The name of this emperor in the early part of his life, at full length, was Titus Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus
--a series of appellations derived from his paternal and maternal ancestors, from whom he inherited great wealth.
The family of his father was originally from Nemausus (Nismes) in Transalpine Gaul, and the most important members of the stock are exhibited in the following table:
Antoninus himself was born near Lanuvium on the 19th of September, A. D. 86, in the reign of Domitian ; was brought up at Lorium, a villa on the Aurelian way, about twelve miles from Rome ; passed his boyhood under the superintendence of his two grandfathers, and from a very early age gave promise of his future worth.
After having filled the offices of quaestor and praetor with great distinction, he was elevated to the consulship in 120, was afterwards selected by Hadrian as one of the four consulars to whom the administration of Italy was entrusted, was next appointed proconsul of the province of Asia, which he ruled so wisely that he surpassed in fame all former governors, not excepting his grandfather Arrius, and on his return home was admitted to share the secret counsels of the prince.
In consequence, it would appear, of his merit alone, after the death of Aelius Caesar, he was adopted by Hadrian on the 25th of February 138, in the 52nd year of his age.
He was immediately assumed by his new father as colleague in the tribunate and proconsular imperium, and thenceforward bore the name of T. Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Caesar. Being at this period without male issue, he was required to adopt M. Annius Verus, the son of his wife's brother, and also L. Ceionius Commodus, the son of Aelius Caesar, who had been previously adopted by Hadrian but was now dead.
These two individuals were afterwards the emperors M. Aurelius Antoninus and L. Aurelius Verus.
Hadrian died at Baiae on the 2nd of July, 138, but a few months after these arrangements had been concluded, and Antoninus without opposition ascended the throne. Several years before this event, he had married Annia Galeria Faustina, whose descent will be understood by referring to the account given of the family of her nephew, M. AURELIUS. By her he had two daughters, Aurelia Fadilla and Annia Faustina, and two sons, M. Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus and M. Galerius Antoninus. Aurelia married Lamia Syllanus, and died at the time when her father was setting out for Asia. Faustina became the wife of her first cousin Marcus Aurelius, the future emperor. Of the male progeny we know nothing.
The name of the first mentioned was discovered by Pagi in an inscription, the portrait of the second appears on a rare Greek coin, with the legend, Μ
. ΑΝΤΩΝΕΙΝΟΤ ΥΙΟΞ
. On the reverse of the medal is the head of his mother, with the words, ΘΕΑ ΦΑΥΞΤΕΙΝΑ
, which prove that it was struck subsequently to her death, which happened in the third year after her husband's accession.
It will be observed, that while Galerius is styled "son of the emperor Antoninus," he is not termed ΚΑΙΣΑΡ
, a title which would scarcely have been omitted had he been born or been alive after his father's elevation. From this circumstance, therefore, from the absolute silence of history with regard to these youths, and from the positive assertion of Dio Cassius (69.21), that Antoninus had no male issue when adopted by Hadrian, we may conclude that both his sons died before this epoch; and hence the magnanimity ascribed to him by Gibbon (100.3) in preferring the welfare of Rome to the interests of his family, and sacrificing the claims of his own children to the talents and virtues of young Marcus, is probably altogether visionary.
The whole period of the reign of Antoninus, which lasted for upwards of twenty-two years, is almost a blank in history--a blank caused by the suspension for a time of war, and violence, and crime. Never before and never after did the Roman world enjoy for an equal space so large a measure of prosperous tranquillity. All the thoughts and energies of a most sagacious and able prince were steadfastly dedicated to the attainment of one object--the happiness of his people. And assuredly never were noble exertions crowned with more ample success.
At home the affections of all classes were won by his simple habits, by the courtesy of his manners, by the ready access granted to his presence, by the patient attention with which he listened to representations upon all manner of subjects, by his impartial distribution of favours, and his prompt administration of justice. Common informers were discouraged, and almost disappeared; never had confiscations been so rare; during a long succession of years no senator was punished with death; one man only was impeached of treason, and he, when convicted, was forbidden to betray his accomplices.
Abroad, the subject states participated largely in the blessings diffused by such an example.
The best governors were permitted to retain their power for a series of years, and the collectors of the revenue were compelled to abandon their extortions. Moreover, the general condition of the provincials was improved, their fidelity secured, and the resources and stability of the whole empire increased by the communication, on a large scale, of the full rights and privileges of Roman citizens to the inhabitants of distant countries.
In cases of national calamity and distress, such as the earthquakes which devastated Rhodes and Asia, and the great fires at Narbonne, Antioch, and Carthage, the sufferers were relieved, and compensation granted for their losses with the most unsparing liberality.
