Bal-bi'nus, [Fr. Balbin, balbaN] (Decimus Caelius,) a Roman senator who, in conjunction with Maximus, was proclaimed emperor in opposition to Maximinus. The praetorian guards, dissatisfied with the new emperors elected by the senate, seized them in their palace, and, having put them to death, proclaimed Gordianus emperor, 238 A. D. See Julius Capitolinus, "Vita Balbini;" Gibbon, "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Decimus Caelius Calvinus Balbinus (c. 165 – 29 July 238) was Roman Emperor with Pupienus for three months in
238, the Year of the Six Emperors.
Origins and career --
Not much is known about Balbinus before his elevation to emperor. It has been conjectured that he descended
from Publius Coelius Balbinus Vibullius Pius, the consul ordinarius of 136 or 137, and wife Aquilia. If this
were true, he was also related to the family of Q. Pompeius Falco, which supplied many politicians of consular
rank throughout the 3rd century, and to the 1st-century politician, engineer and author Julius Frontinus, as
well as a descendant of a first cousin of Trajan. He was a patrician from birth, and was the son (either by
birth or adoption) of ... Caelius Calvinus, who was legate of Cappadocia in 184. According to Herodian he had
governed provinces, but the list of seven provinces given in the Historia Augusta, as well as the statement
that Balbinus had been both Proconsul of Asia and of Africa, are likely to be mere invention. He had certainly
been twice consul; his first consulate is not certainly known but is believed to have been about 203 or in July
211; he was consul for the second time in 213 as colleague of Caracalla, which suggests he enjoyed that
According to Edward Gibbon (drawing upon the narratives of Herodian and the Historia Augusta):
Balbinus was an admired orator, a poet of distinguished fame, and a wise magistrate, who had exercised with
innocence and applause the civil jurisdiction in almost all the interior provinces of the empire. His birth was
noble, his fortune affluent, his manners liberal and affable. In him, the love of pleasure was corrected by a
sense of dignity, nor had the habits of ease deprived him of a capacity for business. (...) The two colleagues
[Pupienus and Balbinus] had both been consul (Balbinus had twice enjoyed that honourable office), both had been
named among the twenty lieutenants of the senate; and, since the one was sixty and the other seventy-four years
old, they had both attained the full maturity of age and experience.
When the Gordians were proclaimed Emperors in Africa, the Senate appointed a committee of twenty men, including
Balbinus, to co-ordinate operations against Maximinus Thrax. On the news of the Gordians' defeat, the Senate
met in closed session in the Temple of Jupiter and voted Pupienus and Balbinus as co-emperors, though they were
soon forced to co-opt the child Gordian III as a colleague. Balbinus was probably in his early seventies: his
qualifications for rule are unknown, except presumably that he was a senior senator, rich and well-connected.
While Pupienus marched to Ravenna, where he oversaw the campaign against Maximinus, Balbinus remained in Rome,
but failed to keep public order. The sources suggest that after Pupienus's victorious return following
Maximinus' death, Balbinus suspected Pupienus of wanting to supplant him, and they were soon living in
different parts of the Imperial palace, where they were later assassinated by disaffected elements of the
The 'sarcophagus of Balbinus' has earned this Emperor a niche in the history of Roman Imperial art. When
presumably holding the title of Emperor, Balbinus had a marble sarcophagus made for himself and his wife (whose
name is unknown). Discovered in fragments near the Via Appia and restored, this is the only example of a Roman
Imperial sarcophagus of this type to have survived. On the lid are reclining figures of Balbinus and his wife,
the figure of the Emperor also being a fine portrait of him.
Although in accounts of their joint reign Balbinus is emphasized as the civilian as against Pupienus the
military man, on the side of the sarcophagus he is portrayed in full military dress.