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Reign of the Antonine Dynasty

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The Antonines (Latin: Antonini, after the agnomen Antoninus Pius) were the third Roman imperial dynasty from the beginning of the principate, which ruled from 96 to 192.

The first representative was Mark Cocceius Nerva, all the other representatives, with the exception of him, came from the provincial nobility. The Antonines ' distinctive features were very good relations with the Senate under hereditary power (usually by adoption; only Commodus was the natural son of his predecessor, and his reign was disastrous), with frequent co-rulers. The first five representatives of the dynasty in this regard began to be unofficially called "good emperors".

Even under Flavius, the principate ceased to be a contradictory, republican-monarchical system, so the autocratic nature of the Antonine power was not questioned. The old Roman aristocracy, which once forced Octavian Augustus to establish a partnership with it, has long since disappeared from the historical scene. The Roman Senate now consisted of nobles from various parts of the Mediterranean, both western and eastern. This Senate had already completely lost all Republican illusions, and all its demands were reduced to one thing: not to execute senators without the permission of the Senate itself. The oath taken by the Emperor Nerva to observe this condition was broken only by Commodus.

The nerve

After coming to power, Marcus Cocceius was officially called Emperor Nerva Caesar Augustus (Imperator Nerva Caesar Augustus); less often — Emperor Caesar Nerva Augustus (Imperator Nerva Caesar Augustus). In 97, he adopted the honorary nickname Germanicus and was proclaimed emperor in the original sense of the term, so that his full name became Imp. Nerva Caesar Aug., Germanicus, pontifex maximus, tribuniciae potestatis II, imp. II, cos. IV, pater patriae. One inscription calls it the original praenomen and nomen (Mark Cocceius), but this is clearly an anomaly. Another inscription calls Nerva proconsul, but this is also a mistake: the emperor did not confer this position, since during his reign he never needed to leave Italy. Ancient authors usually call it simply Nerva, sometimes-Cocceia Nerva or divine Nerva.

The proclamation of Nerva by the Senate could have had a direct consequence of the growth of the authority of this body of power. The new emperor had solemnly sworn that no senator would be put to death during his reign, and he had kept his word; nor did he make important decisions without first discussing them in the Senate. Minting of coins with the inscription Providencia senatus ("by the will of the Senate") began. Nerva announced the termination of trials for insulting the Emperor's majesty and treason, which were very common under Domitian, released all those suspected of this crime from prison and granted amnesty to those convicted. All property unlawfully confiscated under his predecessor was returned to its owners.

Despite Nerva's populist policies, his regime was still fragile. The main reason for this was the lack of support for the army and the Praetorian Guard, which preserved a good memory of Domitian. Immediately after the change of power, unrest began in the provincial armies. Thus, Pliny the Younger mentions the preparation for a mutiny of some commander of a "large and illustrious army" in the East (this could be the governor of Syria or Cappadocia). This threat was dealt with, but it is not known how exactly. An open revolt broke out in the Danubian legions; presumably, it was Dion Chrysostomus who was able to put an end to it with his intervention.

Rome, too, was uneasy. Gaius Calpurnius Piso Crassus Frugi Licinianus (brother of Galba's adopted son) plotted in early 97 and began to incite the soldiers to revolt, promising them generous distributions if he came to power. This plot was promptly discovered, and sources report a very mild reaction from Nerva: in keeping with the oath taken at the beginning of his reign, he only sent Crassus and his wife, Agedia Quintina, to Tarentum, although "the senators reproached him for leniency."

Emperor of Nerva, 1st century AD

More dangerous was the performance of the Praetorian Guard. Under Domitian, after a short interval, it had regained its independent significance, and therefore it was more difficult for the guardsmen than for the soldiers of the provincial armies to accept the impunity of the emperor's murderers. In addition, one of the two Praetorian prefects involved in the plot, Titus Flavius Norbanus, died, and Nerva made an unsuccessful personnel decision: he appointed Casperius Aelianus, who had already held this position under Domitian (in 84-94). Elian used his high office to raise an open rebellion: in the autumn of 97, the Praetorians led by him besieged the imperial palace and actually took Nerva hostage. This was not a coup, but an attempt to put pressure on the emperor: the guards demanded that Domitian's murderers be handed over to them for execution. According to Dion Cassius, "Nerva resisted them so strongly that he even exposed his collarbone and exposed his throat." Pseudo-Aurelius Victor writes that the emperor during these events "was so frightened that he could not hold back vomiting and defecation, but still strongly resisted, saying that it was better for him to die than to lose the authority of power by betraying those who helped him achieve it." But he still had to hand over these people, Titus Petronius Secundus and the former chamberlain Domitian Parthenius. Petronius was struck down by the Praetorians with a single blow, and Parthenius was " first cut off from his sexual organ, thrown in his face [and] then strangled." Nerva then had to deliver a speech to the people, in which he thanked the Praetorians for this massacre.

