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This Week In History

Death of Antoninus Pius – March 7, 161 AD

Titus Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus was born September 19, 86 AD to Titus Aurelius Fulvus and Arria Fadilla near Lanuvium, Italy. Antoninus’s father and grandfather were both consuls in Rome and in 130 AD, he held the position as well. Sometime between 133 and 136 he became the proconsul of Asia.

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Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina in Rome

Nearing the end of his life, the emperor Hadrian adopted Lucius Aelius Verus in 136 in expectations of passing along the throne to him. When Aelius died unexpectedly of an acute illness on January 1, 138, Hadrian had a problem – no heirs and failing health himself. On February 25, he adopted Antoninus, who was married to Faustina Senior, with the understanding he would in turn adopt Faustina’s nephew, Marcus Aurelius, and Lucius Verus, the son of Aelius. On July 10, Hadrian died and Antoninus was raised from caesar to augustus.

Upon his elevation, Antoninus lobbied the senate to deify Hadrian, whom they had grown to despise. The senate admired his tenacity, fulfilled his request, and bestowed upon him the moniker “Pius”, which is how we refer to him yet today. Antoninus, as promised, adopted Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, making Aurelius caesar in 139 – a position he would hold for a remarkable 20-plus years before becoming augustus.

Although Faustina Senior bore four children to Antoninus, only Faustina Junior lived to see her parents lead the empire. Faustina Senior died young and a mere three years after becoming empress. Not much is documented about her birth or death. What we do know is that Antoninus dedicated a massive temple to her in Rome in 141/2, which was completed around 150.

Antoninus Pius is well-known for the lack of military engagements during his reign. In fact, during his entire reign, as opposed to his predecessor who took two grand tours, Antoninus never left Rome. Even when some serious revolts broke out in Britain and Mauretania, he deferred to his military leaders to handle the problems. There are almost no military victory reverse types on the coinage of Antoninus, with the exception of the Imperator II issue, celebrating the victory in Britain where the Antonine Wall was built, around 80 miles north of Hadrian’s Wall.

The 900th Anniversary of the founding of Rome occurred during his reign, which was fitting since the empire was reaping the rewards of centuries of work laid by so many previous rulers. Antoninus merely had to properly manage what he had inherited. He did so effectively and was frugal with the treasury, as well as building good rapport with the senate.

After an astounding 22 years of reign, on March 7, 161, Antoninus Pius died at his estate in Etruria, leaving 675 million denarii in the treasury. As per his wishes, and those of Hadrian, the adopted Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus became co-augusti. Antoninus was deified and the temple dedicated to his wife nearly 20 years earlier was renamed Temple Divi Antonini et Divae Faustinae, which still stands today in Rome as the Church of San Lorenzo.

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