Lucius Verus

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Bust of Lucius Verus ( Metropolitan Museum of Art )

Lucius Aurelius Verus (before his elevation to emperor Lucius Ceionius Commodus , Lucius Aelius Commodus , Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus ; * December 15, 130 , † 169 in Altinum ) was together with Marcus Aurelius from 161 until his death Roman emperor .


Parentage and upbringing

Verus was the son of Lucius Aelius Caesar , a man close to the emperor Hadrian , and his wife Avidia. Verus was first called Lucius Ceionius Commodus like his father , so he came from the Ceionian family . When his father was adopted by Hadrian in 136 and designated as his successor, Verus was given the name Lucius Aelius Commodus . However, Lucius Aelius Caesar died in January 138, and the terminally ill Hadrian made Antoninus Pius his successor instead , on the condition that Antoninus in turn adopted Lucius Verus . This happened on February 25, 138. Verus received the gentile noun Aurelius and was now called Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus . At the same time, at Hadrian's behest , he was betrothed to Faustina , Antonin's daughter - according to several researchers, this is a clear indication that Hadrian had chosen him to be the future emperor and successor of Antoninus ( e.g. Timothy Barnes ). Marcus Aurelius , the nephew by marriage of Antoninus, was also adopted by Antoninus.

After Hadrian's death on July 10, 138, Antoninus preferred Marcus Aurelius over Lucius Verus and immediately broke off the engagement between Lucius Verus and Faustina, who instead married Marcus Aurelius in 145. The order of precedence between Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius, apparently envisaged by Hadrian, was reversed. As an imperial prince, Lucius Verus was carefully brought up by the famous rhetorician and lawyer Marcus Cornelius Fronto , who was very fond of Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius. Lucius Verus is reported to have been an exceptional student, proud of his achievements in poetry and free speech.

Political career


Lucius Verus' political career began as quaestor in 153 and then as consul in 154, at the age of 24 much earlier than the minimum age of 32 actually allowed for this task, and without having previously been praetor . 161 he was again consul, with Marcus Aurelius as senior partner. In the same year Antoninus died and was succeeded by Marcus Aurelius. However, Lucius Verus was appointed co-emperor ( Augustus ) by him a little later - a process without a previous example in the Roman Empire. Lucius Verus received the name Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustus as emperor .

Officially, both men had almost the same powers, but in fact it was Marcus Aurelius who, as senior Augustus, clearly claimed control. The existence of two completely equal rulers would also have been incompatible with the essence of the principate . The difference in rank between the two emperors was made clear to the outside world by the fact that only Marcus Aurelius was pontifex maximus ; It was also important that Marcus Aurelius was the originator of the empire ( auctor imperii ) of his co-ruler. Lucius Verus gained control of the army in the east. In order to consolidate this alliance, Marcus Aurelius gave his daughter Lucilla Lucius Verus as his wife in 163 , with whom he had a daughter and possibly other children. At the same time, this marriage once again made the hierarchy between the two emperors clear: As his son-in-law, Lucius Verus was artificially downgraded by a generation compared to Marcus Aurelius.

Parthian campaign

Bust of Lucius Verus

Between 162 and 166, Lucius Verus commanded the Roman campaign against the Parthian Empire of the Arsacids in the east , who had invaded 161 Roman territories in Armenia, possibly to forestall an attack on their part. Lucius Verus is said to have been an excellent commander with no qualms about delegating military duties to more competent generals. Only later reports claim that Lucius Verus did not share the hard life of the soldiers on the campaign: he was, as it is said, always surrounded by actors and musicians, enjoyed numerous banquets and other joys in life. What is certain is that he was initiated into the mysteries of Eleusis in 162 and thus expressed his philhellenism .

Apparently, his allegedly cheerful manner could be carried over to the officer ranks without damage, since the morale of the troops was high and the necessary actions of the army were not neglected: Lucius Verus was a successful general who achieved his goals with skill, including the operational Experienced officers were, of course, responsible for leadership, especially General Avidius Cassius and the Praetorian prefect Titus Furius Victorinus; for neither Lucius Verus nor Mark Aurel had been allowed to gain any military experience under Antoninus Pius. In 163, the Roman troops advanced victoriously against the Parthians and were able to secure strategically important Armenia , where a pro-Roman king was installed. The following year the main attack was in the direction of Mesopotamia , and again the Parthians were defeated.

In 165 the Parthian capital, Ctesiphon, was sacked, and the war was soon ended without major changes taking place on Rome's eastern border: the Romans apparently contented themselves with indirect control of northern Mesopotamia and foregoing formal control of the Arsacids To provoke annexation of the territories ( Septimius Severus would later make this mistake ). However, the Roman troops returning from the east apparently brought a plague into the empire (the so-called Antonine plague , probably smallpox ). After his return, Lucius Verus was celebrated with a triumphal procession in Rome on October 12, 166 . Lucius Verus shared this triumph with his imperial colleague, senior Augustus Mark Aurel. Unusual, because unusual, about this parade was that it included Lucius Verus, Marcus Aurelius, their sons and unmarried daughters as a big family celebration. Both Augusti from then on also held the title of pater patriae . In order to avoid any doubts about the succession plan, Mark Aurel raised his two sons Commodus and Annius Verus to Caesares on the same day .

Denarius on the occasion of the triumph of 166 AD, Victoria shows the victory over the Parthians on shield: VIC PAR

A few years later, in Ephesus , where Lucius Verus had temporarily set up his headquarters, perhaps a large monument to victory was erected for the emperor, who had now died. According to some researchers, however, the monument is older and does not refer to Lucius Verus.


