PHILIP THE ARABIAN (MARCUS JULIUS PHILIPPUS ARABS): Roman emperor 244-249; b. at Bostra (119 m. s. of Damascus) in the Roman province of Arabia Petræa (whence his epithet of "the Arabian"); killed in battle near Verona, Italy, in the autumn of 249. Elevated to the purple by the murder of his predecessor, Gordianus III., he was able, during his reign, to subdue the Carpi who had ravaged Dacia, and, in 248, to celebrate the millennial of the founding of Rome, but was, on the other hand, obliged to conclude a humiliating peace with the Persians. In 249 Philip became involved in civil war with his rival Decius, by whom he was defeated and slain, his young son, whom he had made coregent at the age of seven, being murdered by the Pretorian Guard at Rome.
Philip the Arabian, whose high moral ideal is evinced by his earnest, though unavailing, efforts to suppress the practise of unnatural vice, is of interest theologically chiefly because of an ancient and wide-spread tradition which makes him the first Christian emperor of Rome. This tradition appears earliest in Eusebius (Hist. eccl., vi. 34), who states that, according to report, Philip had desired to attend divine service on Easter, but had been obliged to perform penance. Vincent of Lerins (fifth century), Dionysius of Alexandria, Chrysostom, Jerome, the first Valesian Fragment, and Orosius likewise either explicitly state or at least imply that Philip was the first Christian emperor. It is plain, however, simply from the coins and medals struck by him that he was a worshiper of the Olympic gods and that he was himself pontifex maximus.
But though Philip was not a Christian, he was remarkably friendly to the new religion, and the tradition that he himself was an adherent of it was doubtless due, at least in part, to his tolerant attitude toward it. During his reign Origen could refute Celsus, and conversions could be made en masse; but he could not prevent Christians from falling victims to mob violence in Alexandria.