The Nerva–Antonine dynasty was a dynasty of seven Roman Emperors who ruled over the Roman Empire from 96 CE to 192 CE. These Emperors are Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Lucius Verus, Marcus Aurelius, and Commodus.
The first five of the six successions within this dynasty were notable in that the reigning Emperor adopted the candidate of his choice to be his successor. Under Roman law, an adoption established a bond legally as strong as that of kinship. Because of this, all but the first and last of the Nerva-Antonine emperors are called Adoptive Emperors.
The importance of official adoption in Roman society has often been considered as a conscious repudiation of the principle of dynastic inheritance and has been deemed one of the factors of the period's prosperity. However, this was not a new practice. It was common for patrician families to adopt, and Roman emperors had adopted heirs in the past: the Emperor Augustus had adopted Tiberius and the Emperor Claudius had adopted Nero. Julius Caesar, dictator perpetuo and considered to be instrumental in the transition from Republic to Empire, adopted Gaius Octavius, who would become Augustus, Rome's first emperor. Moreover, there was a family connection as Trajan adopted his first cousin once removed and great-nephew by marriage Hadrian, and Hadrian made his half-nephew by marriage and heir Antoninus Pius adopt both Hadrian's second cousin three times removed and half-great-nephew by marriage Marcus Aurelius, also Antoninus' nephew by marriage, and the son of his original planned successor, Lucius Verus. The naming by Marcus Aurelius of his son Commodus was considered to be an unfortunate choice and the beginning of the Empire's decline.
With Commodus' murder in 192, the Nerva-Antonine dynasty came to an end; it was followed by a period of turbulence known as the Year of the Five Emperors.
Nerva was the first of the dynasty. Though his reign was short, it saw a partial reconciliation between the army, Senate and commoners. Nerva adopted as his son the popular military leader Trajan. In turn, Hadrian succeeded Trajan; he had been the latter's heir presumptive and averred that he had been adopted by him on Trajan's deathbed.
In 138, after a long reign dedicated to the cultural unification and consolidation of the empire, the Emperor Hadrian named Antoninus Pius his son and heir, under the condition that he adopt both Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. Hadrian died that same year, and Antoninus began a peaceful, benevolent reign. He adhered strictly to Roman traditions and institutions and shared his power with the Roman Senate.
Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus succeeded Antoninus Pius in 161 upon that emperor's death, and co-ruled until Verus' death in 169. Marcus continued the Antonine legacy after Verus' death as an unpretentious and gifted administrator and leader. He died in 180 and was followed by his biological son, Commodus.
The rulers commonly known as the "Five Good Emperors" were Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. The term was coined based on what the political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli wrote in 1503:
From the study of this history we may also learn how a good government is to be established; for while all the emperors who succeeded to the throne by birth, except Titus, were bad, all were good who succeeded by adoption, as in the case of the five from Nerva to Marcus. But as soon as the empire fell once more to the heirs by birth, its ruin recommenced.
Machiavelli argued that these adopted emperors, through good rule, earned the respect of those around them:
Titus, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus, and Marcus 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.
The 18th-century historian Edward Gibbon, in his work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, opined that their rule was a time when "the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of wisdom and virtue". Gibbon believed these benevolent dictators and their moderate policies were unusual and contrasted with their more tyrannical and oppressive successors.
Gibbon went on to state:
If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws. Such princes deserved the honour of restoring the republic, had the Romans of their days been capable of enjoying a rational freedom.
At the time when the above was written, the idea of enlightened absolutism was widely accepted in various European countries.
One hypothesis posits that adoptive succession is thought to have arisen because of a lack of biological heirs. All but the last of the adoptive emperors had no legitimate biological sons to succeed them. They were thus obliged to pick a successor somewhere else; as soon as the Emperor could look towards a biological son to succeed him, adoptive succession was set aside.
The concept of "The Five Good Emperors" reflects the internal Roman point of view. As regards their treatment of Roman citizens, these five Emperors clearly seem better than other Emperors – specifically, better than Domitian who immediately preceded them and Commodus who immediately followed them – and this view was taken up by later Europeans, drawing on Roman historical sources. It is, however, not necessarily the point of view of provincials and of Rome's neighbors – particularly, of those targeted by one or more of these emperors in a war of conquest or in the suppression of a revolt.
