Lucius Verus › Sulla » Ancient origins

Articles and Definitions › Contents

  • Lucius Verus › Who Was
  • Sulla › Who Was

Ancient civilizations › Historical and archaeological sites

Lucius Verus › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Donald L. Wasson
published on 28 November 2016
Bust of Lucius Verus (Jehosua)

Lucius Verus was Roman emperor from 161 to 169 CE. Lucius Verus was Marcus Aurelius ' adopted brother and co-emperor, a man whose time on the throne is overshadowed by the reign of the last of the Five Good Emperors. In the final years of the Pax Romana, a period of almost two centuries of relative peace and stability following the rule of Augustus, a young Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, came to the throne in 161 CE, and for the first time in the empire ’s short history he chose to have someone rule at his side; his adopted brother Lucius Verus.


The future emperor Lucius Ceionius Commodus was born in 130 CE and raised in Rome, the eldest son of the one-time consul Lucius Aelius Caesar. Since the childless Emperor Hadrian (117 CE – 138 CE) was without either a successor or heir, he chose, against the wishes of many, the 35-year-old Aelius to be his adopted son in 136 CE. Aelius was immediately dispatched to the Roman province of Pannonia (located to the north along the Danube) to serve as governor. Unfortunately, however, Aelius died of tuberculosis suddenly in January of 138 CE. In his place, the emperor opted to adopt his second choice for an heir, Aurelius Antoninus Pius, also known as Antoninus the Dutiful. Although Hadrian wanted the much younger Marcus Aurelius to succeed him, he realized Marcus was far too young and instead chose the highly respected but elderly Antoninus – many thought him to be harmless – until the young Marcus matured. To ensure both an orderly line of succession and as a condition of his adoption, Antoninus subsequently adopted both his nephew Marcus and Aelius's son Lucius. The relatively young Lucius would henceforth become known as Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus; he would later drop Commodus and add Verus after ascending to the throne.
Like his brother, Lucius was not new to the Roman political scene, having served as a quaestor in 153 CE and consul in both 154 and 161 CE – the latter was with Marcus. So, in March of 161 CE, after a 23-year reign, the death of Emperor Antoninus Pius brought Marcus Aurelius to the imperial throne, assuming the titles of Augustus and Pontifex Maximus. Out of respect for his adopted father's wishes, he immediately appealed to the Roman Senate to name his 'brother' Lucius to rule at his side, bestowing upon him tribunician powers as well as the titles of both Caesar and Augustus. Under Antoninus, trade and commerce had flourished, and his strict control of finances allowed for a state surplus by the time of his death. However, while the rule of Antoninus Pius had seen years of peace and economic stability, the reign of Marcus and Lucius experienced almost constant warfare in the north and east as well as a devastating plague that swept through the entire empire.
Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius

Aside from their adoption, marriage secured both men to the throne. Marcus wisely divorced his first wife and married Faustina the Younger, the daughter of Antoninus, while Lucius married Marcus' daughter Annia Aurelius Galeria Lucilla at Ephesus in 164 CE. In his Roman History, the historian Cassius Dio wrote,
Marcus Antoninus, the philosopher… was frail in body himself and devoted the greater part of his time to letters.… Lucius, on the other hand, was a vigorous man of younger years and better suited for military enterprises, Therefore, Marcus made him his son-in-law by marrying him to his daughter Lucilla and sent him to conduct the war against the Parthians. (Vol. IX, 3)
After Lucius' abrupt death in 169 CE, she would marry the military commander Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus. Unfortunately, she became involved in a plot against her brother, the Emperor Commodus (Marcus' son), and was exiled and later executed.


