King Lucius

In his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation), the Anglo-Saxon scholar Bede writes that:

In the year of our Lord 156 [actually, 161], Marcus Antoninus Verus [i.e. Marcus Aurelius], the 14th from Augustus, was made emperor, together with his brother, Aurelius Commodus [i.e. Lucius Verus]. —


Bede inherited the unfamiliar names for Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus from, his direct source for the above sentence, Orosius. (Orosius, in turn, found the names in his source, the chronicle of Jerome. Bede also had access to Jerome’s work.)
In a nutshell. In 138 Antoninus Pius adopted both Marcus, who was 16 years-old at the time and had the names Marcus Annius Verus, and Lucius, who was 7 years-old and had the names Lucius Ceionius Commodus. On adoption, each changed their middle, family, name (nomen) to their new father’s family name, Aurelius: Marcus Aurelius Verus; Lucius Aurelius Commodus. When Antoninus Pius died, in 161, Marcus succeeded, but insisted on sharing power equally with Lucius. Marcus changed his own names to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, giving the name Verus to Lucius, who dropped Commodus and became Lucius Aurelius Verus. Marcus shared power with Lucius until 169, in which year Lucius died. In 177 Marcus shared power with his own son, who, to add chaos to the confusion, he had named Lucius Aurelius Commodus after his adoptive brother. When Marcus died, in 180, he was succeeded by his son, who took various names during his reign, but is generally known as simply Commodus.
— In their time, whilst the holy Eleutherius presided over the Roman Church, Lucius, king of Britain, sent a letter to him, entreating that by a mandate from him he might be made a Christian. He soon obtained his pious request, and the Britons preserved the faith, which they had received, uncorrupted and entire, in peace and tranquillity until the time of the Emperor Diocletian.[*]
Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum I, 4

“In their time” says Bede above. He would appear to have been led astray by his source using the name Commodus for the emperor Lucius Verus. Marcus Aurelius shared power with Lucius Verus as co-emperor from 161 to 169. In an earlier work, known as the Chronica Maiora, Bede clearly places King Lucius’ correspondence with Eleutherius during the time that Marcus shared power with his son Commodus as co-emperor, i.e. from 177 to Marcus’ death in 180.


In the Chronica Maiora, Bede lists a selection of events from the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161–180), mainly culled from the chronicle of Jerome. Jerome has Eleutherius become pope in the same year that Marcus shared power equally with his son (i.e. 177). Bede doesn’t include this, but, having quoted Jerome’s statement that Antoninus, i.e. Marcus Aurelius, “made his own son Commodus his colleague as emperor”, Bede subsequently adds the statement (which isn’t in Jerome): “Lucius the king of Britain sent a letter to Bishop Eleutherius of Rome, asking to become a Christian.”
In the Historia Ecclesiastica Bede adopted the, now normal but in his time novel, method of dating based on the year of Christ’s incarnation (Anno Domini), and he calculated, inaccurately as it happens, that Marcus Aurelius became emperor in Anno Domini 156. In the Chronica Maiora, however, Bede had based his dates on the supposed year of the creation of the world (Anno Mundi). He places Christ’s birth in the year 3952, and he dates Marcus Aurelius’ rule from 4113 to 4132. According to this earlier reckoning, therefore, Marcus Aurelius would have been emperor between Anno Domini 162 (since there is no year zero) and 181.
Orosius dates Marcus Aurelius’ rule between years 911 and 930 Ab Urbe Condita, i.e. ‘from the founding of the City [Rome]’, and places Christ’s birth in 752. By this token Marcus Aurelius would have been emperor from Anno Domini 160 to 179.
In Jerome’s chronicle, Christ’s birth is equated to the 2015th year since Abraham’s birth. Marcus Aurelius’ rule is dated from Abraham’s 2177th year to his 2196th. This produces the Anno Domini dates 163 to 182.

