King Lucius
In his ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ (Ecclesiastical History of the English People), the Anglo-Saxon chronicler Bede writes that:
“In the year of our Lord's Incarnation one hundred and fifty-six [actually, 161], Marcus Antoninus Verus [Marcus Aurelius], the 14th from Augustus, was made emperor, together with his brother, Aurelius Commodus [Lucius Verus]....


Bede inherited the unfamiliar names for Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus from, his source for the above sentence, Orosius. In fact, Bede has dropped a significant piece of information. Orosius says (Book VII Chapter 15) that:
“Marcus Antoninus Verus ... ruled with his brother Aurelius Commodus and remained in power for nineteen years.”
What actually happened was that Marcus Aurelius succeeded his father-by-adoption, Antoninus Pius, in 161. Marcus Aurelius shared his power with Lucius Verus (also an adopted son of Antoninus Pius) until 169, in which year Lucius Verus died. In 177 Marcus Aurelius shared power with his own son, Commodus, until his own death in 180. In a nutshell, then, it was only Marcus Aurelius that ruled for nineteen years, and in the sentence in question, Orosius, followed by Bede, seems to have conflated three men (Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus and Commodus) into two men (Marcus Antoninus Verus and Aurelius Commodus). In fact, Orosius proceeds to relate the correct sequence of events. A.T. Fear, in his 2010 translation of the ‘Seven Books’, reckons (footnote 165) that Orosius misunderstood his source, Jerome: “Jerome speaks of ‘Marcus Antoninus qui et Verus et Lucius Aurelius Commodus’. Orosius has read qui et as ‘who was also called’ when in fact it means ‘who along with’. Verus is Lucius Verus, Marcus Aurelius's co-emperor from AD 161–69.”
.... In their time, whilst Eleutherius, a holy man, presided over the Roman church, Lucius, king of Britain, sent a letter to him, entreating that by his command 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’ Book I Chapter 4
In a recap at the end of the ‘Ecclesiastical History’, Bede states:
“In the year from the incarnation of our Lord 167, Eleutherius, being made bishop at Rome [Eleutherius became pope, rather later than Bede reckoned, in about 174], governed the Church most gloriously 15 years. Lucius, king of Britain, writing to him, requested to be made a Christian, and succeeded in obtaining his request.”
‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ Book V Chapter 24


In fact, in an earlier work, known as the ‘Chronica Maiora’, Bede places Lucius' correspondence with Eleutherius rather more precisely – between the time that Marcus Aurelius shared power with his son, Commodus, which was in 177, and the death of Marcus Aurelius, which was in 180.
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. It was actually in 161. 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.
Jerome places Christ's birth 2015 years after the birth of Abraham. Marcus Aurelius' rule is dated 2177 to 2196 years after Abraham. 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 an, almost certainly erroneous, entry in a variation, made c.530, of the ‘Liber Pontificalis’ (Book of the Popes). There is a theory that the author of the error misread the word ‘Britio’ (referring to the fortress of Edessa, capital of Osroene, Mesopotamia), in his source, as ‘Britannio’. The king being referred to, therefore, was Lucius Abgar (177–212) of Osroene – an identification which has the considerable advantage of being of someone who is known to have existed. At any rate, the (in all probability) non existent British Lucius' story was absorbed into history.
In the early 1120s, the respected historian William of Malmesbury, in his ‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ (Deeds of the Kings of England), 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’ Book I Chapter 19
Around the same time that William issued his ‘Gesta Regum’ (i.e. about 1125), 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 lore – first 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. In the late 1130s, Geoffrey of Monmouth produced his fanciful, but apparently very popular, ‘Historia Regum Britanniae’ (History of the Kings of Britain). Geoffrey took the traditional anecdotes 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:
“Unto Coillus was born one single son whose name was Lucius, who, upon the death of his father, had succeeded to the crown of the kingdom, and did so closely imitate his father in all good works that he was held by all to be another Coillus. Nevertheless, being minded that his ending should surpass his beginning, he despatched his letters unto Pope Eleutherius beseeching that from him he might receive Christianity. For the miracles that were wrought by the young recruits of Christ's army in divers lands had lifted all clouds from his mind, and panting with love of the true faith, his pious petition was allowed to take effect, forasmuch as the blessed Pontiff, finding that his devotion was such, sent unto him two most religious doctors, Faganus and Duvianus, who, preaching unto him the Incarnation of the Word of God, did wash him in holy baptism and converted him unto Christ. Straightway the peoples of all the nations around came running together to follow the King's example, and cleansed in the same holy laver, were made partakers of the kingdom of Heaven. The blessed doctors, therefore, when they had purged away the paganism of well-nigh the whole island, dedicated the temples that had been founded in honour of very many gods unto the One God and unto His saints, and filled them with divers companies of ordained religious. There were then in Britain eight-and-twenty flamens as well as three archflamens, unto whose power the other judges of public morals and officials of the temple were subject. These also, by precept of the Pope, did they snatch away from idolatry; and where there were flamens there did they set bishops, and archbishops where there were archflamens. The seats of the archflamens were at the three noblest cities, in London, to wit, and in York and in the City of Legions [Caerleon], whereof the ancient walls and buildings still remaining on the Usk, in Glamorgan, do bear witness to the former dignity thereof. From these three was superstition purged away, and the eight-and-twenty bishops, with their several dioceses, were subordinated unto them...
At last, when everything had been thus ordained new, the prelates returned to Rome and besought the most blessed Pope to confirm the ordinances they had made. And when the confirmation had been duly granted they returned into Britain with a passing great company of others, by the teaching of whom the nation of the British was in a brief time established in the Christian faith...
Meanwhile King Lucius the Glorious, when he saw how the worship of the true faith had been magnified in his kingdom, did rejoice with exceeding great joy, and converting the revenues and lands which formerly did belong unto the temples of idols unto a better use, did by grant allow them to be still held by the churches of the faithful. And for that it seemed him he ought to show them yet greater honour, he did increase them with broader fields and fair dwelling-houses, and confirmed their liberties by privileges of all kinds. Amidst these and other acts designed to the same purpose he departed this life, and was right worshipfully buried in the church of the first See in the year from the Incarnation of Our Lord one hundred and fifty-six. No issue left he to succeed him, whence at his death dissension arose amongst the Britons and the power of the Romans was sore enfeebled withal.”
‘Historia Regum Britanniae’ Book IV Chapters 19 & 20, Book V Chapter 1
‘Liber Landavensis’ by W.J. Rees
Bede ‘Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum’ by J.A. Giles
Orosius ‘Historiarum Adversus Paganos Libri Septem’ by A.T. Fear
Geoffrey of Monmouth ‘Historia Regum Britanniae’ by Sebastian Evans
William of Malmesbury ‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ by John Sharpe, revised by Joseph Stevenson
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 (known as the Year of the Four Emperors), from his list, hence Marcus Aurelius (“Marcus Antoninus Verus”) is the 14th emperor.
The ‘Chronica Maiora’ (Greater Chronicle) is not a stand-alone work, but a component of ‘De Temporum Ratione’ (On the Reckoning of Time) – written in 725. (The ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ was completed in 731.)
Including St Peter, thirteenth.
See: An Instructive 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 AD325 – 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.