But Hadrian did not persecute, and listened kindly to an explanation of the faith which was shown him at Athens by Quadratus, a Christian philosopher. Hadrian built himself a grand towerlike monument, surrounded by stages of columns and arches, which was to be called the Mole of Hadrian, and still stands, though stripped of its ornaments. Before his death, in 138, he had chosen his successor, Titus Aurelius Antoninus, a good upright man, a philosopher, and 52 years old; for it had been found that youths who became Emperors had their heads turned by such unbounded power, while elder men cared for the work and duty. Antoninus was so earnest for his people’s welfare that they called him Pius. He avoided wars, only defended the empire; but he was a great builder, for he raised another rampart in Britain, much further north, and set up another column at Rome, and in Gaul built a great amphitheatre at Nismes, and raised the wonderful aqueduct which is still standing, and is called the Pont du Gard.
His son-in-law, whom he adopted and who succeeded him, is commonly called Marcus Aurelius, as a choice among his many names. He was a deep student and Stoic philosopher, with an earnest longing for truth and virtue, though he knew not how to seek them where alone they could be found; and when earthquake, pestilence and war fell on his empire, and the people thought the gods were offended, he let them persecute the Christians, whose faith he despised, because the hope of Resurrection and of Heaven seemed weak and foolish to him beside his stern, proud, hopeless Stoicism. So the aged Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, the last pupil of the Apostles themselves, was sentenced to be burnt in the theatre of his own city, though, as the fire curled round him in a curtain of flame without touching him, he was actually slain with the sword. And in Gaul, especially at Vienne, there was a fearful persecution which fell on women of all ranks, and where Blandina the slave, under the most unspeakable torments, was specially noted for her brave patience.
Aurelius was fighting hard with the German tribes on the Danube, who gave him no rest, and threatened to break into the empire. While pursuing them, he and his army were shut into a strong place where they could get no water, and were perishing with thirst, when a whole legion, all Christian soldiers, knelt down and prayed. A cloud came up, a welcome shower of rain descended, and was the saving of the thirsty host. It was said that the name of the Thundering Legion was given to this division in consequence, though on the column reared by Aurelius it is Jupiter who is shown sending rain on the thirsty host, who are catching it in their shields. After this there was less persecution, but every sort of trouble—plague, earthquake, famine, and war—beset the empire on all sides, and the Emperor toiled in vain against these troubles, writing, meantime, meditations that show how sad and sick at heart he was, and how little