Have you ever wondered which era would you want to live in? I do quite often. Our age is arguably the best, but if I could travel back in time I would go back to the 2nd century AD, somewhere within the Roman Empire, during the reign of Antoninus Pius.
Everyone has a favorite emperor, right? Mine is Antoninus Pius, the most benevolent and just of all Roman emperors.
There was a time when the emperors of Rome “had no need of praetorian cohorts, or of countless legions to guard them, but were defended by their own good lives, the good-will of their subjects, and the attachment of the senate,” as Niccolò Machiavelli says in his book ‘The Discourses on Livy’. Antoninus Pius was one of those good Roman emperors.
The first 5 emperors of the Nerva–Antonine dynasty, are commonly known as ‘The Five Good Emperors’
- Nerva (ruled from 96AD to 98AD)
- Trajan (98–117)
- Hadrian (117–138)
- Antoninus Pius (138–161)
- Marcus Aurelius (161–180)
Antoninus was born near Rome to a family that originated from southern Gaul. He was adopted by emperor Hadrian, he entered Roman civil service, and he became a highly successful provincial governor in Asia. Antoninus succeeded Hadrian in 138 A.D.
The philosopher king
Emperor Antonius Pius consolidated the frontiers of the empire, quelling the rebellions of the Moors in 152 and of the Egyptians in 153, the only revolts in an otherwise peaceful reign. In Britain he ordered the construction of the Antonine Wall on what is now the Central Belt of Scotland. That wall was the northernmost frontier barrier of the Empire, built to defend against the Picts and Scots.
Antoninus tried to revive the power and dignity of the Roman Senate, to which he gave back the task of governing Italy. He shunned the busy life of the capital and lived quietly in his villa at Lorium on the outskirts of Rome. An excellent administrator, he left the public treasury unusually rich at his death. All his energies were devoted to the service of the people of the Roman Empire.
- He prioritized the rebuilding of cities destroyed in wars
- He improved the legal rights of slaves
- He curbed the avarice of provincial governors
- He established numerous charitable institutions
- He passed laws to help orphans
- He prohibited the persecution of Christians
- He acted as protector and promoter of arts and sciences
Antoninus Pius died at the age of 75 after adopting as his successor another would-be philosopher king: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. The Senate conferred upon him the title of Pius in recognition of his qualities.
The Antonine era was the most prosperous and stable period of the Roman empire. A good time to be alive!