In many cases, such diverging points of view did not leave a record; for example, there is no surviving historical source recording the Dacians' opinion of Trajan who conquered them. However, in the case of the Jews, who suffered greatly at the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt by Hadrian, there is an extensive Rabbinical literature offering a very different perspective to that of Roman historiography. While the Roman view lumped Hadrian and Antoninus Pius together among the Five Good Emperors, Jews tended to contrast the Bad Hadrian with the Good Antoninus. When Jewish sources mention Hadrian it is always with the epitaph "may his bones be crushed" (Hebrew: שחיק עצמות, Aramaic: שחיק טמיא), an expression never used with respect to Vespasian or Titus, who destroyed the Second Temple; conversely, Antoninus Pius is positively remembered in the Jewish tradition, as having ameliorated the Jews' lot and abolished many of the harsh decrees which Hadrian had imposed on them.
Annia Cornificia Faustina (122/123-between 152-158) was the youngest child and only daughter to the praetor Marcus Annius Verus and Domitia Lucilla. The parents of Cornificia came from wealthy senatorial families who were of consular rank. Her brother was the future Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, and both were born and raised in Rome.Annia Galeria Aurelia Faustina
Annia Galeria Aurelia Faustina (c. 151-after 165) was the eldest child of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and his wife, Faustina the Younger. Her younger sister was Lucilla and her younger brother was Commodus. Her maternal grandparents were Antoninus Pius and Faustina the Elder, while her paternal grandparents were Domitia Lucilla and praetor Marcus Annius Verus. She was born and raised in Rome.
The parents of Faustina betrothed her to Gnaeus Claudius Severus, whom she later married after 159. Gnaeus Claudius Severus was a Roman Senator of Pontian Greek descent that came from Pompeiopolis, a city in the Roman province of Galatia. After Faustina married Claudius Severus, they settled in Pompeiopolis. Faustina bore Claudius Severus a son, Tiberius Claudius Severus Proculus, who served as consul in 200.Antonine Itinerary
The Antonine Itinerary (Latin: Itinerarium Antonini Augusti, lit. "The Itinerary of the Emperor Antoninus") is a famous itinerarium, a register of the stations and distances along various roads. Seemingly based on official documents, possibly from a survey carried out under Augustus, it describes the roads of the Roman Empire. Owing to the scarcity of other extant records of this type, it is a valuable historical record.Almost nothing is known of its date or author. Scholars consider it likely that the original edition was prepared at the beginning of the 3rd century. Although it is traditionally ascribed to the patronage of the 2nd-century Antoninus Pius, the oldest extant copy has been assigned to the time of Diocletian and the most likely imperial patron—if the work had one—would have been Caracalla.Ceionia Plautia
Ceionia Plautia (flourished 2nd century) was a Roman noblewoman and is among the lesser known members of the ruling Nerva–Antonine dynasty of the Roman Empire.
Plautia was the second daughter born to Roman Senator Lucius Aelius Caesar, the first adopted heir of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-138) and Avidia Plautia. Plautia was born and raised in Rome. Her cognomen Plautia, she inherited from her mother and her grandmothers. She had three siblings: a sister called Ceionia Fabia; two brothers the Roman Emperor Lucius Verus who co-ruled with Marcus Aurelius from 161-169 and Gaius Avidius Ceionius Commodus.
Her maternal grandparents were the Roman Senator Gaius Avidius Nigrinus and the surmised but undocumented noblewoman Ignota Plautia. Although her adoptive paternal grandparents were the Roman Emperor Hadrian and Roman Empress Vibia Sabina, her biological paternal grandparents were the consul Lucius Ceionius Commodus and noblewoman Aelia or Fundania Plautia.
Plautia married Quintus Servilius Pudens consul in 166. Plautia bore Pudens a daughter called Servilia, who married Junius Licinius Balbus, a man of consular rank. Servilia and Balbus had a son called Junius Licinius Balbus.Domitia Lucilla
Domitia Lucilla Minor (Minor, Latin for the Younger), sometimes known as Domitia Calvilla or Lucilla (died 155–161), was a noble Roman woman who lived in the 2nd century. She is best known as the mother of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.Fadilla
Annia Aurelia Fadilla, most commonly known as Fadilla (159-died after 211) was an influential Roman Princess and was one of the daughters born to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and Roman Empress Faustina the Younger. She was a sister to Roman Empress Lucilla and Roman Emperor Commodus. Fadilla was named in honor of her late maternal aunt Aurelia Fadilla. The cognomen Fadilla, was the cognomen of the mother and a half-sister of the previous Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius. Her maternal grandparents were Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius and Roman Empress Faustina the Elder and her paternal grandparents were Domitia Lucilla and praetor Marcus Annius Verus.Lucius Antistius Burrus
Lucius Antistius Burrus Adventus (c. 149–188) of the gens Antistia was a Roman Senator that lived in the 2nd century. He was one of the sons-in-law of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and Faustina the Younger.
