8904 Jake A. 16
Jake A, age 16, ref 8904 A
Empress Faustina II, wife of Marcus Aurelius, 130-175 AD – Peacock on reverse
“She was a tyrant, an arbiter bibendi of poison,” a stout balding man remarked to his friend. A few others echoed in agreement, as the conversation carried over to where they stood in a crowded market stand nearby. “Yes! A killer!” a tall lanky figure called over, adjusting his baggy toga and passing forward coins for a loaf of bread. A vendor, accepting the coins, nodded and added, “Royalty… soldiers… magistrates… no one escaped that adulteress.”
Soon dissonance was ringing in the Forum, as a few people had joined the banter in disagreement, giving birth to an angry divided throng. Shouts whirled together in a jumbled clamor, and great dust clouds were coughed up as the sides became aggressive. A man yelped and dove beneath the vendor’s table as an orange came hurling towards his direction. Chaos threatened to topple the market stand, yet everyone – even the vendor himself – remained engaged red-faced in argument without the slightest attention.
Suddenly, however, one-by-one the crowd fell silent. The dust had settled completely except for a few light ripples puffed from the ground, as a grand white horse slowly began to trot by. All eyes were captured and now watched the rider.
Perched atop the magnificent beast was Marcus Aurelius. His royal garb shone in the pure light of the cloudy day, though his face was dull and gloomy. He turned his head, meeting eyes with the hostile crowd.
“Fools,” he thought. The accusations were wrong – yes, he sensed the unrest, the piercing words, near rioting – Faustina was a good woman. Just months ago he and his men had been marching through the slopes of Cappadocia. His wife had been by his side, up until her very final breaths that snowy winter in Halala. She had spent many nights, years, in the general’s tent with him, presiding over the camp, and spreading hope through the men. They had called her Mater Castorum, Mother of the Camp.
Marcus Aurelius rested his eyes for a brief moment and turned back to look ahead. Brushing the curled locks from his face, he marched on. Quietly others followed, sadly sauntering by, a glistening snowy white coffin carried by the procession. Together the long line of mourners marched towards the mausoleum of late emperor Hadrian.
He could vividly remember when they had first met. His adoptive father, Emperor Hadrian, had called upon Fuastina’s mother to bring her to his home. Marcus had been upstairs when she arrived. A slave was helping him to prepare himself to meet her. He heard the hooves of horses and ran to the window.
There, stepping gracefully down from her carriage was Faustina. He pulled the window curtain slightly back and adjusted himself to watch without being seen. She was relatively tall, with long curling brown hair. He was captured by her smile, as her face came into Marcus’ view, Faustina turning and laughing with her mother.
“Marcus... Marcus… Marcus!”
The boy jumped and banged his head on the window. “Ah! What?” he called, holding his head and rocking back and forth in the floor in pain.
“Master, as you can see she has arrived now.”
“Right,” he said, continuing to hold his head, grimacing.
“Well, downstairs with you!”
“Oh, yeah. Of course.” Marcus shuffled to his feet, snatching up his toga about him as he ran for the door. But the slave grabbed him and pulled him back. Marcus gave him a death of a glare as the slave muttered to himself, “Now hold on just a moment.”
Quickly, the slave brushed off the dust about Marcus’ toga, smoothed the fold about his shoulder. Holding his shoulders the slave had looked into Marcus’ eyes, about to say something it seemed, and then gave him a quick pat and shuffled him out the door.
Hurrying down the marble staircase, Marcus skipped lightly step-to-step, gliding down with a hand sliding upon the railing. As he landed at the bottom floor, he stopped a moment to go to the fountain at the center of their atrium. He leaned forward, resting his weight on his two palms, grasping the edge of the basin. Leaning forward, and slightly panting, Marcus glanced at his reflection before, at the sound of a knock, turning and hurrying to Emperor Hadrian waiting down the hall at the door.
The two awaiting slaves opened the door. Light poured in, followed by Faustina the Greater and then – there she was – his own Faustina. There were greetings, arrangements, and finally a feast. His now-father, who was her uncle, and her mother and father discussed over and over many things. Marcus and Faustina, however, had hardly spoken with each other though, through their eyes, there were a thousand conversations. Soon after that day, the two were married. Marcus Aurelius would always remember it fondly.
The horse’s hooves click-clacked as they reached the steps of Hadrian’s Mausoleum, calling him back to reality. Keeping his head forward reverently, he slowly began the march up the steps.
If only she had been a bit less wonderful, he almost chuckled to himself. It truly had been her devotion – their devotion to each other – that led to her death. Four years ago, she had accompanied him in his campaigns through the Eastern provinces, becoming much loved in the camp by the soldiers. “Mater Castorum,” he muttered to himself, smiling slightly.
Three years later, after spending time in Athens, she had traveled with him to the Danubian frontier. False word had reached Avidius Cassius of his death and so the man had brought together forces to rebel, Avidius hungering for the imperial rule. It was in that first year, winding through and camping amongst the snowy slopes of Cappadocia that death had closed her eyes.
By the accident of a soldier practicing for battle, she had fallen wounded in the snow. White flecks falling from the sky on her face, for all its fairness, darkening as life left her. For all the stoicism in him, he had wept bitterly in his tent the night she died.
Gathering himself together the next day, however, the affair had been dealt with. The city of Halala was renamed Faustinopolis in her honor.
Now, as Marcus Aurelius reached the top steps of the mausoleum, he turned and looked about the city before him. It was spring, now that he had returned to Rome, but the over-cast sky still reminded him of that winter before. Sunlight shone through the dark clouds with a clear pure light, glinting and shimmering on the carved marble coffin like the snow of the mountains.
Marcus looked up the sky and thought to himself how fitting it was that her coin displayed a peacock on the back. As the one hundred eyes of Argus suggested the “eyes” of the stars, truly Faustina too was aware of the presence of heavenly bodies. The peacock, an incorruptible creature, he thought. Just so her name will not be remembered ignominiously. No clamor will erupt again in her name. A charity will be erected in her name. “Puellae Faustinianae, Girls of Faustina, a school for orphans,” he thought.
The clouds parted slightly and Marcus Aurelius was reminded of the light as the doors of his home opened for Faustina when they first met. Remembering happier days, his eyes fixed upon the sky and then he turned and trotted into the darkness of the mausoleum. The back of the white horse faded to black as he crossed the entrance, the procession making its way up the steps behind him.