Marcus Aurelius: the Last of the Good Roman Emperors

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Ricky Joseph

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121 - 180 C.E.*), known as the last of the five good emperors (161 - 169 reigned with Lucius Verus; 169 - 177 reigned alone; 177 - 180 reigned with Comodus), was born in Rome (or, according to other sources, Spain) into an aristocratic family. His name was Marcus Anius Verus, which he kept until adopted by his uncle (and successor to Emperor Hadrian) Antoninus Pius, who made theyoung Mark heir to the throne of the Roman Empire.

In the year 161, Marcus ascended to power and, against the senate, established that his adopted brother Lucius Aurelius Verus would join him as co-emperor. The brothers ruled Rome together until Lucius' death in the year 169. Although Marcus Aurelius was trained early in Stoic philosophy (educated by the esteemed orator Marcus Cornelius Fronton, before plunging into the philosophical world) and soughtrule along the precepts of stoicism, his reign faced incessant conflict and the difficult task of facing a fanatical new sect of religious known as Nazarenes, or Christians, who refused to participate in Rome's festivals and would later dishonor the state gods. Marcus Aurelius' persecution of the newly emerging Christians, though cruel to modern understanding,was considered necessary by the emperor in order to maintain peace and order in the city of Rome. Since there was no separation of Church and State in ancient Rome, the refusal to respect the gods of Rome was the same refusal to accept the laws of the state. Despite these constant problems, Marcus Aurelius sought to improve the lives of the citizens of Rome and also of those who lived far from the city regionHe is known as the last of the five good emperors and constantly put the wishes of the people over his own desires or glory.

In 168, German tribes invaded the Danube region and Marcus and Lucius marched from Rome, again, to meet them. In this campaign (of which Lucius' death would occur) and those that followed, Marcus Aurelius proved himself a skilled and competent general, even though he had no training in warfare. Primarily, it was in the Danube region that Marcus wrote his famous book "Meditations," akind of notebook or diary that he recalled his thoughts and feelings about life, a work that he did not intend to publish - and, today, is one of the masterpieces of Stoic philosophy. Marcus Aurelius died in the Danube Region, in that campaign, on March 17, 180. He was succeeded by his son, Cosodos, who had designated him his heir, and who would destroy the legacy left by hisfather. Marcus Aurelius was depicted as the philosopher emperor in the movie "Gladiator" (2000), directed by Ridley Scott. The events in the movie are fictional and do not represent the events surrounding Marcus Aurelius.

Bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius, Rome.

Marco Aurelio timeline

121 CE - 180 CE: Birth and death of Marcus Aurelius.

161 CE - 169 CE: Marcus Aurelius rules together with Lucius Vero.

161 CE - 180 CE: Reign of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

168 CE: German tribes cross the Danube into the Roman Empire.

169 EC - 177 EC: Marco Aurelio rules alone.

176 CE: A large bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius riding a horse is built in Rome.

177 CE - 180 CE: Marcus Aurelius rules with his son, Comodo.

180 CE: The Column of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina is built in Rome, containing the campaign across the Danube erected in relief sculpture.

Bibliography and Addendums


Durant, W, Caesar and Christ (Simon & Schuster, 1980).

Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (Oxford University Press, USA, 2008).

Written by Joshua J. Mark and translated and adapted by Elisson Amboni from the Ancient History Encyclopedia

*EC is short for Common Era.

Ricky Joseph is a seeker of knowledge. He firmly believes that through understanding the world around us, we can work to better ourselves and our society as a whole. As such, he has made it his life's mission to learn as much as he can about the world and its inhabitants. Joseph has worked in many different fields, all with the aim of furthering his knowledge. He has been a teacher, a soldier, and a businessman - but his true passion lies in research. He currently works as a research scientist for a major pharmaceutical company, where he is dedicated to finding new treatments for diseases that have long been considered incurable. Through diligence and hard work, Ricky Joseph has become one of the foremost experts on pharmacology and medicinal chemistry in the world. His name is known by scientists everywhere, and his work continues to improve the lives of millions.