Burrus originally came from a senatorial family from Thibilis, a town near Hippo Regius in the Africa Province. Although Burrus was born and raised in Thibilis, his family was not of very ancient lineage. He was the son of Quintus Antistius Adventus Aquilinus Postumus and Novia Crispina. His mother is known from an honorific inscription dedicated to her, dating from her husband's governorship of Arabia Petraea.
Quintus Antistius Adventus (born around mid-120s), during the rule of the Nerva–Antonine dynasty, served as a successful military tribune, legatus, quaestor, public construction official and governor in various provinces throughout the Roman Empire.Sometime before the death of Marcus Aurelius, Burrus married the Emperor's youngest daughter, Vibia Aurelia Sabina, after which, they returned and settled in Thibilis. When Marcus Aurelius died in 180, Aurelia Sabina's brother Commodus succeeded her father as Emperor. In 181, Burrus served as an ordinary consul.
In 188, Antistius Burrus was involved in a conspiracy against Commodus. When this conspiracy was uncovered, Antistius Burrus was put to death. His widow later remarried; it appears she had no children by Burrus.Lucius Caesennius Antoninus
Lucius Caesennius Antoninus (c. 95 - after 128) was a Roman aristocrat. He was suffect consul for the nundinium from February though March 128 with Marcus Annius Libo as his colleague.His ancestry is uncertain. Ronald Syme stated that it was possible he was the son of Lucius Caesennius Sospes, consul in 114, but in a footnote Syme admitted Antoninus could be the grandson of his brother Lucius Junius Caesennius Paetus, consul in 79.Marcus Annius Verus (praetor)
Marcus Annius Verus (died 124 AD) was a distinguished Roman politician who lived in the 2nd century, served as a praetor and was the father of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
He was the son of Roman Senator Marcus Annius Verus and noblewoman Rupilia Faustina. His brother was the consul Marcus Annius Libo and his sister was Faustina the Elder, wife of Antoninus Pius. He married Domitia Lucilla, the heiress of a wealthy family which owned a tile factory. They had two children, Marcus Aurelius (born in 121, and who was also originally named Marcus Annius Verus), and Annia Cornificia Faustina (born in 123). Annius Verus died young while he held the office of praetor. Both his children were still young. The likeliest year of his death is 124.In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius, who was only about 3 years old when his father died, says of him: "From what I heard of my father and my memory of him, modesty and manliness."Marcus Petronius Sura Mamertinus
Marcus Petronius Sura Mamertinus (died between 190-192 AD) was a Roman consul who lived in the 2nd century and was one of the sons-in-law of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Mamertinus came from a wealthy, well-connected family of African origin—possibly from Egypt. His father, Marcus Petronius Mamertinus, was suffect consul in 150 and his mother's name is unknown. He had a brother, Marcus Petronius Sura Septimianus, who served as consul in 190, and a sister whose husband was the illustrious senator Marcus Antoninus Antius Lupus. Mamertinus was a kinsman of the grammarian Marcus Cornelius Fronto.
During the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180) and Faustina the Younger (161-175), Mamertinus married their daughter Annia Cornificia Faustina Minor in Rome.
Sometime after 173, Cornificia Faustina bore Mamertinus a son, Petronius Antoninus.
Mamertinus and his family could have been at the winter camp of Marcus Aurelius in early 180. When Marcus Aurelius died later that year, Mamertinus' brother-in-law Commodus succeeded him as Emperor. In 182, Mamertinus served as consul. Sometime between 190-192, Commodus ordered the deaths of Mamertinus, his son, his brother and his sister’s family. Cornificia Faustina survived the political persecutions of her brother and later remarried.
== Nerva–Antonine family tree ==Narcissus (wrestler)
Narcissus was a Roman athlete, likely a wrestler, from the 2nd century AD. He is best known to history as the assassin of the Roman Emperor Commodus, by whom he was employed as a wrestling partner and personal trainer in order to train Commodus for his self-indulgent appearances in the Colosseum as a gladiator. In AD 192 he was recruited by several senators, led by Praetorian prefect Quintus Aemilius Laetus, to assassinate the emperor.
