July 10, 2015, by Will Leveritt

On this day in AD138 the Emperor Hadrian died and was succeeded by Antoninus Pius.

Text by Lauren Shelton

Image © Mint Imperials

On 10th July, AD 138, the Emperor Hadrian died and was succeeded by Antoninus Pius.

Coming to the throne in 117, Hadrian was the third of the so-called ‘Five Good Emperors’, who were known for their peaceful and prosperous reigns. Hadrian was also well known for his love of learning and his extensive building works; he was especially loved by the Greeks, who named him as the second founder of the city of Athens because of his many building projects there.

Sestertius of Antoninus Pius and denarius of Hadrian.

AE sestertius of Antoninus Pius and AR denarius of Hadrian.

In 136 Hadrian’s health began to fail and he began the search for an heir. The emperor initially favoured his brother-in-law, the senator Julius Ursus Servianus, and, looking still further into the future, Servianus’ grandson Pedanius Fuscus Salinator. However, Hadrian ultimately rejected this idea, instead adopting the senator (and consul for 136) Lucius Ceionius Commodus, who was known for his extravagant lifestyle.

When Servianus – who seems to have long harboured ambitions for his grandson if not for himself – protested this move, Hadrian responded by having Servianus and Pedanius executed. It is possible that Pedanius was planning a coup against the emperor in response to Commodus’ adoption, in which case Hadrian’s ruthlessness might be said to be understandable.

Whatever the case may be, with the adoption of Commodus (who became Lucius Aelius Caesar), Hadrian must have assumed the succession was now assured. Unfortunately, Caesar died unexpectedly in 138 and so Hadrian was forced to look elsewhere.

Now quite close to death, Hadrian chose the respected senator Titus Aurelius Antoninus, on the proviso that Antoninus would in his turn adopt both Marcus Annius Verus (the future Marcus Aurelius), and the son of Ceionius Commodus, the future Lucius Verus, as his heirs.

This strange scheme thus settled the succession several generations in advance (Marcus was 17 at the time, Lucius only 7). Indeed it is possible, though difficult to prove, that Hadrian’s ultimate aim was to ensure that, if not Commodus, then at least his son, would inherit the throne. If this is so, then it may be that Hadrian viewed Antoninus and Marcus merely as place-warmers for the young Lucius.

Hadrian died July 138 and was succeeded by Antoninus. Having served as consul, governor of Asia and as an advisor to Hadrian for some years, Antoninus was well-suited to become emperor and was the fourth of the ‘Five Good Emperors’.

Known for his piety, he was given the name Pius by the senate after having persuaded them to offer divine honours to Hadrian, who had not been well-liked by the senatorial order during his reign. Pius’ 23-year reign was extremely prosperous and peaceful. He died in 161 and was succeeded by Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, who ruled as co-emperors.

Posted in DenariusRomanSestertius