Political history

Philip the Arab in the Balkans

Philip the Arab in the Balkans

Kalin Stoev

Institute for Balkan Studies & Center of Thracology

Bulgarian Academy of Sciences


University of Library Studies and Information Technologies, Bulgaria

Fuculty of Library Studies and Cultural Heritage

20 June 2020
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Abstract: The period of Philip the Arabian is one of the most important years for the military and political development of Souteastern Europe during the Antiquity. In this article would be presented new epigraphic evidence, that complete the picture of Philips presence on the Balkans. A hypothesis is presentet that the Moesian lands may have played an important role in his war against the Carps.

Key words: Philip Arab, Carpi, Epigraphy, Invasions, Roman Army

Philip Arab (M. Iulius Philippus)[1] ruled in a critical times associated with a decisive for the historical development of the Balkan lands event – the beginning of the "Gothic wars" of the 3rd century, after which, we can say, the Roman provincial life in the Balkans goes into decline. Regardless of this and despite the importance of his reign, the sources about Philip are scarce and permeated with mythology, such as his "Crypto Christianity." His rule is concealed even in the uncertain factology of Historia Augusta. The contemporary sources on the events, with the exception of the fragmentarily preserved Dexippus of Athens, are not available. Separate passages in the late antique breviaries, accompanied by data on the imperial constitutions, epigraphic, numismatic and papyrological information are our main sources for the era of Philip. Paradoxically, there is uncertainty even around the end of his reign – he was killed by his troops in 249 AD in the battle against the usurper and next emperor Trajan Decius at Verona, but other sources claim that the decisive battle took place near Beroe, in Thrace or Macedonia. In the time of Decius his name was a subject to damnatio and abolitio memoriae, i.e. public curse and erasure of memory.[2]   

In recent years, several epigraphic testimonies have drawn further attention to Philip's engagement with the Danube provinces, and in particular with the province of Lower Moesia. Philip's presence here was also a scholarly problem with regard of the Roman military policy on the Danube – as we already said, the great Gothic conflict deffinetlry began with him, but before that the emperor confronted another strong tribe – the Carpathians. The history of the conflict, the exact course of action and its chronological dimensions, have not been well clarified so far. In the only evidence of this war in literature – inn Zosimus (Zos. 1,20, 1),[3] the war was reduced to a Roman victory near a non-localized fortress won for the Romans by the Moorish cavalry. The beginning of the conflict is usually referred to as 245 AD, when the imperial constitution mentions that the ruler is already in Aquae, which identifies with some place in Dacia,[4] and since 246 AD special issues have been cut for the army in Dacia (RIC, IV.3, 68.)[5].

Additionaly, shows that Philip was involved in a victorious conflicts against a barbarian tribe we have mainly from the Dacian provinces: an inscription from Sarmizegetus (IDR III, 2, 81), where the emperor is honored by concilium of three Dacian provinces, probably in connection with the defeat of the Dacians[6].  There is another inscription in Apulum which seems very eloquent because it speaks of the release of some of his Valerius Serapio from captivity by the Carps:

 [I(o)] O(ptimo) M(aximo) / G(aius!)   (erius) / Sarapio / a Carpis / liberatus / pro salute / sua et su/orum / v(oto) l(ibens) p(osuit). (IDR, III-5-1, 171)

Another inscription (CIL III 8031 ​​= AE 1888, 8), by Romulus, which dates to 248 AD, and was erected as part of the fortification of the colony with a wall, glorifies the emperor's family as restitutores orbis totius, i. restorers of the (Roman) world. Along with numismatic evidence (RIC, IV, 3, No. 66) and the presence of the title Carpicus Maximus in the names of Philip shortly before the beginning of this year, the inscription is sometimes perceived as a terminus post quem of Philip's opposition to the carp in the late 247 AD.[7] This may ultimately indicate the placing of Philip's military action at the end of 245 or the end of 247 AD.

At the same time, recent years have brought several findings from Bulgaria, which may indicate a more serious commitment of Philip with the Danube provinces. In 2016 in studies of roadside shrine to the castle Sostra (near. Lomets, Lovech Municipality), opened miliary column labeled – dedication of the Arab Philip and his son and heir M. Julius Philippus Junior.[8] The inscription is more or less standard:

Imp ( eratori) Caes (ari) [[M. Iu [l]. Philipp [o ​​Pio] Fel (ici) Aug (usto) Persico maximo, Parthico max (imo), trib (unicia) potes (tate) p (atri) p (atriae) proco (n) s (uli) [[e ( t) M. Iul. [Philippo]] nobilissimo Caesari filio eius sub cura Prastinae Messalini leg (ati) Aug (usti) pr (o) pr (aetore).M (ilia) p (assuum) I.

