In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Antonines

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • General Documentary Analyses
  • The Major Literary Historical Sources
  • Other Literature: The “Second Sophistic”
  • Individual Greek Authors (Early Antonine)
  • Individual Greek Authors (Late Antonine)
  • Individual Latin Authors
  • Material, Numismatic, Legal, and Other Documentary Sources
  • Women and Gender
  • Military
  • Religion
  • The Antonine Plague

Classics The Antonines
Mary T. Boatwright
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 November 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 November 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0184


This article covers the history of Rome and its empire from 96 to 192 CE, a period often referred to as that of the “Antonines.” While not scanting Antonine emperors themselves, this article attends more to wider questions. The century, reasonably tranquil for Rome apart from the Second and Third Jewish Revolts (115–117 CE; 132–135 CE) and the “Antonine plague” and defensive Marcomannic Wars (c. 166 and following), abounds in source material. Relatively plentiful inscriptions, coins, papyri, and legal texts serve institutional and prosopographical investigations, and prosopography informs most inquiries into individual events and biographies. Documentary evidence and copious literary works, sculpture, and architecture also illuminate Antonine culture, religion, and economy. The primary material, and ever more sophisticated archaeological investigation into small and large finds in rural and urban areas, contribute to the social history of Rome, Italy, the diverse provinces, and even beyond the frontiers. Central questions now include the means and meanings of identity (including gender, discordant identity, and/or “hybridity”) among the elite and the 50 to 60 million others in the Antonine Empire, the extent and import of consensus, the ubiquity and conformity of “Roman” material and literary culture in the provinces, the relation of the past and the present, and the processes and depth of cultural diffusion from Rome itself. The term “Antonine(s)” is imprecise. Derived from a cognomen of T. Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus (Antoninus Pius), it properly refers to that emperor (r. 138–161 CE), his adopted successors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus (r. 161–180; co-ruled 161–169), and Marcus Aurelius’s son Commodus (r. 180–192). But the term is often expanded to include Antoninus’s predecessors Nerva (r. 96–98), Trajan (r. 98–117), and Hadrian (r. 117–138). These seven emperors, who together ruled from 96 to 192 CE, are also called the “adoptive emperors” because, other than Nerva and Commodus, they came to power through adoption by the previous emperor. “The Antonines” also appears interchangeably with “the five good emperors” to label Nerva through Marcus Aurelius (but not Lucius Verus and Commodus). Scholarship on the Antonine era has often focused on the emperors, in part because the biographical Historia Augusta dominates literary historical sources: Hadrian is a modern favorite, Commodus a notorious “bad emperor,” and in antiquity Trajan and Marcus Aurelius exemplary “good emperors.” But preoccupation with emperors should not obscure other fascinating aspects of Antonine history.

General Overviews

The works in this section range from general overviews and introductions to the period, to ones focused on individual emperors, and still to others centered on individual phenomena such as the so-called Second Sophistic literary movement. As Bowersock, et al. 1977 point out, scholarship has been greatly influenced by Gibbon’s magisterial Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–1788), which probed up to the fall of Byzantium the evolution of Western civilization “from the age of . . . the Antonines, when the Roman monarchy, having attained its full strength and maturity, began to . . . decline.” Gibbon saw among the hallmarks of the Antonine age access to Roman law, social and political mobility, the use of resources for the public good (especially for monuments), good communications, a love of literature, and an enlightened tolerance of most religions. Goodman 2012 is a recent challenge to this positive view, pointing out disregard of Jewish and Christian sources in Gibbon’s survey of Greco-Roman literature from the period. Badian 2000 and Griffin 2000 have questioned Gibbon’s periodization; they emphasize continuity with the Flavian period, with greater attention to documentary and archaeological sources that allow deeper investigations outside Rome (see also Stefan 2005, cited under Trajan). Hammond 1959 and Garzetti 1974 explore institutional history, relatively neglecting the provinces; Grant 1994 attends more to the complex cultural history of the Antonine era. More recently Schipp 2011 has presented a predominantly military and political overview.

  • Badian, Ernst, ed. 2000. The year 96: Did it make a difference? American Journal of Ancient History 15.1.

    Four essays explore the rifts and continuities between the Flavian and the Antonine periods, especially the transition between Domitian and Nerva. Focuses on the sources, literature, coinage and relations with Rome’s populace, and on imperial patronage in Rome.

  • Bowersock, Glen W., John L. Clive, and Stephen R. Graubard, eds. 1977. Edward Gibbon and the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674733695

    Papers analyze Gibbon’s character and achievement, intellectual background, and influence, from the perspective of 20th-century scholarship. Special emphasis also goes to his sources (and use of them).

  • Garzetti, Albino. 1974. From Tiberius to the Antonines: A history of the Roman Empire, A.D. 14–192. London: Methuen.

    Thorough but out of date, this study argues that the Principate was an autocracy more or less unchanging but basically beneficial, which differed mostly in the personalities of the individual emperors. Includes a full bibliography.

  • Goodman, Martin. 2012. The Roman world, 44 BCAD 180. 2d ed. London and New York: Routledge.

    This dense textbook, complete with illustrations and maps, takes a postcolonial perspective, presenting much of the history of this long period from the viewpoint of (mostly Eastern) provincials and including information from Jewish sources.

  • Grant, Michael. 1994. The Antonines: The Roman Empire in transition. London and New York: Routledge.

    Covering Pius through Commodus, Grant sees the era as a transition to Rome’s disintegration. He focuses on religion, the abandoned attempt to take Germany, and Antonine culture, providing twenty-seven illustrations of art and architecture and short entries for “pagan” and Christian authors in Greek and Latin.

  • Griffin, Miriam. 2000. Nerva to Hadrian. In The Cambridge ancient history. 2d ed. The High Empire, A.D. 70–192. Vol. 11. Edited by A. K. Bowman, P. Garnsey, and D. Rathbone, 84–131. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521263351

    A succinct overview that sees great continuity from the Flavians through Hadrian, including in plans for expansion in the North.

  • Hammond, Mason. 1959. The Antonine Monarchy. Rome: American Academy.

    Still useful for its thoroughness in charting the institutionalization of the Principate, although it somewhat overlooks Roman law and legal procedures.

  • Schipp, Oliver. 2011. Die Adoptivkaiser. Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marc Aurel, Lucius Verus und Commodus. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

    This brief historical overview addresses 98–192 CE thematically, at times neglecting literary sources and paying insufficient attention to institutional topics such as the alimenta. It also lacks illustrations for an era that was prolific in representations of all types.

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