When the new ruler was called to the throne, he received the surname Pius, because he had been very good to Hadrian when that emperor was ill and would fain have killed himself. Antoninus had no ambition to reign, but he accepted the crown because it had been Hadrian's wish that he should look after the welfare of the Roman people.
One of his first acts was to adopt another good man, Marcus Aurelius, as his successor, and to show clemency toward a few of the senators who conspired against him. The leaders of the conspiracy, fearing his wrath, killed themselves in their terror; but Antoninus would not allow any inquiry to be made into the plot, lest he should hear that there were other Romans who hated him.
All through his long reign of more than twenty years, his gentleness and moderation continued, and his first and constant thought was the good of his people. Once, during a famine, he was stoned by some of the most ignorant Romans, who fancied that their sufferings were his fault. But, instead of punishing them, he freely forgave them, and divided all the food he had in his palace among the famished multitude.
We are told that Antoninus built the great circus at Nimes, in Gaul, because his family had lived there; and that he ordered the erection of the huge aqueduct near there which is known as the "Bridge of the Gard."
Antoninus once read the works of a philosopher named Justin, who had been converted to Christianity. From them he learned that the Christians, whom the Romans despised and illtreated, taught their disciples nothing but good; and he therefore put an end to the persecutions against them.
Although the emperor himself was not a Christian, he allowed the new sect to practice their religion openly. Before this, the Christians had been obliged to hide in the Catacombs, long, underground passages, where they had held their meetings in constant terror for their lives.
When Antoninus died, at the age of seventy-four, the people all mourned for him as for a father; and they erected a column in his honor, of which nothing but the base can now be seen. We are told that this monument bore the emperor's favorite maxim, which was: "I would rather save the life of one citizen, than put to death a thousand enemies."