Antoninus Pius. 138-161 AD, Rome, c. 157-159 AD

Antoninus Pius. 138-161 AD, Rome, c. 157-159 AD


AE Sestertius, 26.51g (32mm, 12h). Laureate head right / Antoninus Pius, veiled and draped, standing left, holding volumen and dropping incense on lighted tripod to left.

References: RIC III 794; Banti 528

Grade: Good VF, green and brown patina, traces of red, small flan flaw on obverse (re1000)

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Unfortunately, very little is known about both Antoninus Pius as a man and of his reign.  This is due to the fact that the period of his reign in the most significant and authoritative chronicle of his time, Dio Cassius’[1] Roman History, has been lost to the ages.  As a result, modern scholars are forced to rely upon the dubious and unreliable Scriptores Historiae Augustae, which has been found to be riddled with inaccuracy, forgery, and outright fabrication.  As the epitomator of Dio’s work, John Xiphilinus, a Byzantine historian of the eleventh century notes:

“The account of Antoninus Pius is not found in the copies of Dio, probably because the books have met with some accident, so that the history of his reign is almost wholly unknown.”[2]

What little can be said of Antoninus Pius is that he was born in Nemausus, modern Nimes, and that his career had not been a military one, unlike his two predecessors, Hadrian and Trajan.  He was made consul in 120 ad, served as a consular judge in Italy, proconsul of Asia (Asia Minor, modern Turkey), and lived the life of a wealthy landowner in Italy, never once leaving the Italian peninsula during his reign.  It should be noted that the appellation of the name “Pius” was voted to him by the senate and was not part of Antoninus’ name at his birth (his given name was Titus Aurelius Antoninus). Furthermore, it must also be remembered that this title was not due to any particular feeling of religiosity or holiness by him or for him; in classical Latin the word “pius” means not sacred or holy, but merely dutiful and conscientious.

[1]Also known as Cassius Dio.

[2]Dio Cassius, Roman History, Epitome of Book LXX.