The Life of Lucius Verus


Historia Augusta


1

1

Most men, I well know, who have enshrined in literature and history the lives of Marcus and Verus, have made Verus known to their readers first, following the order, not of their reigns, but of their lives.

2

I, however, have thought, since Marcus began to rule first and Verus only afterwards and Verus died while Marcus still lived on, that Marcus' life should be related first, and then that of Verus.

3

Now, Lucius Ceionius Aelius Commodus Verus Antoninus — called Aelius by the wish of Hadrian, Verus and Antoninus because of his relationship to Antoninus — is not to be classed with either the good or the bad emperors.

4

For, in the first place, it is agreed that if he did not bristle with vices, no more did he abound in virtues; and, in the second place, he enjoyed, not unrestricted power, but a sovereignty on like terms and equal dignity with Marcus, from whom he differed, however, as far as morals went, both in the laxity of his principles and the excessive licence of his life.

5

For in character he was utterly ingenuous and unable to conceal a thing.

6

His real father, Lucius Aelius Verus (who was adopted by Hadrian), was the first man to receive the name of Caesar and die without reaching a higher rank.

7

His grandfathers and great-grandfathers and likewise many other of his ancestors were men of consular rank.

8

Lucius himself was born at Rome while his father was praetor, on the eighteenth day before the Kalends of January, the birthday of Nero as well — who also held the throne.

9

His father's family came mostly from Etruria, his mother's from Faventia.


2

1

Such, then, was his real ancestry; but when his father was adopted by Hadrian he passed into the Aelian family, and when his father Caesar died, he still stayed in the family of Hadrian.

2

By Hadrian he was given in adoption to Aurelius, when Hadrian, making abundant provision for the succession, wished to make Pius his son and Marcus his grandson;

3

and he was given on the condition that he should espouse the daughter of Pius. She was later given to Marcus, however, as we have related in his life, because Verus seemed too much her junior in years,

4

while Verus took to wife Marcus' daughter Lucilla. He was reared in the House of Tiberius,

5

and received instruction from the Latin grammarian Scaurinus (the son of the Scaurus who had been Hadrian's teacher in grammar), the Greeks Telephus, Hephaestio, Harpocratio, the rhetoricians Apollonius, Caninius Celer, Herodes Atticus, and the Latin Cornelius Fronto, his teachers in philosophy being Apollonius and Sextus.

6

For all of these he cherished a deep affection, and in return he was beloved by them, and this despite his lack of natural gifts in literary studies.

7

In his youth he loved to compose verses, and later on in life, orations. And, in truth, he is said to have been a better orator than poet, or rather, to be strictly truthful, a worse poet than speaker.

8

Nor are there lacking those who say that he was aided by the wit of his friends, and that the things credited to him, such as they are, were written by others; and in fact it is said that he did keep in his employ a number of eloquent and learned men.

9

Nicomedes was his tutor. He was devoted to pleasure, too care-free, and very clever, within proper bounds, at every kind of frolic, sport, and raillery.

10

At the age of seven he passed into the Aurelian family, and was moulded by the manners and influence of Marcus. He loved hunting and wrestling, and indeed all the sports of youth.

11

And at the age of three and twenty he was still a private citizen in the imperial household.


3

1

On the day when Verus assumed the toga virilis Antoninus Pius, who on that same occasion dedicated a temple to his father, gave largess to the people;

2

and Verus himself, when quaestor, gave the people a gladiatorial spectacle, at which he sat between Pius and Marcus.

3

Immediately after his quaestorship he was made consul, with Sextius Lateranus as his colleague, and a number of years later he was created consul for a second term together with his brother Marcus.

4

For a long time, however, he was merely a private citizen and lacked the marks of honour with which Marcus was continually being decorated.

5

For he did not have a seat in the senate until he was quaestor, and while travelling, he rode, not with his father, but with the prefect of the guard, nor was any title added to his name as a mark of honour save only that he was called the son of Augustus.

6

He was fond of circus-games no less than of gladiatorial spectacles. And although he was weakened by such follies of debauchery and extravagance, nevertheless Pius retained him as a son, for the reason, it seems, that Hadrian, wishing to call the youth his grandson, had ordered Pius to adopt him. Towards Pius, so far as it appears, Verus showed loyalty rather than affection.

