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Antoninus Pius

(19 September 86 - 7 March 161 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Antoninus Pius

Titus Aurelius Fulvius Boionius Arrius Antoninus

Ruled as

Imperator Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius


10 July 138 – 7 March 161 CE


19 September 86 CE


7 March 161 CE

Coin of Antoninus Pius

Antoninus Pius was born on September 19, 86 CE in Lanuvinium as Titus Aurelius Fulvius Boionius Arrius Antoninus. Antoninus Pius was a Roman emperor in the years 138 – 161 CE. The period of his reign is a time of prosperity and peace, often called Pax Romana.

Origins and political career

He was the son and only child of Titus Aurelius Fulvus, consul of 89 CE and Arria Fadilla. His paternal grandfather also owned a consulate. Grandfather on the mother’s side even twice. He married Anna Galeria Faustina, known as Faustina the Elder. Antoninus was adopted in February 138 CE by Emperor Hadrian.

He came from a senatorial family from Nemausus (now Nimes) in Narbonne Gaul. The family then moved to Italy, where they acquired estates in Etruria and on the Pada. Antoninus inherited estates and names from his maternal and paternal ancestors: Aurelius Fulvus from his grandfather and father; Boionius after his maternal grandmother; and Arrius Antoninus after her husband.

After his father’s death, Fulvus was raised by his maternal grandfather Gnaeus Arius Antoninus and by his mother’s second husband, Publius Julius Lupus. Between 110 and 115 CE he married Faustina the Elder, daughter of consul Marcus Annius Verus. He had four children with her: Marcus Aurelius Fulvius Antoninus, Marcus Galerius Aurelius Antoninus, Aurelia Fadilla, Annia Galeria Faustina (the so-called Younger), later wife of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Both boys and one of the girls died before 138 CE. Then their ashes were transferred to Hadrian’s mausoleum. Young Pius gradually climbed the career ladder. After completing his bursary and preaching, Antoninus obtained a consulate in 120 CE. He got the attention of Emperor Hadrian and was elected one of the four proconsuls administering Italy. He was a member of the imperial consilium, or Hadrian’s informal council. Soon after, he became the Proconsul of Asia (134-135 CE).

Childless Emperor Hadrian decided to adopt 40-year-old Cejonius Commodus in 136 CE, who was elevated to the dignity of Caesar and expected to be heir to the throne. However, he unexpectedly died a few months before Hadrian in 138 CE. In this situation, the emperor decided to adopt Antoninus Pius. Hadrian adopted him on February 25, 138 CEon condition that Antoninus became synonymous with: Marcus Ennius Verus (later Emperor Marcus Aurelius), son of his brother-in-law and Lucius Ennius Verus (later Emperor Lucius Verus). Hadrian had the boys adopted in order to ensure succession to the throne. Antoninus was 52 years old on the day of his adoption and had no male heir. Hadrian argued Antoninus’ candidacy before the Senate, claiming that he came from a good and noble family and showed the qualities of a good ruler.


Finally, severely ill, Hadrian died on July 10, 138 CE and Antoninus Pius took his place on the throne. Towards the end of his life, Hadrian began to make controversial decisions that mainly harmed the aristocracy. The Senate, remembering Hadrian’s negative actions, did not agree to his deification. In the end, thanks to the new emperor, the Senate, with quite a lot of reluctance, enacted his deification. Antoninus was nicknamed Pius, meaning “The Pious”. He was given this nickname because he zealously honoured his family and ancestors. It was also said that it was his attitude during the end of his adoptive father’s life that guaranteed him such a nickname. Antoninus was to dissuade Hadrian from killing himself and support him on his way to the Senate. In addition, the emperor erected statues and temples for Hadrian.

Antoninus wanted to continue his father’s policy and maintain internal and external peace. The Emperor designated Marcus Ennius Verus (Marcus Aurelius) as his heir. In 139 CE he was appointed quaestor, and a year later as consul; he also obtained the title of Caesar, tribunal power, and a proconsular empire. Antoninus Pius left most of the officials appointed by Hadrian in their positions with only a few changes. He appointed Gaius Bruttius Praesens as the new prefect of Rome. The post of praetorian prefect was held by Marcus Gavius ​​Maximus until 157 CE.

Antoninus Wall was built in 142 CE at the behest of Antoninus Pius.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

Despite a peaceful policy, it was not possible to avoid fighting at the borders. Between CE 138-161, several notable campaigns can be noted. Quintus Lollius Urbicus, the governor of Britain, invaded the areas of Caledonia, winning victories over the local tribes. The construction of a new, fortified border on the Clyde-Forth line was started in this area. These fortifications are known as Antoninus Wall.
Sources report unrest in Dacia in 157-159 CE that required a larger military force to be sent there, possibly in the form of troops from the legions. After the unrest was calmed, Dacia was divided into three separate provinces. Antoninus Pius appointed kings to the client states of the Roman Empire, incl. Armenia and Kwadom. In 140 CE, the king of Caucasian Iberia paid the emperor a visit to Rome.

