Kaiserbiographien: Lucius Verus (161 – 169 n. Chr.)

prospectiva imperialia Nr. 17 [23.05.2014]


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Lucius Verus (161 – 169 A.D.)

Phoebe B. Peacock

Library of Congress

Abb.: http://www.luc.edu/roman-emperors/lverus.jpg


Sources for the study of Lucius Verus are disappointing. There is neither a corpus of correspondence nor the chronicle of a major historian. The biography of Verus in Historia Augusta is our chief literary source, supplemented by the HA biographies of Marcus and Antoninus. The Historia Augusta collection of imperial biographies has been the subject of heated scholarly controversy since the end of the nineteenth century, and there remains no definitive statement of its exact value. Today’s consensus is that it is the work of a single author of the fourth century, and its accuracy varies from exact to imaginative folklore. Accurate, or imaginative, multiple authors, or single author, there is little doubt that it is „propaganda directed to a popular audience.“[[1]] The popular propaganda issue is clearly visible in both SH Verus and SH Marcus where the personal life style and personality traits of Lucius Verus pervade evaluations of his accomplishments as emperor. [[2]]Insight into Verus and his reign is gleaned from the letters of his teacher and friend, the historian and orator, M. Cornelius Fronto. Cassio Dio’s history of Rome provides valuable details, and the writings of fourth-century Roman historians such as Eutropius and Festus are helpful. Archaeology and art history, with the associated commentaries, as well as coins and inscriptions add to the corpus of source material on Lucius Verus and the context of his life. Legal compilations such as the Code of Justinian preserve relevant records. Also useful are some of the early church writers such as Anastasius, Orosius, and Eusebius.


Lucius Verus was co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius, but beyond this imperial partnership there was also a significant personal connection. Through adoption by the same father, Marcus and Lucius were brothers. Marcus was also father-in-law to Lucius. Being the younger brother, younger partner, and son-in-law to Marcus Aurelius could not have been an easy position in life. Yet this is the role played by Lucius Verus. He was a well educated, active participant in military and political affairs. He had a colorful personality. He is reputed to have been one of the most handsome of emperors whose vanity allowed him to highlight his blond hair with gold dust. [[3]] Reviews of his personal character and his accomplishments are mixed. The letters of Marcus Cornelius Fronto, teacher to Marcus and Lucius, are far gentler in their portrayal of Lucius‘ personality and grand life style than are the historical accounts of the biographies included in the Historia Augusta. Whether out of true respect or devoted brotherly love, it is evident that Marcus Aurelius treated Lucius as a partner in governing the empire and commanding its military forces. Typical of his tolerance of others, Marcus Aurelius chronically ignored or defused the questionable behavior and friendships of his brother. Indeed the Meditations of the older emperor express thanksgiving for Lucius Verus as a brother. [[4]]

Early Life

Lucius Ceionius Commodus, the future Lucius Verus, was the son of Lucius Aelius Caesar, the Emperor Hadrian’s first choice as a successor. He was born December 15 A.D., 130. [[5]] His mother’s name was Avidia. He did not add Aelius or Aurelius or Aelius Aurelius to his name until after the adoption. Verus was not added until 161 when Marcus transferred the name Verus from himself to his co-emperor in order to establish a family connection after the death of Antoninus, the father they shared through adoption. [[6]] Lucius retained Commodus as part of his name throughout his life. [[7]]

On the first day of January A.D. 138, Lucius‘ father died when the boy was only seven years old. Having lost his first choice as successor, Hadrian designated Antoninus Pius (Titus Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus; Titus Aurelius Antoninus Pius) to be his successor. In February 138 Hadrian adopted the fifty-year-old Antoninus and required him in turn to adopt Lucius as well as Hadrian’s nephew by marriage, Marcus Aurelius, aged sixteen, almost seventeen.[[8]]Hadrian also stipulated that Antoninus should betroth his surviving daughter, Faustina (Annia Galeria Faustina), to the child Lucius.[[9]]

The Historia Augusta lists eleven teachers for Lucius‘ study of Latin and Greek. He was well educated. His earliest instruction came from grammatici, [[10]] and were not the same as those who provided primary instruction to Marcus. As a young boy Lucius enjoyed writing poetry, and later on, oratory.[[11]] Like his older brother, he studied Latin oratory with Marcus Cornelius Fronto, whose own writings indicate an enduring fondness for both men. Lucius studied philosophy with Apollonius of Chalcedon and Sextus of Chaeronea. In a nanny-like manner, Nicomedes, a devoted freedman of Lucius‘ biological father, watched over Lucius‘ daily care. [[12]]

