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Ancient History Sourcebook:
Julius Capitolinus:
The Life of Antoninus Pius


I. Titus Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Antoninus Pius was descended, on his father's side, from a family which came from the country of Transalpine Gaul, more specifically, from the town of Nimes. His grandfather was Titus Aurelius Fulvus, who after various offices of honour attained to a second consulship and the prefecture of the city; his father was Aurelius Fulvus, also consul, and a stern and upright man. His mother was Arria Fadilla; her mother was Boionia Procilla and her father Arrius Antoninus, twice consul and a righteous man, who pitied Nerva that he assumed the imperial power. Julia Fadilla was his mother's daughter, his stepfather being Julius Lupus, a man of consular rank. His father- in-law was Annius Verus and his wife Annia Faustina, who bore him two sons and two daughters, of whom the elder was married to Lamia Silanus and the younger to Marcus Antoninus. Antoninus himself was born at an estate at Lanuvium on the thirteenth day before the Kalends of October in the twelfth consulship of Domitian and first of Cornelius Dolabella. He was reared at Lorium on the Aurelian Way, where he afterwards built the palace whose ruins stand there today. He passed his childhood first with his paternal grandfather, then later with his maternal; and he showed such a dutiful affection toward all his family, that he was enriched by legacies from even his cousins, his stepfather, and many still more distant kin.

II. In personal appearance he was strikingly handsome, in natural talent brilliant, in temperament kindly; he was aristocratic in countenance and calm in nature, a singularly gifted speaker and an elegant scholar, conspicuously thrifty, a conscientious landholder, gentle, generous, and mindful of other's rights. He possessed all these qualities, moreover, in the proper mean and without ostentation, and, in fine, was praiseworthy in every way and, in the minds of all good men, well deserving of comparison with Numa Pompilius. He was given the name of Pius by the senate, either because, when his father-in-law was old and weak, he lent him a supporting hand in his attendance at the senate (which act, indeed, is not sufficient as a token of great dutifulness, since a man were rather undutiful who did not perform this service than dutiful if he did), or because he spared those men whom Hadrian in his ill-health had condemned to death, or because after Hadrian's death he had unbounded and extraordinary honours decreed for him in spite of opposition from all, or because, when Hadrian wished to make away with himself, by great care and watchfulness he prevented him from so doing, or because he was in fact very kindly by nature and did no harsh deed in his own time. He also loaned money at four-per-cent, the lowest rate ever exacted, in order that he might use his fortune to aid many. As quaestor he was generous, as praetor illustrious, and in the consulship he had as colleague Catilius Severus. His life as a private citizen he passed mostly on his estates but he was well-known everywhere. He was chosen by Hadrian from among the four men of consular rank under whose jurisdiction Italy was placed, to administer that particular part of Italy in which the greater part of his own holdings lay; from this it was evident that Hadrian had regard for both the fame and the tranquility of such a man.

III. An omen of his future rule occurred while he was administering Italy; for when he mounted the tribunal, among other greetings some one cried, "God save thee, Augustus!" His proconsulship in Asia he conducted in such a fashion that he alone excelled his grandfather; and in this proconsulship, too, he received another omen foretelling his rule; for at Tralles a priestess, being about to greet him after the custom of the place (for it was their custom to greet the proconsuls by their title), instead of saying "Hail, proconsul," said "Hail, imperator"; at Cyzicus, moreover, a crown was transferred from an image of a god to a statue of him. After his consulship, again, a marble bull was found hanging in his garden with its horns attached to the boughs of a tree, and lightning from a clear sky struck his home without inflicting damage, and in Etruria certain large jars that had been buried were found above the ground again, and swarms of bees settled on his statues throughout all Etruria, and frequently he was warned in dreams to include an image of Hadrian among his household gods. While setting out to assume his proconsular office he lost his elder daughter. About the license and loose living of his wife a number of things were said, which he heard with great sorrow and suppressed. On returning from his proconsulship he lived for the most part at Rome, being a member of the councils of Hadrian, and in all matters concerning which Hadrian sought his advice, ever urging the more merciful course.

