 'salt men' on the excellent Mummy News site.

Further update (8 February 2008): New Mining License Endangers Ancient Iranian Salt Mummies http://www.cais-soas.com/News/2008/February2008/07-02.htm

Update 2 (16 May 2008): Ancient Salt Men of Zanjan Find Permanent Residence

Update 3 (1 July 2008): Iranian, foreign experts to excavate salt men’s necropolis . A joint team of Iranian and foreign experts will collaborate on a project to excavate the Chehrabad Salt Mine, where all six of the “salt men” were discovered. Archaeologists from Germany, England, and Austria will participate in the project expected to begin in spring 2009. http://www.mehrnews.ir/en/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=708534
(via Antonio Lombatti).

Update 4 (12 June 2010): Iran's Salt Men Saved! (Via RogueClasicism)

In February 2009, Iranian media reported that four of the salt men kept at the Zolfaqari Museum were in a critical condition due to loose plexiglass cases that had been designed for storing these mummies. The cases were not hermetically sealed and changes in air temperature and pressure had created cracks in them, allowing bacteria and insects to enter and do damage to the mummies.

A year and a half and $ 75,000 later, we hear that three showcases, each at a cost of 250,000,000 rials (about $25,000), have been specially designed for the salt men. The cases have been equipped with devices, which enable experts to monitor conditions inside and keep them under full control.


16 June 2007

Zenobia's Terrible Curved Sword

One last look at Zenobia: the Musical - the Dubai megaproduction written and directed by composer Mansour Rahbani - which I've already written about twice, here and here. Readers of my earlier posts will imagine that I am going to complain about Carole Samaha's costume ....

... you may imagine something on the order of "Why oh why is she dressed in Roman military drag, for heaven's sake; those are her enemies? What's wrong with Palmyran military outfits?" Or with a disapproving click of the tongue, "Why is she wearing a muscled breastplate? That went out of fashion - even for Roman commanders - ages ago." Or, "She's holding a Roman parade-ground mask instead of a battle helmet; she won't be able to see a thing on the battlefield with that on." And then, tutting under my breath "She's showing bare legs." That would have have marked her as a harlot as surely in third-century Syria as it would on the streets of Dubai today.

But, no, not a bit of it. There will be no tutting about her costume.

Instead, I am going to talk about her sword. You will notice that it is curved.

"Yes", you say, "Arab swords tend to be curved." Exactly. The subliminal message is clear. It is also entirely wrong. The curved sword is a terrible anachronism ... by about 1100 years.

Let's first go back to Palmyra: their swords, like Roman swords, were always double-edged and straight. Always. No exceptions.

On the right, the remains of a1st-century AD Palmyran officer (and do note his cuirass of scale armour; no old muscled stuff for him): he carries a Roman gladius-type sword, a short but quite murderous weapon used primarily for thrusting.

This elegantly dressed Chief Merchant (left), who lived a little before Zenobia's time in the 3rd-century AD, wears a long sword. This sword is very similar to the Roman spatha -- the long slashing sword of choice from the end of the 2nd century onwards. Roman soldiers usually wore the spatha suspended from a baldric but our Palmyran nobleman lets it hang from a waist band - presumably a lighter weapon than the military issue.

On the other side of the Euphrates, the Sassanian-Persians, too, were armed with long straight swords, and that remained the Persian blade until the very end of their days of empire.

On the left, you see a particularly fine 7th-century Sassanian sword and scabbard (Metropolitan Museum of Art): it has an entirely straight iron blade; the wooden scabbard is covered with gold and embellished with garnets and glass-paste.

The sword of Arab conquest

When the Arabs overthrew the last Sassanian rulers and went on to conquer Syria, Egypt and points west, Mohammed and his later successors were fighting with swords like those on the right (Istanbul Military Museum, 7th-8th centuries).

And so it goes. The swords used by Arab warriors right through the 12th and 13th centuries were almost always straight, double-edged weapons not very different from those of the conquest period.

The Saber arrives

It is not until near the end of the 13th century that curved, single-edged blades are introduced and they only slowly become the common weapon of Arab warriors. A Persian/Turkman miniature dated 1388 from Shahnameh (The Book of Kings) shows combat with long straight swords still at this late date.

The change from straight swords to the curved saber in the Levant and Arabian peninsula occurred after the Turkish Selçuk migration into Anatolia. They brought with them the 13th century Turko-Mongol saber. This simple, one handed, curved blade originated in Central Asia and was widely used by the Turkic peoples of the region and by the Mongols. These are single-handed swords, sporting a single edged, variably curved blade. Its slashing, chopping effectiveness for mounted warriors had lasting effects in the Arab/Islamic world, Persia, India and Eastern Europe as well. The Turko-Mongol saber birthed the entire saber design; its descendants in turn produced even more kinds of curved swords.

