Virtual Catalog of Roman Coins

DIR Logo

An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors

map DIR Atlas

Antoninus Pius (A.D. 138-161)

Richard D. Weigel
Western Kentucky University

Coin of Antoninus Pius


The long reign of the emperor Antoninus Pius is often described as a period of peace and quiet before the storm which followed and plagued his successor, Marcus Aurelius. In addition to the relative peacefulness, this emperor set the tone for a low-keyed imperial administration which differed markedly from those of his two immediate predecessors, Trajan and Hadrian. Antoninus managed to govern the empire capably and yet with such a gentle hand that he earned the respect, acclaim, and love of his subjects.

Early Life

The future emperor was born T. Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus on September 19, A.D. 86 at Lanuvium, an old Latin city southeast of Rome.[[1]] His father's family had originally migrated to Rome from Nemausus (Nîmes) in Narbonese Gaul, but his paternal grandfather, T. Aurelius Fulvus, had served twice as Roman consul and also as city prefect and his father, Aurelius Fulvus, also held the consulship. The future emperor's mother was Arria Fadilla and her father, Arrius Antoninus, had also been consul twice.[[2]] Young Antoninus was raised at Lorium, on the via Aurelia, where he later built a palace[[3]]

Career Under Hadrian

Very little is known about Antoninus' life before he became emperor. The brief biography in the Scriptores Historiae Augustae credited to Julius Capitolinus refers to his services as quaestor, praetor, and consul and P. von Rohden's entry in Pauly-Wissowa dates his tenure of these offices to A.D. 112, 117, and 120 respectively.[[4]] At some point between A.D. 110 and 115, Antoninus married Annia Galeria Faustina, the daughter of M. Annius Verus.[[5]] Hadrian later appointed Antoninus as one of his consular administrators of Italy and between A.D. 130 and 135 Antoninus served as proconsul of Asia.[[6]]

Antoninus had achieved a distinguished career under Hadrian. and could have retired from imperial service with great pride, but events in A.D. 138 changed Antoninus' future quite radically. Early in the year, the death of Aelius Verus, whom Hadrian had previously adopted and named Caesar, opened a new path. Hadrian met with the Senate and announced his decision to adopt Antoninus as his son and heir and to share both proconsular and tribunician power with him.[[7]] After giving this offer careful thought, Antoninus accepted and agreed in return to adopt as his heirs his wife's nephew, M. Antoninus, the future Marcus Aurelius, and L. Verus, the son of Aelius Verus.[[8]]

Imperial Reign

When Hadrian died in the following summer, Antoninus oversaw the conveyance of his body from Baiae to Rome for interment in the new imperial tomb (now Castel Sant' Angelo). To honor his adoptive father, Antoninus set up a magnificent shield, established a priesthood, and, against serious opposition in the Senate, requested and bargained for senatorial confirmation of Hadrian's deification.[[9]] Antoninus' devotion to Hadrian's memory is one of the reasons cited for the Senate's bestowal upon the new emperor of the name "pius".[[10]] After initially refusing the Senate's recognition of Antoninus as "pater patriae", the new emperor accepted the honor with thanks.[[11]] He declined, however, the Senate's decree authorizing the renaming of the months of September and October after the new emperor and empress.[[12]] The Senate did honor the new empress with the title of "Augusta".[[13]] On her death only a few years later in A.D. 141, the Senate deified Faustina and voted her a temple and priestesses.[[14]] In memory of his wife, Antoninus also instituted an alimentary program, similar to those of his immediate predecessors, which combined loans to Italian farmers with funds, generated by interest on those loans, set aside for the care of orphaned girls. On coins these orphans are designated as puellae Faustinianae.[[15]]

Antoninus returned all of Italy's share of the aurum coronarium, the money raised in honor of his accession, and one-half of that contributed from the provinces.[[16]] His economic policy in general was relatively conservative and avoided luxurious waste while supporting public works of practical application.[[17]] His procurators were told to keep provincial tribute reasonable and they were held accountable for exceeding fixed bounds. The provinces in general prospered under his administration and the use of informers was ended.[[18]] Julius Capitolinus summarizes the excellence of Antoninus' administration when he says: "With such care did he govern all peoples under him that he looked after all things and all men as if they were his own." [[19]] In spite of his caution in raising imperial revenues, however, Antoninus provided regular gifts of money to the people and to the soldiers and produced spectacular public games with a great variety of animals on display.[[20]] The emperor also used his own funds to distribute oil, grain, and wine free in a time of famine and helped relieve the devastation caused in Rome by fire, flood, and a collapse of stands in the Circus Maximus and by fires and earthquakes in the provinces.[[21]]

