1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Antoninus Pius

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13672641911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 2 — Antoninus Pius

ANTONINUS PIUS [Titus Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus], (A.D. 86–161), Roman emperor A.D. 138–161, the son of Aurelius Fulvus, a Roman consul whose family had originally belonged to Nemausus (Nîmes), was born near Lanuvium on the 19th of September 86. After the death of his father, he was brought up under the care of Arrius Antoninus, his maternal grandfather, a man of integrity and culture, and on terms of friendship with the younger Pliny. Having filled with more than usual success the offices of quaestor and praetor, he obtained the consulship in 120; he was next chosen one of the four consulars for Italy, and greatly increased his reputation by his conduct as proconsul of Asia. He acquired much influence with the emperor Hadrian, who adopted him as his son and successor on the 25th of February 138, after the death of his first adopted son Aelius Verus, on condition that he himself adopted Marcus Annius Verus, his wife’s brother’s son, and Lucius, son of Aelius Verus, afterwards the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Aelius Verus (colleague of Marcus Aurelius). A few months afterwards, on Hadrian’s death, he was enthusiastically welcomed to the throne by the Roman people, who, for once, were not disappointed in their anticipation of a happy reign. For Antoninus came to his new office with simple tastes, kindly disposition, extensive experience, a well-trained intelligence and the sincerest desire for the welfare of his subjects. Instead of plundering to support his prodigality, he emptied his private treasury to assist distressed provinces and cities, and everywhere exercised rigid economy (hence the nickname κυμινοπρίστης, “cummin-splitter”). Instead of exaggerating into treason whatever was susceptible of unfavourable interpretation, he turned the very conspiracies that were formed against him into opportunities of signalizing his clemency. Instead of stirring up persecution against the Christians, he extended to them the strong hand of his protection throughout the empire. Rather than give occasion to that oppression which he regarded as inseparable from an emperor’s progress through his dominions, he was content to spend all the years of his reign in Rome, or its neighbourhood. Under his patronage the science of jurisprudence was cultivated by men of high ability, and a number of humane and equitable enactments were passed in his name. Of the public transactions of this period we have but scant information, but, to judge by what we possess, those twenty-two years were not remarkably eventful. One of his first acts was to persuade the senate to grant divine honours to Hadrian, which they had at first refused; this gained him the title of Pius (dutiful in affection). He built temples, theatres, and mausoleums, promoted the arts and sciences, and bestowed honours and salaries upon the teachers of rhetoric and philosophy. His reign was comparatively peaceful. Insurrections amongst the Moors, Jews, and Brigantes in Britain were easily put down. The one military result which is of interest to us now is the building in Britain of the wall of Antoninus from the Forth to the Clyde. In his domestic relations Antoninus was not so fortunate. His wife, Faustina, has almost become a byword for her lack of womanly virtue; but she seems to have kept her hold on his affections to the last. On her death he honoured her memory by the foundation of a charity for orphan girls, who bore the name of Alimentariae Faustinianae. He had by her two sons and two daughters; but they all died before his elevation to the throne, except Annia Faustina, who became the wife of Marcus Aurelius. Antoninus died of fever at Lorium in Etruria, about 12 m. from Rome, on the 7th of March 161, giving the keynote to his life in the last word that he uttered when the tribune of the night-watch came to ask the password—aequanimitas.

The only account of his life handed down to us is that of Julius Capitolinus, one of the Scriptores Historiae Augustae. See Bossart-Müller, Zur Geschichte des Kaisers A. (1868); Lacour-Gayet, A. le Pieux et son Temps (1888); Bryant, The Reign of Antonine (Cambridge Historical Essays, 1895); P. B. Watson, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (London, 1884), chap. ii.