Roman Emperors Dir Lucius Verus

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Lucius Verus (161-169 A.D.)

Phoebe B. Peacock
Library of Congress


As a younger brother, son-in-law, and co-emperor of the idol Marcus Aurelius, it could not have been an easy 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. [[1]] But 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 life style than the historical accounts of Julius Capitolinus, whose biographies are 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.

Early Life

Lucius Ceionius Commodus, the future Lucius Verus was the son of Lucius Aelius Caesar, Hadrian's first choice as a successor. He was born December 15 A.D. 130. [[2]] His mother's name was Avidia. He did not add Aelius or Aurelius or Aelius Aurelius to his name until after his adoption. Verus was not added until 161 when he was assigned a praetership by Marcus who transferred the name Verus from himself to his co-emperor. [[3]] Commodus remained part of his name throughout his life. [[4]]

Lucius' father died on the first day of January A.D. 138 when his son was only seven years old. Having lost his first choice as successor, Hadrian designated Antoninus Pius (Titus Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arius Antoninus; Titus Aurelius Antoninus Pius) to be his successor. In February 138 Hadrian adopted the fifty year old Antoninus and required him to adopt Lucius along with Hadrian's nephew by marriage, Marcus Aurelius, aged-sixteen, almost seventeen.[[5]] Hadrian also stipulated that Antoninus should betroth his surviving daughter, Faustina (Annia Galeria Faustina), to the seven year old Lucius.[[6]]


Lucius was well educated. The Historia Augusta lists eleven teachers for Latin and Greek. His earliest instruction came from grammatici. Scaurinus taught Latin. Telephus, Hephastio, and Harpocration taught Lucius Greek. [[7]] His oratory instructors for Greek were Appollonius, Caninius Celer, and Herodes Atticus. The philosopher-instructors were Apollonius and Sextus. His primary teachers were not shared with Marcus. As a young boy Lucius enjoyed writing poetry and later oratory. [[8]] 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 nannie-like manner, Nicomedes, a devoted freedman of Lucius' biological father, watched over Lucius' daily care. [[9]]

Rise to Power

Hadrian died on July 10 A.D. 138. Titus Antoninus became emperor and the name Pius was bestowed upon Antoninus. After his adoption Lucius Ceionius Commodus was given the names Aelius or Aurelius or Aelius Aurelius, used in addition to Commodus. He was reared with his brother  Marcus, but treated in an inferior manner. His lesser status was emphasized by his place in the imperial progresses. Although Marcus rode with his father, the emperor, Lucius rode with the attendant praetorian prefect. [[10]] Lucius was designated quaestor in 152, to serve in 153, one year before the legal age for this office. He became consul in 154, along with T. Sextius Lateranus. Lucius was on the fast track of the especially privileged in having become consul without having been praetor and nine years earlier than the traditional youngest age of thirty-two. In A.D. 161 Lucius and Marcus both held the office of consul. For Marcus it was the third time he had been appointed to this position. [[11]] On March 7 A.D. 161 Antoninus Pius died. Marcus became emperor (Imperator Caesar M. Aurelius Antonius Augustus) with Lucius (Imperator Caesar Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustus). Never before had Rome been ruled jointly by two emperors. They came to power at a time of military crisis in the East and the misery of floods and famine in Rome. Marcus clearly had more power than his younger brother although officially his only additional title was pontifex maximus, while Lucius was simply pontifex.. [[12]]

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. Marcus became betrothed to Faustina. It was not until 161 that Lucius was again betrothed. Marcus betrothed his daughter, Lucilla, to Lucius. [[13]] Soon thereafter in early 162 Lucius set out for Syria in the East in order to fight in the Parthian War. It is said that he became quite fond of a beautiful woman from Antioch. Her name was Panthea and tales of this relationship prompted Marcus to hasten the wedding of Lucius to Lucilla. [[14]]. 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. [[15]]

