Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Antoninus Pius (SLI): Personality Type Analysis

Titus Fulvus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius, best known more simply as Antoninus Pius, was the 15th Roman Emperor. Despite the fairly unusual length of his reign - almost 23 years, from 138 to 161 - the direct documentation on the period is very limited. Still, I argue that there is enough evidence, based on what documentation is available, and the overall events of Antoninus's reign and what we know of his policies, to allow for an estimate of  his type, at least from a broad-brush perspective.

Antoninus was born in a wealthy senatorial (i.e. aristocratic landowning) family in 86, during the politically tense years of the authoritarian Emperor Domitian, but he reached adulthood in the more politically relaxed years of the Emperor Trajan. He climbed apparently effortlessly the traditional steps of a Roman public career, that is quaestor, praetor and then consul, during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, who obviously showed Antoninus considerable favor: Antoninus was appointed to very prestigious posts, especially proconsul (i.e. governor) of the province of Asia (the western part of the Turkish peninsula), pretty much the most socially prestigious post for a man of his class. Even so, it was probably a surprise to everyone. including him, when the dying Hadrian suddenly adopted the then 51-year-old Antoninus as his son (and therefore successor), on condition that Antoninus in turn adopt as son his wife's nephew, the future Emperor Marcus Aurelius (EII), then 17. Today most historians tend to think that Hadrian saw the young Marcus as his ultimate successor from the start and Antoninus was chosen as a reliable place-holder for him. Antoninus became emperor upon Hadrian's death, just 4 months after his adoption.

Given the wide freedom to choose and implement policy, enjoyed by an emperor with such a long reign, especially in that period, we can already spot some hints to his Socionics type by looking at the overall features of his reign. Most emperors had chosen to spend considerable parts of their reigns away from Rome or even Italy, either in command of armies in periods of war (like Trajan), or in inspection of the provinces and frontiers while doing some "PR work" (like Hadrian). Antoninus, very unusually, spent the 23 years of his reign in Italy and most of that in Rome itself. Also unlike his immediate predecessors, Antoninus spent essentially no money on high-profile architectural projects in Rome, spending however considerable sums on infrastructure in the provinces, such as aqueducts and roads. Unlike most of his predecessors and successors, Antoninus preferred to avoid foreign wars; the military activities of his reign were fairly low-profile "tidying up" operations, the most visible one being the move of the northern frontier in Britain from Hadrian's Wall to the Antonine Wall (which extended roughly from Glasgow to Edinburgh).

Antoninus clearly saw himself more as a 'manager' than as a 'builder' or 'conqueror' or, like Hadrian, a promoter of the idea of empire in the provinces. Antoninus's consistent style of governing, over 23 years, consisted of staying in Rome, governing through subordinates and correspondence, avoiding spending money on war or high-profile building projects, while spending on more low-profile but useful works, while carefully building up a financial surplus. Also, as a "HR manager", Antoninus preferred to keep the same men as provincial governors over many years, rather than rotate them more often as had been a more common practice. Most unusual of all, Antoninus kept the same man in the very sensitive position of Praetorian Prefect (i.e. the commander of the only armed forces in Italy) for a record of 20 years, which was extremely unusual.

The available descriptions of Antoninus, including by his adopted son Marcus Aurelius, portray a man of extreme serenity, immune or indifferent to flattery, of a kindly disposition, who felt a duty to manage the empire carefully, introverted in the social sense, and who had the reputation of a bureaucratic, micro-managing, penny-pinching administrator (even Marcus Aurelius, who worshipped Antoninus, felt the need to defend him on that point in his writings). Marcus Aurelius also wrote that Antoninus lived an extremely temperate life in terms of eating, drinking, and sleeping, knowing perfectly how to take care of his health. So, a stay-at-home, low-profile, careful, penny-pinching "ruler of the known world" who as administrator doesn't care about grandiose public works but does care about aqueducts and roads, as well as saving money;  who prefers to avoid war and who, once knowing he can trust a man to do a job well, prefers to keep him on that job "forever", and who lives a temperate, spartan life - all of that already points, I would argue, to subdued or weak F and E, valued but probably weak R, lower I than S,  and valued P.

Taken as a whole, Antoninus's reign of 23 years can be called uneventful, some might unkindly say "boring", as very little happened and neither did Antoninus take any action to introduce wide-ranging change, as many of his predecessors had done. Antoninus did introduce a series of piecemeal, gradual legislation, all in the direction of what we could call greater humanity and benevolence: he essentially invented the principle of "presumed innocent" in Roman law; made the enfranchisement of slaves easier; introduced the principle of removing slaves from the property of masters who consistently treated them badly; and forbade the "outsourcing" of female slaves as prostitutes, etc. Antoninus was no "revolutionary" who intended to challenge the institution of slavery, but rather someone who thought that slaves should be treated with a minimum of humanity. This, I would argue, points to P over L as quadra value, in the sense that it was done piecemeal, ad hoc, rather than in a more structured, 'paradigm-shifting' way.

The major historical criticism of Antoninus Pius, as a ruler, was that his essential inactivity in foreign policy, over a period of 23 years, diminished the respect, even fear, that Rome's enemies across the Danube and in Parthia (Persia) had felt regarding the Empire since being crushed by Trajan's aggressive wars three generations before; Antoninus seemed oblivious to this danger, or actively decided to ignore it, with the result that immediately after his death in 161 at 74, both the Parthian Empire and Danubian tribes, sensing weakness, launched major military attacks against the empire, forcing Marcus Aurelius to spend most of his reign at war. I would argue that that hints again to subdued F as well as T in Antoninus - I would assume he did not intend to hand a 'ticking bomb' to Marcus Aurelius.

Finally, in an even more broad-brush analysis of Antoninus's reign, there is how he wanted the Roman Empire to be perceived. We have the Greek orator Aelius Aristides's "Roman Oration", delivered to Antoninus Pius himself, in which Aristides describes a peaceful Roman Empire ruled as if it was one single city, and now "the entire civilized world lays down the weapons that were its ancient burden and has turned to adornment and all glad thoughts, with the power to realize them - - You, better than anyone else, have proved the truth of the proverb: The earth is everyone's mother and our common fatherland". Etc etc. Assuming, reasonably, that Aristides knew what Antoninus wanted to hear, he painted his rule, a bit naively, as the realization of a Delta ideal.

Overall Delta values, with no visible focus on E. valued R but not obviously strong; devalued or even ignored F and T; apparent high focus on S and P, little visible I, and an overall impression of a cautious. serene, even passive man. I think the available information, however limited, overall suggests most consistently that Antoninus Pius was a SLI.

Sources: besides Wikipedia, which has a good summary of the overall evidence, the primary documentation is the Historia Augusta's "Life of Antoninus Pius". Marcus Aurelius's description of his adoptive father are in books 1 and 6 of his Meditations. All are available online. Aelius Aristides's Roman Oration is available in its entirety here .

To learn more about SLI click here.

If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.

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