The inscription should obviously be dated according to the sure criterion of the presence of a provincial legate in the text – this is Prastina Messallinus (his reign should be placed between 244 and 247 AD[9]), although the emperor is not mentioned as a consul (since 1 January 245).[10]Careless, hasty workmanship suggests that the consulate could have been missed. A more realistic dating criterion seems to be the presence of the title Parthicus Maximus, which in Philip's inscriptions does not seem to exceed 245 AD, but should probably be dated to the beginning of his reign.[11] 

The context of the miliary column can be explained on the basis of the other epigraphic monuments found in Sostra – so far this is the only miliary find on the site, therefore it has a certain importance and can speak of a special attitude of the emperor to the region. However, a number of interesting dedicatory monuments have been discovered from the station and its area, mostly an expression of the local garrison's loyalty to the ruling emperor, showing its exceptional importance at a time close to that of Philip.

Imp(eratori ) Caesari / M(arco) Ant(onio ) Gordiano / P(io ) F(elici ) Invicto Aug(usto ) p(atr ) p(atriae / pontifici maximo / trib(unicia ) potestate co(n)s(uli ) II proconsuli coh(ors ) I / Hisp( anorum) Gordiana de [vo]/ ta Numini maiesta / tiq(ue ) eius dedicante / C [3]/ leg(ato) Augusti pro / praetore (from the time of predecessor Philip Gordian I II , dated 241–244 g.) (ILB, 262.) 

To the mentioned inscription must be added a inscription from the time of Maximinus the Thracian, however, erected at the expense of the legate Domitius Antigonus, which may also testify to some construction or restoration activity in the castle or in the road station:

 [Imp(eratori ) Caesar ]/[[ Gaio Iulio Vero ]]/[[ Maximino ]] Aug(usto)/ pontifici max(imo )/ tribuniciae po/test(atis ) co(n)s(uli ) p( atri) ) p(atriae )/ coh(ors) I Cis(i)pa [d(ensium )]/[[Maximiniana]]/ devota Numini / maiestatiq(ue) eius / d(e) p( ecunis ) quaestur(ae) de/dicante Domitio An/[t]igono cl(arissimo) v(iro) leg(ato) Aug(usti ) pr(o) p[r(aetore )] - from the time of Maximinus, dated at the beginning of his reign – 235–236 (ILB, 261)

The examples show that Sostra, being not only a castle, but also a road station on the road Escus–Philippopolis, was normally taken care of by the emperors. Interestingly, however, this information became more frequent at a time of growing foreign policy danger from the Transdanubian tribes. It is known that in the time of Gordian III there was a clash between the Romans and the "Scythians", under which name the Goths or Carps probably had to hide (HA, Vita Gord. Tres, XXX,1): Asiae dum haec agerentur Argum Scytharum rex finitimorum regan vastabat, maxime quod conpererat Misitheum perisse, cuius consilio res p.fuerat gubernata. The vague and corrupt statement of the Historia Augusta is usually interpreted as evidence of an early Gothic attack south of the Danube led by Argait and Gunterich, the wartime chiefs of the Ostrogoths, united here in the form of Arguntus. The attack was repulsed by "Mysiteus," which, of course, is a misnomer of Gordian's Praetorian prefect, Thimesiteus. It would not be surprising if Philip's pillar was involved in renovations of the road as a result of this attack, which could very likely have been aimed at passing through Sostra on the way to the Hemus Passages and ultimately looting the usual target of the barbarians – Philippopolis.

