Antoninus Pius, Prado Museum, Madrid
The whole Antonin dynasty got its name from one of the names of the fourth of them. Nevertheless, this emperor - Antoninus Pius, traditionally remains in the shadow of the more famous and "bright" rulers - Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius.
Antoninus Pius was not a conqueror like Trajan, who was often called both "the second after Augustus" and "the best emperor" (Optimus Princeps). He was not a general at all, and under him the prefect of the praetorian Mark Gavius Maxim was in charge of military affairs. Antoninus Pius did not travel the length and breadth of the Roman Empire, delving into the affairs of the provinces, like Hadrian. He was not a “philosopher on the throne”, like Marcus Aurelius, and did not leave behind 12 books of Meditations, repeatedly published under the title “To Himself”.
Meanwhile, historians evaluate the results of the reign of Antoninus Pius extremely highly and often speak of him as an emperor without flaws.
He did not become famous for victorious, but often fruitless wars, he spent almost his entire life in Italy, only once leaving its borders, he did not write philosophical treatises. But he turned out to be above kindred feelings and transferred the state into reliable hands, and after his death no one wanted to declare him a tyrant and curse him. It is not surprising that contemporaries called the hero of our article "the second Numa Pompilius."
So, today we will talk about Titus Aurelius Fulva Boionia Arriy Antoninus, who is better known as Emperor Antoninus Pius.
Origin and early career of the fourth "good emperor"
This man was born on September 19, 86 in the city of Lanuvius near Rome. The birthplace of his ancestors was the city of Nemaus (modern French Nimes), which was located in the Roman province of Narbonne Gaul.
Statue of Emperor Antoninus Pius, Nimes
Already the grandfather of the hero of our article, Gnei Arriy Antonin, having been elected consul, moved to Rome. He corresponded with Pliny the Younger, acted as proconsul of Asia, and was twice appointed prefect of Rome. He was a friend of Marcus Coctius Nerva and, having learned about the election of that emperor, he came to him not with congratulations, but with an expression of condolences.
The consul of 89 was also the father of Antoninus Pius - Titus Aurelius Fulvus. The mother of the future emperor, Arria Fadilla, also descended from noble Romanized Gauls. I must say that such families were much more strict and conservative than the Roman ones. And therefore the fathers of families did not welcome the conclusion of marriages by their children with promiscuous Romans and Roman women.
However, Antoninus became an exception to this rule, marrying, at the age of about 30, Annia Galeria Faustina the Elder, daughter of the consul Mark Annius Verus and Rupilia Faustina, half-sister of Empress Vibia Sabina (wife of Hadrian). The marriage turned out to be happy, Faustina gave birth to four children - two sons and two daughters, one of them, Annia Galeria Faustina, became the wife of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
At the initiative of Faustina, a program was adopted to help orphaned Italian girls, who as a result became known as "Puellae Faustinianae" (Faustina's girls). After her death, she was deified and honored with the construction of her own temple, which was later also dedicated to her husband.
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
But let's not get ahead.
Being a representative of a very noble and well-born family, Antoninus without difficulty went all the way along the "road of honor": he became a quaestor, a praetor, and in 130 he was elected consul. At the end of his consular powers at the age of 34, he retired.
However, the emperor Hadrian insisted on his return to public service and appointed him one of the four imperial consuls who acted as visiting judges. Antoninus got Etruria and Umbria. In 133-136 years. he, in the rank of proconsul, successfully ruled the province of Asia. After returning to Rome, he became a member of the imperial council.
It seemed that Antoninus had already reached the peak of his career, but in January 138, Hadrian's heir, his adopted son Lucius Elius Commodus, died. The seriously ill emperor at the end of February of the same year adopted the 52-year-old Antoninus and granted him the title of Caesar, that is, junior co-ruler, tribune powers, and then also empires (imperium), which gave the highest powers of executive power.
