Marcus Aurelius was an Emperor of Rome, who ruled from 161 to 180 and was applauded from safeguarding the empire from the cruelty of the Germans and Parthians. However, Marcus is best known for his philosophical pursuits and intellectual prowess. He ranks among the most respected and influential emperors in Roman history.
Marcus Aurelius was born on April 26, 121, in Rome. He belonged to a prosperous and politically affiliated family. Marcus was a brilliant student, and began learning Greek and Latin at a very early age. His interests were soon piqued by philosophy, and his passion for reading made him a great intellectual pursuer of Stoicism, which influenced him to form his ideology based on logic, fate and self-control. Epictetus’ work, particularly his ‘Discourses’, also had a profound influence on Marcus.
His dedication and philosophical engrossment did not go unnoticed, and soon the Emperor Hadrian gave him his favor. Hadrian instructed his adopted son, Antoninus, to adopt Marcus as his son. Hence, at the age of 17, Marcus became the son of Antoninus, and also a prospective heir to the Roman throne. His father began instructing him in the affairs of the government and public dealings. In 140, Marcus was appointed as the Consul of the senate, his task was to lead the senate, and gradually with time, he was given greater responsibilities and authority, which he exerted with caution and rationality. Marcus devoted his free time to his philosophical learning, and also began to develop an interest in law. In 145, he married the emperor’s daughter, Faustina, and the couple went on to have several children, of which famous are their son Commodus and daughter Lucilla.
In 161, upon the death of his adoptive father, everyone looked towards Marcus Aurelius as he had assumed immense authority in his rapid succession to power, and thus, he was the most ideal candidate as monarch. However, in 161, Aurelius assumed his role as emperor by forming a joint rule with his brother, Verus. This turned out to be an extremely fruitful venture, however, their joint rule was marked in conflict and bloodshed. The period of 160s is marked by constant struggle and battle to defend the Roman Empire against the attack by the Parthian empire in a struggle to win over control of the lands in the East. Verus was in charge of the battle while Marcus stayed in Rome. The victory over the Parthian forces is largely credited to the brave generals under the command of Verus, best known perhaps, is the general Avidius Cassius.
The end of the Parthian War brought the Roman Empire into conflict with the German tribes, when they deliberately crossed the Danube River and attacked and plundered a Roman City. Marcus and Verus raised their troops and prepared for battle, the two embarked together to fight off and defeat the German forces. Verus became seriously ill and died, Marcus continued to fight, and eventually managed to drive out the German forces. In 177, Marcus Aurelius established his son, Commodus, as a co-ruler, and together they fought against the enemies of the Roman Empire. Marcus Aurelius passed away on March 17, 180.
The life of Marcus Aurelius is not remembered for his glorious rule or for his bravery on the battlefield, but rather, for his philosophical endeavors and his contemplative theories which have contributed to the development of Stoicism. A collection of his works is published in a book titled “The Meditations”, which contains his personal notes on life. The book contains an in depth philosophical analysis and rational discussion about the personal and significant details of his life. The book discusses discipline and rationality, and proposes three rules formulated by Aurelius: Being content with fate, being just in behavior towards others and using perception while making decisions. The book is highlighted with self-critical and self-advisory phrases that Marcus seems to direct at himself, “such as wipe out impression; check impulse; quench desire; do nothing at random; those who now bury will soon be buried.”