Thursday, March 9, 2017

Oops, I Started A Civil War.

So I started watching the documentary series Roman Empire: Reign of Blood on Netflix, and in the very first episode we come across a character that very much intrigued me. Her name was Annia Galeria Faustina, also known as Faustina the younger. She was, by all accounts, a loving wife and devoted mother. She also started a civil war. But, in her defense, it was an accident.

Faustina Minor Louvre Ma1144.jpg
Faustina, lookin' fly.
See, the Roman Empire was a pretty dangerous place to be in any sort of political power, and Faustina was the wife of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Marcus spent most of his time fighting in Germany, leaving Faustina back at home. It wasn't at all unusual for Emperors and their families to be brutally killed in a power grab, so is it any surprise that when reports of Marcus' death reached Rome, Faustina took action?

Faustina was the daughter of an emperor, and she had known power all her life. Her son, Commodus, was set to be the next emperor, but he was only thirteen, and much too young to rule. She needed to keep the throne in the family, so she made a risky move; she visited a family friend.

Enter Avidius Cassius.  The year is 175 CE, and Avidius is an experienced political leader, having served as Prefect of Egypt under Hadrian. He was considered by Marcus to be the second most powerful man in the empire, and he was perfect for Faustina's purposes. She encouraged him to proclaim himself emperor, and start his own bid for the throne. Avidius was moderately successful too, taking Egypt, where the Romans got their grain.

Things seem like they're going well for Faustina. Her husband, whom she was reportedly very close to, may be dead, but it seems like she and her children aren't about to be brutally murdered by their political rivals, so all in all, everything's pretty okay. Then they receive news from the north. Marcus Aurelius dead? Bitch, you thought.

And since it seems that the real emperor is actually alive, Avidius was promptly murdered by a centurion, after being 'emperor' for only three months.

Image result for faustina the younger coin
And here's our girl on a coin
This leaves Faustina in the extremely perilous position of having accidentally started a civil war. Albeit, it was fairly minor as far as civil wars went, nothing like the Caesar-Pompey-Crassus debacle of the early '40s (BCE), but it still couldn't have been easy to explain to her husband. so is it really unsurprising that she died in the winter of that year?

A lot of historians like to paint Faustina as a femme fatale. There are numerous accounts of her taking many lovers, and ordering executions. But while that may have been the case, there are also many contemporary accounts of her closeness with Marcus, and their loving relationship. They did have thirteen children.

And like so many strong historical females, you can't take any account of Faustina without a grain of salt. Misogyny is still alive today, so it follows that it was around in Faustina's time as well. She was most likely vilified after her death. She was well loved by the Roman soldiers, who referred to her as 'Mother of the Camp', and Marcus deified her after her death, not exactly something you'd for someone who was unfaithful to you.

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1 comment:

  1. Read a short story called The Gylston Slander where there was a referense to the Faustinas at the end. Had to look it up. Thanks for clearing it up!

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