Emperor Antoninus Pius (r. A.D. 138-161)

August 27, 2019

In going through some of my photos of Athens, Greece, I came across a shot I had taken of a bust of Antoninus Pius.

Antoninus Pius. Reigned A.D. 138-161. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

My priority in the limited writing I’ve done on Roman Emperors has been to deal with those who reigned during A.D. 1st century, i.e., those that intersect with biblical history. For example, click here (“Roman Emperors During the Gospels and Acts) and here (“Emperor Galba: the Year of Four Emperors). But here we offer at least a brief introduction to the life and reign of this 2nd century emperor, Antoninus.

Antoninus Pius was born in A.D. 86 at Lanuvium in Latium. He spent his youth at Lorium, not far from Rome. He married Annia Galeria Faustina. When Lucius Aelius Caesar, Emperor Hadrian’s (r. A.D. 117-138) adoptive son and heir died in January 138, Hadrian then adopted Antoninus, February 25. Antoninus ascended the throne upon Hadrian’s death, July 138.

Michael Grant states that Antoninus’s “deferential attitude” to the Roman senators “prompted them to confer on him the unusual title of ‘Pius’, honouring (sic) his religious and patriotic dutifulness” (The Roman Emperors, 83).

Antoninus Pius. Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Regarding the land and people of Judea, Grant writes:

There Antoninus Pius soon modified, without completely abandoning, his predecessor’s [Hadrian] veto on circumcision; that is to say he allowed Jews to circumcise their sons but forbade them to admit converts to the rite, thus weakening Jewish competition with the actively proselytizing Christians. Moreover, the ban debarring Jews from entry into Jerusalem was maintained, and indeed enforced by the construction of a ring of military posts round the city (86).

However, Grant’s last statement above is contradicted by Nigel Rodgers, who stated, “Later, Antoninus Pius (reigned AD138-161) quietly revoked his predecessor’s decree and allowed any Jews, who wished to, to return to the now utterly desolate site of Jerusalem” (Roman Empire, 219).

Interestingly, as emperor, Antoninus never left Italy (Rodger, 35); “Antoninus himself never once left Italy throughout the course of his reign” (Grant.86).

At his death, his adoptive son Marcus Aurelius said, “Remember his qualities so that when your last hour comes your conscience may be as clear as his” (Grant, 88).

Gibbons lavished much praise on the period which included the reign of Antoninus:

If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded involuntary respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws. Such princes deserved the honor of restoring the republic, had the Romans of their days been capable of enjoying a rational freedom. (Gibbon, E. (2004). The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. (H. H. Milman, Ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

That kind of praise and honor somehow puts me in mind of Proverbs 21:2: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts.”


The “Horns of Moses”

June 14, 2018

One of the innumerable attractions in Rome which we were able to see last week was that of Michelangelo’s Moses, housed (among other artistic works/artifacts) in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli. The statue of Moses was sculpted by Italian High Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarroti, who created this work in the years 1513-1515. This sculpture was originally commissioned in 1505 by Pope Julius II for his tomb.

Michelangelo’s Moses, in Rome. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Moses is here depicted as seated, holding the two tablets of stone. Some suggest the intensity portrayed is meant to represent his holy anger when he cast down the stones upon being confronted with Israel’s idolatry.

But to the point of this post, Moses is seen here with two horns on his head. This is based on a rendering of Exodus 34:29 in the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible in use during Michelangelo’s time. The English Standard Version renders the text, which speaks of Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai after talking with God, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” The Latin Vulgate renders the Hebrew word qaran, “to shine” as “horned.” Hence the horns on Michelangelo’s Moses.

The NET Bible contains this translator note:

The word qaran is derived from the noun qeren in the sense of a “ray of light” (see Hab. 3:4). Something of the divine glory remained with Moses. The Greek translation of Aquila and the Latin Vulgate convey the idea that he had horns, the primary meaning of the word from which this word is derived. Some have tried to defend this, saying that the glory appeared like horns or that Moses covered his face with a mask adorned with horns. But in the text the subject of the verb is the skin of Moses’ face.

The statue stands 8 feet, 4 inches and is made of solid marble.

Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Click images for larger view.


Bologna’s Sea-god Neptune, and More

June 9, 2018

As we continued our travels in Italy, we left Florence this morning and made a lunch stop at Bologna where we saw a statue of the Roman Sea-god Neptune at the square.

Portion of city square at Bologna, Italy. Sea-god Neptune is seen at far left center. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

As we traveled north we crossed the Po River. The terrain had changed as we left the hills and saw flat, very fertile, farmland.

Po River. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

We reached our destiny of Trieste by late afternoon. Tomorrow our group is meeting with a congregation made up of Christians, many of whom have ties and connections with the folks on our tour. Gianni Berdine is the local evangelist here in Trieste. Several of us went for a walk after dinner.

Trieste Square. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Trieste is located in the extreme northwest of Italy, on the Adriatic Sea, and borders Slovenia. This is one of the great Piazzas of Italy.

