|Marcus Aurelius (161 - 180)
and Lucius Verus (161 - 169)
|Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus co-ruled amicably -- mostly because Verus had no desire to rule. He seemed content to sprinkle gold dust in his hair and parade around the city, leaving the emperoring in the competent hands of his adoptive brother.|
|Marcus Aurelius Sestertius|
|About this coin:|
|Lucius Verus Denarius|
|About this coin:|
Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus had to wait a lot longer than anyone would have guessed to become emperors. Chosen by Hadrian to succeed him, but too young at the time of his death, they were adopted by the middle-aged Antoninus Pius when he was adopted by Hadrian. Antoninus lived another 23 years, but in the end he proved true to his word, personally handing off the reins of government to Marcus shortly before he died.
The co-emperorship went remarkably smoothly, in part because everyone (including Lucius) recognized that Marcus was the better emperor. Lucius seemed happy to enjoy the "perks" of being emperor without all that hassle of actually governing. In addition, he married Aurelius' oldest daughter Lucilla.
|About this coin: Lucilla was related to quite a few emperors. She was the granddaughter of Antoninus Pius, the oldest daughter of Marcus Aurelius, the wife of Lucius Verus, and sister of Commodus. Later on, she would participate in an unsuccessful assassination attempt on her brother, and was ultimately put to death while imprisoned on the island of Capreae.|
Lucius doesn't do well in the popular accounts. Stories of his vanity and self-indulgence are common, including the one that he used to sprinkle gold dust in his hair and parade about. When the Parthians invaded, he was sent to lead the Roman counterattack, which went very well indeed; but even then, some accounts say that he left the fighting to others and spent most of his time enjoying himself. Others, however (including Marcus) gave him the credit for the serious kicking about that the Romans gave to the Parthians.
But the Roman soldiers brought back more than just Parthian booty; they brought plague. It swept through several provinces, leaving them vulnerable to attack, and Marcus and Lucius spent three years dashing about stomping on barbarian invaders who tried to take advantage of it. The invaders finally seemed to tire of being stomped on, and Marcus and Lucius headed back to Rome to celebrate another triumph. But Lucius didn't make it home. He suffered a stroke early in 169, and died.
Marcus didn't get to spend much time in Rome. Turns out the barbarians weren't quite as tired of getting stomped as they'd appeared, and he had to spend the next several years doing more stomping. He used the opportunity to extend the Roman territory by pushing the borders away from the rivers and into the mountains, but he allowed some of the invaders to settle in Roman territory that had been pretty much depopulated by plague anyway.
Faustina Junior, daughter of Antoninus and Faustina Senior, proved to be a treacherous spouse. Rumors abounded about her many adulteries, including one that her son Commodus was not Marcus's, but rather the result of an indiscretion with a gladiator. But the high point of her treachery occurred when Marcus fell ill. She personally carried word to her (rumored) lover, Cassius, governor of Syria, that Marcus had died, and he started a revolt. Turns out, though, that her report of Marcus's death was somewhat exaggerated. When word got to Syria that he had made a full recovery, Cassius was murdered and the rebellion collapsed. Faustina was not punished for her part in it, though she did die of natural causes shortly thereafter.
Marcus and Commodus then went back north for some father/son barbarian stomping, but Marcus died in camp, and Commodus was proclaimed the new emperor.
Lucius Verus is remembered as a sort of "cream puff" of an emperor, but Marcus Aurelius is usually counted among the greats, right up there with Trajan. In fact, about the only areas where he seems to have seriously screwed up were in trusting his wife and promoting his son.