Who was Antoninus Pius?
Antoninus Pius was the Roman emperor from 138 to 161. He is regarded as one of the ‘five good emperors’ in the Nerva-Antonine dynasty and the Aurelii, who guided the empire through a period of internal peace and prosperity. Pius was born in a senatorial family. The emperor Hadrian had adopted him as a son, and during his reign, Antoninus held various offices. He had governed the province of Asia and had also served as an advisor to the emperor. Impressed by his military and administrative skills, Hadrian specified that Antoninus Pius would be his successor. Upon ascending the throne, he became known for maintaining the peaceful state of the empire, with no major revolts or military incursions during his rule. During his rule, Italy was embellished with fine buildings, and many cities were rebuilt after being destroyed in natural disasters. He helped expand free access to drinking water throughout his empire. The Wall of Antoninus was built in Britain during his reign. Upon his death, he left behind his successors a large surplus in the treasury. His reign is believed to have been a peaceful one as there are no records of any military campaigns that he participated in.
Childhood & Early Life
Antoninus Pius was born on 19th September 86 AD, near Lanuvium, Italy. He was the only child of Titus Aurelius Fulvus, whose family came from Nemausus. His mother’s name was Arria Fadilla. His father died shortly after his ordinary consulship in 89 AD.
Antoninus was raised by Gnaeus Arrius Antoninus. He was regarded by his contemporaries to be a man of integrity and culture.
He worked in the offices of quaestor and praetor, and due to his success in these roles, he obtained consulship in 120 AD. Eventually, Emperor Hadrian appointed him as one of the four proconsuls to administer Italia. Antoninus’ reputation grew over the next few years owing to his conduct as a proconsul of Asia.
He earned Emperor Hadrian’s favor, and the emperor eventually adopted him as his son and successor on 25th February 138 AD. Hadrian also specified that Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus were to succeed Antoninus as the emperor.
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Accession & Reign
Antoninus Pius ascended the throne on 11 July 138. Upon his accession, his first acts included persuading the senate to grant divine honors to Hadrian, which they had initially refused.
Immediately after Hadrian’s death, Antoninus approached Marcus and requested that his marriage arrangements be amended. His betrothal to Ceionia Fabia was annulled and he was betrothed to Faustina instead.
Shortly after becoming the emperor, Antoninus started building theatres and mausoleums as he was a patron of arts and sciences. He also bestowed honors and monetary rewards upon the teachers of rhetoric and philosophy.
He was regarded as a skilled administrator and builder. By the construction of aqueducts, he gave free access to drinking water to the people not only in Rome but throughout the empire.
The emperor became known for suspending the collection of taxes from cities which were affected by natural disasters. He also provided hefty financial grants for rebuilding and recovery of various Greek cities after two serious earthquakes, the first in 140 and the second in 152. Greek writers such as Aelius Aristides and Pausanias praised him for his major financial aid.
In order to deal with the citizens of the Greek-speaking cities in his empire, Antoninus followed a policy of ingratiating himself with local elites.
He was an avid observer of religious rites and formal celebrations, both Roman and foreign. He was known for formalizing the official cult that was offered to the Great Mother, which from his reign would include a bull sacrifice, also known as a taurobolium. It was previously a private ritual but from now on, it would be conducted for the emperor’s welfare.
There are no records of any military acts in which he took part. In fact, his reign has been regarded as the most peaceful in the history of the Principate. A few violent events, however, did occur in his 23-year reign. A rebellion in Roman Britain was suppressed successfully. He also managed to tackle military disturbances in Mauretania and Tingitana.
Antoninus undertook numerous measures for the enfranchisement of slaves. He favored the principle of “favor libertatis” that gave the putative freedman the benefit of the doubt when the claim to freedom was not clear-cut.
During his reign, the killing of a slave by his/her master was punishable without previous trial. He also determined that in cases of consistent mistreatment, the slaves could be forcibly sold to another master.
Family & Personal Life
Antoninus Pius married Annia Galeria Faustina the Elder sometime between 110 and 115. She was the daughter of Marcus Annius Verus and Rupilia Faustina. They are believed to have had a happy and stable marriage.
The couple had four children, two sons and two daughters: Marcus Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus, Marcus Galerius Aurelius Antoninus, Aurelia Fadilla and Annia Galeria Faustina Minor.
Antoninus cared deeply about his wife. When Faustina died in 141, he was so distressed that he authorized a temple to be built in her name.
Antoninus’ health started deteriorating by the time he reached the age of 70. He passed away on 7th March 161 AD. He was succeeded by Marcus Aurelius as the new Roman emperor.