Although the reigns of his two immediate predecessors, Trajan and Hadrian, had seen prolific building activity in Rome and throughout the empire, Antoninus chose to be less lavish in his public works projects. He felt an obligation to complete work begun or promised by Hadrian. Antoninus completed the Mausoleum of Hadrian along the Tiber and built the temples of the Divine Hadrian in the Campus Martius and of Faustina in the Forum.[[22]] He also restored the oldest bridge in Rome, the Pons Sublicius, the Graecostadium, and the Colosseum. He may even have put some finishing touches on the Pantheon because Julius Capitolinus mentions restoration of a templum Agrippae, but the text may be corrupt and the temple of the Divine Augustus, the restoration of which is recorded on some of Antoninus' coins, may be the intended reference here.[[23]] Outside Rome, Antoninus repaired several roads and renovated ports in Alexandria, Caieta, and Terracina, a bath at Ostia, an aqueduct at Antium, and the temples in his birthplace, Lanuvium. [[24)]]

Although some sources suggest that Antoninus went in person to Egypt and Syria to put down a revolt of peoples along the Red Sea, Julius Capitolinus says that Antoninus made his home in Rome where he could receive messages from all parts of the empire equally quickly . He also states that to avoid burdening the provinces with the expenses of housing an emperor and his associates Antoninus took expeditions out of Rome only to his estates in Campania. [[25]] If correct, these actions marked a decided break with the visibility of his two predecessors in the provinces and recreated a more Rome- and Italy-centered empire. Wilhelm Weber commented on this policy: "As if, perhaps, in criticism of Hadrian's conception of his task, he sat like a beneficent spider at the centre of his web, power radiating steadily from him to the farthest bounds of the empire and as steadily returning to him again. For the last time in Imperial history the Emperor was wholly one with Rome and its centralization."[[26]]

During his third consulship (A.D. 140-144), Antoninus issued a series of unusual coins and medallions which featured entirely new or modified religious/mythological images.[[27]] Jocelyn Toynbee correctly pointed out that these types were issued to prepare for the celebration of Rome's nine hundredth birthday in A.D. 147/148 and she also discussed two images which represent the emperor's reaction against Hadrian's "cosmopolitanism" and his attempt to restore Rome and Italy to a superior position over the provinces.[[28]] This unusual series, issued especially in bronze, commemorated Rome's connection to her distant roots from Trojans, Latins, and Sabines and honored gods who had protected the city in the past. Themes associated with Aeneas, Romulus, Numa Pompilius, and Augustus by implication tied in Antoninus as successor to these four model Roman leaders. Although the death of Faustina may have motivated Antoninus' display of public piety to some degree on these coins and medallions, the series also set the tone for the games and rituals of the birthday celebration in 147/148, renewed religious values, and restored Rome's proper relationship with protective gods who had brought the city past success both in war and in peace.[[29]] Another series of coins, the "anonymous quadrantes", combines a portrait of a god or goddess on the obverse with a reverse symbol of an animal associated with the same deity. The absence of an imperial portrait or any inscription aside from the S.C. authorization of the Senate makes it especially difficult to date this series. However, the similarity of the Jupiter and Venus portraits to images of Antoninus and Faustina and other links to Antoninus' coin-types make it probable that several of these types were issued in Antoninus' reign, perhaps again in connection with Rome's birthday celebration in A.D. 147/148.[[30]]

Although Antoninus' reign was generally peaceful, Capitolinus says that he fought wars, through legates, against the Britons, Moors, Germans, Dacians, and the Alans and suppressed revolts in Achaea, in Egypt, and among the Jews.[[31]] The war in Britain was fought around A.D. 142 against the Brigantes and led to the construction of the Antonine Wall across the island as a second line of defense north of Hadrian's Wall.[[32]] In foreign relations, the emperor's authority was respected among peoples bordering on the empire. Antoninus approved the appointment of kings for the Armenians, for the Lazi, and for the Quadi and he successfully prevented a Parthian attack on Armenia by sending the Parthian king a letter of warning. [[33]]

Antoninus did continue his predecessor's interest in law and his imperial legislation is cited frequently in Justinian's Digest. Several lawyers served in the emperor's consilium and presumably advised him on legal matters. Antoninus' legislation included protections for slaves, freedmen, and for illegitimate children and further defined family and inheritance law, including consideration of a daughter's wishes in marriage arrangements.[[34]]

In preparation for the succession, Antoninus' daughter Faustina married Marcus Aurelius in A.D. 145 and she soon became Augusta in place of her deceased mother. Marcus Aurelius was associated in imperial powers and he and L. Verus both held the consulship multiple times in preparation for their accession. [[35]] Antoninus made sure that he would leave the Empire secure and in sound financial condition and his adopted sons inherited a large surplus (reportedly 675 million denarii) in the Treasury .[[36]]