Bede’s are the earliest ‘domestic’ records of a British King Lucius. His source was evidently the Liber Pontificalis (Book of the Popes), a compilation of papal biographies, which he acquired from Rome:

… [Eleutherius] occupied the see 15 years, 3 months and 2 days. He was bishop in the time of Antoninus and Commodus until the year when Paternus and Bradua were consuls. [for Paternus read Maternus, the year was 185.] He received a letter from Lucius, king of Britain, asking him to appoint a way by which Lucius might become a Christian.
Liber Pontificalis XIV ‘Eleutherius’


In a recap at the end of the Historia Ecclesiastica, Bede states:
In the year of our Lord 167, Eleutherius, being made bishop at Rome, governed the Church most gloriously 15 years. To whom Lucius, king of Britain, sent a letter, asking to be made a Christian, and succeeded in obtaining his request.
Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum V, 24
The date Eleutherius became pope is not certain. In the Liber Pontificalis his tenure of 15 years, 3 months and 2 days begins during the consulship of Cethegus and Clarus, i.e. in 170, and ends in the consulship of Maternus and Bradua, i.e. in 185. In Jerome’s chronicle his 15 year tenure begins in Abraham’s 2193rd year, which is equated to the 17th year of the reign of Marcus Aurelius (referred to as “Marcus Antonius, also called Verus”), and in which year it is also noted that Commodus became co-emperor with Marcus, i.e. 177; and ends in Abraham’s 2209th year, during Pertinax’s short reign, i.e. during the first three months of 193. Jerome is here preserving the work of Eusebius of Caesarea. Eusebius, though, in another of his works, the Ecclesiastical History (a history of the Christian church to the year 324 in ten books, written in Greek), presents a different story. In this work (V, Introduction), as in the chronicle, he places the start of Eleutherius’ pontificate in the 17th year of Marcus Aurelius (called “Antoninus Verus”), but later (V, 22) places the end of Eleutherius’ pontificate in the 10th year of Commodus, i.e. in 189, and allots him a tenure of only 13 years.

The Liber Pontificalis was updated every so often – the statement regarding King Lucius is first found in a recension that concludes in the year 530, known as the Catalogus Felicianus. There is a long-standing theory that “Lucius, king of Britain” is the creation of a scribal error – that Brittanio was written, when it should have been Britio, referring to the fortress of Edessa, capital of Osroene, Mesopotamia. The king being referred to, therefore, was Lucius Abgar of Osroene – an identification which has the considerable advantage of being of someone who is known to have existed.[*] At any rate, the quite probably non-existent British Lucius’ story was absorbed into history.

In the second quarter of the 12th century, the respected Anglo-Norman historian William of Malmesbury, in an addition he made to his Gesta Regum Anglorum (Deeds of the Kings of England) concerning the history of Glastonbury, wrote:

It is related in annals of good credit, that Lucius, king of the Britons, sent to Pope Eleutherius, thirteenth in succession from St Peter, to entreat that he would dispel the darkness of Britain by the light of Christian instruction.[*] This surely was the commendable deed of a magnanimous prince, eagerly to seek that faith, the mention of which had barely reached him, at a time when it was an object of persecution by almost every king and people to whom it was offered. In consequence, preachers, sent by Eleutherius, came into Britain, the effects of whose labours will remain forever, although the rust of antiquity may have obliterated their names. By these was built the ancient church of St Mary of Glastonbury, as faithful tradition has handed down through decaying time.
Gesta Regum Anglorum I §19

Around the same time that William of Malmesbury was writing about Glastonbury, a compilation of materials pertaining to the diocese of Llandaff, the Liber Landavensis (Book of Llandaff), was being written up by an anonymous hand. It avers that:

In the year of our Lord 156, Lucius, King of the Britons, sent his ambassadors, Elfan and Medwy, to Eleutherius, who was the twelfth Pope of the Apostolic See, imploring, according to his admonition, that he might be made a Christian, to which request he acceded; for giving thanks to God because that nation, which from the first inhabiting thereof by Brutus had been heathens, so ardently desired to embrace the faith of Christ, he with the advice of the elders of the Roman city, was pleased to cause the ambassadors to be baptized; and on their embracing the Catholic faith, Elfan was ordained a Bishop, and Medwy a Doctor. Through their eloquence, and the knowledge which they had in the Holy Scriptures, they returned preachers to Lucius in Britain; by whose holy preaching, Lucius, and the nobles of all Britain, received baptism; and according to the command of St Eleutherius, the Pope, he constituted an ecclesiastical order, ordained bishops, and taught the way of leading a good life.
Liber Landavensis, ‘Of the First State of the Church of Llandaff’

