Faustina II (130–175 CE)

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Faustina II (130–175 ce)

Roman empress and wife of Marcus Aurelius. Name variations: Annia Galeria Faustina; Faustina Minor; Faustina the Younger; (Greek) Faustina Nea (Faustina the Younger); titled Augusta (Revered), Pia (Pious), Mater Castrorum (Mother of the Camp), and, after her death, Diva (Deified). Pronunciation: Fow-STEEN-ah. Born in 130 ce; died in 175 ce in Halala, later renamed Faustinopolis, in Asia Minor; daughter of the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (r. 138–161) and Faustina I (c. 90–141 ce); married her cousin Marcus Annius Verus, later the emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161–180), in 145; children—14:Domitia Faustina (b. 147); the twins T. Aurelius Antoninus and T. Aelius Aurelius (b. 149); Lucilla (Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla, b. 150); Faustina III (Annia Aurelia Galeria Faustina, b. 151), T. Aelius Antoninus (b. 152); Fadilla (Arria Fadilla, b. 159);Cornificia (b. 160); her second set of twins T. Aurelius Fulvus (also called Antoninus) and the future emperor L. Aurelius Commodus (b. August 31, 161); M. Annius Verus (b. 162); Hadrianus (date of birth unknown);Vibia Aurelia Sabina (b. 166); and an unnamed son (date of birth unknown).

Reared in the imperial household (138–145 ce); betrothed in childhood to Lucius Aurelius Commodus (later the co-emperor Verus) but married Marcus Aurelius (April 145); given the title Augusta by the Senate (147); gave birth to 14 children (147–166); accompanied Marcus to war (174); implicated in the revolt of Avidius Cassius (174); died in Halala, later renamed Faustinopolis, in Asia Minor while accompanying Marcus on campaign, and deified by the Senate (175); commemorated on scores of surviving inscriptions, coin-issues, and statues throughout the Roman Empire (147–176).

Faustina II was born in 130 ce to Faustina I and T. Aurelius Fulvus Boionus Antoninus, the future emperor Antoninus Pius, during the reign of Hadrian. She had two older brothers who died in infancy and an older sister, Aurelia Fadilla , who married but died sometime before 138.

Faustina II lived during a historical moment of stability in the political superstructure of the Roman Empire. Civil wars and the ravages of so-called bad emperors had taught the upper classes in Roman society to look for a smooth and orderly succession to the throne. There was a concerted attempt by ruling circles in Rome in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries to peacefully manage the transfer of imperial power. As part of this effort, the emperor Hadrian first adopted Aelius Verus as his coruler, presumably with the intention that he would succeed him as effortlessly as Hadrian had succeeded his predecessor Trajan. After Aelius Verus' inconvenient death Hadrian adopted Faustina's father, Antoninus Pius, who simultaneously adopted Marcus Aurelius. As a result, the young Faustina was destined to play a part in the dynastic plans of Hadrian. Hadrian betrothed her to Aelius Verus' son, Lucius Verus, under the assumption that the younger Verus would eventually govern the empire. After Hadrian's death, her father betrothed her to Marcus, "because," as the anonymous Augustan History (Life of Verus 2. 3) says, "… Verus seemed too young."

All we can hazard about her childhood is that she was raised from her earliest years to be an empress; she must have been aware of the role for which Hadrian and Pius had cast her. At age 15, Faustina married the 24-year-old Marcus in what the Augustan History describes as a "most famous celeberrimas" (wedding celebration), complete with a bonus to the army (Life of Antoninus Pius 10. 3).

We can also assume without difficulty that the presence of children in this woman's life must have been outstanding: she had 14 in at least 21 years. The birth of her first child impelled the Senate to grant to her the title of Augusta in 147 (even before her husband was Augustus, i. e., the ruling emperor), the highest formal designation that a woman could obtain in Roman society. Her role as mother was celebrated publicly on coins and inscriptions: in 159, at the birth of her daughter Fadilla , coins issued depict her as Juno Lucina, the goddess of childbirth, and in 160 coins with her image bear the title "Fertility of the Augusta" (Fecunditas Augustae).

The premature deaths of at least six of her children were undoubtedly a source of pain, although it should be remembered that infant mortality was much higher in ancient Rome (even among the wealthy land-owning classes) than in modern society, and that a Roman woman might well have expected to lose such a high proportion of her children. Her husband writes in his letters to Fronto of his need to contain his sadness at the sickness and death of his children, and there are no indications in surviving documents that Faustina was more distant from family life.