Antoninus Pius died in March of A.D. 161, after giving the appropriate imperial watchword which so typified his reign, "equanimity". He was soon afterward deified by the Senate. His adopted sons and successors, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, erected a column of red granite in his honor in the Campus Martius. The marble base for this column, which is preserved in the Vatican, includes a sculpted image of the apotheosis of Antoninus and Faustina.[[37]] In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius expressed his enduring love and respect for his adoptive father: "Do all things as a disciple of Antoninus. Think of his constancy in every act rationally undertaken, his invariable equability, his piety, his serenity of countenance, his sweetness of disposition, his contempt for the bubble of fame, and his zeal for getting a true grasp of affairs." [[38]] In many ways Antoninus Pius was a model emperor who justifiably earned comparison with his own model, Numa Pompilius, and provided the Empire with a period of fortune, religious piety, and security perhaps unmatched in imperial annals.[[39]]


Primary Sources:

Scriptores Historiae Augustae (Loeb translation by David Magie), including Antoninus Pius, by Julius Capitolinus and Hadrian, by Aelius Spartianus

Cassius Dio, Roman History (Loeb translation by Earnest Cary), epitome of book 70

Eutropius, Breviarium (translation by H.W. Bird)

Fronto, Correspondence (Loeb translation by C.R. Haines)

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Loeb translation by C.R. Haines)

Orosius, Seven Books Against the Pagans (translation by R.J. Deferrari)

Pausanias, Description of Greece (Loeb translation by W. Jones, vol. 4.)

Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists (Loeb translation by W.C. Wright)

Secondary Sources:

Bossart, X. and J. Müller. Zur Geschichte des Kaisers Antoninus Pius bound in M. Büdinger, Untersuchungen zur Römischen Kaisergeschichte vol. 2 (Leipzig, 1868), 287-321

Beaujeu, J. La Religion Romaine a l l'Apogée de l'Empire. vol 1. (Paris, 1955).

Bryant, E. The Reign of Antoninus Pius (Cambridge, 1895)

Champlin, E. Fronto and Antonine Rome (Cambridge, 1980)

Cook, S., F. Adcock, and M. Charlesworth, editors, The Cambridge Ancient History Volume XI: The Imperial Peace A.D. 70-192 (Cambridge, 1936)

De Regibus, L. Antonino Pio (Rome, 1946)

Garzetti, A. From Tiberius to the Antonines (translated by J.R. Foster, London, 1974)

Geissen, A. "Faustina Thea - Bemerkungen zum Dynastischen Prägeprogramm des Antoninus Pius in Alexandria" in H.-C. Noeske and H. Schubert, Die Münze: Bild - Botschaft - Bedeutung (Frankfurt, 1991), 195-202.

Grant, M. The Antonines: The Roman Empire in Transition (London, 1994)

Hammond, M. The Antonine Monarchy (Rome, 1959)

________. "The Antonine Monarchy: 1959-1971" in ANRW 2.2 (Berlin, 1975), 329-353

Hanson, W. Rome's North West Frontier: the Antonine Wall. (Edinburgh, 1983)

Hohl, E. Die Angebliche "Doppelbestattung" des Antoninus Pius (Dietrich, 1938)

Hüttl. W. Antoninus Pius (2 vols., Prague, 1933-1936)

Lacour-Gayet, G. Antonin le Pieux et son Temps (Paris, 1888)

MacDonald, G. The Roman Wall in Scotland (Oxford, 1934)

Mattingly, H. Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum vol. 4 (London, 1940)

Parker, H.M.D. A History of the Roman World from A.D. 138 to 337 (London, 1958)

Russell, D. Antonine Literature (Oxford, 1990)

Strack, P. Untersuchungen zur Römischen Reichsprägung des Zweiten Jahrhunderts (vol. 3, Stuttgart, 1937)

Toynbee, J. "Some Programme Coin-Types of Antoninus Pius" in Classical Review 39 (1925), 170-173

Vogel, L. The Column of Antoninus Pius (Cambridge, 1973)

Von Rohden, P. "Aurelius 138" in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie 2.2, 2493-2510

Weigel, R. "The 'Commemorative' Coins of Antoninus Pius Reexamined" in W. Heckel and R. Sullivan, editors, Ancient Coins of the Graeco-Roman World: The Nickle Numismatic Papers (Waterloo, Ontario, 1984), 187-200

Weigel, R. "The Anonymous Quadrantes Reconsidered" in Annotazioni Numismatiche Supplemento XI (Milan, 1998), 1-24

Williams, W. "Antoninus Pius and the Control of Provincial Embassies" in Historia 16 (1967), 470-483.


[[1]]S.H.A. Pius 1.8; CIL 8.8239.

[[2]]S.H.A. Pius 1.1-4.

[[3]]S.H.A. Pius 1.8.

[[4]]S.H.A. Pius 2.9; P. von Rohden in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie 2.2, 2495.

[[5]]von Rohden, 2496.

