Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor

public profile

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus

Also Known As: "Marcus Aurelius", "Marcus Annius Verus", "consul JA0126"
Birthplace: Rome, Latium, Italy
Death: March 17, 180 (58)
Place of Burial: Mausoléu de Adriano, Roma (Itália)
Immediate Family:

Son of Marcus Annius Verus, Praetor and Domitia Lucilla Minor
Husband of Annia Galeria Faustina Minor, Roman Empress
Father of Annia Aurelia Galeria Faustina; Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla; Gemellus Lucillae; Domitia Faustina; Hadrianus and 8 others
Brother of Annia Cornificia Faustina

Occupation: Roman Emperor (March 8, 161-March 17, 180), Filosoof en keizer, Roman Emperor 161 - 180, the Philosopher - Ceasar, Emperor, keizer Romeinse Rijk, Roman Emperor
Managed by: Urmas Heinaste
Last Updated:

About Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor

Marcus Aurelius (Latin: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus April 26, 121 CE. – March 17, 180 CE.), was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 CE. He ruled with Lucius Verus as co-emperor from 161 until Verus' death in 169. He was the last of the "Five Good Emperors", and is also considered one of the most important members of the Stoic philosophers. During his reign, the Empire defeated a revitalized Parthian Empire; Aurelius' general Avidius Cassius sacked the capital Ctesiphon in 164. Aurelius fought the Marcomanni, Quadi, and Sarmatians with success during the Marcomannic Wars, but the threat of the Germanic tribes began to represent a troubling reality for the Empire. A revolt in the East led by Avidius Cassius failed to gain momentum and was suppressed immediately.

Marcus Aurelius' Stoic tome Meditations, written in Greek while on campaign between 170 and 180, is still revered as a literary monument to a philosophy of service and duty, describing how to find and preserve equanimity in the midst of conflict by following nature as a source of guidance and inspiration.



Marcus Aurelius
The second century CE Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was also a Stoic philosopher, and his private Meditations, written in Greek, gives readers a unique opportunity to see how an ancient person (indeed an emperor) might try to live a Stoic life, according to which only virtue is good, only vice is bad, and the things which we busy ourselves with are all indifferent. The difficulties Marcus faces putting Stoicism into practice are philosophical as well as practical, and understanding his efforts increases our philosophical appreciation of Stoicism.

1. Life and Works 1.1 The Character of the Meditations 2.Living Stoically 2.1 The Deliberative Content Problem: The Good, The Bad, and the Indifferent 3. Justice: Acting for the Sake of the Cosmopolis 4. Piety: Welcoming What Happens as Part of the Whole 4.1 Providence or Atoms? 4.2 Erase Impressions 5. Conclusion Bibliography Primary Literature Secondary Literature Other Internet Resources Related Entries 1. Life and Works

Born in 121 CE and educated extensively in rhetoric and philosophy, Marcus Aurelius was adopted at the age of 18 by Antoninus Pius, whom he succeeded as Emperor of Rome in 161 CE. He reigned until his death in 180. His reign was troubled by attacks from Germany, rebellions in northern Italy and Egypt, and an outburst of the plague; at least part of the work for which he is famous, his so-called Meditations, was written during the last years of his military campaigns. Marcus' Meditations is not all that survives of his writings. Also extant are some edicts, official letters, and some private correspondence, including a lengthy correspondence with his rhetoric teacher and lifelong friend, Fronto.[1] The private correspondence begins before Marcus is twenty and continues into his imperial years. It includes what seem to be rhetorical exercises (for example, pieces in praise of smoke and dust, and sleep) written when Marcus was still in his 20s, an exchange about the value (or not) of rhetoric to philosophy written soon after Marcus became Emperor, and throughout, personal information, frequently concerning illnesses, births, and deaths in the family.