Antoninus Pius, bust, Munich Glyptothek
By order of Hadrian, Antoninus adopted two of his relatives. The first was the 17-year-old Mark Annius Ver, the stepson of the third husband of Adrian's mother, whom the emperor greatly appreciated, called "The Truthful" and, as they say, made Antonin swear that he would give him the throne.
В history this youth will enter as Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The second stepson of Antoninus was 7-year-old Lucius Julius Ver, the son of Commodus. By the will of Marcus Aurelius, he will become his co-ruler.
I must say that Antonin took a responsible attitude to the upbringing and education of his adopted sons, appointing them very good teachers - we will talk about this in the next article. Marcus Aurelius especially pleased everyone with his successes.
Officially, Antoninus became emperor on July 10, 138 - after the death of Hadrian. However, in fact, he ruled the empire from February 25 of that year - immediately after the adoption and proclamation by Caesar.
As we remember from previous article, the character of Adrian at the end of his life deteriorated greatly, he fell into unreasonable anger, limited the power of the Senate, carried out unreasonable repressions. And so the senators intended to declare him a tyrant and curse him.
Bust of Hadrian, Capitol Museums
Antoninus managed not only to stop these attempts, but also to achieve the deification of his predecessor. For this, in Rome they began to call him Pius - this nickname is usually translated as "Pious", but literally it means "doing duty in relation to the gods and relatives." As a reciprocal concession, he abolished the institution of visiting judges, which seriously limited the power of the Senate over Italy.
Emperor Antoninus Pius
Antoninus Pius, marble statue, Hermitage
So, at the time of accession to the throne, Antoninus was already 52 years old - a very respectable age for those times. In the Historia Augusta one can read about this emperor:
“High growth gave him representativeness. But because he was long and old, his body was bent.”
It is also known that Antoninus wore a beard - like Hadrian, which distinguished both from a number of all other emperors. Roman historians invariably emphasize the peacefulness of Antoninus Pius and his desire to be fair. Marcus Aurelius, Antoninus' successor, wrote of him:
“Remember his virtues, so that when your last hour comes, your conscience will be as clear as his.”
And Aelius Aristides in Praise of Rome stated:
“Now, indeed, both the Greek and the barbarian can easily wander, both with their goods and without it, wherever they wish, as if he were simply moving from one fatherland to another. And neither the Cilician gates, nor the narrow sandy roads through Arabia to Egypt, nor the impregnable mountains, nor the boundless rivers, nor the wild barbarian tribes frighten him. For to be safe it is enough for him to be a Roman.”
The Senate proposed to name two months in honor of this emperor and his wife: September was to become antonin, October - Faustin. However, Antoninus Pius declined this offer.
Already in 140, Antoninus Pius appointed the 19-year-old Marcus Aurelius as junior co-ruler (Caesar) and achieved his election as consul. In 145, Antoninus Pius married his elder stepson to his daughter Faustina (the younger). Their second daughter, Lucilla, was later married to Lucius Verus, co-emperor of Marcus Aurelius, who was 10 years his junior.
The reign of Antoninus Pius was by no means calm. In addition to wars on the outskirts, there were devastating earthquakes in Asia Minor and on the islands of the Aegean Sea. Rome, Narbonne, Antioch and Carthage were badly damaged by fires. Finally, the games of 148, arranged in honor of the 900th anniversary of Rome, were very ruinous for the treasury, in which many very exotic animals were killed: elephants, giraffes, tigers, rhinos, hippos and crocodiles. Nevertheless, for his successors (Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus), Antoninus saved up at least 675 million denarii.
Foreign policy of Antoninus Pius
Unlike his predecessors, Antoninus Pius had no military experience (and did not seek to get it), and therefore the commander-in-chief of the Roman troops throughout almost the entire reign of this emperor was the praetorian prefect Mark Gavius Maximus. The Romans, of course, had to fight, especially since it was during the reign of Antoninus that the pressure of barbarian tribes, pressed by the Huns coming from Asia, began on the eastern borders of the empire.
