When Roman Emperor Hadrian died on 10 July 138, he left, as did his predecessors, an adopted son as his successor, Antoninus Pius.

By Jean Marie Carey

When Roman Emperor Hadrian died on 10 July 138, he left, as did his predecessors, an adopted son as his successor, Antoninus Pius. On 24 January 138 Hadrian had announced that he intended to adopt the 51 year old antoninus as his son and heir, and on 25 February 138 the adoption took place.

This condition was attached to his adoption, that as Hadrian took Antoninus as his son, so he in turn should take Marcus Antoninus, later to become Marcus Aurelius, his wife’s nephew, and Lucius Verus. 

This dual ceremony allowed Marcus to be groomed as Antoninus’s successor. Later, Marcus’s claim to the throne became even more secure when he married Antoninus’s daughter and only surviving child, Faustina the Younger. While Hadrian had wanted the much younger Marcus Aurelius to succeed him immediately, the dying emperor realized Marcus was far too young and chose instead the highly valued and elderly Antoninus who was thought to be “safe” until the young Marcus matured.

Not only did antoninus live a lot longer than anyone expected, but he also proved to be a capable emperor. Antoninus Pius completed many of Hadrian’s construction projects and built monuments which included the Temple of the Deified Hadrian and, in memory of his wife, the Temple of the Deified Faustina, leaving Hadrian’s many memorials to his deceased beloved Antinous intact. He also repaired many public buildings, including the decaying Colosseum. When Antonius died in 161 of a fever, supposedly after a meal of Alpine cheese. His reign would be remembered as one of relative peace. He was laid to rest in Hadrian’s Mausoleum next to his wife and sons. The reins of power were handed over to his adopted sons Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus.

Reference: Donald L. Wasson. Antoninus Pius” in The Ancient History Encyclopedia. 5 June 2013.


Carlo Marchionni, Interior, Villa Torlonia, Rome, Hall of Antinous, fireplace with Hadrianic relief of Antinous, 1755-1762. John A. Pinto Collection, Princeton University, Department of Art and Archaeology.

Roman Coin of Antoninus Pius, Emperor of Rome, 138-161. University of California, San Diego

Antico (Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi), Emperor Antoninus Pius, 1519-22. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nr. 65.202.

Baths of Antoninus, Built between 146 and 162 in the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius. Carthage , Tunisia. Shmuel Magal, Sites and Photos.

Portrait of Hadrian, ca. 130, marble from Thaaoa. Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence.


Further Reading: Michael Grant. The Antonines: The Roman Empire in Transition. Reissue. London: Routledge, 2016. 

Thorsten Opper. Hadrian: Empire and Conflict. London: The British Museum, 2008. 

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