The Life of Aelius


Historia Augusta


To Diocletian Augustus, his devoted servant, Aelius Spartianus, greeting:

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1

It is my purpose, Diocletian Augustus, greatest of a long line of rulers, to present to the knowledge of your Divine Majesty, not only those who have held as ruling emperors the high post which you maintain — I have done this as far as the Deified Hadrian — but also those who either have borne the name of Caesar, though never hailed emperors or Augusti, or have attained in some other fashion to the fame of the imperial power or the hope of gaining it.

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Among these I must tell first and foremost of Aelius Verus, who through his adoption by Hadrian became a member of the imperial family, and was the first to receive only the name of Caesar.

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Since I can tell but little of him, and the prologue should not be more extensive than the play, I shall now proceed to tell of the man himself.


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1

The life of Ceionius Commodus, also called Aelius Verus, adopted by Hadrian after his journey through the world, when he was burdened by old age and weakened by cruel disease, contains nothing worthy of note except that he was the first to receive only the name of Caesar.

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This was conferred, not by last will and testament, as was previously the custom, nor yet in the fashion in which Trajan was adopted, but well nigh in the same manner as in our own time your Clemency conferred the name of Caesar on Maximianus and on Constantius, as on true sons of the imperial house and heirs apparent of your August Majesty.

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Now whereas I must needs tell something of the name of the Caesars, particularly in a life of the man who received this name alone of the imperial titles, men of the greatest learning and scholarship aver that he who first received the name of Caesar was called by this name, either because he slew in battle an elephant, which in the Moorish tongue is called caesai,

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or because he was brought into the world after his mother's death and by an incision in her abdomen, or because he had a thick head of hair when he came forth from his mother's womb, or, finally, because he had bright grey eyes and was vigorous beyond the wont of human beings.

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At any rate, whatever be the truth, it was a happy fate which ordained the growth of a name so illustrious, destined to last as long as the universe endures.

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This man, then, of whom I shall write, was at first called Lucius Aurelius Verus, but on his adoption by Hadrian he passed into the family of the Aelii, that is, into Hadrian's, and received the name of Caesar.

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His father was Ceionius Commodus, whom some have called Verus, others, Lucius Aurelius, and many, Annius.

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His ancestors, all men of the highest rank, had their origin for the most part in Etruria or Faventia.

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Of his family, however, we will speak at greater length in the life of his son, Lucius Aurelius Ceionius Commodus Verus Antoninus, whom Antoninus was ordered to adopt.

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For all that pertains to the family-tree should be included in the work which deals with a prince of whom there is more to be told.


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1

Aelius Verus was adopted by Hadrian at the time when, as we have previously said, the Emperor's health was beginning to fail and he was forced to take thought for the succession.

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He was at once made praetor and appointed military and civil governor of the provinces of Pannonia; afterwards he was created consul, and then, because he had been chosen to succeed to the imperial power, he was named for a second consulship.

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On the occasion of his adoption largess was given to the populace, three hundred million sesterces were distributed among the soldiers, and races were held in the Circus; in short, nothing was omitted which could signalize the public rejoicing.

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He had, moreover, such influence with Hadrian, even apart from the affection resulting from his adoption, which seemed a firm enough tie between them, that he was the only one who obtained his every desire, even when expressed in a letter.

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Besides, in the province to which he had been appointed he was by no means a failure;

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for he carried on a campaign with success, or rather, with good fortune, and achieved the reputation, if not of a pre-eminent, at least of an average, commander.

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Verus had, however, such wretched health that Hadrian immediately regretted the adoption, and since he often considered others as possible successors, he might have removed him altogether from the imperial family had Verus chanced to live longer.

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In fact, it is reported by those who have set down in writing all the details of Hadrian's life, that the Emperor was acquainted with Verus' horoscope, and that he adopted a man whom he did not really deem suitable to govern the empire merely for the purpose of gratifying his own desires, and, some even say, of complying with a sworn agreement said to have been contracted on secret terms between himself and Verus.

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For Marius Maximus represents Hadrian as so expert in astrology, as even to assert that he knew all about his own future, and that he actually wrote down beforehand what he was destined to do on every day down to the hour of his death.


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1

Furthermore, it is generally known that he often said about Verus:

"This hero Fate will but display to earth
Nor suffer him to stay."

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And once when Hadrian was reciting these verses while strolling about in his garden, one of the literary men, in whose brilliant company he delighted, happened to be present and proceeded to add,

"The race of Rome,
Would seem to you, O Gods, to be too great,
Were such gifts to endure."

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Thereupon the Emperor remarked, it is said, "The life of Verus will not admit of these lines," and added,

"Bring lilies with a bounteous hand;
And I the while will scatter rosy blooms,
Thus doing honour to our kinsman's soul
With these poor gifts — though useless be the task."

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At the same time, too, Hadrian, it is reported, remarked with a laugh: "I seem to have adopted, not a son, but a god".

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Yet when one of these same literary men who was present tried to console him, saying: "What if a mistake has been made in casting the horoscope of this man who, as we believe, is destined to live"? Hadrian is said to have answered: "It is easy for you to say that, when you are looking for an heir to your property, not to the Empire".

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This makes it clear that he intended to choose another heir, and at the end of his life to remove Verus from the government of the state. However, fortune aided his purpose.