Almost immediately upon assuming the throne, trouble – a dilemma their adopted father had been able to avoid – was brewing in the east. Lacking the calm nature and diplomatic skill of Antoninus Pius, the two new emperors became embroiled in the Parthian War. The war began over the control of Armenia, a territory that Emperor Trajan had named a Roman protectorate or client-state. The Parthian king Vologases IV (148-192 CE) expelled the Roman governor and placed a man named Pacorus on the throne. The Parthians then quickly defeated the Roman governors of Cappadocia and Syria. Although it would take him nine months to get there, Lucius was sent eastward in command of the Roman forces. The costly delay was blamed by some on illness while others pointed to his 'pleasure-loving' temperament. The authors of the Historia Augusta wrote:
… 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.(207)
When he finally arrived, Lucius spent much of his time at a resort outside Antioch. Thankfully, the Roman generals were more than capable, eventually opposing and defeating the Parthians. The commander Statius Priscus invaded Armenia, capturing and destroying the capital city of Artaxata while the new governor of Syria, Gaius Avidius Cassius, and commander Publius Verus moved further eastward into Mesopotamia, conquering the cities of Odessa, Nisibis, and Nicephorium. The war finally ended in 166 CE with the capture and sack of the cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon; in Ctesiphon, the royal palace of the Parthian king was completely destroyed. Afterwards, Mesopotamia would remain a Roman client-state.
Triumph of Marcus Aurelius

Triumph of Marcus Aurelius

Despite his limited involvement in the war, Lucius was hailed with a triumph (the first since Trajan) upon his return to Rome in October 166 CE, a triumph he would share with his brother. In addition, he and his brother (who had no involvement in the war) were given the additional titles of Armeniacus, Parthicus, and Medicus. Both brothers were also hailed as Pater Patriae(father of the country). The war against the Parthians would serve as a prelude for their move against the Germanic tribes to the north.



Problems northward along the Danube River drew the attention of Marcus and Lucius after the offensive in the east ended;preparations were made to move towards Germania in 167 CE. Unfortunately, something unforeseen had arrived in Rome with the returning army from Mesopotamia, a plague known forever in history as the Antonine Plague. The plague would spread throughout Asia Minor, Greece, and into Italy, eventually making its way northward to the Rhine. Many years later, it would be blamed for a partial weakening of the empire. The plague, together with a shortage of food, delayed the brothers, so when they finally arrived to do battle, the invaders had withdrawn. The plague would claim ten percent (some claim 30 percent) of the empire's population. The Roman physician Galen (129-199 CE) described its symptoms as diarrhea, high fever, and pustules on the skin. It was later believed to have been smallpox.
While Marcus was demanding a drive across the Alps, his brother was pushing for a return to Rome. They took up winter quarters at Aquileia. As the plague spread among the army, they decided it was best to return to Rome and set out for the city in 169 CE; however, at Altinum, Lucius became ill, suffered a stroke and died as a supposed victim of the plague. His body was returned to Rome where he was buried in Hadrian's mausoleum alongside Antoninus Pius, later to be deified. To protect the empire from the plague Marcus, always the Stoic philosopher, appealed to the Roman god Apollo at his oracle at Claros in eastern Asia Minor to dispel the demons.
Roman Emperor Lucius Verus

Roman Emperor Lucius Verus


Marcus would rule until 180 CE when his son Commodus took the throne. Marcus' death brought an end to the Roman peace, for he was the last of what history calls the Five Good Emperors – Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. Those emperors who followed for the next century would witness a time of both chaos and decline. Commodus, the first of these inept emperors, was not only unscrupulous and corrupt but also power-hungry, seeing himself as the reincarnation of the Greek god Heracles ( Hercules ). Although Commodus considered his reign a Roman golden age, his lack of concern for political matters together with his life of leisure and extreme paranoia brought about what others might consider a reign of terror. He was eventually poisoned (192 CE) and when that failed choked to death.
The reign of Lucius Verus became lost within his brother's time on the throne. While he participated, albeit in name only, in the Parthian conflict, his eight years of rule brought him little glory. His was the adopted son of an adopted son, the son of one of the better emperors, Antoninus Pius. While his name is almost completely lost to history, having demonstrated little in military acumen, he is best known for simply falling victim to the plague.

Sulla › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Donald L. Wasson
published on 20 December 2016
Sulla (Carole Raddato)

Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-78 BCE) was a ruthless military commander, who first distinguished himself in the Numidian Warunder the command of Gaius Marius. His relationship with Marius soured during the conflicts that would follow and lead to a rivalry which would only end with Marius' death. Sulla eventually seized control of the Republic, named himself dictator, and after eliminating his enemies, initiated crucial reforms. Believing he had left Rome for the better, he retreated to his villa in 79 BCE, but his reign could not forestall the fall of the Republic.


