Annia Galeria Faustina, known as Faustina the Elder, was born in October, probably sometime in the 90s. Her father was Marcus Annius Verus, and her mother was Rupilia Faustina, who may have been the half-sister of Empress Sabina. The family was a wealthy, noble one from Spain. Her father was one of the richest men of the Roman Empire. Faustina had two brothers named Verus and Libo and may have also had a sister named Annia.
Most of the images of Faustina show her with an oval face, rounded lips and a prominent nose. An elaborate hairstyle with numerous thin braids tied together in a nest-shaped coil on top her head also features heavily. These elaborate hairstyles were considered to be a symbol of status as only upper-class woman could afford the money and time needed.
The childless Emperor Hadrian, Faustina’s maternal uncle by marriage, was forced to adopt his successor. His first choice was Aelius Ceasor who died before he could succeed. The next chosen successor was a 51-year old senator with the name Titus Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus. He would marry Faustina around the year 110, and they would go on to have four children together.
Their eldest child was a daughter named Aurelia Fadilla, who lived long enough to marry a man named Lamia Silanus. However, she died in the early 130s before her father’s accession. Two sons named Aurelius Antoninus and Galerius Antoninus died in early childhood. Their youngest daughter Annia Galeria Faustina lived to adulthood and became Empress of Rome as the wife of Marcus Aurelius.
Emperor Hadrian died on 10 July 138 and Antoninus became Emperor with Faustina as his Empress. She was accorded the status of Augusta. He immediately asked for his predecessor to be deified, but this request was denied. Eventually, the name “Pius” – the Pious one – was bestowed up Antoninus for his efforts. Hadrian had also not only chosen Antoninus as his successor, but he had also chosen Antoninus’ successors. Antoninus was told to adopt Lucius Verus (son of the Aelius Ceasar – Hadrian’s first choice as his successor) and Marcus Aurelius, who was his and Faustina’s nephew. Since Lucius Verus was quite a bit younger than their daughter, she ended up marrying Marcus Aurelius. They were formally betrothed in 139, and Lucius Verus eventually married their daughter Lucilla.
Faustina only enjoyed her Imperial status for about two years. She died in October or November 140, from unknown causes. She was probably still only in her early forties. Antoninus was devastated, and he would continue to honour her memory for the next two decades of his reign. Faustina was deified and called “Diva Faustina” on the imperial coinage that was issued in her memory. She was worshipped in a new cult with its own priesthood, by decree of the senate. A temple was dedicated to her in the Roman Forum, and several gold and silver statues were set up. Antoninus also founded a charitable organisation in her name for the benefit of poor Italian girls, called the Puellae Faustinianae (Faustina’s girls). It provided them with financial support and a free education. A surviving letter from Antoninus to a friend states, “In truth, I would rather live with her on Gyara (a desolate island) than in the palace without her.”
Her husband outlived her until 161, and he was succeeded by Marcus Aurelius and his daughter Faustina the Younger.1