At the height of the empire's crisis, Sostra retained its paramount importance as an important point against barbarian invasions. From the time of Gallienus and Valerian comes an extremely interesting inscription[12]:

Imp(eratori) Caesari / P(ublio) Lic(inio) Gal (i)en{i}o / P(io) F(elici) Invicto Aug(usto) / pont<i = E> f(ici) maximo) / trib(unicia) potest(ate) co(n)s(uli) / p(atri) p(atriae) proco(n)s(uli) de / dicante C(aio) Iul(io) / Victore leg(ato) / Augg(ustorum) pr(o) pr(aetore) per / Aur(elium) Domitia/n<u =O> (m) | (centurionem) leg(ionis) praep(ositum) / coh(ortis) II Red(ucum?) Devotus / Numini ipsius / de qu(a)estura coh(ortis) / posuit // [[Imp(eratori) Caes(ari) 3 dedicante 3 leg(ato) Aug(usti)]] / pr(o) pr(aetore) // posita VI Idus Octobres / [[[]]] / [[[3] co (n) s (ulibus)]]

The inscription obviously refers to the creation of some part of a local romanized militia, or the unification of several military units into a new cohort (the name of the cohort is probably a dedication to a popular military cult – Jupiter or Fortuna, with the epithet Redux), which we can associate with the frequent barbaric attacks – similar to the cohors Collecta established at about the same time in Montana. Recently, a case was discovered for the identification of the officer in charge, who in Gallienus' time may have been transferred to the command of an auxiliary unit in the castle of Sostra – Aurelius Domitius, who along with the centurion was also a praepositus of cohors II Reducum. In this case, the supposed origin of Dacia becomes increasingly most probable – the analogy with an optio from Lower Moesia, serving in a legio, located near the Dacian lands, XI Claudia, Aurelius Domnio, of probable Dacian origin, is also striking. This means that it is very likely that the cohort was created to support the Thirteenth Legion, at that time still in camp at Apulum, Dacia, and probably had the difficult task of defending it from the frequent imperial invasions. There is, therefore, the possibility that this cohort of the "happily returned" was recruited by the local Thracian or Moesian population to help the Dacian garrison and returned to Moesia at the beginning of Galen's rule. Whether it is possible to link this to any of Philippopolis' attacks in the 250s or 260s, or to Philip's own war with the Carps, which, as we have said, is epigraphically attested mainly in Dacia, is difficult to judge.

Two other newly published epigraphic testimonies[13] related to the reign of Philip point to the eastern parts of the province of Lower Moesia. They originate from the town of Dulovo, Silistra Municipaligy. Both are from the type "dedicatory pillar" to the Eastern deity Deus Sanctus Aeternus and originate from a vicus near the legionary camp of legio XI Claudia in Durostorum. The inscriptions have a similar text:

1. Aeterno / sancto / de(o) pro salu/te Imp(eratoris) M(arci) P/hilippi A[ug(usti) / [et PH ilipp(i) [C(aesaris?)]  // Aur(elius) Ant(ius vel -onius), l(ibertus?)             

.    [A eterno Sancto / Deo pro salute / Imp(eratoris) M(arci) P hi]LI[pp]o (!) / [F ecit it]em de [di c(avit) D(omino) N(ostro) Ph]ilippo / [Aug ( usto ) et Titi]ano / co(n)s(ulibus).   

The consular date of the second certificate shows that most likely both inscriptions must date to 245 AD, in the first consulate of Philip Arabina. The two initiations were probably part of an aedicula and stood side by side, making it clear that Aurelius Antius, mentioned in the first inscription, was the dedicator of the second testimony also.

Aeternus Sanctus Deus, the "Eternal Holy God," is an eastern, probably Iranian, mysterial deity, who can be identified with the supreme sun-god.[14] His Hypostases include several supreme gods of Hellenistic, Roman and even Judaic religion.[15] In the Roman provinces, Deus Aeternus is popular as a syncretic, and perhaps "secret", mystery name for Jupiter, Saturn, Dolichenus, Baalshamin, Cronus, and so on. Deus Aeternus can be an image from the last stage of initiation into the mysteries of Mithras, and is portrayed as a deity with the head of a lion. The spread of the cult, whose genesis has recently been defined as Balkan,[16] most likely came from the Illyrian (Dalmatia) or Dacian lands. IGLN  8, 9).

Given the proximity of the legionary camp and city in Durostorum, as well as the profile of the devotees of Deus Aeternus in the Dacian and Moesian lands, the epigraphic evidence present an argument in favor of the claim that it was a "military" cult that spread in  Lower Moesia from the Dacian lands. perhaps thanks to the recruiting models of the Moesian legions,[17] or for the sake of the similar ethnicity of the Dacian population on both sides of the Danube in Lower Moesia and Dacia. The saving aspect of this cult in a military environment (cf.  Periculo maris liberatus from the inscription of Aurelius Statianus and in Nove) can justify the suggestion that the erection of temples should be linked to the repulsion of some danger in these lands.