It was now clear that Nerva was not strong enough to maintain power and stability within the empire; what made the emperor particularly vulnerable was the lack of an official successor, even though Nerva was old and in poor health. Mark Cocceius needed an heir who would be loyal to both the people and the army. Therefore, he rejected the candidacies of his relatives and decided to make a successor to one of the prominent military leaders. For a time, he may have considered the governor of Syria, Marcus Cornelius Nigrinus Curatius Maternus, suitable for this role, but in the end, Marcus Ulpius Trajan, who ruled Upper Germany, was chosen.

Trajan's popularity in the army and his connections may have been decisive factors in this choice. Marcus Ulpius had made a career as a lowly legionnaire and was a capable general, so the soldiers liked him. He commanded one of the strongest military groups in the empire, the Upper German legions, and the governor of Lower Germany with its three legions was his closest friend Lucius Licinius Sura. Another friend of Trajan, Quintus Glytius Agricola, ruled over Upper Moesia, and had three other legions under his command; finally, Trajan had close relations with the governors of Syria and Cappadocia, and presumably also with the governors of Lower Moesia and Britannia. Thus, the adoption of Marcus Ulpius guaranteed Nerva the loyalty of most of the key provinces and their border armies. Finally, Trajan was relatively young and full of energy.

Nerva ignored the provincial origin of Trajan, who was a native of Betica, "because he believed that one should look at a person's prowess, and not at the place of his birth." Shortly after the Praetorian rebellion, in September 97, the emperor announced the adoption of Trajan under the name Nerva Caesar. On October 25, the formal adoption procedure was carried out, after which Marcus Ulpius received the title of Caesar, the consulship for 98 years (joint with Nerva), the powers of the tribune of the people and proconsular authority over all Roman Germany, thus becoming the de facto co-ruler of Nerva. Dion Cassius writes that when the emperor informed Trajan of all this, he sent him a letter with a line from the Iliad: "My tears, take revenge on the Argives with your arrows!"; some researchers admit that this is a fictional episode.

Marcus Ulpius Trajan

Emperor Marcus Ulpius Trajan (98-117) was a native of Spain. The Senate under him, as under the subsequent princeps of the second century, consisted largely of provincial nobility and expressed the interests of the slave-owning class throughout the empire. This was the social basis for the agreement between the emperors of the Antonine dynasty and the Senate, which was broken only under the most recent representative of this dynasty, Commodus, at the end of the second century.

Under Trajan, Rome made its last major conquest: Dacia was conquered in 101-106. This fertile country, rich in various natural resources, was a very valuable province for Rome. Many Roman citizens from Italy moved here, and many veteran colonies were founded. The influx of a permanent Roman population to Dacia contributed to the intensive Romanization of this province. Even today, the inhabitants of this country, modern Romania, speak Romansh, a descendant of folk Latin.

Trajan was also at war with Parthia, Rome's powerful eastern neighbor. He managed to capture for a while all of Mesopotamia, where Roman provinces were created. But due to the resistance of the local population and the opposition of Parthia, the Romans were unable to maintain these conquests. Soon after Trajan's death, Rome had to give up Mesopotamia.

Emperor Trajan, 2nd century AD

Publius Aelius Hadrian

Trajan's successor was Publius Aelius Hadrian (117-138). He was a well-educated man. A lover of travel, he traveled almost the entire Roman empire during the 20 years of his reign, studying the life of the provinces and controlling the situation in them.

Under Hadrian, the creation of the imperial bureaucracy was completed. This made it possible to refuse to hand over the collection of all taxes in the provinces. Public service has become honorable and well-paid. To strengthen Rome's ties with the provinces, a state post office was established. Under Hadrian, the Roman army began to be provincialized: it began to accept Roman citizens living not only in Italy, but also in the provinces.

In 132-135 there was a new uprising in Judea under the leadership of Bar Kokhba, which was suppressed with great cruelty. Up to half a million people were killed. Hadrian founded a Roman colony on the site of Jerusalem, and many of the remaining Jews in Palestine were evicted.

In foreign policy, Hadrian's time was a transition from conquest to defense. The Romans lost Mesopotamia, and the Euphrates again became the border with Parthia. The borders along the Rhine and Danube are being strongly strengthened. In Britain, Hadrian's great rampart was created, stretching from sea to sea and designed to protect against the northern tribes.

