Emperor Antoninus Pius (86–161) – a god-fearing, reasonable and just host

The Temple of Faustina and Antoninus Pius, presently the Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda

The Temple of Faustina and Antoninus Pius, presently the Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda

Marcus Aurelius, the successor of Antoninus Pius on the emperor’s throne, in his Meditations, painted a picture of his predecessor as a man full of virtues – gentle but also stalwart in his deliberate decisions, devoid of vain, persistent and diligent, for whom the most important goal was working for the good of the state. Apart from that, Antoninus Pius was a man full of understanding for human weaknesses, pleasant to be around and fond of joking (but without exaggeration).

The Temple of Faustina and Antoninus Pius, presently the Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda
Faustina the Elder (on the left), Antoninus Pius (x2), Faustina the Younger (daughter), Museo Nazionale Romano,  Palazzo Massimo
Cesarz Antonin Pius, Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Massimo
Emperor Antoninus Pius, Musei Vaticani
Emperor Antoninus Pius, Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Massimo
Relief from the base of the column of Antoninus Pius (non-existent) depicting the apotheosis of Faustina and  Antoninus Pius, fragment, Musei Vaticani
Hadrianeum (the temple of the divine Hadrian)
Statue depicting the divine Antoninus Pius, Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Massimo
Faustina the Elder, the wife of Emperor Antoninus Pius, Musei Vaticani
Remains of the Temple of Hadrian, Piazza di Pietra
Antoninus Pius, Museo Palatino
Faustina the Elder, the wife of Emperor Antoninus Pius, Museo Palatino
The Temple of Faustina and Antoninus Pius, presently the Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda
Columns of the portico of the temple of Faustina and Antoninus Pius, presently the Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda
Faustina the Elder, the wife of Emperor Antoninus Pius, Museo Nazionale Romano, Pallazzo Massimo
Antoninus Pius and Faustina, relief from the base of a non-existent column, Musei Vaticani
Antoninus Pius, Museo Ostia Antica
Empress Faustina the Elder, wife of Emperor Antoninus Pius, Museo Ostia Antica
Empress Faustina the Elder, wife of Emperor Antoninus Pius, Museo Ostia Antica

Marcus Aurelius, the successor of Antoninus Pius on the emperor’s throne, in his Meditations, painted a picture of his predecessor as a man full of virtues – gentle but also stalwart in his deliberate decisions, devoid of vain, persistent and diligent, for whom the most important goal was working for the good of the state. Apart from that, Antoninus Pius was a man full of understanding for human weaknesses, pleasant to be around and fond of joking (but without exaggeration).

 


While the reports of ancient commentators, not to mention an adopted son (adopted emperors), often differ from findings of contemporary historians, in this case they confirm the words of Marcus Aurelius. They concern the emperor’s character, but also his stable, balanced internal policy, frugal governing and just law. Only his foreign policy and especially a lack of military experience which caused problems on the outskirts of the empire raise some criticism.

Antoninus came from a senatorial family, and was born in Lanuvium. After an early death of his father, who held the office of consul, he was raised by   the family of his grandfather and the second husband of his mother. As a youth he caught the attention of Emperor Hadrian and he was the one, who in 138 chose him to be his successor. At that time Antoninus was already 52 years old. He continued the policies of his predecessor, although contrary to him he maintained good relations with the Senate. One of the few conflicts, which he did have with the senators, concerned his uncompromising desire to elevate Hadrian to the pantheon of deities, to which the Senate was vehemently opposed (due to past conflicts with Hadrian). In the end Antoninus did as he saw fit, erecting an impressive temple to Hadrian as well as numerous statues and busts all over the empire. From that time he was known as Pius (pious, but also god-fearing), underlining his devotion to family and respect for the gods. As opposed to Hadrian he seldom left Rome, governing with the aid of letters, decrees and local governors.

The wife of Antoninus was Faustina (the Elder), with whom he had four children, including Faustina (the Younger), later married to Marcus Aurelius.   Even before their father assumed the mantle of emperor all the other children had died. After the death of his wife, Antoninus led to her deification and built a temple in her honor. Counting on an increase in the empire’s population he expanded an already-existing alimentary fund for girls and named it after her (pullae Faustinianae). During a period of natural disasters, both in Rome and in the far reaches of his state, he provided financial aid to provinces and cities affected by them. During his twenty-three year rule he put down uprisings and revolts in Upper Egypt, Dacia and Mauretania, but in general this was a time of peace and thriving. Roman economy experienced a period of prosperity – trade, agriculture and crafts were quickly developing, which led to a rapid increase in wealth   of the upper classes of society and a subsequent construction boom in the whole empire. It also favored the construction initiatives of the emperor in Rome,  which can partially still be seen today. Antoninus also took care to finish buildings started by Hadrian (e.g. temple of Venus and Roma) and to renovate older buildings (e.g. Colosseum).

       

During the rule of Antoninus traditional cults were still practiced, of which he himself, a conservative in that regard, was a great supporter. Nevertheless, other religions gained in popularity as well – the cult of Isis and Mithras as well as Christianity, from which the faction of marcionism emerged (supporters of Marcion).  All these brought together believers who in religion sought the road to salvation and immortality.

After the death of the emperor his body (not ashes) was laid in Hadrian’s Mausoleum (Castle of the Holy Angel). The Senate unanimously included him in the pantheon of deities.  His successor (Marcus Aurelius) erected an impressive column in his honor, of which only a small part remains until today – some remains with a relief decoration can be seen in Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani).

Structures completed at the emperor’s initiative:

  • The temple of Faustina and Antoninus Pius in Forum Romanum, erected to honor the emperor’s deceased wife (141 A.D.), and later devoted to the emperor as well; in the VII century converted to Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda
  • Temple of the deified Hadrian (Hadrianeum) on Campus Martius (145 A.D.)