According to recent speculation, the emperor's stay in Dacia can be linked to the toponym Aqua, recently considered identical to Ad Aquas, on the road between Sarmizegetusa and Apulum,[18] probably dated to late 245 (November 12 ). A march of the emperor to the lands, in which the dedication is found, is a difficult, but not impossible supposition. In the literature, mostly on the basis of indirect arguments from the locations of coin treasures, there are opinions that the Carp attack also affected the provinces south of the Danube, in particular the provinces of Lower Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia.[19] So far, more concrete evidence of this is lacking, although some authors are assuming that there was devastation of castles along the Danube.[20] Epigraphic evidence (AE 2008, 1198)[21]for Philip or father and son Philippi   in the nearby region – Callatis, Sacidava, Ciu, for the most part were erected before the announcement of the young Philip for August, ie. before 247, and among them there are those that are accurately dated to 245 or 246. These are two (?) identical epigraphic monuments from Troesmis (IScM V 152),[22] which date to 245 and an inscription from Histria (vicus Secundini), which is dated to 246 after the names of the consuls (IScMI 349).[23] In other words, much of the epigraphic information is common in the early period of Philip's reign – 244–246, and so it can be said that Philip visited the lands that were attacked by the Carps and possibly followed their movement, that happened from the interior of Dacia to the Danube Delta.

Finally, we should mention an unusually numerous series of inscriptions dedicated to Philip and his family, more precisely to his wife Otacilia Severa, from the Roman colony of Deultum in Thrace. These are a total of five initiations similar in text, typology, form and content, published recently,[24] as well as a dedication column of Philip as nobilissimus Caesar, i. before his proclamation as emperor in 247 AD. According to the publisher's assumption, these are inscriptions erected in honor of Adventus – and of Philip in the Balkans on his way from the East to the capital in the middle of 244 AD. and so the evidence can hardly be bound by its initiatives against barbarian tribes in the 40-ies of the 3rd century.


[1] The Arabs Thrachonites, a geographical definition of its name, is preserved only in Aurelius Victor, Aur. Vict., De Caes., 28, 1

[2] Details about Philip and his rule: Körner 2001.

[3] The accounts of Zonara and John of Antioch (Zonar. XII, 19; Joh. Ant., 59) speak of Philip's "Scythian" war.

[4] Huttner 2008, 195; Kienast 198; Loriot 1975, 793.

[5] Ibidem, 793.

[6] Commentary in Piso 1974, 301–309; Loriot 1975, 793 has no doubt that the inscription should be placed in connection with the attack of the carp.

[7] When the return of the emperor to Rome is also dated: Huttner 2008, 197.

[8] Христов 2020.

[9] Stein 1940, 102.

[10] Христов 2020.

[11] Kienast 1995, 199; Sharankov, Hristov 2019, 65–66.

[12] Eck, Ivanov 2009.

[13] Stoev 2020.

[14] Selem 1980, 150.

[15] For the different identifications of Deus Aeternus, see Varga 2017, 231-242; Ustinova 1998, 25.

[16] Bartels, J., A. Kolb. 2011, 411–428.

[17] Cf. Stoev 2017, 99, 105, notes 239, 110, 118–119 and others.

[18] Fodorean 2014, 100.

[19] Mitrea 1955, 1-12; Dimitrov 2005, 80.  

[20] Gerov 1980, 96-97.

[21] AE 2008, 1198: Imp(eratori) Caes(ari) / [M(arco)] Iulio Phi/lippo Pio [Fe]/lici Invic[to] /  Aug(usto). Et M(arco) I[ul (io)] / / [P]hilippo no/bilissimo/ Caes [ari] .

[22] IScM V 152: Imp(eratori) Caesari [M(arco) Iulio]/[Philippo P(io) Fel(ici)]/ Invicto Au[g(usto) p(ontifici) m(aximo) trib(unicia)]/ p(otestate) p(atri) p(atriae) co(ns(uli) pro[co(n)s(uli)] /ordo mun(icipii) Tr[oes (mensium)] /devoti Numi[ni mai]/estatique e [ius ]; IscM V 153.

[23] IScMI 349: I(ovi) O(ptimo) M(aximo)/ et Iunoni Regin(a)e / c(ives) R(omani) et Lai consistentes/vico Secundini posuer/u(n)t pro salute Imperatoris) Cai Iuli/ Marci [[Philippi]] Pii Aug(usti)/ [[et Iuli Philippi nob ]] / [[ilissimi Caesaris]]/ cura (m)agentibus m/agistrati (bu)s Claudi /um (!) Antoninum (!) et/ Cocceium (!) Iustu/ m(!) Pr(a)es/enti et Albino /co(n)s(ulibus)

[24] Sharnakov 2017.