7

Pius, however, loved the frankness of his nature and his unspoiled way of living, and encouraged Marcus to imitate him in these.

8

When Pius died, Marcus bestowed all honours upon Verus, even granting him a share in the imperial power; he made him his colleague, moreover, when the senate had presented the sovereignty to him alone.


4

1

After investing him the sovereignty, then, and installing him in the tribunician power, and after rendering him the further honour of the consulship, Marcus gave instructions that he be named Verus, transferring his own name to him, whereas previously he had been called Commodus.

2

In return for this, Verus obeyed Marcus, whenever he entered upon any undertaking, as a lieutenant obeys a proconsul or a governor obeys the emperor.

3

For, at the beginning, he addressed the soldiers in his brother's behalf as well as his own, and in consideration of the joint rule he conducted himself with dignity and observed the moral standard that Marcus had set up.

4

When he set out for Syria, however, his name was smirched not only by the licence of an unbridled life, but also by adulteries and by love-affairs with young men.

5

Besides, he is said to have been so depraved as to install a cook-shop in his home after he returned from Syria, and to repair thither after Marcus' banquets and have all manner of foul persons serve him.

6

It is said, moreover, that he used to dice the whole night through, after he had taken up that vice in Syria, and that he so rivalled Caligula, Nero, and Vitellius in their vices as to wander about at night through taverns and brothels with only a common travelling-cap for a head-covering, revel with various rowdies, and engage in brawls, concealing his identity the while; and often, they say, when he returned, his face was beaten black and blue, and once he was recognised in a tavern even though he had hidden himself.

7

It was his wont also to hurl large coins into the cook-shops and therewith smash the cups.

8

He was very fond also of charioteers, favouring the "Greens".

9

He held gladiatorial bouts rather frequently at his banquets, and after continuing the meal far into the night he would fall asleep on the banqueting-couch, so that he had to be lifted up along with the covers and carried to his bedroom.

10

He never needed much sleep, however; and his digestion was excellent.

11

But Marcus, though he was not without knowledge of these happenings, with characteristic modesty pretended ignorance for fear of censuring his brother.


5

1

One such banquet, indeed, became very notorious. This was the first banquet, it is said, at which couches were placed for twelve, although there is a very well-known saying about the proper number of those present at a banquet that "seven make a dinner, nine make a din".

2

Furthermore, the comely lads who did the serving were given as presents, one to each guest; carvers and platters, too, were presented to each, and also live animals either tame or wild, winged or quadruped, of whatever kind were the meats that were served,

3

and even goblets of murra or of Alexandrine crystal were presented to each man for each drink, as often as they drank. Besides this, he gave golden and silver and even jeweled cups, and garlands, too, entwined with golden ribbons and flowers out of season, golden vases with ointments made in the shape of perfume-boxes,

4

and even carriages, together with mules and muleteers, and trappings of silver, wherewith they might return home from the banquet.

5

The estimated cost of the whole banquet, it is reported, was six million sesterces.

6

And when Marcus heard of this dinner, they say, he groaned and bewailed the fate of the empire.

7

After the banquet, moreover, they diced until dawn.

8

And all this was done after the Parthian war, whither Marcus had sent him, it is said, either that he might commit his debaucheries away from the city and the eyes of all citizens, or that he might learn economy by his travels, or that he might return reformed through the fear inspired by war, or, finally, that he might come to realize that he was an emperor.

9

But how much good all this did is shown not only by the rest of his life, but also by this banquet of which we have just told.


6

1

Such interest did Verus take in the circus-games that frequently even in his province he despatched and received letters pertaining to them.

2

And finally, even at Rome, when he was present and seated with Marcus, he suffered many insults from the "Blues," because he had outrageously, as they maintained, taken sides against them.

3

For he had a golden statue made of the "Green" horse Volucer, and this he always carried around with him;

4

indeed, he was wont to put raisins and nuts instead of barley in this horse's manger and to order him brought to him, in the House of Tiberius,41 covered with a blanket dyed with purple, and he built him a tomb, when he died, on the Vatican Hill.

