A Mother-Daughter Power Team: How Did Two Faustinas Transform Roman Society?
If you think that girl power is a modern idea from songs created in the 90s, you should read the story of a mother and daughter whose bright minds and dose of independence had a remarkable impact on ancient Rome. While their husbands ruled as emperors, the two women were changing the world they knew into a better one. Moreover, the eternal fame they gained placed them in the pantheon of goddesses.
Let's be honest, being an empress in Rome wasn’t an easy task. Apart from the pressure to provide a heir, the ruler’s wife had to fight against countless dangers. Two women who lived during the 2nd century AD proved that being the wife of the most powerful man in the empire is not only a dangerous task, but also a generous gift - which could bring many benefits.
The 2nd century AD was one of the glorious times in the history of the Roman Empire. The reigns of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius affected the future of the world, but two of the most significant people of their lives were women known by the same name – Faustina. These two extraordinary women created an enclave of intelligence and open minded discussions that affected the entire Empire.
Faustina the Elder, The Mother Goddess
Annia Galeria Faustina, in history known as Faustina the Elder (or Faustina I) was born on February 16, 100 AD as a daughter of the Consul and prefect Marcus Annius Verus and the noblewoman Rupilia Faustina. Her family was related to the famous emperor Trajan.
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Faustina received a good education - which made her more than just an incubator for royal children. Her intelligence made her the passion, desire, and fascination of her husband, Antoninus Pius. The couple got married around 110 AD.
Bust of Faustina in the Musei Capitolini (side view; note the distinctive hairstyle). ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Faustina was known as a generous empress; whose heart was always open to the poor. She created a system of sponsoring the education of Roman children whose parents couldn't afford the cost. She was mostly interested in supporting the education of girls. Due to this fact, Faustina had a massive support of women who saw her as a goddess of wisdom and someone who opened the cages on “marital slavery.”
''Since there is no description of Faustina's appearance, we have no idea if her portraits bear any close relationship to the way she really looked. There must have been an attempt to prompt and immediate identification between her actual appearances in public (if only for a few years, and later as effigies, seen from a distance) and her artistic representations, but the mechanical reproduction of imperial portraits warns against seeing them as direct imitations. The administration in Rome sent out miniature templates of her profile for the die-cutters of coins and medals and models for sculptors and painters. The copying of these models in the provinces produced series of nearly identical Faustina portraits on conventional body types for ''empress' established by the first Augusta, Livia, a century and a half before. Livia, in turn, had been inspired by the images of Hellenistic queens, whose individualized heads often were combined with the classical bodies of Greek goddesses.'' (Bettina Bergmannand Wandy, M. Watson)
When Faustina died in 140, Antoninus was heartbroken. The records related to her demise show the real love that connected these two people. It was known that her wisdom improved his rule, and without her charm, intelligence, and lovely personality he wasn't the same man.
Bust of Antoninus Pius, at Glyptothek, Munich. ( Public Domain )
Faustina and Antoninus had four children. Sadly, most of them died very young. Two sons, Marcus Aurelius Fulvius Antoninus and Marcus Galerius Aurelius Antoninus died before 138. Also, the daughter Aurelia Fadilla, who married Aelius Lamia Silvanus or Syllanus, died in 135. The only daughter that survived married her cousin - Marcus Aurelius. She soon followed in her mother’s footsteps.
Faustina the Younger, An Empress Whose Fame is Eternal like Rome
Annia Galeria Faustina Minor, known as Faustina the Younger or Faustina II, grew up in her parents’ court. Her mother taught her to be brave and to read a lot. Her political and intellectual skills were unique. She married Marcus Aurelius, who later became a famous emperor and philosopher, in April or May 145. It seems that these two people were a perfect match for each other. Both were intellectually prepared for a demanding life and were able to realize extraordinary visions for their kingdom.