138 - 161 CE
would rather live with her [in exile] than without her in
the palace" -- Antoninus Pius, speaking of his wife,
Hadrian selected Antoninus Pius in part because he was relatively old, and could be expected not to live too long. But he ended up reigning longer than any of his predecessors but Augustus, and is remembered as possibly the nicest Emperor in history.
|Antoninus Pius Denarius|
|About this coin: This dime-sized denarius features Antoninus's portrait on the obverse and a standing female figure on the reverse. The reverse legend (TR POT XXI COS IIII) identifies it as having been minted in 157/158 CE, roughly four years before his death, as that was when he had been voted the office of Tribunicia Potestas for the 21st time.|
On the same day that Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius to succeed him, Pius adopted the sixteen-year-old Marcus Annius Verus (Marcus Aurelius) and the seven-year-old Lucius Ceionius Commodus (Lucius Verus). Hadrian wanted them to succeed him, but he believed them to be too young, so he arranged this multi-level adoption. The fact that Antoninus was already relatively old was in his favor, as one might expect him to die in the not too distant future -- say a decent 10 to 12 years.
But he ended up reigning for nearly 23 years, beating out Tiberius by one month to become the second-longest reigning Emperor to date, a position he would hold for 169 years*. Fortunately, neither of the boys proved particularly impatient, and Antoninus died peacefully, of natural causes.
He is not known for his military achievements, in part because he was content to leave Rome's borders where they were, but also in many cases due to his diplomatic savvy. When it became clear that the Parthian king had designs on Armenia again, Antoninus was able to dissuade him with a letter. When fighting was required, he dispatched troops effectively and efficiently, and none of the border wars got out of control.
His one war of expansion was initially successful. He sent troops into Scotland. They pushed some 40 miles north of Hadrian's Wall, and Antoninus ordered an earthen wall to be built there. He was honored for this accomplishment, but it was not to prove very long lived. Before the end of his reign, he had pulled the Roman border in Britain back to Hadrian's Wall.
The title "Pius" means "dutiful". There are many conflicting accounts of its origin. Nonetheless, it seems a particularly apt description of him. In every way known, he lived up to his promises and obligations. In fact, in his case, I'm going to have to waive my rule of including at least one snide little comment about each emperor.
|Faustina Lifetime Denarius|
|About this coin: This dime-sized silver denarius was minted in honor of Antoninus's wife, Faustina, while she lived. The front features her portrait, with the legend "FAVSTINA AVGVSTA" (Faustina Augusta, or thee Empress Faustina), and the back features the goddess Juno, peacock at her feet, with the legend "IVNO" (Juno).|
|"Diva Faustina" Denarius|
|About this coin: This denarius was minted in honor of Faustina after her death, part of the extensive "Diva Faustina" series he minted. The front features her portrait, with the legend "DIVA FAVSTINA" (Diva Faustina, or the Deified Faustina), and the back features Aeternitas, a personification of Eternity.|
Antoninus's love for his wife, Faustina, was the stuff of legend. At one point, he wrote, "I would rather live with her on Gyara [an island of exile] than without her in the palace". Sadly, it was not to be. Just over two years into his reign, Faustina died. At his request, the Senate deified her, and he minted a massive series of commemorative coinage (the so-called "Diva Faustina" series) in her honor.
His own death was a fittingly peaceful end to his reign. His final illness lasted just two days. Recognizing that death was iminent, he handed over power to his adoptive son, Marcus Aurelius. That evening, he quietly died in his sleep. As a mark of the general esteem in which he was held, he was deified quickly, without opposition.
* Augustus, the first emperor, set a record (41-1/2 years) that none of his successors would ever beat. Not until Constantine I "The Great" (who reigned as Augustus for 30 years, from 307 to 337) would Antoninus be knocked from second place.