Aelius (Caesar AD 136-138). Copper as Rome, AD 137
Obverse: L AELIVS CAESAR, bare head right
Reverse: PANNO-NIA S-C across field, TR POT COS II,
Pannonia standing right,
head left, holding vexillum in right hand and pulling
swath of drapery across legs with left hand
BMCRE 1936. Cohen 25. RIC 1071
Lucius Aelius Caesar (January 13, 101 January 1, 138) was the father
of Emperor Lucius Verus. In the last year of his life, he was adopted by
Hadrian and named heir to the throne. He died before Hadrian and never
attained the throne.
Life and family:
Aelius was born with the name Lucius Ceionius Commodus he became Lucius
Aelius Caesar upon his adoption as Hadrian's heir. He is sometimes
referred to as Lucius Aelius Verus, though this name is not attested outside
the Augustan History and probably the result of a manuscript error.
The young Lucius Ceionius Commodus was of the gens Ceionia. His father,
also named Lucius Ceionius Commodus (the author of the Augustan History
adds the cognomen Verus), was consul in 106, and his paternal grandfather,
also of the same name, was consul in 78. His paternal ancestors were
from Etruria, and were of consular rank. His mother was a Roman woman
called Fundania Plautia. The Augustan History states that his maternal
grandfather and his maternal ancestors were of consular rank.
Before 130, Lucius Commodus married Avidia Plautia, a well-connected Roman
noblewoman who was the daughter of the senator Gaius Avidius Nigrinus.
Plautia bore Lucius two sons and two daughters, who were:
- Lucius Ceionius
Commodus the Younger He would become Lucius Verus, and would co-rule
as Roman Emperor with Marcus Aurelius from 161 until his own death in 169.
Verus would marry Lucilla, the second daughter of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina
- Gaius Avidius Ceionius
Commodus he is known from an inscription found in Rome.
- Ceionia Fabia
at the time of Marcus Aurelius's adoption, she was betrothed, as part of
the adoption conditions, to him. Shortly after Antoninus Pius' ascension,
Pius came to Aurelius and asked him to end his engagement to Fabia, instead
marrying Antoninus Pius daughter Faustina the Younger; Faustina had originally
been planned by Hadrian to wed Lucius Verus.
- Ceionia Plautia
Heir to Hadrian:
For a long time, the emperor Hadrian had considered Lucius Julius Ursus
Servianus as his unofficial successor. As Hadrian's reign drew to
a close, however, he changed his mind. Although the emperor certainly
thought Servianus capable of ruling as an emperor after Hadrian's own death,
Servianus, by now in his nineties, was clearly too old for the position.
Hadrian's attentions turned to Servianus' grandson, Gnaeus Pedanius Fuscus
Salinator II. Hadrian promoted the young Salinator, his great-nephew,
gave him special status in his court, and groomed him as his heir.
Servianus, who always cherished the idea that his youthful grandson would
one day succeed his brother-in-law, was overjoyed.
However, in late 136, Hadrian almost died from a haemorrhage. Convalescent
in his villa at Tivoli, he decided to change his mind, and selected Lucius
Ceionius Commodus as his new successor, adopting him as his son.
The selection was done invitis omnibus, "against the wishes of everyone";
in particular, Servianus and the young Salinator became very angry at Hadrian
and wished to challenge him over the adoption. Even today, the rationale
for Hadrian's sudden switch is still unclear. It is possible Salinator
went so far as to attempt a coup against Hadrian in which Servianus was
implicated. In order to avoid any potential conflict in the succession,
Hadrian ordered the deaths of Salinator and Servianus.
Although Lucius had no military experience, he had served as a senator,
and had powerful political connections; however, he was in poor health.
As part of his adoption, Lucius Ceionius Commodus took the name Lucius
After a year's stationing on the Danube frontier, Aelius returned to Rome
to make an address to the senate on the first day of 138. The night
before the speech, however, he grew ill, and died of a haemorrhage late
the next day. On 24 January 138, Hadrian selected Aurelius Antoninus
(September 19, 86 March 7, 161) as his new successor.
After a few days' consideration, Antoninus accepted. He was adopted
on 25 February. As part of Hadrian's terms, Antoninus adopted both
Lucius Aelius's son (properly called Lucius Ceionius Commodus the Younger)
and Hadrian's great-nephew by marriage, Marcus Aurelius (April 26, 121
March 17, 180). Marcus became M. Aelius Aurelius Verus; Lucius
became L. Aelius Aurelius Commodus. At Hadrian's request, Antoninus'
daughter Faustina was betrothed to Lucius.
Marcus Aurelius later co-ruled with Lucius Verus as joint Roman Emperors,
until Lucius Verus died in 169, after which Aurelius was sole ruler until
his own death in 180.
The major sources for the life of Aelius are patchy and frequently unreliable.
The most important group of sources, the biographies contained in the Historia
Augusta, claim to be written by a group of authors at the turn of the 4th
century, but are in fact written by a single author (referred to here as
"the biographer") from the later 4th century (c. 395).
The later biographies and the biographies of subordinate emperors and usurpers
are a tissue of lies and fiction, but the earlier biographies, derived
primarily from now-lost earlier sources (Marius Maximus or Ignotus), are
much more accurate. For Aelius, the biographies of Hadrian, Antoninus
Pius, Marcus and Lucius Verus are largely reliable, but that of Avidius
Cassius, and even Lucius Aelius' own, is full of fiction.
Some other literary sources provide specific detail: the writings of the
physician Galen on the habits of the Antonine elite, the orations of Aelius
Aristides on the temper of the times, and the constitutions preserved in
the Digest and Codex Justinianus on Marcus' legal work. Inscriptions
and coin finds supplement the literary sources.
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