In troubled Britain, they managed to push the border to the north, strengthening it with a 58-kilometer wall (Antonine Wall), erected between the Firth of Forth and Firth of Clyde. Small fortresses were built along this line, spaced two miles apart.
However, for the war in Britain, part of the troops had to be withdrawn from the eastern borders, weakening the Danube and Rhine legions. Around 154, some of the forts of the Antonine Wall were captured by the rebellious Brigantes. After that, many Roman colonists who had settled between the walls of Antoninus and Hadrian were resettled in Germany, where they were given land near the Neckar River. In the 160s, already under Marcus Aurelius, the Roman troops were finally withdrawn to Hadrian's Wall.
In Upper Germany, the Rhetian frontier was moved eastward by about 30 miles.
In North Africa, the attacks of the Moors and gangs of marauders had to be repelled. There were uprisings in Greece, Egypt, Judea and Dacia. The border with Dacia was generally very “hot”, all the legions stationed in it had to be united under a common command, which made it possible to more freely maneuver the available forces and means. But it is through Dacia that various barbarian tribes will then constantly invade Roman territory.
Under Antoninus, the mixed Celtic-Proto-Slavic tribes of the Costoboci managed to break into the territory of Greece, in Achaia, which, however, only robbed it. However, since that time, the Greek lands proper gradually began to be settled by the Proto-Slavs, and the Hellenes now began to move to the territory of Asia Minor. The Romanized Greeks of Egypt, suffering from Berber raids, also began to settle there. Thus, a new center of the Roman Empire began to form, which received the conditional name of Byzantium.
The imperial policy in relations with Parthia was successful. Adrian, as we remember, immediately after the death of Trajan gave the Parthians all the lands conquered by his predecessor.
Antoninus, through negotiations, managed to create a kind of buffer belt between the Roman and Parthian possessions from the Iberian, Colchis and Syrian lands. Thus, there was no longer a common border between the Roman Empire and Parthia, which reduced the possibility of a new war.
To replenish the ranks of the legions, Antoninus issued a law according to which Roman citizenship was granted to barbarians who entered military service. In order to become Roman citizens, the sons of legionaries of non-Italic origin now had to enter the military service.
Domestic policy of Antoninus Pius
Antoninus' reign was marked by some reduction in the tax burden. The construction of roads continued - not only in Italy, but also in Narbonne Gaul. The Emilia road between Piacenza and Rimini was restored, it connected the Postumian road leading from Genoa to Piacenza, and the Flaminieva between Rome and Rimini. The port of Alexandria was renovated and modernized, Pharos, the Cayetian and Terracinian harbors were restored, and a water pipe was built in Antium. According to the will of Hadrian, the baths were built in Ostia with funds specially allocated to him. The construction of the mausoleum of this emperor was also completed.
Roman law under Antoninus Pius made important additions. First of all, perhaps, it should be said about the introduction of the concept of "presumption of innocence". In addition, the killing of a slave by the master was now equated with an ordinary murder. It was forbidden to torture children under the age of fourteen. When concluding a marriage contract, the wishes of women began to be taken into account.
Antoninus Pius was a rather religious person, but there was no special persecution of Christians during the years of his reign, they were only ordered not to act in public and not to engage in missionary activities. But Antonin officially allowed the Jews to practice their faith and repealed the law prohibiting circumcision. It is said that Rabbi Judah ben Shamuei secured this decision by the emperor by solemnly promising not to involve non-Jewish people in Judaism (Christians did not make such a promise). However, Judaism does not involve people of other nationalities joining it, so in this case, ben-Shamui deftly deceived the emperor.
Death of Antoninus Pius
The fourth "good emperor" died in 161 of some kind of fever at the age of 74.
Thus, he ruled for 23 years and left his successors (Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus) the Roman state at the peak of its power - with a full treasury and relatively stable borders.
In the next article, we will talk about Marcus Aurelius and finish the story about the “Age of Good Emperors”.