On 31 December 192, Commodus's concubine and conspirator Marcia admitted Narcissus into Commodus's bedchamber. Commodus was supposedly in a drunken stupor after Marcia had poisoned him and Narcissus proceeded to strangle his master in his bathtub or, according to Herodian, in his bed.The fictional character of general Maximus Decimus Meridius (played by Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator) was partially based on Narcissus alongside being based on Marcus Aurelius's general Marcus Nonius Macrinus, Spartacus, Cincinnatus and Maximus of Hispania. Narcissus is also portrayed directly in Netflix's 2016 docu-drama series Roman Empire: Reign of Blood where he is portrayed by Mike Edward.Plautius Quintillus
Plautius Quintillus (died by 175) was a Roman senator who lived in the 2nd century.
The family of Plautius Quintillus was of consular rank and was politically active during the Nerva–Antonine dynasty in the 2nd century. Quintillus’ birth name could have been Lucius Titius Plautius Quintillus. His father was probably Lucius Titius Epidius Aquilinus, who served as consul in 125 under the Emperor Hadrian. According to a preserved incomplete inscription found in Rome, Aquilinus may have been the head of a priestly college and could have hosted a public entertainment event held in Rome. His brother may have been Lucius Titius Plautius Aquilinus, who served as consul in 162 under the co-Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus.
During the reign of Antoninus Pius (138-161), Quintillus served as an ordinary consul. Quintillus married a noblewoman called Ceionia Fabia, the daughter of Lucius Aelius Verus Caesar, the first adopted heir of Hadrian; she was Lucius Verus' sister, and, thus, sister-in-law to the Empress Lucilla. Fabia bore Quintillus a son called Marcus Peducaeus Plautius Quintillus, who later married Annia Aurelia Fadilla, one of the daughters of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina the Younger.
Throughout the former Roman Empire, various honorific inscriptions dedicated to Quintillus and his family have been found, mentioning him, his wife, his son and his relation to Lucius Verus.Publius Atilius Aebutianus
Publius Atilius Aebutianus (died 188) was a prefect of the Roman imperial bodyguard, known as the Praetorian Guard, during the reign of emperor Commodus, from 185 until his death in 188. Aebutianus acceded to the office upon the execution of his predecessor Sextus Tigidius Perennis. According to ancient sources, Perennis was removed by the influential freedman and chamberlain of Commodus, Marcus Aurelius Cleander, and in 188 Aebutianus suffered a similar fate. According to the Historia Augusta, he was murdered by Cleander, who then assumed command of the Praetorian Guard himself.Sohaemus of Armenia
Sohaemus of Armenia (Armenian: Սոհեմոս), also known as Sohaemo and Gaius Julius Sohaemus (Greek: Γάϊος Ἰούλιος Σόαιμος), was a Roman Client King of Armenia.
Sohaemus was a prominent person in the Roman Empire in the 2nd century from the Orontid dynasty of Commagene and the Emesene dynasty from Syria. The novelist of the 2nd century, his contemporary Iamblichus claims Sohaemus as his fellow-countryman. Iamblichus calls Sohaemus as an Arsacid and Achaemenid, in his lineage and was a descendant of the Median Princess Iotapa, who was once betrothed to the Ptolemaic Prince Alexander Helios. Little is known about Sohaemus’ family and early life prior to becoming King of Armenia. Before becoming King, Sohaemus had been a Roman Senator and served as a Consul in Rome at an unknown date.In 144, Sohaemus received the Armenian throne from the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius after the overthrow of Vologases I. In honor of his first ascent to the throne of Armenia, a copper medal with images of Sohaemus and Antoninus Pius was issued in Rome with the inscription "King of Armenians granted by decision of the Senate". Sohaemus was a contemporary to the rule of the Roman emperors: Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus and Commodus of the Nerva–Antonine dynasty. In the first reign, he ruled from the year 144 until 161. Not much is known about his first reign. The novelist Iamblichus living in Armenia at the time of his rule describes his reign as ‘in succession to his ancestors’. This statement can also refer to his former ancestor Sohaemus of Emesa who lived in the 1st century.In 161 Vologases IV of Parthia, son of the legitimate King Mithridates IV of Parthia, dispatched his troops to seize Armenia and eradicated the Roman legions stationed in the country under the legatus Marcus Sedatius Severianus. Encouraged by the Spahbod Osroes, Parthian troops marched further West into Roman Syria. After Armenia was seized by the Parthians, Sohaemus went into political exile, living in Rome where he became a senator. Sohaemus was well known in Rome and there were rumors in some quarters that he was not the right man in the right place.These events provoked a new Roman-Parthian war and peace was made on Roman terms, with Sohaemus installed as