Lucius Verus spent the next two years in Rome. The later sources report that he continued his glamorous life and had a band of actors and favorites around him. He even had a tavern built into his house and celebrated there with his friends until the morning. He is also said to have enjoyed roaming the city and mingling with the people without revealing his identity. Circus games were another passion of his life, especially chariot races. Mark Aurel is said to have disapproved of Lucius Verus' way of life, but since he performed his official duties efficiently, it was not a point of attack for Marc Aurel. The veracity of these reports is controversial, it could also be defamation.

Death and deification

At the beginning of 168 Lucius Verus crossed the Alps and went on an inspection trip to the Roman troops on the northern border. After the start of the Marcomann Wars , the emperors Mark Aurel and Lucius Verus moved into their headquarters in Aquileia in northern Italy in the autumn of 168 to direct the fighting from there. At the beginning of 169, when the "plague" broke out again, both Augusti decided to return to Rome. On the way, Lucius Verus fell ill suddenly and died a few days later in the small town of Altinum .

According to later sources, some contemporaries doubted a natural death for Lucius Verus. His mother-in-law Faustina and his wife Lucilla , among others, were suspected of having initiated the murder with the knowledge of Marcus Aurelius. It was also spread that Verus had a sexual relationship with Faustina and that she was murdered after he revealed himself to Lucilla. However, there is no solid evidence to support such suspicions. It is more plausible that Lucius Verus succumbed to the Antonine Plague , which in all likelihood was actually an epidemic of smallpox . Some doctors see the cause in a stroke, but this diagnosis is based on an uncritical adoption of the information from the unreliable Historia Augusta , which depicts Verus as a drinker and gourmet.

Despite the growing differences between them, Aurelius publicly mourned the loss of his adoptive brother, who had always been ostentatiously loyal to him. He accompanied the body to Rome, where he organized games in his honor. His ashes were buried in the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian, today's Castel Sant'Angelo . The Senate declared Lucius Verus a god who was to be worshiped as Divus Verus . The Divus Verus and the Divus Marcus Antoninus Pius (the divinized Mark Aurel) were later revered together as Divi fratres . In his self-contemplation, however, Marcus Aurelius ignored his dead adoptive brother in silence and only mentioned Verus once in passing without mentioning his name.


Denarius of Lucius Verus

The sources for Lucius Verus are relatively poor. Neither letters nor his own literary works or the portrayal of one of the great Roman historians have survived. Several authors are said to have written about the Parthian War, such as Crepereius Calpurnianus . Lukian of Samosata made fun of them in his work How to write history , since they are all inadequate historians. However, nothing of these works has survived; it was therefore even considered that these authors were pure fiction by Lucian.

Therefore, today's knowledge about this emperor is mainly based on the late antique Historia Augusta , which contains biographies on Verus himself, on his co-emperor Mark Aurel and on his predecessor Antoninus Pius. The Historia Augusta , which was the death of more than 200 years after Verus is very controversial among historians since the 19th century. In general, it is considered to be rather unreliable, since it repeatedly mixes facts with fabricated anecdotes and obviously untrue claims. On the other hand, the lives of the emperors of the 2nd century are considered more reliable than those of the soldier emperors . In particular, a comparison of the biographies of Lucius Verus and Mark Aurel makes it clear that in the Historia Augusta the assessment of the achievements of the emperors depends on the author's assessment of their character and on their way of life: the anonymous author had the intention from the outset to to portray the respective emperor in a certain way, and to arrange and interpret his material accordingly. Thus, Marcus Aurelius is judged very positively overall, while the supposedly too fun-loving Lucius Verus is judged negatively. Nevertheless, the vita of Lucius Verus in the Historia Augusta contains valuable material from good sources with regard to the facts of the history of the event, which was particularly emphasized by Ronald Syme and Timothy D. Barnes .

Apparently soon after the emperor's death a dominant tradition developed that tried to relativize his military successes by referring to personal vices. Few sources therefore paint a somewhat different picture of Verus. These include, above all, the letters of his friend and tutor, Marcus Cornelius Fronto . Helpful details also include the Roman story of Cassius Dio and the works of Eutropius and Festus . Some early Christian writers also write about him, including Anastasius , Orosius and Eusebius . Coin finds, inscriptions, archaeological excavations and the laws of Lucius Verus contained in the Codex Iustinianus make it possible to compare the tradition with historical reality . The historical auxiliary science of numismatics and archeology are of particular importance in this case, since the written documents are not extensive and nothing written by Lucius Verus himself has survived.


See also the references given in the article Mark Aurel .

Web links

Commons : Lucius Verus  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. Timothy D. Barnes: Hadrian and Lucius Verus . In: Journal of Roman Studies 57, 1967, pp. 65-79, especially pp. 77-79.
  2. Historia Augusta , Vita Veri 6.9.
  3. ^ Ferdinand Peter Moog and Axel Karenberg : Roman emperors suffering from apoplexy: the medical and historical significance of classical literary sources. In: Journal of Medical Biography 12, 2004, pp. 43-50.
  4. Historia Augusta, Vita Veri 4, 4–9.
  5. Cf. the discussions with Karl Strobel : Contemporary history under the Antonines: The historians of the Parthian War of Lucius Verus . In: Rise and Fall of the Roman World . Vol. II.34.2, 1994, pp. 1315-1360.
predecessor Office successor
Antoninus Pius Roman Emperor
Marcus Aurelius