Lucius Cornelius Sulla was born in 138 BCE to an old but not prominent patrician family. His only ancestor of any importance had been expelled from the Roman Senate. Unfortunately, the death of his mother would leave him penniless. However, he did not allow this misfortune to stop him and, while his career in politics began somewhat late, he still embarked on the usual political path, the cursus honorum. With success in the military and a timely inheritance, he quickly rose through the ranks of quaestor, praetor, and eventually consul. One historian said he appeared to be a man in a hurry.
His political career began in the usual manner when he was chosen by the commander and consul Gaius Marius to serve as his quaestor. Always believing himself to be lucky, it was in the Numidian War (112-105 BCE) where Sulla would distinguish himself when he helped secure the capture and surrender of the Numidian king Jugurtha. Because the king's father had assisted Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in the Second Punic War, Jugurtha and his family had long been enemies of Rome.


With the surrender of Jugurtha and the end of the war, Marius returned to Rome in triumph where he would be elected consul unprecedentedly for every year 104-101 BCE. After a brief celebration of his triumph, Marius marched northward – Sulla would join him – where he would defeat rebellious Germanic tribes at Aix-en-Provence (102 BCE) and Vercellae (101 BCE). Despite these victories over Jugurtha and the Germanic tribes, the two men would soon become archenemies, possibly because of jealousy on the part of Marius. The historian Plutarch in his Lives spoke of this jealousy and how Sulla had reveled in it after their return to Rome.
For this Marius triumphed, but the glory of the enterprise, which through people's envy of Marius was ascribed to Sulla, secretly grieved him. And the truth is, Sulla himself was by nature vainglorious, and this being the first time that from a low and private condition he had risen to esteem amongst the citizens… (332)
After a series of well-placed bribes, Sulla would continue his climb on the political ladder by securing the position of praetorurbanus in 97 BCE and later proconsul to Cilicia where he would remain until 92 BCE.
Gaius Marius

Gaius Marius


The jealousy and hatred would only deepen between Marius and Sulla. The Social War or War of the Allies (91-88 BCE) saw Rome face a revolt among the city ’s previously loyal allies in Italy who demanded equal rights, namely citizenship. The war would end when Rome conceded to most of their demands. By establishing a reputation for ruthlessness and brutality in the war – he was present at the siege of Pompeii – Sulla became Rome's 'first' general, a distinction Marius had previously held.Plutarch wrote of an incident prior to Sulla's leaving to fight in the war. Soothsayers foretold that a man of great qualities would take the government in hand and "quiet the present troubles of the city" (332). Sulla believed himself to be this man.
[After the war] Marius was unable to render any great service, and proved that military excellence requires a man's highest strength and vigour (sic). Sulla, on the other hand, did much that was memorable, and achieved the reputation of a great leader among his fellow-citizens, that of the greatest of leaders among his friends, and that of the most fortunate even among his enemies. (339)
Having served with distinction, Sulla was rewarded with his first consulship in 88 BCE, serving with his future son-in-law Pompeius Rufus as his co-consul.


In the east Mithridates Eupator of Pontus was causing problems. In 104 BCE he had invaded the provinces of Galatia and Paphlagonia. After an invasion of nearby Bithynia, he withdrew when issued a warning by the Roman Senate. However, he soon disregarded the warning and attacked the three Roman legions sent against him; he had all Italian residents' property confiscated and ordered the locals to kill all Italians. The end result was economic chaos and bankruptcy for many in Rome.Sulla was given the command of the Roman forces to face Mithridates. However, the tribune Publius Sulpicius Rufus blocked the order and calling the elderly Marius out of retirement, awarded the command to him. Many believed the two men had struck a deal. Marius, who was nearly 70 at the time, entered the fray embittered, seeking vengeance.
Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus

Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus

Sulla was irate. Not only was possible victory stolen from him but the spoils of war. Realizing that he had the support of the army – six legions or about 30,000 men – he marched on the unsuspecting Rome. Plutarch wrote:
[Sulla] shouted orders to set fire to the houses, and seizing a blazing torch, led the way himself, and ordered his archers to use their fire-bolts and shoot them up at the roofs. This he did not from any calm calculation, but in a passion, and having surrendered to his anger the command over his actions … made his entry by the aid of fire, which made no distinction between the guilty and the innocent. (357-358)
Seizing command, his first act was to have Rufus killed; the tribune was found hiding in his villa. Luckily, fearing the wrath of Sulla, Marius escaped with his life to Africa. Unfortunately, Sulla's officers (excluding his quaestor) soon deserted him. Sulla's good fortune could not last.



