Lucius Aelius

This article is about the adoptive son of Hadrian. For the Praetorian prefect called Lucius Aelius Sejanus, see Sejanus.
Lucius Aelius

Lucius Aelius, musée du Louvre
Born (101-01-13)13 January 101
Died 1 January 138(138-01-01) (aged 36)
Spouse Avidia Plautia
Full name

Lucius Ceionius Commodus
(from birth until adoption by Hadrian)
Lucius Aelius Caesar

(as Imperial heir)

Lucius Ceionius Commodus

Hadrian (adoptive)
Mother Aelia/Fundania Plautia
Roman imperial dynasties
Nervo-Trajanic Dynasty
   Natural - (none)
   Adoptive - Trajan
   Natural - (none)
   Adoptive - Hadrian
   Natural - (none)
   Adoptive - Lucius Aelius
   Adoptive - Antoninus Pius

Lucius Aelius Caesar (January 13, 101 – January 1, 138) became the adopted son and intended successor of Roman Emperor Hadrian (January 24, 76 AD – July 10, 138 AD), but never attained the throne. Aelius was born with the name Lucius Ceionius Commodus, and later called Lucius Aelius Caesar. He is often mistakenly referred to as Lucius Aelius Verus, though this name is not attested outside the Augustan History and probably arose as a manuscript error.

Life and family

The young Lucius Ceionius Commodus was of the gens Ceionia. His father, also named Lucius Ceionius Commodus (the author of the Augustan History adds the cognomen Verus), was consul in 106, and his paternal grandfather, also of the same name, was consul in 78. His paternal ancestors were from Etruria, and were of consular rank. His mother was a Roman woman called Fundania Plautia. The Augustan History states that his maternal grandfather and his maternal ancestors were of consular rank.

Before 130, Lucius Commodus married Avidia Plautia, a well-connected Roman noblewoman who was the daughter of the senator Gaius Avidius Nigrinus. Plautia bore Lucius two sons and two daughters, who were:

Denarius of Aelius

Heir to Hadrian

For a long time, the emperor Hadrian had considered Lucius Julius Ursus Servianus as his unofficial successor. As Hadrian's reign drew to a close, however, he changed his mind. Although the emperor certainly thought Servianus capable of ruling as an emperor after Hadrian's own death, Servianus, by now in his nineties, was clearly too old for the position. Hadrian's attentions turned to Servianus' grandson, Gnaeus Pedanius Fuscus Salinator II. Hadrian promoted the young Salinator, his great-nephew, gave him special status in his court, and groomed him as his heir. Servianus, who always cherished the idea that his youthful grandson would one day succeed his brother-in-law, was overjoyed.

However, in late 136, Hadrian almost died from a haemorrhage. Convalescent in his villa at Tivoli, he decided to change his mind, and selected Lucius Ceionius Commodus as his new successor, adopting him as his son.[1] The selection was done invitis omnibus, "against the wishes of everyone";[2] in particular, Servianus and the young Salinator became very angry at Hadrian and wished to challenge him over the adoption. Even today, the rationale for Hadrian's sudden switch is still unclear.[3] It is possible Salinator went so far as to attempt a coup against Hadrian in which Servianus was implicated. In order to avoid any potential conflict in the succession, Hadrian ordered the deaths of Salinator and Servianus.[4]

Although Lucius had no military experience, he had served as a senator, and had powerful political connections; however, he was in poor health. As part of his adoption, Lucius Ceionius Commodus took the name Lucius Aelius Caesar.


After a year's stationing on the Danube frontier, Aelius returned to Rome to make an address to the senate on the first day of 138. The night before the speech, however, he grew ill, and died of a haemorrhage late the next day.[5][notes 1] On 24 January 138, Hadrian selected Aurelius Antoninus (September 19, 86 – March 7, 161) as his new successor.[7]

After a few days' consideration, Antoninus accepted. He was adopted on 25 February. As part of Hadrian's terms, Antoninus adopted both Lucius Aelius's son (properly called Lucius Ceionius Commodus the Younger) and Hadrian's great-nephew by marriage, Marcus Aurelius (April 26, 121 – March 17, 180). Marcus became M. Aelius Aurelius Verus; Lucius became L. Aelius Aurelius Commodus.[notes 2] At Hadrian's request, Antoninus' daughter Faustina was betrothed to Lucius.[8]

Marcus Aurelius later co-ruled with Lucius Verus as joint Roman Emperors, until Lucius Verus died in 169, after which Aurelius was sole ruler until his own death in 180.


The major sources for the life of Aelius are patchy and frequently unreliable. The most important group of sources, the biographies contained in the Historia Augusta, claim to be written by a group of authors at the turn of the 4th century, but are in fact written by a single author (referred to here as "the biographer") from the later 4th century (c. 395).[9]

The later biographies and the biographies of subordinate emperors and usurpers are a tissue of lies and fiction, but the earlier biographies, derived primarily from now-lost earlier sources (Marius Maximus or Ignotus), are much more accurate.[9] For Aelius, the biographies of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus and Lucius Verus are largely reliable, but that of Avidius Cassius, and even Lucius Aelius' own, is full of fiction.[10]

Some other literary sources provide specific detail: the writings of the physician Galen on the habits of the Antonine elite, the orations of Aelius Aristides on the temper of the times, and the constitutions preserved in the Digest and Codex Justinianus on Marcus' legal work.[11] Inscriptions and coin finds supplement the literary sources.[12]

Nerva–Antonine family tree


  1. Commodus was a known consumptive at the time of his adoption, so Hadrian may have intended the eventual post-Antoninus succession, anyway.[6]
  2. The younger Lucius Commodus did not take the cognomen Verus until his joint accession with Marcus after the death of Pius.

All citations to the Historia Augusta are to individual biographies, and are marked with a "HA". Citations to the works of Fronto are cross-referenced to C.R. Haines' Loeb edition.


  1. Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 41–42.
  2. HA Hadrian 23.10, qtd. in Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 42.
  3. Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 42. On the succession to Hadrian, see also: T.D. Barnes, "Hadrian and Lucius Verus", Journal of Roman Studies 57:1–2 (1967): 65–79; J. VanderLeest, "Hadrian, Lucius Verus, and the Arco di Portogallo", Phoenix 49:4 (1995): 319–30.
  4. Anthony Birley, Hadrian the Restless Emperor, pp. 291-292.
  5. HA Hadrian 23.15–16; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 45; "Hadrian to the Antonines", 148.
  6. Dio 69.17.1; HA Aelius 3.7, 4.6, 6.1–7; Birley, "Hadrian to the Antonines", 147.
  7. Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 46. Date: Birley, "Hadrian to the Antonines", 148.
  8. Dio 69.21.1; HA Hadrian 24.1; HA Aelius 6.9; HA Antoninus Pius 4.6–7; Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 48–49.
  9. 1 2 Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 229–30. The thesis of single authorship was first proposed in H. Dessau's "Über Zeit und Persönlichkeit der Scriptoes Historiae Augustae" (in German), Hermes 24 (1889), 337ff.
  10. Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 230. On the HA Verus, see Barnes, 65–74.
  11. Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 227–28.
  12. Birley, Marcus Aurelius, 228.
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