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For after Verus had returned from his province, and had finished composing, either by his own efforts or with the help of imperial secretaries or the rhetoricians, a very pretty speech, still read nowadays, wherein he intended to convey his thanks to his father Hadrian on the Kalends of January, he swallowed a potion which he believed would benefit him and died on that very day of January.

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All public lamentation for him was forbidden by Hadrian because it was the time for assuming the vows for the state.


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1

Verus was a man of joyous life and well versed in letters, and he was endeared to Hadrian, as the malicious say, rather by his beauty than by his character.

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In the palace his stay was but a short one; in his private life, though there was little to be commended, yet there was little to be blamed. Furthermore, he was considerate of his family, well-dressed, elegant in appearance, a man of regal beauty, with a countenance that commanded respect, a speaker of unusual eloquence, deft at writing verse, and, moreover, not altogether a failure in public life.

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His pleasures, many of which are recorded by his biographers, were not indeed discreditable but somewhat luxurious.

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For it is Verus who is said to have been the inventor of the tetrapharmacum, or rather pentapharmacum, of which Hadrian was thereafter always fond, namely, a mixture of sows' udders, pheasant, peacock, ham in pastry and wild boar.

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Of this article of food Marius Maximus gives a different account, for he calls it, not pentapharmacum, but tetrapharmacum, as we have ourselves described it in our biography of Hadrian.

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There was also another kind of pleasure, it is said, of which Verus was the inventor.

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He constructed, namely, a bed provided with four high cushions and all inclosed with a fine net; this he filled with rose-leaves, from which the white parts had been removed, and then reclined on it with his mistresses, burying himself under a coverlet made of lilies, himself anointed with perfumes from Persia.

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Some even relate that he made couches and tables of roses and lilies, these flowers all carefully cleansed, a practice, which, if not creditable, at least did not make for the destruction of the state.

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Furthermore, he always kept the Recipes of Caelius Apicius and also Ovid's Amores at his bedside, and declared that Martial, the writer of Epigrams, was his Vergil.

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Still more trivial was his custom of fastening wings on many of his messengers after the fashion of Cupids, and often giving them the names of the winds, calling one Boreas, another Notus, others Aquilo, or Circius, or some other like name, and forcing them to bear messages without respite or mercy.

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And when his wife complained about his amours with others, he said to her, it is reported: "Let me indulge my desires with others; for wife is a term of honour, not of pleasure."

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His son was Antoninus Verus, who was adopted by Marcus, or rather, with Marcus, and received an equal share with him in the imperial power.

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For these are the men who first received the name of Augustus conjointly, and whose names are inscribed in the lists of the consuls, not as two Antonini but as two Augusti.

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And such was the impression created by the novelty and the dignity of this fact that in some of the lists the order of the consuls begins with the names of these emperors.


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1

On the occasion of the adoption of Verus, Hadrian bestowed a vast sum of money on the populace and the soldiery.

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But being a rather sagacious man, when he saw that Verus was in such utterly wretched health that he could not brandish a shield of any considerable weight, he remarked, it is said:

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"We have lost the three hundred million sesterces which we paid out to the army and to the people, for we have indeed leaned against a tottering wall, and one which can hardly bear even our weight, much less that of the Empire".

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This remark, indeed, Hadrian made to his prefect,

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but the man repeated it, and as a result Aelius Caesar grew worse every day from anxiety, as a man does who had lost hope. Thereupon Hadrian appointed a successor for the prefect who had divulged the remark, wishing to give the impression that he had qualified his harsh words.

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But it profited him nothing, for Lucius Ceionius Commodus Verus Aelius Caesar (for he was called by all these names) died and was accorded an emperor's funeral, nor did he derive any benefit from his imperial position save honour at his death.

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Hadrian, then, mourned his death as might a good father, not a good emperor. For when his friends anxiously asked who could now be adopted, Hadrian is said to have replied to them: "I decided that even when Verus was still alive,"

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thereby showing either his good judgment or his knowledge of the future.

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After Verus' death Hadrian was in doubt for a time as to what he should do, but finally he adopted Antoninus, who had received the surname Pius. And he imposed on Antoninus the condition that he in turn should adopt Marcus and Verus, and should give his daughter in marriage to Verus, rather than to Marcus.

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Nor did Hadrian live long thereafter, but succumbed to weakness and illnesses of various kinds, all the while declaring that a prince ought to die, not in an enfeebled condition, but in full vigour.


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1

Hadrian gave orders that colossal statues of Verus should be set up all over the world, and in some cities he even had temples built.

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Finally, out of regard for him, Hadrian gave his son Verus (who had remained in the imperial household after his father's death) to Antoninus Pius, as I have already said, to be adopted as his son along with Marcus, treating the boy as if he were his own grandson; and he often remarked: "Let the Empire retain something of Verus".

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This indeed contradicts all that very many authors have written with regard to Hadrian's regret for his adoption of Verus, since, save for a kindly character, there was nothing in character of the younger Verus capable of shedding lustre on the imperial family.

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These are the facts about Verus Caesar which have seemed worthy of being consigned to letters.

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I was unwilling to leave him unmentioned for this reason that it is my purpose to set forth in single books the lives of all the successors of Caesar the Dictator, that is, the Deified Julius, whether they were called Caesars or Augusti or princes, and of all those who came into the family by adoption, whether it was as sons or as relatives of emperors that they were immortalized by the name of Caesar, and thereby to satisfy my own sense of justice, even if there be many who will feel no compelling need of seeking such information.