Marcus Aurelius or Marcus Aurelius Antonius Augustus, called the Philosopher, was Roman emperor from 161 to 180 AD. He was the leader of ancient Roman Empire along with his adoptive brother Lucius Verus until the death of Lucius in 169 AD. He was the fifth of the Five Good Emperors. Moreover, Marcus Aurelius was the last emperor of the Pax Romana, an age of peace and stability for the Empire.
Marcus’s Aurelius writings, known as “Meditations”, became significant for the modern studies of ancient Stoic philosophy
Marcus Aurelius was born into a Roman patrician family. His father was a praetor; he died in 124 AD. After his death, Marcus was raised by his paternal granfather and mother. Also, he received education at home, which was popular for children from Roman aristocratic families. Among his tutors were the artist Diognetus, who influenced his passion to philosophy, and Tuticius Proclus.
Marcus Aurelius was betrothed to the daughter of Lucius Aelius, his relative Emperor Hadrian‘s adopted son and heir. Aelius died in 138 AD and Hadrian chose as his new heir Antonius Pius, who was the husband of Marcus’ aunt. He wanted Antonius to adopt Marcus and the son of Aelius, Lucius Commodus. As an imperial heir, Marcus studied Greek and Latin. His tutors included Herodes Atticus and Marcus Cornelius Fronto. Marcus learned the notion of Stoicism by Quintus Junius Rusticus; he was made a quaestor and the symbolic head of the Roman equites.
In 140 AD, Marcus and Antonius were appointed consuls
Later, in 145 AD, Marcus married Antonius’ daughter Faustina the Younger. In 147 AD, Faustina gave birth to a girl named Domitia Faustina. The daughter was the first of at least 13 children that Faustina would give birth in the next two decades. The next day after Domitia’s birth, Antonius gave Marcus the tribunician power and the imperium, which meant the leadership over the armies and provinces of the emperor. First mentions about the daughter of Marcus Aurelius are known from his letters, where he described her as a sick child. Domitia died in 151 AD.
Last Years of Antonius Pius
Lucius’ career was started in the role of a quaestor in 153 AD. He was a consul in 154, and together with Marcus he became consul again in 161. Lucius was known as the “son of Augustus.” As Antonius became older, Marcus started to take more care on administrative duties. When Marcus and Lucius were joint consuls, Antonius may have already been ill. Before his death, he had a fever and decided to call on the imperial council, and passed the state and his daughter to Marcus. His death was marked as the longest reign since Augustus, surpassing Tiberius by a couple of months.
After the death of Antonius is 161, the Senate wanted to make Aurelius the only emperor, but he refused the honor unless Lucius Verus was chosen as co-emperor with Marcus. Aurelius and Verus began their reign by creating new programs related to help the poor and gratifying the military with more pay and honors. Rulers highly appreciated free speech, the arts, education, and developed the economical plight by debasing the currency.
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The two emperors were popular with the people
Marcus Aurelius followed Stoic principles in his rule, while Verus organized lavish parties and spent money on expensive gifts to friends. In 161 AD, the Parthian King Vologases IV invaded Armenia, which was under protection of Rome, which led to the revolt of Syria. Verus’ military experience was stronger than Aurelius’ and he took responsibility for the campaigns in the east. The Parthian Wars took place until 166, where Rome got victory. While Verus was away for military purposes, Aurelius remained at Rome. The emperor adjudicated court cases, changed laws and dealt with issues that provinces had. Also, during that period of time, Marcus Aurelius persecuted the new sect of Christianity, which refused to honor the state religion.
By 166 AD, there were no more problems with the Christians and the war in Parthia ended successfully for Rome. Aurelius had married Faustina in 145 and later years were significant for them for the impressive number of children they had. However, some of them died young, but Marcus Aurelius believed that the gods could be smiling upon him with good fortune.
Verus died in 169 AD. Most probably the reason was the plague that his troops had brought back to Rome from campaign. Thus, Marcus Aurelius was ruling alone. Most of the remaining time of reign he spent in Germania to campaigns, where he wrote his famous “Meditations.”
The book “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius is the main work of the emperor and philosopher. The author and the Stoic school of philosophy, of which he was a devoted follower, valued reason and a logical perception of the world over all else. So, they considered a calm and analytical mind better than one ruled by desires and feelings.
The system of logos by Aurelius means that everything that happens was supposed to and is therefore good
Moreover, according to Aurelius, the only thing people can do is accept pain and move on without complaining. Here, complaining simply disrespects the immortal logic of logos that is embedded in every person, and inflicts further pain oneself. The author coped with the pain caused all this suffering by maintaining his belief that physical pain is still a part of the greater good that is logos.
The main idea of the book is that you are the only person who can decide your fate and actions. Even if someone doesn’t like you, don’t let yourself stoop to their level. Always treat people with dignity and justice and you will never suffer as a result of your own actions.
- Marcus Aurelius was a practitioner of Stoicism, and his nameless letter, commonly known as Meditations, is an important source of modern understanding of the ancient philosophy of the Stoics
- During his reign, the persecution of Christians increased
- His death in 180 is considered the end of Pax Romana, and the ensuing growing instability in the west is traditionally regarded as the beginning of the possible fall of the Western Roman Empire
- He was taught at home, in accordance with aristocratic tendencies
- Mark was succeeded by his son Commodus, whom he called Caesar in 166 and with whom he ruled together from 177
- Marcus Aurelius gained the reputation of the king-philosopher during his lifetime, a title that will remain after his death
- The reason why the two emperors ruled in Rome during the time of Aurelius was the good nature of Verus and his acceptance of Marcus’s seniority in the years and judgment
- During his reign, the Roman Empire defeated the revived Parthian Empire in the east
- His family was born in Ucubi, a small town southeast of Cordoba in the Iberian Baetica
- He was the fifth of the Five Good Emperors
Talking about last years of the emperor, from 170 to 175, Faustina accompained Marcus Aurelius on campaigns and went with him to Syria, Egypt, and Greece. She died in the witer of 175 AD. In 178 AD, Aurelius defeated the Germanic tribes on the Danube and died two years later in 180 AD. Marcus Aurelius was succeeded by Commodus.