“Remember that all is opinion“ - Lucius Verus' Triumph after the Parthian War

12 October 166 CE, Lucius Verus, co-emperor of Marcus Aurelius, celebrated his triumph in Rome after winning the Parthian Wars.

“Remember that all is opinion“ (Marcus Aurelius)

 Lucius Verus’ ascension to divinity, showing him (headless to the left) mounting the sun’s chariot from the Parthian Monument found in Ephesus, now in the Ephesos Museum in Vienna, commemorating the co-emperor in five cycles of a 70m frieze.

Things had been relatively quiet on Rome’s permanent trouble spot, the border with the Parthian Empire along the Euphrates, since Hadrian had decided to abandon the territorial gains of his predecessor Trajan in Mesopotamia to secure a defensible boundary line. Antoninus Pius after him was military unambitious and when he died and the purple was transferred to Marcus Aurelius and his junior Augustus Lucius Verus, the Parthian King Vologases IV saw an opportunity to get back at the Romans. Vologases had united the two sub-empires Parthia had disintegrated into after Trajan’s conquest and, as it was almost customary during the last 200 years, invaded and subdued the Roman client kingdom Armenia in 161, annihilated a Roman legion at Elegia and plundered Cappadocia. Rome had a full-scale war at its hands and the new philosopher on the emperor’s throne, Marcus Aurelius, was quite out of his depth what to do. Teeth-gnashingly, he decided to send his potential rival Lucius Verus after the three legions that had already been dispatched to the East to take matters in hands.

Contemporary bust of Lucius Verus

With no reliable sources to speak of, it appears as if Lucius Verus almost fell victim to a damnatio memoriae, a condemnation of memory. He is rumoured to have indulged in all kinds of excesses, suffering from a mild stroke because of that at the age of 32 while en route to join the army, associating himself with a low-born floosie in Antioch and dicing the whole night through. On the other hand, it was decided that he, instead of Marcus Aurelius, should go to the wars because of his more robust health, he stopped in Greece not for debauchery but to get initiated to the Eleusian Mysteries as a gesture towards the Hellenistic East he was about to see and the floosie, Panthea, was a perfect, highly cultivated beauty from Syria who spoke flawless Ionic Greek with an Attic wit, played the lyre and gave Lucius sound political advice. Whatever the case may be, Lucius Verus arrived in Antioch during the summer of 162, put the Syrian legions back into shape, organised logistics and seemed to have been everywhere with the exception of a trip to Ephesus to marry Marcus Aurelius’ daughter Lucilla, a political gesture that didn’t make Lucius more equal to Marcus but, as a son-in-law, put him back in the line of possible successors of the emperor. 

Eastern Roman Legionaries fighting Parthian Light Horse, as imagined by Angus McBride*

A year later, Lucius was ready for his counter-attack. The allegedly debauched gambler and whoremonger had Armenia reconquered in the fall of 163, forced a crossing over the Euphrates, secured the old borderlines and finally pushed into Parthia in the spring of 165. The twin metropolis of Seleucia-Ctesiphon was captured and King Vologases was forced to retreat into Media and peace was concluded. The Parthian War was over, Lucius returned to Rome with the honorary titles of Armenicus, Parthicus and Medicus, the famous statue of Apollo Comaeus from Seleucia and, since the god obviously took offence like back then in the camp of the Acheans during the Trojan War, his legionaries brought with them the so-called Antonine Plague, probably the smallpox, one of the most severe pandemics of antiquity. After his triumph in October 166, an invasion of the Germanic Marcomanni on the western Danube frontier and the plague shook the Romans Empire again to its foundations and Lucius Verus came down, either with the plague or poisoned by his in-laws with the knowledge of the senior Augustus, and died in 169, leaving Marcus Aurelius the sole emperor.

* Angus McBride's image was found on