But there are few written sources with which to reconstruct with certainty her life or character. In a letter to Fronto in 147 (Correspondence with Marcus Aurelius Caesar 5. 26) the future emperor remarked that he was disturbed by a fever of Faustina's but that she appeared content in his presence and conducted herself "obtemperanter" (obediently). Some two or three decades later in his famous Meditations, her husband called her "obedient, affectionate, and simple." (1. 17. 18). In 162, a great-aunt of Faustina's died and left a large fortune to hangers-on and not to the empress, her legitimate heir. This put the imperial family in the position of seeming avaricious if it pressed its claims. Marcus and, it is clear, Faustina decided not to do so. Faustina even refused to buy a famous string of pearls from the estate should it come to auction (Fronto, Correspondence with Marcus Aurelius Imperator 2. 1.).

The less dependable Augustan History (Life of Commodus Antoninus 1. 3) records that in 161 when she was pregnant with the twins Commodus and Fulvus, Faustina dreamed that she had given birth to two serpents, one of which was stronger than the other. Commodus did indeed outlive Fulvus to become one of the more sociopathic emperors. According to the Augustan History (7-9), Commodus was abusive and violent from boyhood. Romans would naturally have attributed this to innate qualities inherited from his parents and therefore blame Faustina and allege that she had affairs with gladiators. Commodus' conduct, such as ordering a slave who had drawn his bath too cool to be burned alive, might reflect badly on Faustina and her husband as far as the behavior of children in the imperial household went. Her son's behavior indicates the potentially violent nature of imperial power in which Faustina herself had been raised and lived.

An important change occurred in Faustina's life when her father died and her husband assumed full control of the empire in 161. She was now the reigning Augusta. In addition, her father left her an enormous fortune but willed the revenue from this to the state. Inscriptions on several surviving bricks attest to the existence of landed estates that belonged to Faustina and to both Faustina and Marcus. We also hear of time spent on the paternal estate at Lanuvium, south of Rome.

Domitia Faustina (b. 147)

Roman noblewoman. Born November 30, 147; daughter of Faustina II (130–175 ce) and Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor (r. 161–180).

Cornificia (b. 160)

Roman noblewoman. Born in 160 ce; daughter of Faustina II (130–175 ce) and Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor (r. 161–180).

Vibia Aurelia Sabina (b. 166)

Roman noblewoman. Born in 166 ce; daughter of Faustina II (130–175 ce) and Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor (r. 161–180).

Aurelia Fadilla (d. before 138)

Roman noblewoman. Died before 138; daughter of Faustina I (c. 90–141 ce) and Antoninus Pius (r. 138–161); sister of Faustina II (130–175 ce); married.

Fadilla (b. 159)

Roman noblewoman. Name variations: Arria Fadilla. Born in 159; daughter of Faustina II (130–175 ce) and Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor (r. 161–180).

At this time, the empire was going through enormous changes, the implications of which are not fully clear today and were probably even less apparent to Faustina and her contemporaries. Her husband Marcus Aurelius was the last of the five so-called good emperors, universally praised by extant Greek and Roman writers as temperate, modest, and merciful. But the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) that had allowed the upper classes to plunder neighboring peoples and exploit their slaves and the free poor undisturbed (and relatively free from depredations by emperors) was coming to an end even during the lifetime of Faustina. The empire was passing from what elite writers regarded as a golden age to one of "iron and rust" (Cassius Dio, Roman History 71. 36. 4). After 164, the western provinces of the empire were stricken with a plague that thinned the population and may have had ramifications on the labor force. The Germanic tribes of the Quadi and Macromanni approached Italy in 169. The emperor then began a war that was to last for the next six years. Greece was invaded and Egypt was shaken by a rebellion. During all of this, Marcus' health seems to have been poor: he may have had an ulcer and appears to have become addicted to opium as a pain reliever.

Leaders and soldiers are accustomed to crush others if they themselves are not crushed.

—Faustina II

Exactly how these conditions affected Faustina we cannot tell. Her husband was absent from Rome now for long periods. She surely had huge responsibilities there as mother of the imperial family, but we have only incidental glimpses of her. She opposed the marriage of her daughter Lucilla , the widow of the co-emperor Verus and an Augusta, to Claudius Pompeianus, whose father had not even been a senator, although the marriage took place since Marcus wished it. We also know that Faustina accompanied Marcus to the northern front, probably in what is now modern Hungary, at least by 174 when she is titled Mater Castrorum (Mother of the Camp).

