Return to Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

Antoninus Pius

Antoninus Pius was 52 years old when he was adopted by Hadrian. On that day, he in turn adopted (at Hadrian's request) Marcus Aurelius, who was seventeen. In such a way, Hadrian sought to ensure the succession to the throne. He ruled the Roman empire for twenty-three years, until his death at age 75. Portrayed as a military leader, the empire was at peace during his reign.

The Column of Antoninus Pius

A commemorative column was raised to the memory of Antoninus and Faustina on the Campus Martius by their adoptive sons and heirs, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. The red granite shaft from Aswan had been quarried in AD 106 and, after being damaged in a fire late in the eighteenth century, was reused to repair other monuments, such as the obelisk (now in Piazza di Montecitorio) that served as the gnomon of Augustus' sundial.

The sculpted marble pedestal, which is a single huge block of Italian marble, was excavated in 1703 and has been restored at least twice. On the side opposite the dedicatory inscription is the relief above. It depicts the apotheosis of the emperor, who died in AD 161, and his wife (who had died twenty years earlier) being carried heavenwards, born aloft by a winged genius and flanked by accompanying eagles. In the corners are personifications of Roma (her shield depicts Romulus and Remus), lifting her hand in salutation (or, less grandly, waving good-bye), and the Field of Mars, who holds the obelisk of the nearby horologium. On the sides of the base are similar reliefs depicting the decursio equitum, in which riders parade around a group of foot soldiers before the funeral pyre.

Dio (LVI.42.2-4) records a similar ceremony performed at the funeral of Augustus.

"When the body had been placed on the pyre in the Campus Martius, all the priests marched round it first; and then the knights, not only those belonging to the equestrian order but the others as well, and the infantry from the garrison ran round it; and they cast upon it all the triumphal decorations that any of them had ever received from him for any deed of valour. Next the centurions took torches, conformably to a decree of the senate, and lighted the pyre from beneath. So it was consumed, and an eagle released from it flew aloft, appearing to bear his spirit to heaven. When these ceremonies had been performed, all the other people departed; but Livia remained on the spot for five days in company with the most prominent knights, and then gathered up his bones and placed them in his tomb."

This handsome portrait is in the Glyptothek (Munich). The base is in a courtyard of the Vatican Museusms.

Reference: The Column of Antoninus Pius (1973) by Lise Vogel.