Between 145 and 150 CE, the Empire faced a major revolt in Mauritania. Additional troops had to be sent to the provinces under the command of a new senatorial governor who replaced the equestrian prosecutors. In the mid-50s of the 2nd century CE, the Bygant uprising in Britain was suppressed.
New border fortifications were built in Germania Superior and Recia, forming the backbone of the Upper Rhine Limes, protecting the area of ​​Agri Decumates (“Tithelands” – territory in Germania, located between the Upper Rhine and the Danube). In the east, in Syria and Cappadocia, legions were relocated and the military manning of the border with the Parthian state was strengthened. Antoninus Pius regulated the service of the members of the Emperor’s Mounted Guard (equites singulares augusti), who were now released after serving 25 years.
Unrest also arose in Judea, and the emperor revoked Hadrian’s circumcision ban.

When Empress Faustina the Elder died in 141 CE, the Senate made her one of the gods and built a temple and games. Antoninus then decided to expand the alimony fund (alimenta for girls) introduced under Trajan, which was to improve the population of the Empire. This fund was then called puellae Faustinianae. The emperor was generous also during cataclysms. Rome has always rushed to help cities and lands hit by natural disasters. There were a lot of them during the reign of Antoninus: earthquakes in Asia Minor and Rhodes, fires in Rome, Antioch, Carthage, and the flood of the Tiber.

The emperor is also remembered as a builder and restorer. Many buildings were renovated, and in 141 CE the emperor ordered the aforementioned temple to be built in Rome in honour of his wife Faustina (after his death, the booths were also dedicated to him). In 145 CE, Antoninus Pius erected the temple of the divine Hadrian or Hadrianeum on the Place de Mars in Rome.

Roman Empire during the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

During the reign of Antoninus Pius, the position of the Greek elite in the empire grew. Two Athenians, Lucius Stacjus Quadratus and Herodes Atticus became consuls in 142 CE. In 143 CE rhetor, Elius Aristides gave a famous speech in Rome in praise of the Roman Empire and the rule of the Antonines. The Greeks appreciated the emperor’s policy on the judiciary and supported Hellenic education. In 145 CE, the plot against the emperor by Cornelius Priscianus and Atilius Titianuswas discovered and terminated. Sources say that following the conviction of the direct guilty, the emperor forbade any further investigation into the alleged attempt to overthrow legal authority. In 148 CE, the 900th anniversary of the founding of Rome was celebrated in a grand manner.

Triumphal Arch of Antoninus Pius in Subajtila, Tunisia.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

During the reign of Antoninus Pius, there was a philosopher and religious leader active in Greece and Asia Minor, described by Lucian of Samosata, Proteus Peregrinos. Probably at this time in Abonuteichos in Asia Minor the cult of Glykon started by Alexander of Abunoteichos began to develop. Most likely, during the reign of Antoninus, the bishop of Smyrna, St. Polycarp. Saint Justin the Martyr addressed one of his Apologies to the Emperor. The activity of Marcio of Synopa, a Christian religious leader and founder of the faction known as Marcionism, also dates back to the forties of the 2nd century. Cults and religions promising immortality and salvation spread to meet the religious needs of the individual. the cult of Isis and Christianity developed. Toward Christians, Antoninus Pius consistently continued the line of Hadrian’s religious policy. Only denounced Christians faced the death penalty.

Antoninus Pius’ economic policy was marked by far-reaching savings in state spending. In cities plagued by financial troubles, he sometimes placed special officials called curatores rei publicae for short periods to deal with economic problems. He established the institution of ratio privata to cover the expenses of the emperor and his family. He left his successors a large surplus in the treasury. His rule is often regarded as the pinnacle of the development and prosperity of the Roman Empire in almost all areas. The economy of the Roman state, based on agriculture, crafts and trade reached its peak of development. The richer upper classes of the Empire raised their status and emphasized wealth by funding stately buildings in cities throughout the Empire. During the reign of Antoninus Pius, the greatest astronomer and geographer of antiquity, Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria, was active. About 140 CE he wrote his most important work: Mathematike Syntaxis, in which he formulated the main theses of geocentric astronomy. The 50s of the 2nd century CE also saw the beginnings of the doctor and scientist Galen of Pergamon, who began his career as a doctor of gladiators. In the field of literature, the activity of Apuleius of Madaura, the author of the novel “Metamorphoses”, was marked.

The Temple of Faustina and Antoninus at the Forum Romanum.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

During his reign, Antoninus, unlike Hadrian, did not have major health problems. Naturally, however, as he grew older, he began to slouch and bend over, which irritated him greatly. Antoninus believed that a ruler should always be upright. For this purpose, he tied linden slats on his chest and back to help him maintain the appropriate position.

Around 160 CE, Antoninus Pius began to show symptoms of the disease. He assigned more responsibilities to Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. As he was closer to him, Aurelius changed Hadrian’s decision and married him with his daughter Faustina the Younger, breaking her engagement with Lucius. Sensing his death, he officially handed over the custody of the country to Marcus and handed him a golden statue of Fortune.


He died on March 7, 161 CE in Lorium, most likely of indigestion. The accounts say that he was overeating his Banon cheese. He was unanimously recognized by the Senate as a god as Divus Antoninus.
Antoninus Pius enjoyed a generally good reputation for his approachability, kindness, peace-loving and highly moral lifestyle. He stayed most of the time in Rome and did not leave Italy, receiving delegations from all the provinces.

  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Poczet cesarzy rzymskich, Warszawa 2004
  • Ziółkowski Adam, Historia Rzymu, Poznań 2008

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