IV. The manner of his adoption, they say, was somewhat thus: After the death of Aelius Verus, whom Hadrian had adopted and named Caesar, a day was set for the meeting of the senate, and to this Arrius Antoninus came, supporting the steps of his father-in-law. For this act, it is said, Hadrian adopted him. But this could not have been the only reason for the adoption, nor ought it to have been, especially since Antoninus had always done well in his administration of public office, and in his proconsulship had shown himself a man of worth and dignity. At any rate, when Hadrian announced a desire to adopt him, he was given time for deciding whether he wished to be adopted. This condition was attached to his adoption, that as Hadrian took Antoninus as his son, so he in turn should take Marcus Antoninus, his wife's nephew, and Lucius Verus, thenceforth called Verus Antoninus, the son of that Aelius Verus whom Hadrian had previously adopted. He was adopted on the fifth day before the Kalends of March, while returning thanks in the senate for Hadrian's opinion concerning him, and he was made colleague to his father in both the proconsular and the tribunician power. It is related as his first remark, that when he was reproved by his wife because he was not sufficiently generous to his household in some trifling matter, he said: "Foolish woman, now that we have gained an empire, we have lost even what we had before." To the people he gave largess on his own account and also paid the moneys that his father had promised. He contributed a large amount of money, too, to Hadrian's public works, and of the crown-gold which had been presented to him on the occasion of his adoption, he returned all of Italy's share, and half of their share to the provinces.

V. His father, as long as he lived, he obeyed most scrupulously, and when Hadrian passed away at Baiae he bore his remains to Rome with all piety and reverence, and buried him in the gardens of Domitia; moreover, though all opposed the measure, he had him placed among the deified. On his wife Faustina he permitted the senate to bestow the name of Augusta, and for himself accepted the surname Pius. The statues decreed for his father, mother, grandparents and brothers, then dead, he accepted readily; nor did he refuse the circus-games ordered for his birthday, though he did refuse other honours. In honour of Hadrian he set up a superb shield and established a college of priests. After his accession to the throne he removed none of the men whom Hadrian had appointed to office, and, indeed, was so steadfast and loyal that he retained good men in the government of provinces for terms of seven and even nine years. He waged a number of wars, but all of them through his legates. For Lollius Urbicus, his legate, overcame the Britons and built a second wall, one of turf, after driving back the barbarians. Through other legates or governors, he forced the Moors to sue for peace, and crushed the Germans and the Dacians and many other tribes, and also the Jews, who were in revolt. In Achaea also and in Egypt he put down rebellions and many a time sharply checked the Alani in their raiding.

VI. His procurators were ordered to levy only a reasonable tribute, and those who exceeded a proper limit were commanded to render an account of their acts, nor was he ever pleased with any revenues that were onerous to the provinces. Moreover, he was always willing to hear complaints against his procurators. He besought the senate to pardon those men whom Hadrian had condemned, saying that Hadrian himself had been about to do so. The imperial pomp he reduced to the utmost simplicity and thereby gained the greater esteem, though the palace-attendants opposed this course, for they found that since he made no use of go-betweens, they could in no wise terrorize men or take money for decisions about which there was no concealment. In his dealings with the senate, he rendered it, as emperor, the same respect that he had wished another emperor to render him when he was a private man. When the senate offered him the title of Father of his Country, he at first refused it, but later accepted it with an elaborate expression of thanks. On the death of his wife Faustina, in the third year of his reign, the senate deified her, and voted her games and a temple and priestesses and statues of silver and of gold. These the Emperor accepted, and furthermore granted permission that her statue be erected in all the circuses; and when the senate voted her a golden statue, he undertook to erect it himself. At the instance of the senate, Marcus Antoninus, now quaestor, was made consul; also Annius Verus, he who was afterwards entitled Antoninus, was appointed quaestor before the legal age. Never did he resolve on measures about the provinces or render a decision on any question without previously consulting his friends, and in accordance with their opinions he drew up his final statement. And indeed he often received his friends without the robes of state and even in the performances of domestic duties.