Swords ranged from only slightly curved to moderately curved until, in the 15th century, the Persians developed the highly curved scimitar (meaning 'tail of the lion').

The scimitar soon became the characteristic Arab sword, an image now indelibly associated with Arabs - not only in the minds of Westerners, but of Arabs themselves .... as witness the Saudi Arabian coat of arms.

All cultures, without exception, shape their pasts for political purposes of the present. Still, it is the historian's job to point out when such pasts are completely groundless.

I rest my case.

10 June 2007

Maximinus and the Mystery of Monte del Grano (Part II)

un'importantissimo e misterioso monumento

In the Campagna countryside (as it was then, although less than three miles from the walls of Rome and the Porta San Giovanni) rises an artificial hill named Monte del Grano = Mountain of Grain, so-called as it resembled an overturned bushel of grain. The peasants believed that the grain had been turned into earth as divine punishment because it had been harvested on a Sunday. And indeed the conical mound was an odd feature in the landscape: it is clearly marked on a map dated 1547, drawn by Eufrosino della Volpaia, a clockmaker and inventor of astrolabes and, this being the Renaissance, also a practicing architect and skilled cartographer.

Soon afterwards, it attracted the interest of Roman antiquarians, who recognized it as a sepulchral monument of the same type as the Mausoleum of Augustus and Tomb of Hadrian (now better known as Castel Sant'Angelo). In fact, Monte del Grano comes third after those tombs in size and magnificence. It, too, was once covered with slabs of travertine marble (similar to the stone-facing on the Egyptian pyramids, from which the Roman mausolea descended). These blocks disappeared long ago: a late medieval document (1387) grants a certain
Nicolò Valentini the right to take the stones and burn them to make lime.

In 1582 the antiquarians began excavating the hill.

They soon brought to light a corridor more than 60 feet long (21.5 m). This led into a vaulted burial chamber, with a diameter of 30 feet (10 m). The chamber was once divided into two levels by a vault, now collapsed, where the remains of the supporting pillars can still be seen.

Air and light filtered into the tomb from two oblique skylights. At least one skylight had been plugged with a huge circular block of travertine, carved with a giant 12-rayed star (this was last seen in 1926).

More and more bits disappeared over the years.

Around 1750, in one of his famous 'Views of Rome', Piranesi drew a plan and a section of the mausoleum. This shows a ring-shaped corridor leading to two other access corridors and a stairway that led to an underground room. Recent excavation (1991) does not confirm his reconstruction, but, all the same, it is a charming, romantic drawing.

What Piranesi's plan misses entirely is the
outer sections of the tomb. It was certainly surrounded by a cylinder made of travertine blocks. A bottom row of such blocks was found in place, missed by Master Valentini and his lime-burning crew. The cylinder probably supported the cone-shaped mound, which might have been covered by exotic vegetation, as was the mausoleum of Augustus.

Whose tomb is it anyway?

In May 1582, a man named Fabrizio Lezaro, who is otherwise unknown (at least, to me) entered the burial chamber and discovered a colossal empty sarcophagus -- almost 9 feet long x 4 feet wide (131 x 293 cm) -- carved of pure white Carrara marble (Marmo Lunense). A woman and a young man are reclining on the cover, as if on a couch. It is their tomb.

The carving is sumptuous. Scenes from the legend of Achilles adorn all four sides. The sarcophagus was undoubtedly intended for an imperial burial. But whose?

Luckily, Flaminio Vacca, the humanist and sculptor (you can see his famous Florentine lion here) was at the scene. Despite depicting the wrong hero -- one would have thought the choice would be Alexander the Great -- Vacca identified the figures portrayed on the couch as the emperor Severus Alexander and his mother Julia Mamaea.

You do remember that the last post ended with the words: and [Alexander] was granted the honour of a cenotaph in Gaul and a magnificent tomb in Rome.

Vacca remembered. This is it, he said.

Surprisingly, this identification has almost stood the test of time.

If Vacca was right, the mausoleum thus would date back to at least three years and three months (Maximinus' reign) after Alexander's death in 235 AD. The sarcophagus has been dated 240-250 AD (in the Capitoline Museum index) -- as close as archaeology ever gets to shouting 'Bingo!'.

But not so fast.

Archaeologists dither....

While one recent study (Erminio Paoletta, 1987) concluded that Vacca got it about right, another (Alberto Danti, 1998) puts the entire construction back almost a century, citing stamped bricks in the walls of the sepulchre from the first half of the 2nd century, and building techniques from the second half of that century. Adding insult to injury, Danti dates the sarcophagus, too, to the neo-classicism of the time of Hadrian (117-138 AD).