With fighting breaking out in the streets and the Senate against him, Sulla realized his best decision was to withdraw to the east. He escaped the city and with six legions chose to march against Mithridates. Marius returned to Rome – initiating five days of murder and plunder – where he was again declared consul only to die shortly afterwards, in 86 BCE. Many of Sulla's supporters were executed. The rebellious Sulla refused to obey a summons to return to the city to face a trial. At the urging of the consul Cinna, the Roman Senate declared him an enemy of the state and condemned him to death. Ignoring the wishes of Cinna and the Senate, Sulla continued eastward and not only defeated Mithridates but crushed a rebellion in Greece. While in Athens, Sulla again earned his reputation for ruthlessness by granting his men permission to pillage and murder as they saw fit, eventually destroying the very groves where the great philosophers Plato and Aristotle had 'reflected on the human condition.' Even the ancient symbol of Athens, the Acropolis, was plundered. He would campaign in the east for five years.
Upon his return to Rome in 83 BCE, Sulla was joined by the commanders Caecilius Metellus Pius, Licinius Crassus, and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Together they would be victorious over those who remained loyal to the deceased Marius. In a final clash, Sulla defeated the opposition at the Colline Gates outside Rome. 3,000 would be taken prisoner while another 3,000 would surrender. They were all imprisoned at the Campus Martius until executed. Their bodies were unceremoniously thrown into the Tiber. In was said that the Tiber was littered with bodies; some 10,000 supposedly died. Wisely, the Senate acknowledged Sulla's victories in the east and was persuaded to name him dictator, granting him immunity for his past actions.


In one of his first actions, Sulla had Marius's ashes exhumed and thrown into the Tiber. Similarly, all of the former consul's supporters were executed. In total 80 senators and 2,600 equites were either executed or exiled; the Senate was left depleted.He posted proscription lists in the Forum, naming outlaws whose property would be confiscated. With victories in the east and success at Rome, Sulla felt truly lucky and in recognition of this fact added the word 'Felix' meaning either 'the fortunate one' or 'the favorite of the goddess Venus ' to his name.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla

Lucius Cornelius Sulla

Although he sought the approval of the Senate, in reality, Sulla had unchecked powers to make or repeal laws. In 81 BCE, Sulla enacted a series of reforms which were considered as a restoration or 'sweeping away of clutter.' Because of his past hatred for the tribune Rufus, he curbed the powers of the tribunes by limiting their power of the veto; he raised the number of quaestors and praetors; he made quaestors members of the Senate to increase its numbers; and finally, passed stricter controls over persons with imperium outside Italy. Besides these and other reforms, he established new law courts and rebuilt both the Senate house and the Temple of Jupiter, which had been struck by lightning or, according to another version, burned down. Throughout, he promised the citizens he would not diminish their rights. Even the skeptical Cicero approved of Sulla's ends, although he disliked the means. After granting land in Campania and Etruria to veterans of the army, he retired to his villa on the Bay of Naples in 79 BCE, where he died one year later. His epitaph read "No better friend, no worse enemy."


Sulla was seen as arrogant and ruthless, though personally claiming to have never sought tyranny. One historian stated that he demonstrated how the army was loyal an individual and not the state. Despite the presence of an ugly facial birthmark – the Athenians cruelly compared it to a mulberry tipped with oatmeal – he considered himself lucky. Although initially penniless, a wealthy widow left him her fortune. While history has considered him a callous commander, from his early childhood he loved literature and the arts, hanging around the theater wherever he went. His luck would carry him through victories against Jugurtha and the Germans as well as Mithridates. He rose through the ranks from quaestor to consul. Believing he had been betrayed in Rome, he escaped the city to the east only to return and become dictator. However, the reforms he initiated could not save the city from its future. With the death of Caesar and the birth of an empire under Augustus, Rome would be reborn and continue as a prevailing power for another five centuries.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
Content is available under License Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. CC-BY-NC-SA License

Recommended Contents