VII. With such care did he govern all peoples under him that he looked after all things and all men as if they were his own. As a result, the provinces all prospered in his reign, informers were abolished, the confiscation of goods was less frequent than ever before, and only one man was condemned as guilty of aspiring to the throne. This was Atilius Titianus, and it was the senate itself that conducted his prosecution, while the Emperor forbade any investigation about the fellow-conspirators of Atilius and always aided his son to attain all his desires. Priscianus did indeed die for aspiring to the throne, but by his own hand, and about his conspiracy also the Emperor forbade any investigation. The board of Antoninus Pius was rich yet never open to criticism, frugal yet not stingy; his table was furnished by his own slaves, his own fowlers and fishers and hunters. A bath, which he had previously used himself, he opened to the people without charge, nor did he himself depart in any way from the manner of life to which he had been accustomed when a private man. He took away salaries from a number of men who held obvious sinecures, saying there was nothing meaner, nay more unfeeling, than the man who nibbled at the revenues of the state without giving any service in return; for the same reason, also, he reduced the salary of Mesomedes, the lyric poet. The budgets of all the provinces and the sources of revenue he knew exceedingly well. He settled his private fortune on his daughter, but presented the income of it to the state. Indeed, the superfluous trappings of royal state and even the crown-lands he sold, living on his own private estates and varying his residence according to the season. Nor did he undertake any expedition other than the visiting of his lands in Campania, averring that the equipage of an emperor, even of one over-frugal, was a burdensome thing to the provinces. And yet he was regarded with immense respect by all nations, for, making his residence in the city, as he did, for the purpose of being in a central location, he was able to receive messages from every quarter with equal speed.

VIII. He gave largess to the people, and, in addition, a donation to the soldiers, and founded an order of destitute girls, called Faustinianae in honor of Faustina. Of the public works that were constructed by him the following remain today: the temple of Hadrian at Rome, so called in honour of his father, the Graecostadium, restored by him after its burning, the Amphitheatre, repaired by him, the tomb of Hadrian, the temple of Agrippa, and the Pons Sublicius, also the Pharus, the port at Caieta, and the port at Tarracina, all of which he restored, the bath at Ostia, the aqueduct at Antium, and the temples at Lanuvium. Besides all this, he helped many communities to erect new buildings and to restore the old; and he even gave pecuniary aid to Roman magistrates and senators to assist them in the performance of their duties. He declined legacies from those who had children of their own and was the first to establish the rule that bequests made under fear of penalty should not be valid. Never did he appoint a successor to a worthy magistrate while yet alive, except in the case of Orfitus, the prefect of the city, and then only at his own request. For under him Gavius Maximus, a very stern man, reached his twentieth year of service as prefect of the guard; he was succeeded by Tattius Maximus, and at his death Antoninus appointed two men in his place, Fabius Cornelius Repentinus and Furius Victorinus, the former of whom, however, was ruined by the scandalous tale that he had gained his office by the favour of the Emperor's mistress. So rigidly did he adhere to his resolve that no senator should be executed in his reign, that a confessed parricide was merely marooned on a desert island, and that only because it was against the laws of nature to let such a one live. He relieved a scarcity of wine and oil and wheat with loss to his own private treasury, by buying these and distributing them to the people free.

IX. The following misfortunes and prodigies occurred in his reign: the famine, which we have just mentioned, the collapse of the Circus, an earthquake whereby towns of Rhodes and of Asia were destroyed -- all of which, however, the Emperor restored in splendid fashion --, and a fire at Rome which consumed three hundred and forty tenements and dwellings. The town of Narbonne, the city of Antioch, and the forum of Carthage also burned. Besides, the Tiber flooded its banks, a comet was seen, a two-headed child was born, and a woman gave birth to quintuplets. There was seen, moreover, in Arabia, a crested serpent larger than the usual size, which ate itself from the tail to the middle; and also in Arabia there was a pestilence, while in Moesia barley sprouted from the tops of trees. And besides all this, in Arabia four lions grew tame and of their own accord yielded themselves to capture. Pharasmenes, the king, visited him at Rome and showed him more respect than he had shown Hadrian. He appointed Pacorus king of the Lazi, induced the king of the Parthians to forego a campaign against the Armenians merely by writing him a letter, and solely by his personal influence brought Abgarus the king back from the regions of the East. He settled the pleas of several kings. The royal throne of the Parthians, which Trajan had captured, he refused to return when their king asked for it, and after hearing the dispute between Rhoemetalces and the imperial commissioner, sent the former back his kingdom of the Bosphorus. He sent troops to the Black Sea to bring aid to Olbiopolis against the Tauroscythians and forced the latter to give hostages to Olbiopolis. No one has ever had such prestige among foreign nations as he, for he was ever a lover of peace, even to such a degree that he was continually quoting the saying of Scipio in which he declared that he would rather save a single citizen than slay a thousand foes.