5

It was because of this horse that gold pieces and prizes first began to be demanded for horses,

6

and in such honour was this horse held, that frequently a whole peck of gold pieces was demanded for him by the faction of the "Greens".

7

When Verus set out for the Parthian war, Marcus accompanied him as far as Capua; from there on he gorged himself in everyone's villa, and in consequence he was taken sick at Canusium, becoming very ill, so that his brother hastened thither to see him.

8

And now in the course of this war there were revealed many features of Verus' life that were weak and base.

9

For while a legate was being slain, while legions were being slaughtered, while Syria meditated revolt, and the East was being devastated, Verus was hunting in Apulia, travelling about through Athens and Corinth accompanied by orchestras and singers, and dallying through all the cities of Asia that bordered on the sea, and those cities of Pamphylia and Cilicia that were particularly notorious for their pleasure-resorts.


7

1

And when he came to Antioch, there he gave himself wholly to riotous living. His generals, meanwhile, Statius Priscus, Avidius Cassius, and Martius Verus for four years conducted the war until they advanced to Babylon and Media, and recovered Armenia.

2

He, however, gained the names Armeniacus, Parthicus, and Medicus; and these were proffered to Marcus also, who was then living at Rome.

3

For four years, moreover, Verus passed his winters at Laodicea, his summers at Daphne, and the rest of the time at Antioch.

4

As far as the Syrians were concerned, he was an object for ridicule, and many of the jibes which they uttered against him on the stage are still preserved.

5

Always, during the Saturnalia and on holidays he admitted his more pampered slaves to his dining-room.

6

Finally, however, at the insistence of his staff he set out for the Euphrates,

7

but soon, in order to receive his wife Lucilla, who had been sent thither by her father Marcus, he returned to Ephesus, going there chiefly in order that Marcus might not come to Syria with her and discover his evil deeds. For Marcus had told the senate that he himself would conduct his daughter to Syria.

8

Then, after the war was finished, he assigned kingdoms to certain kings, and provinces to certain members of his staff, to be ruled,

9

and returned to Rome for a triumph, reluctantly, however, since he was leaving in Syria what almost seemed his own kingdom. His triumph he shared with his brother, and from the senate he accepted the names which he had received in the army.

10

It is said, furthermore, that he shaved off his beard while in Syria to humour the whim of a low-born mistress; and because of this many things were said against him by the Syrians.


8

1

It was his fate to seem to bring a pestilence with him to whatever provinces he traversed on his return, and finally even to Rome.

2

It is believed that this pestilence originated in Babylonia, where a pestilential vapour arose in a temple of Apollo from a golden casket which a soldier had accidentally cut open, and that it spread thence over Parthia and the whole world.

3

Lucius Verus, however, is not to blame for this so much as Cassius, who stormed Seleucia in violation of an agreement, after it had received our soldiers as friends.

4

This act, indeed, many excuse, and among them Quadratus, the historian of the Parthian war, who blames the Seleucians as the first to break the agreement.

5

Such respect did Verus have for Marcus, that on the day of the triumph, which they celebrated together, he shared with his brother the names which had been granted to himself.

6

After he had returned from the Parthian war, however, Verus exhibited less regard for his brother; for he pampered his freedmen shamefully, and settled many things without his brother's counsel.

7

Besides all this, he brought actors out of Syria as proudly as though he were leading kings to a triumph. The chief of these was Maximinus, on whom he bestowed the name Paris.

8

Furthermore, he built an exceedingly notorious villa on the Clodian Way, and here he not only reviled himself for many days at a time in boundless extravagance together with his freedmen and friends of inferior rank in whose presence he felt no shame, but he even invited Marcus.

9

Marcus came, in order to display to his brother the purity of his own moral code as worthy of respect and imitation, and for five days, staying in the same villa, he busied himself continuously with the examination of law-cases, while his brother, in the meantime, was either banqueting or preparing banquets.

10

Verus maintained also the actor Agrippus, surnamed Memphius, whom he had brought with him from Syria, almost as a trophy of the Parthian war, and named Apolaustius.

11

He had brought with him, too, players of the harp and the flute, actors and jesters from the mimes, jugglers, and all kinds of slaves in whose entertainment Syria and Alexandria find pleasure, and in such numbers, indeed, that he seemed to have concluded a war, not against Parthians, but against actors.