Rise to Power

Hadrian died on July 10, A.D. 138. Titus Antoninus succeeded him as emperor and the name Pius was bestowed upon him. After his adoption Lucius Ceionius Commodus was given the names Aelius or Aurelius or Aelius Aurelius, used in addition to Commodus. Although reared with his brother Marcus, he was treated in an inferior manner, and his lesser status was emphasized by his place in the imperial progresses. Although Marcus rode with his emperor father, Lucius rode with the attendant praetorian prefect.[[13]] Lucius was designated quaestor in 152, to serve in 153, one year before the legal age for this office. He became consul in 154, nine years earlier than the traditional youngest age of thirty-two, and without ever having been praetor. In A.D. 161 Lucius and Marcus both held the office of consul; for Marcus it was his third appointment to this position..[[14]] When Antoninus died on March 7, A.D. 161, Marcus succeeded him as emperor (Imperator Caesar M. Aurelius Antoninus Augustus) with Lucius (Imperator Caesar Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustus). Marcus welcomed Lucius as a younger more physically able partner who was better suited to the military demands of the empire.[[15]] Never before had Rome been ruled jointly by two emperors, „duobus aequo iure imperium administrantibus,“[[16]] but their authority was not shared equally. Marcus clearly had more power than his younger brother, although officially his only additional title was „pontifex maximus,“ while Lucius was simply „pontifex..“[[17]] They came to power at a time of military crisis in the East amid the misery of floods and famine in Rome.

Family Life

When Titus Antoninus became emperor in 138, the betrothal of Lucius to Faustina was canceled, as was the betrothal of Marcus to the sister of Lucius, Ceionia Fabia. Instead, Marcus became betrothed to Faustina. It was not until 161 that marriage was once again arranged for Lucius. This time Marcus betrothed his daughter, Lucilla, to his co-emperor, [[18]] soon afterward in early 162 Lucius set out to fight the Parthian War in Syria. It is said that he became quite fond of a beautiful woman from Smyrna. Her name was Panthea and tales of this relationship prompted Marcus to hasten the wedding of Lucius to Lucilla.[[19]]. The ceremony took place midway through the war. Marcus accompanied the bride-to-be as far as Brundisium; from there she was put in the custody of her sister and Civica, an uncle to Lucius. Lucius met the bridal party in Ephesus, where the wedding took place, removed from the Eastern battle front.[[20]] Lucilla and Lucius had three children, two daughters and one son. Although the elder daughter and the son had short lives, the younger daughter lived to be involved in a plot against Commodus in 182. [[21]]

Parthian Campaign

In 162 Marcus sent Lucius eastward to lead the Parthian campaign. There he was to settle disturbances in Rome’s Eastern empire where the Euphrates River served as the boundary with the Parthian kingdom. According to reports transcribed in the Historia Augusta, Lucius partied his way along the path to war. Lucius became seriously ill by the time he reached Canusium in southern Italy. On receiving this news Marcus left Rome to join his ailing brother. Lucius, however, recovered and Marcus returned home, whence he sent good wishes of the Senate. [[22]] In its descriptions of the trip to Persia after Lucius departed Italay, the Historia Augusta includes tales of gluttony and an accompanying imperial theatrical entourage of actors and musicians; and Panthea of Smyrna, the emperor’s concubine.[[23]] Fronto, always as kind as possible in interpreting the behavior of Lucius, compares the emperor’s close relationship with actors to that of Trajan, as a politically wise, inclusive practice because of the popular appeal of theater to the Roman people. [[24]] After enjoying himself in Corinth and Athens, as well as in the smaller towns of Asia Minor, Lucius finally reached Syria. There, he established his headquarters on the coast rather than inland near the battle front. In order to be sure his Roman troops remained focused in spite of Lucius‘ activities, Marcus Aurelius appointed a seasoned general, Avidius Cassius, to command the forces in Syria.[[25]] Indeed, all the best generals of the era were appointed to this war by Marcus. [[26]]Dio tells us that Lucius was efficient in his practice of delegating authority to capable generals as well as in the procurement and distribution of necessary military supplies.[[27]] Two chroniclers of the Parthian War, Marius Maximus and Asinius Quadratus, are sources for both Capitolinus and Gallicanus, whose reports are part of the Historia Augusta. Eutropius credits Lucius with being able to simultaneously enjoy himself and accomplish much because he appointed able generals to administer the business at hand. [[28]] Fronto gives Lucius rather than Marcus credit for improving the morale of Roman troops. [[29]] The Historia Augusta author jests that the end of the Parthian War was in fact the end of the Thespian War. [[30]] Afterward, Marcus agreed to share the triumphal titles and celebrations with Verus.[[31]] This celebration was held in October of A.D. 166 [[32]] and the procession included Verus and Marcus, as well as the latter’s sons and unmarried daughters. All members of the imperial party, wearing triumphal dress, rode together and watched the games together. [[33]] But in spite of their victory in the East these were not good times for Rome. The plague had spread throughout the city and the northern frontier was threatened by war. In A.D. 168 the twin emperors Marcus and Lucius escaped the plagued city of Rome to go North to the Danubian provinces, where they mounted a military offensive against the threatening Germanic tribes.

