Antoninus Pius

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Antoninus Pius
Munich Glyptothek

Antoninus Pius (born September 19, 86 at Lanuvium ; † March 7, 161 ibid) was Roman emperor from July 10, 138 until his death . The Roman Empire lived under it, the fourth of the six Adoptivkaiser and founder of the Antonine dynasty , his last a long period of peace. His birth name was Titus Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus . As emperor he called himself Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius .

Lineage and advancement

Antoninus' family came from Nemausus ( Nîmes ) in southern Gaul ( province of Gallia Narbonensis ). His parents were Titus Aurelius Fulvus , who held the consulate in 89 , and Arria Fadilla , the daughter of the two-time suffect consul Gnaeus Arrius Antoninus . Antoninus grew up in Lorium near Rome and married Annia Galeria Faustina around 110 . He went through a normal senatorial career ( Quaestor 111, Praetor 117, Consul 120, Proconsul of the Province of Asia 135/136 or a year earlier). Hadrian made Antoninus one of the four former consuls who were responsible for jurisdiction in Italy, and a member of his councilor (consilium) .

Hadrian appointed him his successor on January 24, 138, raised him to Caesar and adopted him on February 25, after the intended heir to the throne and Caesar Lucius Aelius had died. Antoninus was to adopt a nephew of his wife, Marcus Annius Verus (later Emperor Mark Aurel ), and the son of Aelius (later known as Lucius Verus ) at the same time . Obviously, the 51-year-old should only serve as a placeholder; according to the later tradition for Annius Verus, his nephew by marriage (and thus probably closest male relative), who himself was still too young for the empire. However, there is some evidence that the terminally ill Hadrian actually wanted to prefer the younger Lucius Verus, who was betrothed to Antoninus' daughter Faustina in February 138 .

After Hadrian's death in the summer of the same year, Antoninus succeeded him as Augustus and Emperor . He immediately intervened decisively in the regulation laid down by Hadrian and emphasized Marcus Aurelius more strongly than Lucius Verus: The betrothal of his daughter to Lucius Verus ordered by Hadrian was dissolved, instead Antoninus married her to Mark Aurel (Annius Verus) and made him so only imperial son-in-law.


The reign of Antoninus Pius was after Augustus the second longest of a Roman emperor before late antiquity , although he was actually only intended as a transitional emperor .

Territorial expansion of the Roman Empire (red) in 150 AD at the time of the reign of Antoninus Pius; Bosporan Empire (yellow)

Foreign policy and military

Antonine Wall

In research it is considered that Hadrian chose Antoninus, who was not particularly distinguished militarily, as his successor because he promised himself a continuation of his policy of consolidation of the empire, not expansion. However, at the beginning of his reign, perhaps as early as 139, at the latest in the years 142 to 144, Antoninus had Quintus Lollius Urbicus move the border in Britain to the Antoninus Wall named after him , which was built about 160 km further north than that of his predecessor Hadrian's Wall runs from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde . The emperor had himself acclaimed again as emperor ; presumably he wanted to dispel doubts about his suitability to rule through a military success. Due to the poor sources, it is controversial whether Antoninus, who had commemorative coins struck on the occasion of the operations, also held a triumphal procession .

A sesterce (approx. 141–143) with the image of Antoninus Pius. On the back, the emperor holds his hand to the head of the Armenian ruler to put a diadem on him.

Also in Upper Germany , probably in 159/60, the Limes was moved forward by 25 to 30 kilometers to the north and east; the reasons for this action are unknown. Since extensive construction work had been carried out in the Neckarburken fort in 158, the order issued shortly thereafter to abandon the camp and move the Limes forward seems to have come as a surprise.

The empire was spared major crises, but there were unrest and minor conflicts on other borders of the empire, from 145 to 152 in Mauritania , then from 152 to 153 in Upper Egypt and Dacia . So the reign of Antoninus was not a pure time of peace. On the central Danube, Antoninus contributed to the security of the border by appointing a quadratic king (coinage carries the legend rex quadis datus , "the quadrupeds were given a king"). In the east, tensions with the Parthians built up towards the end of the reign because of the occupation of the Armenian throne ; from about 158 ​​troops and experienced military commanders were moved to the Roman eastern border (see also Parthian War of Lucius Verus ). Immediately after Antoninus' death, war broke out among his successors, as did a few years later on the Danube border. Whether Antoninus was complicit in these developments is disputed in research.