[[6]]S.H.A. Pius 2.11-3.2; von Rohden, 2495. E.E. Bryant, in The Reign of Antoninus Pius (Cambridge, 1895), p.16 and n.7, points out that the Baths of Antoninus in Nicomedia, later restored by Diocletian, and another of his buildings in Ephesus were probably erected during Antoninus' reign as emperor rather than during his proconsulship of Asia.

[[7]]S.H.A. Pius 4.1-7.

[[8]]S.H.A. Pius 4.5.

[[9]]S.H.A. Pius 5.1-2.

[[10]]S.H.A. Hadr. 27.1-4 and Pius 2.3-8; Dio Cassius epit. 70.1-2.

[[11]]S.H.A. Pius 6.6.

[[12]]S.H.A. Pius 10.1.

[[13]]S.H.A. Pius 5.2.

[[14]]S.H.A. Pius 6.7.

[[15]]S.H.A. Pius 8.1; Bryant, 120-122; M. Grant, The Antonines (London, 1994), 20-21; H. Mattingly, Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum vol. 4 (London, 1940), nos. 324-325 and pl. 8.3-4.

[[16]]S.H.A. Pius 4.10. See also Bryant, 34-35.

[[17]]S.H.A. Pius 4.10; H.M.D. Parker, A History of the Roman World A.D. 138 to 337 (London, 1958), 7.

[[18]]S.H.A. Pius 6.1 and 7.2.

[[19]]S.H.A. Pius 7.1 (Loeb translation by David Magie).

[[20]]S.H.A. Pius 4.9. 8.1, and 10.8-9.

[[21]]S.H.A. Pius 8.11-9.3; A. Garzetti, From Tiberius to the Antonines (translated by J.R. Foster, London, 1974), 451.

[[22]]L. Richardson, jr., A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Baltimore, 1992), 184-185.

[[23]]S.H.A. Pius 8.1-3 (see Magie's note 9 on this text, 118-119); Mattingly, nos. 549-552, 916, 938-943, 1718, 2063-2066, and 2098.

[[24]]S.H.A. Pius 8.3; Bryant, 54-55.

[[25]]S.H.A. Pius 7.11-12; see also Magie's notes to the Loeb text on p. 112, n.3 and p. 116, n.3.

[[26]]W. Weber in S. Cook et al., Cambridge Ancient History vol.11, 133-134.

[[27]]For a more complete discussion of the coins, see my article "The 'Commemorative' Coins of Antoninus Pius Reexamined" in W. Heckel and R. Sullivan, eds., Ancient Coins of the Graeco-Roman World: The Nickle Numismatic Papers (Waterloo, Ontario, 1984), 187-200. On the medallions, see J. Toynbee, "Some Programme Coin-Types of Antoninus Pius", Classical Review 39 (1925), pp. 170-173.

[[28]]Toynbee, 172-173; Weigel, 'Commemorative', 187.

[[29]]Weigel, 'Commemorative', 188-195.

[[30]]See R. Martini and N. Vismara, "Quadranti anonimi imperiali del Gabinetto Numismatico di Locarno" in Annotazioni Numismatiche Supplemento VI (1995), p. 15, no. 24 and R. Weigel, :The Anonymous Quadrantes Reconsidered" in Annotazioni Numismatiche Supplemento XI (1998), esp. pp. 3-4, 18-19 and figs. 1, 2, and 13.

[[31]]S.H.A. Pius 5.4-6.1.

[[32]]von Rohden, 2502; Grant, 17-18.

[[33]]S.H.A. Pius 9.6-10; Grant, 20-21.

[[34]]S.H.A. Pius 12.1; Garzetti, 455-460; Parker, 7; C.A.H. 11, 334-335; G. Lacour-Gayet, Antonin le Pieux et Son Temps (Paris, 1888), 403-431; W. Hüttl, Antoninus Pius volume 1 (Prague, 1936), 70-129.

[[35]]C.A.H. 11, 331.

[[36]]Parker, 8; Grant, 21.

[[37]]S.H.A. Pius 12.5-6 and 13.3; L. Vogel, The Column of Antoninus Pius (Cambridge, 1973), 1-4 and plates; E. Nash, Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Rome volume 1 (New York, 1968), 270-275; Richardson, New Topographical Dictionary, 94; Lacour-Gayet, 435-444.

[[38]]M. Aurelius, Meditations 6.30 (Loeb translation by C.R. Haines), see also 1.16.

[[39]]S.H.A. Pius 13.4; see also Eutropius Breviarium 8.8..

Copyright (C) 1998, Richard D. Weigel. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.
Comments to: Richard D. Weigel.

Updated:10 June 1998

For more detailed geographical information, please use the DIR/ORBAntique and Medieval Atlas below. Click on the appropriate part of the map below to access large area maps.

Clickable ImageS-EN-O/N-WS-O/S-WN-E

Return to the Imperial Index