Between the Wars

Having become accustomed to a life of self-indulgent pleasures of many kinds while in the East, Lucius found a way to continue this lifestyle once back in Rome. According to the Historia Augusta, when he returned home in triumph to celebrate the Roman victory, he took along his entourage of actors and musicians. He even kept favorites with him to help celebrate and continued to befriend them with his patronage. Lucius had a tavern built in his house where he spent his post-dinner hours with a wide spectrum of acquaintances to gamble all night, or to eat and drink until he fell asleep and had to be carried to bed. For a change from partying at home, he would dress as a common traveler to visit taverns and brothels, often partaking in drunken brawls, apparently unrecognized. [[34]] These activities were interspersed and enriched with circuses and contests between gladiators, but Lucius Verus ranked chariot racing above all other „sports.“ Volucer, his favorite horse, is buried on the Vatican Hill. [[35]]Marcus disapproved of the vast sums of money Lucius spent on himself and his ostentatious villa, located on the Clodian Way. With the intent of humoring or including Marcus, Lucius invited his brother to be a houseguest and enjoy a lavish lifestyle. For the entire fifteen-day visit Marcus worked on various affairs of state, but Lucius partied on with little regard for his brother’s serious pursuits.[[36]] After returning from the East, Lucius showed far less deference to his brother and far less interest in his own official responsibilities than he had prior to the Parthian War. As Lucius continued to neglect the obligations of state another conflict erupted, this time on the empire’s northern perimeter. As hostilities increased along the frontiers they only added to Marcus‘ burdens. At this point the leading enemies of Rome were the Marcomanni, a Germanic tribe. But because other Germanic tribes were also involved, the war became known as bellum Germanicum, and is described as such by the Historia Augusta. [[37]]

Germanic War

These tribal incursions, that came to be known as the Germanic War, lasted from 167-180, and were fought in three distinct phases. Lucius participated in the first campaign although he was not given the leadership assignment he had abused during the Parthian War. Marcus persuaded the Senate that both he and Lucius were needed at the battle front. [[38]] The older emperor had undoubtedly learned that he should neither send Lucius to war alone nor leave him at home to indulge himself further in the debauchery that had become his unsupervised lifestyle. Thus both emperors set out for the northern front in the spring of 168.


As Marcus and Lucius were returning home in169, Lucius suddenly became ill, near Altinum (Altino). He was taken from his carriage and bled. Then, so ill that he could not speak, he was carried into Altinum. Three days later, at the age of 38, Lucius Verus was dead. [[39]] There were rumors that this was the result of a plot by his mother-in-law, Faustina, with whom there was some suspicion of an incestuous relationship. But there was also talk of his having been poisoned by Marcus, although such an act would have been totally out of character for the older emperor. Murderous activity on the part of Faustina has also been disproved.[[40]] Bringing his brother’s body with him, Marcus returned to Rome where he oversaw the funeral. He also provided ample support for the deceased emperor’s family and freedmen. Imperator Lucius Verus was deified under the name of Divus Verus. [[41]]


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[[1]] Baynes, p. 57.

[[2]] Barta, p. 67-71 ; Lambrechts, p. 173-208

[[3]] HA Verus 10.7

[[4]] Meditations 1.17

[[5]] HA Verus 1.8 ; Von. Rohden, p. 1834

[[6]] HA Verus 4.1; See Grant, p. 27

[[7]] PIR2 C606

[[8]] HA Antoninus Pius 4.6 ; For discussion of exact date see Dove, p. 8 (Feb. 15) and Birley, p. 55 (Feb 25)

[[9]] HA Verus 2.3.; Marcus 6.2

[[10]] HA Verus 2. 5-7; 2.9

[[11]] HA Verus 2.7

[[12]] HA Verus 2.5-9

[[13]] HA Verus 3.4-5

[[14]] HA Verus 3.2-3; See Birley, p. 114

[[15]] Dio. 71.3

[[16]] Eutropius 8.9

[[17]] HA Verus 3.3-5; HA Verus 4.2; BMC IV, M. Aurelius and L. Verus, nos. 1 ff, 25 ff; See Birley, p. 153 ff.

[[18]] HA M. Antoninus 7.5-11

[[19]] HA Verus 7; see Birley, p. 131

[[20]] HA M. Antoninus 9; HA Verus 7

[[21]] See Birley, p. 247

[[22]] HA M. Antoninus 8; Fronto. Ad Ver. Imp. 2, 6

[[23]] HA Verus 8.11; HA M. Antoninus 8.2; Fronto Ep. Ad Ver. Imp. 2. 6; Meditations 8.37

[[24]] Fronto. Princ. Hist. 2.17-18

[[25]] HA Verus 7; Dio 72.1

[[26]] See Garzetti, p. 477

[[27]] Dio 71.2

[[28]] Eutropius 8.10; see Dove, p. 119

[[29]] Fronto. Ad Ver. Imp. 2.1

[[30]] HA Verus 8.11

[[31]] HA Verus 7.9; HA M Antoninus 12.7-8

[[32]] See Dove, p. 120 and Des Vergers, p. 39

[[33]] HA M. Antoninus 12

[[34]] HA Verus 4.6

[[35]] HA Verus 6

[[36]] HA Verus 9.8-11

[[37]] HA M. Antoninus 12.14

[[38]] HA M. Antoninus 2.14

[[39]] HA Marcus 14. 7-8; HA Verus 9.10-11

[[40]] HA Verus 10-11

[[41]] HA M. Antoninus 15

Copyright (C) 2001, Phoebe B. Peacock. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

Comments to: Phoebe B. Peacock.

Updated: 30 January 2001