King of Armenia by Lucius Verus in either 163 or 164. The ceremony for Sohaemus in becoming Armenian King for the second time, may have taken place in Antioch or Ephesus. This war cost Rome dearly, because the victorious army brought with it from the east a plague that spread very quickly throughout the empire. Emperor Marcus Aurelius tried to declare Armenia as a province of Rome, but the uprising of Armenians led by Prince Tiridates forced the Romans to abandon their plans. In 164, Latin coinage were struck in Armenia with the inscription L. Verus. Aug. Armeniacus and on the reverse Rex Armen(ii)s datus.The time of his second reign is unknown. Sohaemus reigned from 163 perhaps up to 186. Under Sohaemus, construction work continued in the capital Vagharshapat. A citadel, defensive fortifications, a palace complex, and several pagan temples were built in the city. Sometime during his reign, Sohaemus was expelled by elements favorable to Parthia. Sohaemus was expelled because a man called Tiridates stirred up trouble in Armenia who had murdered the King of the Osroenes and had thrust his sword in the face of Publius Martius Verus, the governor of Cappadocia when rebuked for it. Tiridates only punishment for his crimes was to be exiled to Roman Britain, by Marcus Aurelius.As a result of Sohaemus’ second expulsion from Armenia; Roman forces went to war with Parthian soldiers. Parthia retook most of their lost territory in 166, as Sohaemus from his expulsion retreated to Syria. After Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus and the Parthian rulers intervened in the conflict, the son of Vologases IV of Parthia, Vologases II assumed the Armenian throne in 186.
It has been suggested that the Garni Temple in Armenia, may have been the tomb probably belonging to Sohaemus, based on the construction date as the temple was probably built in 175. The Emesene prince, Julius Alexander may have been the possible son of Sohaemus. Sohaemus is played by Omar Sharif in the 1964 film The Fall of the Roman Empire.Taurobolic Altar (Lyon)
The Taurobolic Altar is an inscribed ancient Roman altar found in 1704 in a vineyard belonging to a certain Bourgeat on the Fourvière hill in Lyon, France. It dates to the year 160 and refers to a taurobolium carried out in Lugdunum to Cybele for the restoration of the emperor Antoninus Pius's health. It is now held at the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon.Tigidius Perennis
Sextus Tigidius Perennis (died 185) was a prefect of the Roman imperial bodyguard, known as the Praetorian Guard, during the reigns of the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. Under the latter, Perennis was the man who exercised the chief responsibilities of government in the Roman Empire. In 185 however, Perennis was implicated in a plot to overthrow the emperor by his political rival Marcus Aurelius Cleander, and executed under orders of Commodus.Titus Aurelius Fulvus
In the 1st century, there were two men with the name Titus Aurelius Fulvus. One was the paternal grandfather and the other the father to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius.Ulpia (grandmother of Hadrian)
Ulpia (about 31 - before 86) was a noble Spanish Roman woman from the gens Ulpia during the 1st century CE.
Her mother is unknown and her paternal ancestors moved from Italy and settled in Italica (near modern Seville, Spain) in the Roman Province of Hispania Baetica in the late 3rd century BC. Her brother was Marcus Ulpius Traianus, who served as a distinguished Roman general and was the first person in her family to enter the Roman Senate. He was the biological father of Trajan, adopted son and heir of the deified Nerva.
Ulpia married a Roman Senator called Publius Aelius Hadrianus Marullinus, a wealthy and aristocratic Hispanic Roman from the gens Aelia. Ulpia and Marullinus had at least a son, Publius Aelius Hadrianus Afer, who would become a distinct Roman soldier and politician. He married a noble Spanish Roman woman called Domitia Paulina and the couple had Aelia Domitia Paulina and Publius Aelius Hadrianus or Hadrian, who was adopted by Trajan and became his heir.
Through Ulpia's brother, she was the paternal aunt to Ulpia Marciana and Trajan. She was also a great maternal aunt to Marciana's daughter Salonina Matidia and a great-great maternal aunt to Roman Empress Vibia Sabina, who married his grandson Hadrian.Vibia Aurelia Sabina
Vibia Aurelia Sabina (170 AD – before 217 AD) was a Roman Princess. She was the youngest daughter and child born to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and Roman Empress Faustina the Younger. She was a sister to Roman Empress Lucilla and Roman Emperor Commodus. Her maternal grandparents were Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius and Roman Empress Faustina the Elder and her paternal grandparents were Domitia Lucilla and praetor Marcus Annius Verus.
Nerva–Antonine family tree
Except where otherwise noted, the notes below indicate that an individual's parentage is as shown in the above family tree.
Roman emperors by epoch