What do I think? On the one hand, those stamped bricks look serious, though they could have been recycled from an earlier structure. On the other, I find it hard to believe that, in the much better documented 2nd century, no one ever mentioned building or having seen this enormous mausoleum. On yet a third hand, I can't imagine Gordian III building this sepulchre for Alexander and his mother in his cash-strapped reign (or even wanting to, to tell the truth: he was of true Roman stock and must have despised the Syrian dynasty). That leaves Philip the Arab, another Syrian emperor (244-249 AD)....

I'll go on dithering, if I may -- and credit the last Julia with having left us a very classy mystery. Perhaps.

03 June 2007

Maximinus and the Mystery of Monte del Grano

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Although a brute and (as the senators would not forget for a moment) a low-born brute, Maximinus has a number of ‘firsts’ to his name – not all of them to be sneered at.

1. Maximinus Thrax (“the Thracian”) was the first barbarian emperor.

This wasn’t, in a sense, the first of firsts. There had been earlier imperial firsts
pointers to a future that had now arrived:

The first emperor not born and raised in Italy had been Trajan (ruled 98-117 AD) who hailed from Spain. And, not so long ago, Septimius Severus had become the first non-European emperor (born in Libya). His son’s murderer – and briefly successor – Macrinus, was a Mauretanian (horrors, a Moor!) and the first emperor who had not been a senator. He was followed on the throne by Elagabalus and Severus Alexander, the first emperors of Syrian blood. These emperors, however, all came from families that had long enjoyed Roman citizenship and were part of the Romanized (or Hellenized) elite in the provinces. Maximinus was different.
2. Maximinus was the first emperor who was not born a Roman citizen. His peasant family was far below salt and beneath notice. He joined the army as a private soldier and, rising through the ranks, was granted citizenship.
So, it hardly matters whether you see him as semi-Romanized (a cup half full) or semi-barbarian (half-empty): to the senate and in Rome, he was a barbarian.
3. He was the first emperor actually to fight in battle, personally performing deeds of prowess, and even the most hostile sources admit his personal courage. But (and, with a barbarian, there is always a 'but') ...
His [military] achievements would have won him a reputation if he had not proved so oppressive and fearsome to his own people and his subjects. There is little point in destroying barbarians, if even more people are being murdered actually in Rome and the subject nations; nor in carrying off prisoners and plunder from the enemy, when the people at home are stripped bare of their possessions.
4. He was the first emperor never to step foot in Rome. His entire reign – from the murder of Alexander to his own death three years and three months later – was spent fighting on the northern frontiers. When he did finally head to Rome, it was to crush an uprising against him ... and much too late.

238 AD and all that

What happened is a very complicated story and I have given much thought to how to bring it to life on a blog. Plagiarism seemed best. The neatest summary I have come across is on the site De Imperatoribus Romanis and I have used this – spiced up with lots of additions and speeded up with some subtractions – as a guideline. History, lots of history, I'm afraid, but I do want to give the flavour of the chaos of the times.

Maximinus and his son, the Caesar Maximus, had been fighting against the Germans all through 235 and 236. In 237, they left the war-torn Rhine and redirected the war against the barbarians north of the Danube. The years of continual battle were exacting a financial toll, and resentment was building among aristocrats who were losing their wealth to increasingly severe confiscations and extortions.

Attempts by a treasury official in the province of Libya early in 238 to raise revenues through false judgments against some landowners provided the spark that would ignite large-scale revolt. After a mob, armed by these nobles, had murdered the offending official and his bodyguards, the now-outlaw landowners proclaimed the governor of the province, the elder Gordian (a man of eighty years) as emperor. When the news reached Rome, the senate quickly embraced the revolt, bestowed the title of Augustus on Gordian (I) and his son Gordian (II) and stripped Maximinus of his honours. Maximinus was wintering in Pannonia when he heard the news. He decided it was time to visit eternal Rome, crush the revolt, and make the senators pay for their treason.

While Maximinus was leading his army to Italy, one of his North African generals met the ill-prepared Gordian II on a Libyan field. It was a massacre.
Pushing and trampling on each other, more were killed by their own side than by the enemy. In the battle Gordian's son and his entourage fell, but, because of the many dead, their bodies could not be brought back for burial, and the son's body was never found.
The swift collapse of the revolt in Libya (the two Gordians had ruled for only 20 or 22 days) did little to dampen the resolve of the senate
anyway, they knew that Maximinus, when he got to Rome, would spare not a one of them. They had staked their bid and now must fight. They named two of their own – Senators Pupienus and Balbinus – as joint emperors. An eminently aristocratic pair but the Roman people disapproved. A violent mob soon filled the entire approach road to the Capitol and demanded that an emperor from Gordian's family should be chosen.
There was a young lad, the son of Gordian's daughter, named after his grandfather. So the emperors fetched the boy, who was found playing at home.... Once the senate had voted him the title of Caesar (he was too young to be made head of state), the people's anger ended and they allowed the emperors to go to the imperial palace.
Meanwhile, Maximinus entered Italy. The first Italian city on his route to Rome was Aquileia, a town-fortress at the head of the Adriatic Sea in the northeast of the country. Bolstered with two military commanders sent by the senate, Aquileia closed its gates to Maximinus.

