The Co-Emperors’ Day Thread

You may have heard of the “Five Good Emperors”, or, alternatively, the “Nerva-Antonine Dynasty”. That numbering really ought to be amended to Six.

As part of a succession of Roman Emperors, each having been successively adopted as son by the prior ruler, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus were commanded to be adopted by Antoninus Pius so that then-Emperor Hadrian would ensure the succession he wanted (having gone through several heirs, one being Lucius Verus’s biological father). Pius agreed, but after Hadrian’s death, despite raising the two boys as his own, focused more on grooming Marcus Aurelius to the purple than Lucius Verus (going so far as having Aurelius betrothed to Pius’s daughter, rather than Verus as Hadrian had planned).

However, upon the death of Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius ensured Hadrian’s initial succession wishes by insisting his brother become co-Emperor with him; he would not accept the purple without him. And so it was that, for one of the few occasions in the Empire’s history, a peaceful co-Emperorship existed between brothers and Emperors.

Whereas Marcus Aurelius was renowned as a Stoic philosopher, Lucius Verus became a brilliant military commander, leading troops to victory in the East and governing there while Marcus concerned himself with the Italian homeland. At times, they may have quarreled, but Verus never considered trying to overthrow his brother — they were brothers, their rule enshrined in the same act, and their separate strengths and weaknesses together formed an indomitable partnership.

Unfortunately, Lucius Verus died young, of the “Antonine plague”. Marcus Aurelius reigned several more decades, without his brother… and, in a double-unfortunality, set his natural son, Commodus, on the throne to succeed him after his death. Commodus, notoriously, became the first tally-mark in official histories of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

But, for a glorious moment, two adopted brothers, bonds thicker even than natural blood, ruled that Empire.


Discuss whatever you’d like. It’s Woden’s Day.