Emperor Hadrian of Rome was a cultivated person, devoted to the arts and to architecture, and forever anxious to ease the lot of the humblest of the empire’s subjects. In his last months he adopted as his heir one of his close friends, Titus Antoninus, a man of great piety and wisdom.
Antoninus, given the name Pius which means ‘gentle’, took over a well-ordered and peaceful empire in 138 A.D., and he was determined to maintain it in that condition. His rule of some twenty-three years was marked by few major military adventures, but during this time a wall was constructed in Scotland from the Forth to the Clyde. Today, this line marks the division between the Lowlands and the Highlands.
When he died in 161 A.D., he was mourned by the whole empire. Romans had not known such a tranquil time for many centuries, and they were never to know them again. Antoninus was succeeded by his nephew, Marcus Aurelius, who became famous for his philosophical sayings. He was a man of great piety and goodness,and in his own life he set an example of how a simple man should live.
He published a volume of his thoughts, called ‘MEDITATIONS’, which have influenced many people since his time till date.
Marcus Aurelius’s reign was filled with wars of one kind or another in the Near East against the Parthians, on the Danube, and in Britain and Germany. And wars cost money, especially if they are prolonged. Worse, when he had won a victory against Parthia near the River Tigris, his troops contracted a dreadful fever and brought it back to Europe where it infected and killed several thousands of people.
While actually in command at the front in the campaign against the Marcomanni tribe in central Europe, Marcus Aurelius died (180 A.D.), and was succeeded by his cruel, avaricious and worthless son, Commodus. The Roman empire’s era of greatness, begun by Vespasian, started to decline, and by the time Commodus was assassinated by angry guards in 192 A.D., a new era of strife and misery had begun.
The army rebelled and forced the Senate to accept that in future only the soldiers should choose the emperors. For a while after Commodus’s death there was confusion, but in 193 A.D., the army elected one of their best and most beloved generals, Pertinax. Had he lived long enough he might have been as great an emperor as Trajan or Vespasian, but to the intense sorrow of many people, he was assassinated not four months after his accession.
Thereafter, for nearly ninety years, the empire was ruled by a succession of emperors, some of them able soldiers, several of them of provincial birth. Many were cruel and greedy, extravagant and unjust. Some were weak and quite unqualified to rule. Perhaps, only Septimius Severus resembled the best of his predecessors.
L. Septimius Severus (193-211 A.D.) was an African, born in Morocco. As it turned out he proved an excellent, if occasionally severe ruler. He was a cultivated man and encouraged the arts and architecture. His own triumphal arch which stands in Rome is one of the most impressive in the world.
Compiled by Saviour Osuoha.