Parthian Campaign

In 162 Marcus sent Lucius eastward to lead the Parthian campaign, to settle disturbances in Rome's Eastern empire where the Euphrates River served as the boundary with the Parthian kingdom. Lucius partied his way along the path to war according to reports transcribed in the Historia Augusta. Included are tales of gluttony and an accompanying imperial theatrical entourage of actors and musicians. Also mentioned is Panthea of Smyrna, the emperor's concubine.[[16]] Lucius' life of traveling in revelry drained his health to the extent that he was seriously ill by the time he was within thirteen miles of the front, at Caanusium. Marcus departed Rome to join his ailing brother. Lucius, however, recovered and Marcus returned home from whence he sent good wishes of the Senate. [[17]] 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 due to the popular appeal of theater for the Roman people. [[18]] After enjoying himself in Corinth and Athens, as well as smaller towns of Asia Minor, Lucius finally reached Syria. 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 Emperor Lucius' activities, Marcus Aurelius appointed a seasoned general, Avidius Cassius, to command the forces in Syria. [[19]] 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.[[20]] 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. [[21]]Fronto gives Lucius rather than Marcus credit for improving the morale of Roman troops. [[22]] Capitolinus jests that the end of the Parthian War was in fact the end of the Thespian War. [[23]] Afterward, Marcus agreed to share the triumphal titles and celebrations with Verus.[[24]] The triumphal celebration was held in October of A.D. 166, [[25]] 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. [[26]] 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. Nor did he leave behind his entourage of actors and musicians when he went home in triumph to celebrate the Roman victory. He brought favorites home to help celebrate and continued to befriend them with his patronage. He had a tavern built in his house and spent his post dinner hours with a wide spectrum of acquaintances. He would gamble all night or 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 he went unrecognized. [[27]] These activities were interspersed and enriched with circuses and contests between gladiators, but his favorite "sport" was chariot racing. His favorite horse, Volucer, is buried in the Vatican. [[28]]   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 house-guest and enjoy this lavish lifestyle. Marcus spent the entire fifteen-day visit working on many affairs of state, but Lucius partied on with little regard for his brother's serious pursuits.[[29]]After returning from the East, Lucius showed far less deference to his brother and far less regard for his own official responsibilities than he had prior to departing for the Parthian War. Another war, this one on the northern frontier of the empire, interrupted Lucius as he continued to neglect obligations of state. The increasing hostilities along the frontiers only added to Marcus' burdens. By this time the enemies of Rome were the Marcomani, a Germanic tribe. Because other Germanic tribes were also involved, this war became known as bellum Germanicum, so designated by Capitolinus. [[30]]

Germanic War

The incursions of these tribes that came to be known as the Germanic War, lasted from 167-180, 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 [[31]] 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. Both emperors set out for the northern front in the spring of 169.


As Marcus and Lucius went north in169, Lucius suddenly became ill, near Altinum (Altino). He was taken from his carriage and bled. Then, so sick that he could not speak, he was carried to Altinum where he remained. After three days he died, at the age of 38. [[32]] There were rumors that this was the result of a plot by his mother-in-law, Faustina, with whom there was suspicion of an incestuous relationship. There was also talk of his having been poisoned by Marcus but 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. [[33]]After the death of Lucius, Marcus returned to Rome where he oversaw the funeral of his brother. He also provided ample support for the deceased emperor's family and freedmen. Imperator Lucius Verus was deified under the name of Divus Verus. [[34]]


Barnes, T. D. "Hadrian and Lucius Verus" in JRS 57 (1967) 65-79.

Birley, A.R. Marcus Aurelius (London, 1966)

Brock, M.D. Studies in Fronto and His Age (Cambridge, 1911)

Capes, W.W. The Roman Empire of the Second Century (New York, 1884)

Champlin, E. Fronto and Antonine Rome (Cambridge, MA, 1980)

Des Vergers, N. Essai sur Marc-Aurele (Paris, 1860)

Dove, C. C. Marcus Aurelius, his life and times (London, 1930)

Fronto, M.C. The Correspondence of Marcus Cornelius Fronto (London, 1919-1920)

Fronto, M.C. M. Cornelii Frontonis Epistulae (Leipzig, 1988)

Garzetti, A. From Tiberius to the Antonines (translated by J.R. Foster. London, 1974)

Grant, M. The Antonines, the Roman empire in transition (London and New York, 1994)

Histoire Auguste (Scriptores Historiae Augustae. Latin and French. Paris, 1994)

Hout, M.P.J. van den. A Commentary on the letters of M. Cornelius Fronto (Leiden and Boston, 1999)

Perowne, S. Caesars and Saints (New York, 1963)

Syme, R. Emperors and Biography, studies in the Histoiria Augusta (Oxford, 1971)


[[1]] HA Verus 10.7

[[2]] HA Verus 1.8 ; RE 8

[[3]] HA Verus 4.1

[[4]] PIR2 C606

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

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

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

[[8]] HA Verus 2.7

[[9]] HA Verus 2.5-9

[[10]] HA Verus 3.4-5

[[11]] HA Verus 3.2-3; See Birley.

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

[[13]] HA M. Antonius 7.5-11

[[14]] HA Verus 7; see Grant among others.

[[15]] HA M. Antonius 9; HA Verus 7

[[16]] HA Verus 8.11; HA M. Antonius 8.2; Fronto Ep.Ad Ver. Imp. 2. 6. See Champlin and Dove.

[[17]] HA M. Antonius 8; Fronto. Ad Ver. Imp. ii, 6

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

[[19]] HA Verus 7

[[20]] Dio 71.2

[[21]] See Dove, p. 119.

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

[[23]] HA Verus 8.11

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

[[25]] See Dove and Des Vergers, N., p. 39

[[26]] HA M. Antonius 12

[[27]] HA Verus 12.13

[[28]] HA Verus 6

[[29]] HA Verus 9.8-11

[[30]] HA M Antoninus 12.14

[[31]] HA M. Antonius 12.14

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

[[33]] HA Verus 10-11

[[34]] HA M. Antoninus 15

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