In 174, one of Marcus' leading generals in the eastern provinces, Avidius Cassius, revolted. Faustina's role in this revolt and her relationship to Cassius has been debated since ancient times. The Augustan History cites some writers as saying that she saluted Avidius Cassius as emperor but quickly seeks to deny this charge by reproducing excerpts of correspondence between Faustina and Marcus that clear her of compliance in the revolt and, in fact, show her stridently demanding punishment for Cassius and his accomplices (Life of Avidius Cassius 9. 5–11). These letters are regarded as spurious today, but even so they have contributed to an image in antiquity of Faustina as a political player, one more determined and less humane than her husband.

Despite these forgeries, we should note that the Greco-Roman writer Cassius Dio (Roman History 71. 22. 3–23. 1) admits the possibility that Faustina, frightened at her husband's failing health and wishing to avoid the dangers that his death might bring to her and her children, saw in Avidius Cassius a potential savior. In any case, the revolt was quickly crushed. Faustina died the next year on campaign with Marcus in the village of Halala at the foot of the Taurus mountain in the south of modern Turkey. The cause was natural, although Cassius Dio avers to the possibility of suicide. In her memory Marcus erected a temple in the area, founded the town of colonia Faustiniana, also called Faustinopolis, and established a charitable organization for girls called the puellae Faustinianae (Faustianian girls). The Senate deified her in 175, and she was laid to rest in the mausoleum of Hadrian in Rome.

Faustina seems to have been followed in her life and after by persistent rumors of infidelity to Marcus. The Augustan History reports that she was involved with her son-in-law and Marcus' colleague Lucius Verus (to whom she was originally betrothed) and that she poisoned him because he had betrayed the affair to Lucilla, who was her daughter and his wife (Life of Lucius Verus 10. 1–5). The history tells us that she labored heavily under a reputation for lewdness (Life of Marcus Antoninus 26. 5). In its assessment of Marcus, the history notes that it was held against this good emperor that he advanced his wife's lovers to high political offices, even after catching her breakfasting with one of them, and that he endured public ridicule in the theater where the name of one of Faustina's lovers was punned in his presence. Faustina and Marcus' son Commodus also promoted one her lovers (Life of Commodus Antoninus 8. 1.).

Lucilla (b. 150)

Roman noblewoman. Born Annia or Anna Aurelia Galeria Lucilla on February 7, 150; daughter of Faustina II (130–175 ce) and Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor (r. 161–180); married Lucius Verus; married Ti. Claudius Pompeianus.

Even if there is some fact behind these stories of which Marcus may have been aware, there was little he could do. The Augustan History reports that she was inflamed by love for a gladiator, and that when the emperor reported this to his astrologers, they advised her to bathe in gladiator's blood and then sleep with her husband. This did not satisfy her appetite, so the work claims, and she continued to seek out gladiators and sailors as lovers. When this was reported to Marcus in order that he might murder or divorce her, he said, "If I send away my wife, I must also repudiate her dowry." Her dowry, of course, was the Roman Empire (Life of Marcus Antoninus 19. 2–4).

Little appears to have been written concerning Faustina in the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, although Antonio de Guevara mentions her in Book II of his 1528 Golden Book of Marcus Aurelius. Faustina has occasionally appeared as a character in historical fiction as well, most recently in a detective story by Wallace Nichols, "The Case of the Empress's Jewels," in The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits, edited by Mike Ashley (NY: Carroll and Graf, 1993).

In the absence of rich or dependable sources on her life, Faustina's permanent legacy must rest with the material representations of her. Many images of her on coins and in stone remain. These have been collected and analyzed by Klaus Fittschen in his Die Bildnistypen der Faustina minor und die Fecunditas Augustae.


Augustan History. Life of Antoninus Pius 10. 3.

Augustan History. Life of Avidius Cassius 9. 5–11.

Augustan History. Life of Commodus Antoninus 8. 1.

Augustan History. Life of Lucius Verus 2. 3; 10. 1–5.

Augustan History. Life of Marcus Antoninus 19. 2–4; 26. 5.

Cassius Dio, Roman History 71. 22. 3–23. 1.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 1. 17. 18.

Marcus Cornelius Fronto. Correspondence with Marcus Aurelius Caesar 5. 26, 60.

Marcus Cornelius Fronto. Correspondence with Marcus Aurelius Imperator 2. 1.

suggested reading:

Fittschen, Klaus. Die Bildnistypen der Faustina minor und die Fecunditas Augustae: Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen. Philologisch-histrorische Klasse dritte Folge Nr. 126, Göttingen: Vandenhoek and Ruprecht, 1982.

Alexander Ingle , Lecturer in the Department of Classical Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan