Throughout the greater part of the second century Rome enjoyed great prosperity and internal peace under the benign rule of an energetic and efficient administration. The first five emperors of the third great Roman dynasty, the Antonines, were –
The Antonine’s ruled from AD 96 – 180 and are collectively remembered as the ‘Adoptive Emperors’ or the ‘Five Good Emperors’.
There were two other Antonine emperors. Lucius Verus (AD 161 – 169) was co-emperor with his adoptive brother, Marcus Aurelius, but died before him and was always overshadowed by his more energetic colleague.
The last of the Antonines, Marcus’s son Commodus (AD 180 -192) was neither adopted, nor good and is generally just remembered as a bloodthirsty tyrant.
The Five Good Emperors
“If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws”.
Gibbon – “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”
The Antonine Dynasty
In point of fact, after the adoption in, AD 71, of Trajan by the childless Nerva, although known to history as “The Adoptive Emperors“, all of the following Antonine rulers were actually members of a true dynasty, as they were either related through the maternal side of the gens Ulpii family tree, being direct descendants of either Trajan’s aunt Ulpia or his sister Marciana or they were otherwise brought into the family by strong marriage ties (in the case of Antoninus Pius and Lucius Verus).
To visit the pages for the Five good Emperors click the following links –
Emperors Lucius Verus and Commodus follow –
Lucius Verus (AD 161 – 169)
(Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustus)
Antoninus Pius had been induced by Hadrian to adopt both Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus to be his heirs. On the death of their adoptive father, Marcus insisted that the senate appoint Lucius to be co-emperor together with himself. Although rather indolent and something of a dilettante, Lucius was useful as he possessed a moderate talent in administration and had been very well educated.
In the event Lucius Verus seems to have fitted well into a sort of unspoken arrangement to play second fiddle to Marcus, helping to the best of his abilities, but allowing himself enough space to enjoy the good life. Always loyally supporting Marcus in his endeavours to preserve the empire, Lucius presided over a major military success from Syria, where his generals succeeded in defending the Eastern Empire against Parthian incursions. For this he was awarded a triumph. However after this bout of energy, he seems content to settle back into a minor role and simply enjoy the benefits of palace life. However he was always granted all respect and equal imperial status by his more talented colleague, who seems to have genuinely mourned his passage when he died early, probably from a plague.
Commodus (AD 180 – 192)
(Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus)
The worst thing that Marcus Aurelius did was to not appoint a suitable co-ruler to take the place of Lucius Verus, after that incumbent died. So by default the empire fell to Commodus who replaced his father in an abrupt reversion to the old tradition of natural succession, thus abruptly abandoning the “adoptive” system of choosing the best man for the post. According to his detractors, Commodus was egotistical and unsuited to rule and his reign was characterised by bloody deeds and a neglectful administration.