Who was Lucius Verus?
Lucius Verus was an emperor of the Roman Empire in the second century who, along with his adoptive brother Marcus Aurelius, was the first co-emperor of Rome from 161 to 169. His father, Lucius Aelius Caesar, was the initial choice of Emperor Hadrian to succeed him to the throne, but following his untimely death, the emperor selected Antoninus Pius as his successor and instructed him to raise both the young future rulers as his own children. He was made quaestor at the age of 23 and became consul three times, including twice with his brother and co-emperor. He led the Roman campaign in the eastern frontier of the empire after war with Parthia broke out, and received titles such as Armeniacus, Parthicus, and Medicus after his generals successfully conquered Armenia, Parthia and Media. Known for his frivolous and extravagant lifestyle, he is, however, credited less for the outcome of the war. He briefly participated in the Marcomannic Wars and is thought to be a victim of the Antonine Plague.
Early Life & Career
Lucius Verus was born as Lucius Ceionius Commodus on December 15, 130, in Rome, to Lucius Aelius, a senator, and Avidia Plautia, a well-connected noblewoman. His father was adopted by Emperor Hadrian, against the wishes of everyone. Unfortunately, however, Aelius died suddenly in January of 138 CE.
Hadrian soon regretted his decision because his adoptive son suffered from poor health and died in January 138, prompting him to select Titus Aurelius Antoninus (Antoninus Pius) as his new successor. Hadrian, who died several months later, had adopted Antoninus on the condition that the later would adopt Lucius Aelius's son, 7-year-old Lucius Ceionius Commodus, and Hadrian's great-nephew by marriage, 17-year-old Marcus Annius Verus.
Following Antoninus' ascension, Marcus began learning governance, while Lucius, according to 'Historia Augusta', was being educated in Latin and Greek by ten tutors including Marcus Cornelius Fronto, Apollonius of Chalcedon and Sextus of Chaeronea. He lacked "natural gifts in literary studies", but composed verses and showed oratory skills in his youth, possibly with the assistance of "a number of eloquent and learned men" he had employed.
Lucius, who was "devoted to pleasure" and was "too care-free", was more interested in "every kind of frolic, sport, and raillery", and often participated in hunting, wrestling and chariot racing. He was a private citizen in the imperial household until the age of 23 in 153, when he was appointed a quaestor, and became consul the next year.
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Ascension & Early Reign
Lucius Verus's succession was in danger after Antoninus died on March 7, 161, as the senate considered confirming Marcus alone; however, the latter insisted that Lucius be given equal powers as promised. The first Roman co-emperors, Marcus ascended the throne as Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, while Lucius replaced his family name Commodus with that of Marcus, becoming Imperator Caesar Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustus.
The same year, both Marcus and Lucius were consuls as well, the second time for Lucius, but the third time for Marcus, who previously held the title in 140 and 145. Marcus had been conferred formal powers of emperorship, the imperium and tribunicia potestas, in 147, and Lucius was made 'junior co-emperor', due to which he held more authority than Lucius.
Despite the fact that they ascended the throne without opposition, Lucius addressed the assembled troops at the Castra Praetoria camp and offered a special donative, twice larger than past donatives, for protecting the emperors. The two also arranged for an elaborate funeral for their adoptive father Antoninus and nominated him for deification.
The new emperors, who were lenient and lacked vanity, were popular among the Roman citizens and ruled peacefully for a time, during which Marcus pursued study of philosophy while Lucius engaged in frivolous activities. Only major calamity during their early reign was the flooding of the banks of the Tiber river in the spring of 162, which destroyed much of Rome and caused famine in the city.
Roman Parthian War
Within six months after Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius ascended to the throne, the empire's long-time enemy, Vologases IV, the ruler of Parthia, invaded the Kingdom of Armenia, a Roman client state in the eastern frontier. Roman senator Marcus Sedatius Severianus, the Governor of Cappadocia, launched an offensive seeking glory, but eventually committed suicide after being trapped by the Parthians, who massacred his legion.
The Governor of Syria, Lucius Attidius Cornelianus, was also defeated by the Parthian army, following which reinforcements were sent from the northern frontiers with Britain, Raetia and Upper Germany. Marcus decided to send Lucius to Syria, apparently because he was physically stronger between the two inexperienced emperors, but it also moved his debaucheries away from Rome and forced him to take his responsibilities seriously.
Marcus followed Lucius up to Capua, after which the latter gave in to his wanton ways and fell ill, prompting Marcus to rush to Canosa to see him. He observed fast for three days, and upon recovering, resumed his leisurely royal procession eastward via Corinth and Athens, dallying at pleasure resorts along the route.
His biographers on 'Historia Augusta' stated that upon arriving in Antioch, Lucius resumed his debaucheries, began gambling and took a mistress named Panthea. However, his former tutor Fronto defended him mentioning that he had increased discipline within the army, personally inspected soldiers' training, and had taken steps to monitor drinking and gambling.
Nevertheless, Lucius stayed in Antioch mostly through the war, which was won by his generals, including Statius Priscus, Avidius Cassius, and Martius Verus, who recaptured Armenia and further advanced to Babylon and Media. The war ended in 166 after Parthian cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon were captured and razed, following which he returned to Rome to celebrate his 'triumph' with his brother.
Later Life & Death
Lucius Verus's co-emperor and brother Marcus had offered the hand of his eleven-year-old daughter, Annia Lucilla, in marriage to Lucius soon after assuming the throne, but the marriage was delayed as she was not of age. However, amidst reports of Lucius taking a mistress in Antioch, Marcus sent Lucilla to Ephesus to get married to Lucius in the middle of the war in late 163 or early 164.
Lucius fathered three children with Lucilla – daughters Aurelia Lucilla and Plautia, and son Lucius Aurelius Verus, all of whom died young. Back in Rome, he continued his luxurious life, and even had a tavern built in his house where he threw parties and distributed gifts.
After the Germanic tribe Marcomanni invaded Roman territory in 168, both the emperors travelled to the battlefront in Pannonia, but were delayed by shortage of food and the rapidly spreading Antonine Plague.
They reached after the invaders had already withdrawn. Lucius suffered food-poisoning on their way back to Rome and died within days in the city of Altinum in 169, and was declared divine, Divus Verus, after his funeral.