According to legends recorded in the, early-9th century, Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons), Brutus or Britto was the eponymous founder and first king of the Britons. Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his fanciful, but apparently very popular, Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) in the second quarter of the 12th century. Geoffrey took the folkloric tales of the Historia Brittonum and, much elaborated, worked them into his ‘history’ of Britain’s kings. It was the inventive Geoffrey who brought King Arthur to a wide audience. King Lucius is but another of the historical shadows his imagination fleshed-out:

A single son was born to Coilus. His name was Lucius. When Coilus died and Lucius had been crowned King of the country, the latter imitated all his father’s good deeds, with the result that he was considered by everyone to be a second Coilus. His great wish was that he should end in even greater esteem than he had begun; and he therefore sent a letter to Pope Eleutherius to ask that he might be received by him into the Christian faith. The miracles which were being wrought by young Christian missionaries among different peoples had brought great serenity to Lucius’ mind. He was inspired with an eager desire for the true faith. What he asked for in his pious petition was granted to him: for the Holy Father, when he heard of the devotion of Lucius, sent him two learned and religious men, Faganus and Duvianus, who preached the Incarnation of the Word of God and so converted Lucius to Christ and washed him clean in holy baptism. On all sides the peoples of the local tribes hurried to follow their King’s example. Cleansed of their sins by this same baptism, they were made members of the Kingdom of God. Once the holy missionaries had put an end to paganism throughout almost the whole island, they dedicated to the One God and His Blessed Saints the temples which had been founded in honour of a multiplicity of gods, assigning to them various categories of men in orders. At that time there were twenty-eight flamens in Britain and three archflamens, to whose jurisdiction the other spiritual leaders and judges of public morals were subject. At the Pope’s bidding, the missionaries converted these men from their idolatry. Where there were flamens they placed bishops and where there were archflamens they appointed archbishops. The seats of the archflamens had been in three noble cities, London, York and the City of the Legions [Caerleon], the site of which last, by the River Usk in Glamorgan, is still shown by its ancient walls and buildings. The twenty-eight bishops were placed under the jurisdiction of these three cities, once the superstitions practised there had been purged away…
At last, when they had arranged everything to their liking, the missionaries journeyed back to Rome and asked the most holy Father to ratify all that had been done. He gave them his approval; and they then returned once more to Britain. In their company came a great number of other religious men, and by their teaching the faithful among the Britons were soon fully established as Christians…
When this famous King Lucius saw that worship of the true faith had increased within his kingdom, he was very pleased indeed. He turned to better use the goods and the lands which the idolatrous temples had hitherto owned, permitting them to remain in the hands of the churches of the faithful. Feeling that he ought himself to find the money for some mark of distinction that should be greater than this, he rewarded the churches with even larger lands and houses, and increased their power by giving them every possible privilege. In the end Lucius died in the town of Gloucester while still occupied with these matters and with other moves which formed part of his plan. In the year 156 after the Incarnation of our Lord he was buried with all honour in the church of the Archdiocese. He had no heir to succeed him, so that after his death dissension arose between the Britons, and the power of Rome was weakened.
Historia Regum Britanniae IV, 19–20 & V, 1
Paulus Orosius wrote his Historiarum Adversus Paganos Libri Septem (Seven Books of History Against the Pagans), at the request of St Augustine of Hippo, in about 417.
Orosius excluded Otho and Vitellius, both of whom ruled in 69 (Year of the Four Emperors), from his list, hence Marcus Aurelius (“Marcus Antoninus Verus”) is the 14th emperor (including Augustus).
The Chronica Maiora (Greater Chronicle) is not a stand-alone work, but a component of De Temporum Ratione (On the Reckoning of Time) – completed in 725. (The Historia Ecclesiastica was completed in 731.)
Eleutherius was the thirteenth pope; St Peter is counted as the first. In the Liber Pontificalis, due to the rather basic mistake of adding the same pope twice (as Anencletus and Cletus), Eleutherius appears as the fourteenth pope.
See A Clear Example of Godliness.
In 380/81, St Jerome (Hieronymus) translated chronological tables – a summary of world history, beginning with Abraham’s birth and finishing in the year 325 – composed by Eusebius of Caesarea, into Latin from Greek (the original Greek text no longer exists), but making additions from Roman history in the process. Jerome also continued the Chronicon (Chronicle) to 378.
This identification was first made by Adolf von Harnack in 1904 (Der Brief des britischen Königs Lucius an den Papst Eleutherus).