The slave-owning elite of the empire considered Antoninus (138-161) an ideal monarch and gave him the nickname Pius ("the pious"). Under Antoninus, complete harmony was established between the emperor and the Senate; the government of Italy was restored to the Senate. Antonin paid great attention to protecting borders and maintaining peace with his neighbors. On the borders, defensive structures were hastily built, the so-called Antonine ramparts.

Emperor Hadrian, 2nd century AD

Antoninus Pius

The slave-owning elite of the empire considered Antoninus (138-161) an ideal monarch and gave him the nickname Pius ("the pious"). Under Antoninus, complete harmony was established between the emperor and the Senate; the government of Italy was restored to the Senate. Antonin paid great attention to protecting borders and maintaining peace with his neighbors. On the borders, defensive structures were hastily built, the so-called Antonine ramparts.

Emperor Antoninus Pius, 2nd century AD

Marcus Aurelius

After the death of Antoninus Pius, there were two emperors in Rome at once — Marcus Aurelius (161-180) and Lucius Verus (161-169), Antoninus ' adopted sons. The quarrels between them, which the enemies of Rome expected, were averted by the exceptional personal qualities of Aurelius. He endured his insignificant co-ruler for eight years, until the latter's death.

Since that time, the division of power between co-emperors has become a frequent phenomenon. Marcus Aurelius was one of the most learned men of his time, a Stoic philosopher, and the author of "To Himself".

Under Marcus Aurelius, the period of stable balance of power between the Roman Empire and the barbarian periphery ended. Since the time of Marcus Aurelius, Rome has been on the defensive.

The Marcomannic Wars (167-180) were a prelude to the barbarian conquests of the following centuries. After crossing the Middle Danube, the German tribe of the Marcomanni invaded the empire, along with their allies — the Quadi, Sarmatians and Yazigs. The Roman state was by this time weakened by the war with Parthia and the epidemic. Rome has gathered all its forces. Even volunteer slaves and gladiators were mobilized. Both emperors personally went to war. All the other years of his reign, Marcus Aurelius spent on the north side of the empire.

the border, working to strengthen it and fight the barbarians who invaded the empire. One part of them was driven out, and the other part was forced by the Roman government to settle on this side of the rampart as Federate allies. Thus, the barbarians began not only to raid the empire, but also to settle on its territory. In 180 BC, Marcus Aurelius died at Vindobone (now Vienna), where he was preparing for a new campaign against the Marcomanni.

Breaking with the tradition of the Antonine dynasty, Marcus Aurelius bequeathed the imperial throne not to the elected Senate, but to his son Commodus (180-192), under whom the situation of the empire continued to deteriorate. There is a decline in the central government. Commodus ended the war with the Marcomanni, although the Romans were far from victorious in 180. Commodus himself, in contrast to his father, was a rough, dissolute man. Seeing the discontent of the nobility, he sought to appease the Praetorians and the Roman city plebs: the Praetorians were increased in salary, and the city plebs were given distributions and circuses. The court was dominated by favorites, who eventually killed the emperor. A period of crisis was approaching, marking the transition to the late empire.

Emperor Aurelius, 2nd century AD


From the accession of Nerva in 96 to the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180. The Empire experienced eighty-four years of peace under a tolerant, just government. At this time, there were wars with the Parthians, then with the Dacians, then with the Bretons, but this happened far from Rome, in most cases the battles were fought on enemy territory and practically did not affect the Roman provinces. There were also riots, of which the revolt of the Jews during the reign of Hadrian was particularly serious, and sometimes riots were caused by military leaders, as in the case when a capable general commanding the Syrian legions received false news of the death of Marcus Aurelius at the hands of the Marcomani in 175 and decided to declare himself emperor. All these uprisings were successfully suppressed and turned out to be nothing more than pinpricks against the background of general calm.

Be that as it may, but in the 18th century, the English historian Edward Gibbon made the famous statement that in the entire history of mankind, never before have many people at the same time been so happy as in the Roman Empire during the reign of the Antonine dynasty. In a way, he was right. If we take as an example only the territory of the Mediterranean, then in material terms it was easier to live there than at any time during the centuries of continuous continental wars, when one state constantly attacked another. Moreover, during the reign of the Antonines, the Mediterranean was better off than for many centuries afterward, when it was torn apart by civil wars and barbarian invasions, or even later, when it was divided into many small rival states.

Emperor Commodus, 2nd century AD

Related topics

The Roman Empire, The Emperors of Rome, The reign of the Julius-Claudian dynasty, Reign of the Flavian Dynasty, Marcus Ulpius Nerva Trajan