In foreign policy, the judicious system of his predecessor was steadily followed out. No attempt was made to achieve new conquests, but all rebellions from within and all aggressions from without were promptly crushed. Various movements among the Germans, the Dacians, the Jews, the Moors, the Greeks, and the Egyptians, were quelled by persuasion or by a mere demonstration of force ; while a more formidable insurrection in northern Britain was speedily repressed by the imperial legate Lollius Urbicus, who advancing beyond the wall of Hadrian, connected the friths of the Clyde and the Forth by a rampart of turf, in order that the more peaceful districts might be better protected from the inroads of the Caledonians. The British war was concluded, as we learn from medals, between the years 140-145, and on this occasion Antoninus received for a second time the title of imperator--a distinction which he did not agair accept, and he never deigned to celebrate a triumph. (Eckhel, vol. vii. p. 14.)
Even the nations which were not subject to Rome paid the utmost respect to the power of Antoninus. The Parthians, yielding to his remonstrances, abandoned an attempt upon Armenia. The Scythians submitted disputes with their neighbours to his arbitration; the barbarians of the Upper Danube received a king from his hands; a great chief of the clans of Caucasus repaired to Rome to tender his homage in person, and embassies flocked in from Hyrcania and Bactria, from the banks of the Indus and of the Ganges, to seek the alliance of the emperor.
In his reign various improvements were introduced in the law, by the advice of the most eminent jurists of the day; the health of the population was protected by salutary regulations with regard to the interment of the dead, and by the establishment of a certain number of licensed medical practitioners in the metropolis and all large towns.
The interests of education and literature were promoted by honours and pensions bestowed on the most distinguished professors of philosophy and rhetoric throughout the world. Commercial intercourse was facilitated by the construction or repair of bridges, harbours, and lighthouses; and architecture and the fine arts were encouraged by the erection and decoration of numerous public buildings. Of these the temple of Faustina in the forum, and the mausoleum of Hadrian on the right bank of the Tiber, may still be seen, and many antiquarians are of opinion, that the magnificent amphitheatre at Nismes, and the stupendous aqueduct now termed the Pont du Gard, between that town and Avignon, are monuments of the interest felt by the descendant of the Aurelii Fulvi for the country of his fathers.
It is certain that the former of these structures was completed under his immediate successors and dedicated to them.
In all the relations of private life Antoninus was equally distinguished. Even his wife's irregularities, which must to a certain extent have been known to him, he passed over, and after her death loaded her memory with honours. Among the most remarkable of these was the establishment of an hospital, after the plan of a similar institution by Trajan, for the reception and maintenance of boys and girls, the young females who enjoyed the advantages of the charity being termed puellae alimentariae Faustinianae.
By fervent piety and scrupulous observance of sacred rites, he gained the reputation of being a second Numa ; but he was a foe to intolerant fanaticism, as is proved by the protection and favour extended to the Christians. His natural taste seems to have had a strong bias towards the pleasures of a country life, and accordingly we find him spending all his leisure hours upon his estate in the country.
In person he was of commanding aspect and dignified countenance, and a deep toned melodious voice rendered his native eloquence more striking and impressive.
His death took place at Lorium on the 7th of March, 161, in his 75th year.
He was succeeded by M. Aurelius.
Some doubts existed amongst the ancients themselves with regard to the origin of the title Pius,
and several different explanations, many of them very silly, are proposed by his biographer Capitolinus.
The most probable account of the matter is this. Upon the death of Hadrian, the senate, incensed by his severity towards several members of their body, had resolved to withhold the honours usually conferred upon deceased emperors, but were induced to forego their purpose in consequence of the deep grief of Antoninus, and his earnest entreaties. Being, perhaps, after the first burst of indignation had passed away, somewhat alarmed by their own rashness, they determined to render the concession more gracious by paying a compliment to their new ruler which should mark their admiration of the feeling by which he had been influenced, and accordingly they hailed him by the name of Pius,
or the dutifully affectionate.
This view of the question receives support from medals, since the epithet appears for the first time upon those which were struck immediately after the death of Hadrian; while several belonging to the same year, but coined before that date, bear no such addition. Had it been, as is commonly supposed, conferred in consequence of the general holiness of his life, it would in all probability have been introduced either when he first became Caesar, or after he had been seated for some time on the throne, and not exactly at the moment of his accession. Be that as it may, it found such favour in the eyes of his successors, that it was almost universally adopted, and is usually found united with the appellation of Augustus.
Our chief and almost only authority for the life of Antoninus Pius is the biography of Capitolinus, which, as may be gathered from what has been said above, is from beginning to end an uninterrupted panegyric.
But the few facts which we can collect from medals, from the scanty fragments of Dio Cassius, and from incidental notices in later writers, all corroborate, as far as they go, the representations of Capitolinus; and therefore we cannot fairly refuse to receive his narrative merely because he paints a character of singular and almost unparalleled excellence.