Maximinus let his troops get bogged down in an interminable siege.
As if a god had clouded his mind, he made no effort to break through to Rome with his cavalry. Herodian says that he thought that, if he did not utterly destroy the first city in Italy to oppose him, he could not decently make a triumphant march on Rome. Perhaps. Somehow, he got stuck there. As the army advanced toward the city walls, it cut down and burned all the vines and trees, uprooted everything. Now the countryside was everywhere burnt and devoid of any provisions.
The people of Aquileia fought back vigorously and enthusiastically from the walls ... and the entirely population, including women and children, joined in the resistance from the battlements and turrets.... The Aquileians fired down rocks from the walls and prepared a concoction of pitch and oil mixed with sulphur and bitumen, which they poured into empty jars with long handles. As soon as the army approached the walls, they set fire to the mixture and poured it out, showering it all together like rain on the besiegers. Men tore off their burning breast-plates and other armour because the metal was getting red-hot, and the leather and wooden parts were burning and shrinking. As a result, a great number of soldiers lost their eyesight; or their faces and hands....
Who was leading this intrepid defence?

None other than Rutilius Crispinus, whom we last saw with Severus Alexander in Palmyra , where, as the Roman general in chief, he was entertained by Julius Aurelius Zenobius, Zenobia's father. Crispinus had obviously survived the hellish march into Mesopotamia and made it back to Rome. Now, here he was dashing around the ramparts of Aquileia, urging the people to stay firm, keep up their resistance and not betray the senate and Roman people: "Instead," he cried, "earn yourselves the title of saviours and defenders of all Italy." He not only made a great speech (preserved by Herodian) but had very sensibly imported a large enough stock of food into the city to survive a long siege.

On the other side, expecting a quick victory, the army had not been provisioned properly. Thanks to their own devastation of the land, food was scarce; supplies were breaking down: soldiers were short of everything. The siege wore on. The army became dejected and anger began to grow among Maximinus' own soldiers. In the end, a legion mutinied and, joined by the Praetorian Guards, they murdered Maximinus and his son. Their bodies were thrown out for anyone to desecrate and trample on, before being left to be torn to pieces by dogs and birds. The heads of the ex-Augustus and his Caesar were sent to Rome on pikes.

A bad year for Augusti

Certainly, it was a first among firsts that the single year of 238 AD saw the violent end of no fewer than five of the six emperors + one caesar. The curious thing is that all six emperors were legitimate in the sense that they had been nominated or approved by the Senate. Of course, it was a long time since the Senate actually chose the emperors. They now were almost invariably elevated by one of the armies. When a new Augustus was acclaimed by his troops, the senate wisely hailed the army’s choice; or, when civil wars broke out between rival generals, senators kept their heads down until they could ratify the victor.
Pupienus and Balbinus were exceptional, among the last emperors truly raised by the senate. It didn't bring them luck.

Six in one year is a bit much.

The first to go was Gordian II, killed in battle. Hearing of the death of his son, Gordian I then hanged himself with his own purple sash. Next for the chop were Maximinus and his son, Caesar Maximus, killed before the walls of Aquileia. Pupienus and Balbinus were both murdered by the Praetorians in Rome after a reign of 99 days:
The two old men were seized, stripped, and dragged naked from the imperial palace, to the accompaniment of absolutely degrading indignities. After beating and jeering at these senatorial emperors, the Praetorians maltreated them by pulling out their beards and eyebrows and mutilating their bodies. [They] were left exposed out on the road, while the soldiers lifted up Gordian (who held the title of Caesar) and proclaimed him as the emperor, for want of someone else.
So the survivor of this cull of Augusti in 238 was Gordian III. He was now thirteen years old and he owed his elevation first to the urban mob and then the Praetorian Guard. Decidedly infra dig and the senate didn't like it one bit. The faction of the Gordiani had used the enmity between the senate and Praetorians and the senate and the urban plebs to nullify the senatorial revolution. Somehow, the boy-emperor (and his empress mother!) shrugged the senate aside.
Pupienus and Balbinus suffered damnatio memoriae , a fate they did not deserve - especially since their own first imperial act had been to deify his grandfather, Gordian I, and uncle, Gordian II. It seems a poor recompense.

Before this had happened, however, the senate had already raised the murdered Severus Alexander to the rank of the gods, and he was granted the honour of a cenotaph in Gaul and a magnificent tomb in Rome. This leads us directly to the Mystery of Monte del Grano , a cliff-hanger that must teeter on the edge a little longer (sorry, I've run out of time).

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