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Antoninus Pius

(86—161 ad) Roman emperor

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Roman emperor ad 138–161, b. 86, son of Aurēlius Fulvus (consul 89). His mother was daughter of Arrius Antoninus (consul 69 and 97), whose name he bore. He married Annia Galeria Faustina, and became consul in 120. Apart from the traditional magistracies, his only posts were those of consular legate in Italy (an innovation of Hadrian), in his case in Etruria and Umbria, where he owned land, and proconsul of Asia (135/6).

His links with the Annii Veri, combined with his wealth, popularity, and character, led Hadrian to choose him as adoptive son and successor on the death of Aelius Caesar. Given imperium and the tribūnicia potestās (see tribuni plebis) in February 138, he became Imperator Titus Aelius Aurelius Antoninus Caesar and at Hadrian's wish adopted both the young son of Lucius Aelius (the future Lucius Verus) and his nephew by marriage Annius Verus (Marcus Aurelius). His accession at Hadrian's death, July 138, was warmly welcomed by the senate, which overcame its reluctance to deify Hadrian at Antoninus' insistence and named him Pius in acknowledgement of his loyalty. His wife Faustina was named Augusta (see augustus, augusta, as titles) and his only surviving child, also Annia Galeria Faustina, was betrothed to Marcus Aurelius Caesar, his nephew and elder adoptive son. Pius became consul for a second term and Pater Patriae in 139, consul for a third term in 140 with Marcus Aurelius as colleague, and held one further consulship, in 145, again with Marcus Aurelius, whose marriage to the younger Faustina took place the same year. On the birth of a child to this couple in late 147, Marcus Aurelius received tribunicia potestas, and Faustina (whose mother had died in 140) became Augusta. The dynastic succession thus clearly established—but, despite Hadrian's intention, the younger adoptive son received neither any powers nor the name Caesar— Antoninus' longevity and steady hand made ‘Antonine’ a byword for peace and prosperity. This impression is largely influenced by Aelius Aristides' To Rome, delivered in 143 or 144, by the portrayal of the tranquil life of the imperial family, entirely confined to Italy, in Fronto's Letters, by the impressive tribute to Antoninus in Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, and by the uniformly favourable attitude of the scanty historical sources.

Hadrian's policies were rapidly changed in some areas: the consular legates for Italy, unpopular with the senate, were abolished, and southern Scotland reconquered by the governor, Hadrian's Wall being replaced by the ‘wall of Antoninus’ between Forth and Clyde. This campaign, for which Antoninus took the acclamation ‘Imperator’ for the second time in late 142, was the only major war, but Moorish incursions in North Africa were dealt with by sending reinforcements to Mauretania in the 140s, minor campaigns kept the peace in Dacia, a show of force at the beginning of the reign deterred a Parthian invasion, and in the late 150s a minor extension of territory in Upper Germany was marked by the construction of a new ‘outer’ limes. Direction of military policy (and much else) was doubtless left to the praetorian prefect Gavius Maximus, who held office for almost the entire reign. The senatorial cursus honorum—and other parts of the imperial system—settled down in a stable pattern, contributing to the emperor's popularity with the upper order. Two conspiracies against him are mentioned. A highlight of the reign was the celebration of Rome's 900th anniversary in 148, when Antoninus' otherwise thrifty financial policy was relaxed (by a temporary debasement of the silver coinage). He cut down on excess expenditure, although relieving cities affected by natural disasters, and left a surplus of 675 million denarii at his death. In spite of his conservatism and sceptical attitude towards Greek culture, Greeks advanced to the highest positions in his reign (Claudius Atticus Herodes, consul 143, being the best‐known case); other provincials also rose, not least from Africa, helped by the prominence of Fronto, a native of Cirta. The long, peaceful reign allowed the empire a breathing‐space after Trajan's wars and Hadrian's restless travels. Antoninus' last watchword for the guard, ‘equanimity’, sums up his policy well; but he was angry with ‘foreign kings’ in his last hours, and clouds were looming. He died near Rome in March 161 and was deified ‘by universal consent’.


Subjects: Classical studies

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