Domestic politics

Internally, in contrast to his predecessor, Antoninus maintained a demonstratively good relationship with the Senate. Since he had pushed through the deification of Hadrian in the first year of his reign, he was nicknamed Pius ("the pious"). In 145 AD he dedicated the temple built in honor of Hadrian, the so-called Hadrianeum . Unlike the emperors before and after him, Antoninus never left Italy during his reign, but took care of the administration of the empire through his governors or letters (some of which are inscribed in cities such as Ephesus ). Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus did not leave Italy during the reign of Antoninus either and, unlike earlier designated successors, did not visit the armies stationed at the borders. Some researchers suspect that Antoninus feared that the troops might proclaim Mark Aurel emperor, and therefore did not let him by his side.

Death and burial

According to the late (unreliable) tradition, Antoninus saw his own death coming and had the small statue of the goddess Fortuna brought from his bedchamber to that of his successor Marcus Aurelius on the night of his death, possibly following food poisoning . He had the slogan “equanimity” passed on to the Praetorians , who were always nervous about changes of emperor and unresolved questions of power.

The body of Antoninus Pius was buried in Hadrian's mausoleum (later Castel Sant'Angelo ).


The sources are unfavorable for the long reign of Antoninus. The calm course of his reign, the lack of spectacular events, the absence of major military conflicts may have contributed significantly to the relative sparse of the reports of the ancient historians. The main source is the late antique biography of the emperor in the Historia Augusta . This historical work is generally considered unreliable, because some of his life descriptions of emperors offer fictitious information. The brief account of the government of Antoninus, however, is one of the valuable parts of the work; it is generally credible because it contains material from good older records. Cassius Dio dealt with time in the seventieth book of his historical work, which has only survived in fragments. Further literary sources are the letters of Marcus Cornelius Fronto and Mark Aurel's self- reflections. There are also numismatic and archaeological evidence. The coins provide valuable information about the emperor's self-portrayal. Among other things, the numismatic material sources are an indication of the celebration of the decennalia of Antoninus Pius.



The reticent style of government of Antoninus found great recognition in the ruling class of the empire. In the case of the Roman urban population, however, his mildness seems to have harmed his authority. A late antique source, the Epitome de Caesaribus , reports that when there was fear of an impending supply crisis, the emperor was pelted with stones and, instead of putting down the riot, explained the situation to the crowd and thereby calmed them down.

The consecration of Antoninus took place on the occasion of the festivities at his funeral. The temple he built in the Roman Forum for Faustina, who died in 141, was also dedicated to his cult after his death ; the temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina is one of the best preserved Roman temples today. In addition, a column was erected in his honor on the Field of Mars . Only the basis has been preserved from it.

Antoninus was extensively praised by his successor, Marcus Aurelius, and the judgment of the ancient historians of his character and government was unanimously very positive. After his death and his divinization, his adoptive son and successor, Mark Aurel, had several consecration denarii minted, who designate Antoninus Pius in the legend around his portrait as God (DIVVS ANTONINVS) and on the reverse the inscription DIVO PIO around an eagle, a pyre, the column of Antoninus Pius or an altar. Another consecration coin was minted under Trajanus Decius .

Divus coinage (denarius) for Antoninus Pius under Mark Aurel
Reverse side of denarius with altar


With regard to domestic, legal and financial policy, modern research essentially shares the favorable assessment of the emperor's achievements in the sources and recognizes the success of his consensus-oriented approach. The justification of the very favorable ancient judgments about its character is not in doubt. The praising words of Marcus Aurelius are often quoted at length. Willy Hüttl, who published an extensive scientific biography of the emperor from 1933 to 1936, a two-volume standard work that was authoritative for decades, called him one of the most ideal rulers among the Roman emperors. Ernst Kornemann (1939) described him as "an able lawyer and administrative officer". Alfred Heuss (1960) stated that Antoninus was "an extremely conscientious person with a strict sense of duty"; he had fulfilled the monarchical ideal of the age. Anthony Birley (1966) said that Antoninus gave "the example of a great character on the throne". Karl Christ (1988) stated that the "central areas, namely financial policy and state administration" had achieved "an almost smooth perfection" under Antoninus. The emperor met the expectations of the population hoping for peace and prosperity “in an almost perfect way”: “Because his great success as ruler, his general popularity, is based on the fact that the demands and wishes of his time matched his own intentions in an unusual way , yes that he embodied her to the highest degree. ” Hildegard Temporini-Countess Vitzthum (1997) gave a similar judgment . She wrote that Antoninus was “a perfect administrator”: “The established administrative structures functioned with constant reliability. Despite great generosity in Rome and the provinces, Antoninus left well-stocked state coffers. "

