Late in 136 CE, the emperor Hadrian adopted a handsome, but otherwise undistinguished aristocrat named Lucius Aurelius Commodus as his intended successor, giving him the name Aelius Caesar. The new heir already had a seven-year-old son, who received the name Lucius Verus, and the boy’s place in the dynastic succession seemed secure. But Aelius died of consumption only 16 months later, forcing Hadrian to adopt as his replacement another, rather more qualified senator, Antoninus Pius. Antoninus in turn adopted Lucius Verus and another youth of a good Spanish family, Marcus Aurelius.
It is widely assumed that he was following Hadrian’s wishes that both young men eventually succeed to the throne.
After Hadrian’s death, however, Antoninus kept young Lucius in the background while he showed Marcus every preference. Probably he sensed that Lucius, while handsome and charming, was something of a lightweight, and that the sober Marcus was better suited to the burden of government. Nevertheless, when Antoninus died in March 161 CE, Marcus Aurelius insisted that the Senate also grant Lucius Verus the title of Augustus, for the first time giving the Empire two theoretically coequal rulers.
Marcus also betrothed his daughter Lucilla to Lucius, further cementing their family ties.
This stunning gold aureus, offered in our September 8 – 13 Long Beach Expo World Coins & Ancient Coins Signature Auction, was issued in 161 CE at the beginning of the historic joint reign, its reverse showing the two new emperors cordially clasping hands and bearing a legend celebrating the “harmony of our emperors.” This coin is fully struck and perfectly centered, with crisp detail and lustrous surfaces, worthy of the coveted “Gem” designation bestowed to it by NGC.
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