X. When the senate declared that the months of September and October should be called respectively Antoninus and Faustinus, Antoninus refused. The wedding of his daughter Faustina, whom he espoused to Marcus Antoninus, he made most noteworthy, even to the extent of giving a donative to the soldiers. He made Verus Antoninus consul after his quaestorship. On one occasion, he sent word to Apollonius, whom he had summoned from Chalcis, to come to the House of Tiberius (where at the time he was staying) in order that he might put Marcus Antoninus in his charge, but Apollonius replied "The master ought not come to the pupil, but the pupil to the master." Whereupon the Emperor ridiculed him, saying "It was easier, then, for Apollonius to come to Rome from Chalcis than from his house to my palace." The greed of this man he had noticed even in the matter of his salary. It is related of him, too, as an instance of his regard for his family, that when Marcus was mourning the death of his tutor and was restrained by the palace servants from this display of affection, the Emperor said: "Let him be only a man for once; for neither philosophy nor empire takes away natural feeling." On his prefects he bestowed both riches and consular honours. If he convicted any of extortion he nevertheless delivered up the estates to their children, providing only that the children should restore to the provinces what their fathers had taken. He was very prone to acts of forgiveness. He held games at which he displayed elephants and the animals called corocottae and tigers and rhinoceroses, even crocodiles and hippopotami, in short, all the animals of the whole earth; and he presented at a single performance as many as a hundred lions together with tigers.

XI. His friends he always treated, while on the throne, just as though he were a private citizen, for they never combined with his freedmen to sell false hopes of favours, and indeed he treated his freedmen with the greatest strictness. He was very fond of the stage, found great delight in fishing and hunting and in walks and conversation with his friends, and was wont to pass vintage-time in company with his friends in the manner of an ordinary citizen. Rhetoricians and philosophers throughout all the provinces he rewarded with honours and money. The orations which have come down in his name, some say, are really the work of others; according to Marius Maximus, however, they were his own. He always shared his banquets, both public and private, with his friends; and never did he perform sacrifices by proxy except when he was ill. When he sought office for himself or for his sons all was done as by a private individual. He himself was often present at the banquets of his intimates, and among other things it is a particular evidence of his graciousness that when, on a visit at the house of Homullus, he admired certain porphyry columns and asked where they came from, Homullus replied "When you come to another's house, be deaf and dumb," and he took it in good part. In fact, the jibes of this same Homullus, which were many, he always took in good part.

XII. A number of legal principles were established by Antoninus with the aid of certain men, experts in jurisprudence, namely, Vindius Verus, Salvius Valens, Volusius Maecianus, Ulpius Marcellus, and Diavolenus. Rebellions, wherever they occurred, he suppressed not by means of cruelty, but with moderation and dignity. He forbade the burial of bodies within the limits of any city; he established a maximum cost for gladiatorial games; and he very carefully maintained the imperial post. Of everything that he did he rendered an account, both in the senate and by proclamation. He died in the seventieth year of his age, but his loss was felt as though he had been but a youth. They say his death was somewhat as follows: after he had eaten too freely some Alpine cheese at dinner he vomited during the night, and was taken with a fever the next day. On the second day, as he saw that his condition was becoming worse, in the presence of his prefects he committed the state and his daughter to Marcus Antoninus, and gave orders that the golden statue of Fortune, which was wont to stand in the bed-chamber of the emperor, be given to him. Then he gave the watchword to the officer of the day as "Equanimity," and so, turning as if to sleep, gave up the ghost at Lorium. While he was delirious with fever, he spoke of nothing save the state and certain kings with whom he was angry. To his daughter he left his private fortune, and in his will he remembered all his household with suitable legacies.

XIII. He was a handsome man, and tall in stature; but being a tall man, when he was bent by old age he had himself swathed with splints of linden-wood bound on his chest in order that he might walk erect. Moreover, when he was old, he ate dry bread before the courtiers came to greet him, in order that he might sustain his strength. His voice was hoarse and resonant, yet agreeable. He was deified by the senate, while all men vied with one another to give him honour, and all extolled his devoutness, his mercy, his intelligence, and his righteousness. All honours were decreed for him which were ever before bestowed on the very best of emperors. He well deserved the flamen and games and temple and the Antonine priesthood. Almost alone of all emperors he lived entirely unstained by the blood of either citizen or foe so far as was in his power, and he was justly compared to Numa, whose good fortune and piety and tranquillity and religious rites he ever maintained.

 


Source:

Translated by David Magie, Ph. D., for the Loeb Classical Library (1921)

Etext from The Piety Page


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© Paul Halsall, March 1999
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