In the field of cultural and religious politics, the emperor's conservative attitude and his emphasis on Romanism - in contrast to Hadrian's enthusiasm for Greek culture - are highlighted. His maintenance of tradition is judged partly as meaningful, partly as out of date. Alfred von Domaszewski remarked in 1909 that Antoninus had renewed “the festive customs of a completely frozen religion of the gray prehistoric times”. Ernst Kornemann (1939) said that Antoninus had "recognized the danger that Hellenism and Hellenistic Orientalism threatened the Roman-Italic primacy in the empire". He did not stick to "Hadrian's romantic goings-on", but "tried to create change by reviving the ancient Roman faith and the high virtues of the ancestors". Karl Christ (1988) wrote that the politics of religion reflected an "emphatic, strongly pronounced archaism" that was characteristic of Antoninus. Hildegard Temporini-Countess Vitzthum (1997) pointed out that no emperor since Augustus had "worked as strongly as he was for the return to the cultic and mythical roots of Rome". Bernard Rémy (2005) turned against the idea that Antoninus cultivated a narrow-minded conservatism and tried to renew long-abandoned rites.

Historians judge military and foreign policy differently and usually unfavorably. It is widespread among them that Antoninus' lack of military experience has led to a neglect of security policy. He did not notice that a critical situation had arisen, the military management of which was ultimately the responsibility of his successor. Already Theodor Mommsen judged in a lecture in 1883 that Antoninus was "overly peace-loving". Alfred von Domaszewski (1909) criticized a loosening of the military discipline: "The iron discipline (...) gave way to an all too prepared forbearance." Ernst Kornemann was particularly resolute in this view. In 1939 he wrote that the emperor's sentiments were pacifist , that he was completely unsoldatic and that his foreign policy was therefore wrong: "From a foreign policy perspective, he lived completely in the clouds." Anthony Birley (1966) also expressed the view that Antoninus had too little interest paid to military issues. Hermann Bengtson (1973) said that “as a result of the weak foreign policy” “the seeds of future decline” had been sown. Hildegard Temporini-Countess Vitzthum (1997), on the other hand, considered this criticism to be exaggerated because it found no basis in the sources; modern critics would have strayed too far from the sources.


  • Günter Aumann : Antoninus Pius. The forgotten emperor. Reichert, Wiesbaden 2019, ISBN 978-3-95490-393-1 .
  • Michael Grant : The Antonines. The Roman Empire in Transition. Routledge, London 1994, ISBN 0-415-10754-7 .
  • Wolfgang Havener: corner stone or placeholder? Antoninus Pius and his position within the "dynasty" of adoptive emperors. In: Gymnasium 125, 2018, pp. 221–249.
  • Willy Hüttl: Antoninus Pius. 2 volumes. Arno Press, New York 1975, ISBN 0-405-07089-6 (reprint of the Prague 1933 and 1936 editions; basic German-language representation).
  • Christoph Michels : Antoninus Pius and the role models of the Roman princeps. Sovereign action and its representation in the High Imperial Era. De Gruyter, Berlin / Boston 2018, ISBN 978-3-11-057235-3 .
  • Christoph Michels, Peter Franz Mittag (ed.): Beyond the narrative. Antoninus Pius in the non-literary sources. Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 2017, ISBN 978-3-515-11650-3 .
  • Bernard Rémy: Antonine le Pieux, 138-161. Le siècle d'or de Rome. Fayard, Paris 2005, ISBN 2-213-62317-1 .
  • Hildegard Temporini-Countess Vitzthum : Antoninus Pius. In: Manfred Clauss (Ed.): The Roman Emperors. 55 historical portraits from Caesar to Justinian. 4th updated edition. Beck, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-406-60911-4 , pp. 137-144.
  • Sabine Walentowski: Commentary on the Vita Antoninus Pius of the Historia Augusta (= Antiquitas. Series 4: Contributions to Historia Augusta research. Series 3: Commentaries. Vol. 3). Habelt, Bonn 1998, ISBN 3-7749-2835-5 .
  • Peter Weiß : The exemplary imperial marriage. Two Senate resolutions on the death of the older and younger Faustina, new paradigms and the formation of the “Antonine” principle. In: Chiron 38, 2008, pp. 1-45.