 


St. Paul Outside the Walls

June 5, 2018

My group arrived safely Tuesday morning in Rome. We visited the Papal Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls, as well as other stops, including the catacombs, as time permitted before dinner. This building was constructed to honor the martyrdom of Paul.

The facade at the quadriportico at the Basilica of st. Paul outside the Walls. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

As a result of the Edict of Milan in the year 313 AD, the official persecution of Christians cease. The Emperor Constantine had a basilica built over the tomb venerated as that of the Apostle Paul.

Group shot at the basilica. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Group shot at colonnade at basilica. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

All of our group is well. More to come!


At Rhegium, Italy, on the Way to Rome

April 3, 2017

Acts 28 narrates the Apostle Paul’s voyage to Rome, traveling as a prisoner. Having wintered at Malta due to a ship wreck, the journey continued: “We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. From there we cast off and arrived at Rhegium, and after one day a south wind sprang up and on the second day we came to Puteoli” (vv.12-13).

At Rhegium, Italy, looking across Strait of Messina to Sicily. Paul’s ship made a brief stop here. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible has this information on Rhegium:

Important Italian harbor visited by Paul in his journey to Rome (Acts 28:13). From Malta, Paul’s ship traveled north to the Sicilian capital of Syracuse; then in the absence of a south wind they may have tacked into the Strait of Messina, finding good harbor at Rhegium. Another south wind carried them from Rhegium to Puteoli in the Bay of Naples—the ship’s destination, since Puteoli was southern Italy’s chief port, receiving the great Alexandrian grain vessels.

The Strait of Messina was well known to every Roman navigator. Passage here was necessary in order to gain access to Italy’s west coast; but its obstacles were numerous. Obstructions, shallows, and the narrow width (c. seven miles from Rhegium to Messina) forced ships to stay at Rhegium until an adequate south wind arose.

The name “Rhegium” (modern Reggio or Reggio di Calabria) may have come from a Greek verb, meaning “to tear” or “rend.” Sicily, it seemed, had been “torn from the mainland” and Rhegium was the nearest Italian port. (Vol. 2, p. 1857).

Rhegium, on the “toe” of the “boot” of Italy, across from the island of Sicily. BibleAtlas.org.

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Temples in Pompeii, Italy

January 27, 2017

The Roman city of Pompeii, as was generally the case in the world of the 1st century, was a city of many gods.

Pompeii–as you might expect, given its many gods–had many temples, though by no means one for every god or goddess who might intervene in the lives of its inhabitants. They came in all sizes, in varying degrees of prominence and with very different histories. Some stretched back to the earliest years of the city. The temple of Apollo next to  the Forum was established by the sixth century BCE at the latest. (The Fires of Vesuvius.281-282).

Temple of Apollo, Pompeii, Italy. Photo by Leon Mauldin. Mt. Vesuvius may been seen the the background.

Temple of Apollo, Pompeii, Italy. Photo by Leon Mauldin. Mt. Vesuvius may been seen the the background.

Most of the rest [of the temples] date to the second century BCE or later. The Small Temple of Fortuna Augusta was dedicated to an almost untranslatable combination of the goddess of Good Fortune or Success (Fortuna) and the power of the emperor (the adjective Augusta can confusingly, or conveniently, refer either to the first emperor Augustus himself, or to imperial power more generally–for subsequent emperors used “Augustus” as part of  their titles too)  (Ibid.)

Temple of Fortuna Augusta, Pompeii. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Temple of Fortuna Augusta, Pompeii. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Pompeii is a city “frozen” in time by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, AD 79. Though this is not a “biblical city” it preserves scenes from a Roman city in the AD 1st century, and thus has tremendous value to us. Thus it helps us to see the setting for the biblical world in the early New Testament era.

When contemplating the widespread idolatry of the biblical world, I often think of Paul’s statement to the Corinthians, many of whom had themselves formerly been idolaters:

we know that “an idol is nothing in the world,” and that “there is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth– as there are many “gods” and many “lords”– yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him. However, not everyone has this knowledge. (1 Cor. 6:4-7, HCSB).

Click images for larger view.


Syracuse, Mt. Etna, and Taromina, Sicily

March 13, 2016

Yesterday (Saturday) we visited the archaeological sites Syracuse, Sicily, and from there went on to Mt. Etna (Europe’s most active volcano), and then to Taromina. While at the Greek theater at Syracuse we took this group photo.

Group photo at Greek Theater at Syracuse, Sicily. Photo by David Deason.

Group photo at Greek Theater at Syracuse, Sicily. Photo by David Deason.

This theater was built in the 5th century BC.

The city of Syracuse was founded in 733 BC by Greek settlers from Corinth. Some names associated with Syracuse include Aeschylus, considered the father of the Greek tragedy. The philosopher Plato was in Syracuse. Syracuse was the birthplace of Archimedes, the famous mathematician and most influential scientist of the ancient world.

But actually none of those names brought us to this ancient site; rather it was its biblical mention in connection with Paul’s journey (as a prisoner) to Rome. Of that point in the journey Luke writes, “And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days” (Acts 28:12).