9

1

This diversity in their manner of life, as well as many other causes, bred dissensions between Marcus and Verus — or so it was bruited about by obscure rumours although never established on the basis of manifest truth.

2

But, in particular, this incident was mentioned: Marcus sent a certain Libo, a cousin of his, as his legate to Syria, and there Libo acted more insolently than a respectful senator should, saying that he would write to his cousin if he happened to need any advice. But Verus, who was there in Syria, could not suffer this, and when, a little later, Libo died after a sudden illness accompanied by all the symptoms of poisoning, it seemed probable to some people, though not to Marcus, that Verus was responsible for his death; and this suspicion strengthened the rumours of dissensions between the Emperors.

3

Verus' freedmen, furthermore, had great influence with him, as we related in the Life of Marcus, namely Geminas and Agaclytus.

4

To the latter of these he gave the widow of Libo in marriage against the wishes of Marcus; indeed, when Verus celebrated the marriage ceremony Marcus did not attend the banquet.

5

Verus had other unscrupulous freedmen as well, Coedes and Eclectus and others.

6

All of these Marcus dismissed after Verus' death, under pretext of doing them honour, with the exception of Eclectus, and he afterwards slew Marcus' son, Commodus.

7

When the German war broke out, the two Emperors went to the front together, for Marcus wished neither to send Lucius to the front alone, nor yet, because of his debauchery, to leave him in the city.

8

When they had come to Aquileia, they proceeded to cross the Alps, though this was contrary to Lucius' desire; for as long as they remained in Aquileia he did nothing but hunt and banquet while Marcus made all the plans.

9

As far as this war was concerned, we have very fully discussed in the Life of Marcus what was accomplished by the envoys of the barbarians when they sued for peace and what was accomplished by our generals.

10

When the war in Pannonia was settled, they returned to Aquileia at Lucius' insistence, and then, because he yearned for the pleasures of the city, they hastened cityward.

11

But not far from Altinum, Lucius, while in his carriage, was suddenly stricken with the sickness which they call apoplexy, and after he had been set down from his carriage and bled, he was taken to Altinum, and here he died, after living for three days unable to speak.


10

1

There was gossip to the effect that he had violated his mother-in‑law Faustina. And it is said that his mother-in‑law killed him treacherously by having poison sprinkled on his oysters, because he had betrayed to the daughter the amour he had had with the mother.

2

However, there arose also that other story related in the Life of Marcus, one utterly inconsistent with the character of such a man.

3

Many, again, fastened the crime of his death upon his wife, since Verus had been too complaisant to Fabia, and her power his wife Lucilla could not endure.

4

Indeed, Lucius and his sister Fabia did become so intimate that gossip went so far as to claim that they had entered into a conspiracy to make away with Marcus,

5

and that when this was betrayed to Marcus by the freedman Agaclytus, Faustina circumvented Lucius in fear that he might circumvent her.

6

Verus was well-proportioned in person and genial of expression. His beard was allowed to grow long, almost in the style of the barbarians; he was tall, and stately in appearance, for his forehead projected somewhat over his eyebrows.

7

He took such pride in his yellow hair, it is said, that he used to sift gold-dust on his head in order that his hair, thus brightened, might seem even yellower.

8

He was somewhat halting in speech, a reckless gambler, ever of an extravagant mode of life, and in many respects, save only that he was not cruel or given to acting, a second Nero.

9

Among other articles of extravagance he had a crystal goblet, named Volucer after that horse of which he had been very fond, that surpassed the capacity of any human draught.


11

1

He lived forty-two years, and, in company with his brother, reigned eleven. His body was laid in the Tomb of Hadrian, where Caesar, his real father, was also buried.

2

There is a well-known story, which Marcus' manner of life will not warrant, that Marcus handed Verus part of a sow's womb which he had poisoned by cutting it with a knife smeared on one side with poison.

3

But it is wrong even to think of such a deed in connection with Marcus, although the plans and deeds of Verus may have well deserved it;

4

nor shall we leave the matter undecided, but rather reject it discarded and disproved, since from the time of Marcus onward, with the exception of your Clemency, Diocletian Augustus, not even flattery, it seems, has been able to fashion such an emperor.