Web links

Commons : Antoninus Pius  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. Greek Αντωνίνος ο Ευσεβής
  2. Peter Weiß : Military diplomas and history of the empire. The consulate of L. Neratius Proculus and the prehistory of the Parthian War under Marc Aurel and Lucius Verus. In: Rudolf Haensch , Johannes Heinrichs (Hrsg.): Herrschen und Verwalten. The everyday life of the Roman administration in the High Imperial Era, Cologne 2007, pp. 160–172.
  3. ^ Paolo Maini: Death by Cheese: the Case of Antoninus Pius. In: Würzburger medical historical reports 23, 2004, pp. 513-515.
  4. Historia Augusta , Antoninus Pius 12, 5-6 .
  5. ^ Anthony Birley: Hadrian to the Antonines . In: The Cambridge Ancient History , 2nd edition, Vol. 11, Cambridge 2000, pp. 132–194, here: 149.
  6. ^ Historia Augusta , Antoninus Pius (text and English translation) .
  7. ^ Cassius Dio 70 (English translation) .
  8. ^ Georg Wissowa: Decennalia . In: Paulys Realencyclopadie der classical antiquity . tape 4 . Stuttgart 1901, Sp. 2266 .
  9. ^ Epitome de Caesaribus 15.9.
  10. For the course see Anthony Birley: Mark Aurel , Munich 1968, p. 211 f.
  11. Ursula Kampmann: The coins of the Roman Empire. Regenstauf 2004, page 149
  12. See e.g. B. Paul von Rohden : Aurelius 138 . In: Paulys Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswwissenschaft (RE), Volume II 2, Stuttgart 1896, Sp. 2493-2510, here: 2505 f., 2508-2510; Alfred von Domaszewski: History of the Roman Emperors. Vol. 2, Leipzig 1909, pp. 213-216; Theodor Mommsen: Römische Kaisergeschichte , Munich 1992, p. 406; Rudolf Hanslik : Antoninus 1 . In: Der Kleine Pauly , Vol. 1, Stuttgart 1964, Col. 407-409, here: 408; Anthony Birley: Hadrian to the Antonines. In: The Cambridge Ancient History. 2nd edition, Vol. 11, Cambridge 2000, pp. 132-194, here: 153 f .; Bernard Rémy: Antonin le Pieux 138-161 , Paris 2005, p. 286 f.
  13. ^ Willy Hüttl: Antoninus Pius , Vol. 1, Prague 1936, p. 352.
  14. ^ Ernst Kornemann: Roman history. Vol. 2, 6th edition, Stuttgart 1970 (1st edition 1939), p. 276.
  15. ^ Alfred Heuss: Roman history. 4th edition, Braunschweig 1976 (1st edition 1960), p. 352.
  16. Anthony Birley: Mark Aurel , Munich 1968 (English original edition 1966), p. 205 f.
  17. Karl Christ: History of the Roman Empire. 3rd edition, Munich 1995 (1st edition 1988), p. 330 f.
  18. Hildegard Temporini-Countess Vitzthum: Antoninus Pius . In: Manfred Clauss (Ed.): The Roman Emperors. 55 historical portraits from Caesar to Justinian , Munich 1997, pp. 137–144, here: 143.
  19. ^ Alfred von Domaszewski: History of the Roman Emperors , Vol. 2, Leipzig 1909, p. 214.
  20. Ernst Kornemann: Roman History , Vol. 2, 6th edition, Stuttgart 1970 (1st edition 1939), p. 276.
  21. ^ Karl Christ: History of the Roman Empire , 3rd edition, Munich 1995, p. 330.
  22. Hildegard Temporini-Countess Vitzthum: Antoninus Pius . In: Manfred Clauss (Ed.): The Roman Emperors. 55 historical portraits from Caesar to Justinian , Munich 1997, pp. 137–144, here: 141.
  23. Bernard Rémy: Antonin le Pieux 138-161 , Paris 2005, pp. 274, 286, 288.
  24. ^ Theodor Mommsen: Römische Kaisergeschichte , Munich 1992, p. 391.
  25. ^ Alfred von Domaszewski: History of the Roman Emperors , Vol. 2, Leipzig 1909, p. 213.
  26. ^ Ernst Kornemann: Römische Geschichte , Vol. 2, 6th edition, Stuttgart 1970 (1st edition 1939), pp. 276, 279.
  27. Anthony Birley: Mark Aurel , Munich 1968 (English original edition 1966), p. 206.
  28. ^ Hermann Bengtson: Roman History , Munich 1973, p. 307.
  29. Hildegard Temporini-Countess Vitzthum: Antoninus Pius . In: Manfred Clauss (Ed.): The Roman Emperors. 55 historical portraits from Caesar to Justinian , Munich 1997, pp. 137–144, here: 137, 144.
predecessor Office successor
Hadrian Roman Emperor
Mark Aurel and Lucius Verus