Aur. Vict., De Caes. = Aurelii Victoris Liber de Caesaribus

IDR = Inscriptiones Daciae Romanae

CIL = Corpus inscriptionum latinarum

AE = Annee epigraphique

ILB = Inscriptiones Latinae in Bulgaria Repertae

RIC = Roman Imperial Coinage

IScM = Inscriptiones Scythiae Minoris

Secondary sources:

Стоев, K. (2020), "Deus Aeternus и император Филип Араб в два латински посветителни надписа". – Добруджа, 33, 169–177/ Stoev, K. (2020), Deus Aeternus i imperatro Filip Arab v dva latinski posvetitelni nadpisa.

Стоев, К. (2017), Да бъдеш римлянин в Мизия. Антропонимия и просопография на романизираното население в Горна и долна Мизия (София)/ Stoev, K. (2017), Da badesh rimlyanin v Mizia. Antropinimia i prosopografia na romaniziranoto naselenie v Gorna i dolna Mizia (Sofia).

Христов, Ив. (2020), "Крайпътно светилище с милиарна колона от времето на император Филип I Араб до трасето на античния път Ескус-Филипополис при кастела Состра". – Известия на Националния исторически музей 32/ Hristov, I. (2020), "Kraypatno svetilishre s miliarna colona ot vremeto na imperator Filip I Arab do traseto na antichnia pat Eskus-Philipopolis pri kastela Sostra", - Izvestia na Natsionalnia istoricheski muzey 32.

Bartels, J., A. Kolb. (2011) “Ein eingeblicher Meilenstein in Novae (Moesia inferior) und der Kult des Deus Dolichenus.“ Klio, 93.2, 411–428.

Bożilova, V., L. Mrozewicz (1989), “Deus Aeternus in Novae (Moesia inferior).” – Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 78, 181.

Dimitrov, K. (2005), “Novae and the Barbaric Incursions in 238–251,” Orpheus 15, 70–90.

Eck,W.& R. Ivanov (2009) “C. Iulius Victor, senatorischer Legat von Moesia inferior unter Valerianus und Gallienus und das Castell Sostra-Siosta,” – Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik

Fodorean, Fl. (2014), Pannonia, Dacia şi Moesia în izvoarele geografice antice (Cluj-Napoca).

Gerov, B. (1980), Beiträge zur Geschichte der römischen Provinzen Moesien und Thrakien. Gesammelte Aufsätze. (Amsterdam).

Hristov, Iv. A Roadside Sanctuary with a milestone (miliarium) from the Time of Emperor Philip I Arab on the route of the Ancient Road Oescus-Philippopolis at the Sostra Castellum. – INIM, 32, 2020.  

Kienast, D. (1995), Kienast, D. Römische Kaisertabelle. Grundzüge einer Kaiserchronologie (Darmstadt, 1995).

Loriot, X. (1975), Chronologie du règne de Philippe l'Arabe (244−249 après J.C.), In: Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, II. 2, (Berlin)

Mitrea, B. (1955), L’incursion des Carpes en Dacie sous le regne de Philippe l’Arab, a la lumiere des decouvertes de tresors des monnaies (Bucurest).

Piso, I. (1974), “La guerre de Philippe contre les Carpes.” – In: In memoriam Constantini Daicoviciu, 301–309.

Selem, P. (1980), Les religions orientales dans la Pannonie Romaine: partie en Yougoslavie (Leiden).

Sharnakov, N.  (2017), “The Inscriptions of the Roman Colony of Deultum in Thrace” – Archaeologia Bulgarica XXI, 3, 37–64.

Stein, A. (1940), Die Legaten von Moesien. (Budapest)

Ustinova, Y. (1998), The Suprime Gods of the Bosporan Kingdom: Celestial Aphrodite and the Most high God. (Leiden-Boston-Köln).

Varga, T. (2017), “The Pantheon of Marcus Herrenius Faustus, legatus legionis XIII Geminae” – Acta Musei Napocensis, 54-1, 231–242.


This page is part of the project LABedia: Еncyclopedia of Late Antique Balkans, 4th-5th c.,
financed by the National Science Fund, contract КП-06-Н30/6, 13.12.2018