Marcus' chief philosophical influence was Stoic: in Book I of the Meditations, he records his gratitude to his Stoic teacher and friend Rusticus for giving him Epictetus to read, and in a letter to Fronto written between 145 and 147, he reports reading the Stoic Aristo and finding intense joy in his teachings, growing ashamed of his own shortcomings, and realizing that he can never again argue opposite sides of the same question, as required by rhetorical practice. The Stoic influence, however, does not prevent Marcus from approvingly quoting Epicurus on ethical matters (as Seneca had); in addition to Epictetus and Epicurus, Marcus quotes liberally from such figures as Antisthenes, Chrysippus, Democritus, Euripides, Heraclitus, Homer, and Plato. From Book I of the Meditations we also learn that Marcus' political heroes included republican opponents of kingship: he thanks his adoptive brother Severus not only for exemplifying the love of justice and the vision of a constitution based on equality before the law, but also for the knowledge of Brutus (assassin of Julius Caesar), Cato, Dion (more likely of Prusa than of Syracuse), (Publius) Thrasea, and Helvidius (i.14). Consonant with this, he warns himself to see to it that he does not become ‘Caesarified’ (that is, act like a dictator, vi.30).

1.1 The Character of the Meditations

Marcus' Meditations reads very differently from other philosophical texts in antiquity. Outside of Book I, which is a kind of extended ‘Acknowledgments’ of the people who graced Marcus' life as examples of some virtue or bearers of some useful lesson, it is difficult to detect much structure in the work, for instance whether the order of the books and chapters is significant, or even whether the chapter divisions reflect breaks in Marcus' thought. Marcus returns insistently to issues that must have arisen from his experiences, such as the imminence of death and his irritation with his associates' faults. Our own perennial concern with these topics, Marcus' gift for vivid imagery, and the apparent extractability of individual sentences from the text given its lack of clear structure, have all contributed to making Marcus among the most quotable of philosophers. But the reader who wants to understand Marcus' thought as a whole is bound to be frustrated; sometimes reading Marcus feels like reading the lines of Hamlet's Polonius. Philosophical treatments of Marcus have to bring their own structure to the work. The most substantial of these is Hadot 1998, which organizes Marcus' thoughts around the Epictetan disciplines of (i) desire, (ii) impulse and (iii) assent. According to Hadot, these appear in Marcus as the rules of (i) being contented with whatever happens, (ii) conducting oneself justly towards others, and (iii) exercising discernment in one's judgments (35–36).[2]

Attention to the genre of Marcus' Meditations can help the philosophical reader. What kind of work is this? The first clear mention of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations in antiquity is by Themistius in the 4th c. CE, who calls it Marcus' ‘precepts’ (parangelmata); in 900, Suidas' dictionary calls it a leading or directing (agôgê) and the bishop Arethas calls it ‘the [writings] to himself’ (ta eis heauton).[3] Scholars now generally agree (following Brunt 1974) that Marcus wrote for his own moral improvement, to remind himself of and render concrete the Stoic doctrines he wanted to live by, such as that the world is governed by Providence; that happiness lies in virtue, which is wholly in one's power; and that one should not be angry at one's associates but regard them as siblings, offspring of the same God. While we do not have other examples of this kind of private writing from antiquity, we do have Epictetus' advice daily to write down (as well as to rehearse) the sorts of responses one ought to have to situations one encounters, so that one might have them ready at hand (procheiron) when circumstances demand (Epictetus Discourses i.1.21–25, iv.1.111; cf. iii.5.11, iii.26.39 on moral improvement being the appropriate aim of reading and writing). And Marcus describes his own writings as supports (parastêmata, iii.11) and hooks (parapêgmata, ix.3.2) and rules (kanones, v.22, x.2).

This purpose—mentally equipping oneself to deal with what comes one's way—would explain the Meditations' often aphoristic and sloganeering style (e.g. ‘Erase impressions!’; ‘Do nothing at random!’; ‘Those who now bury will soon be buried!’): as Marcus says, for the one who has been bitten by true doctrines even the briefest saying suffices as a reminder (hupomnêmasin) of freedom from pain and fear (x.34). (In i.7, Marcus speaks of reading Epictetus' ‘hupomnêmasin’; hupomnêmata is the name given them by Arrian, who wrote down Epictetus' teachings, apparently in reference to Xenophon's Memorabilia of Socrates.) It also explains why when Marcus refers to events in his life, he does not specify them in a way that would allow anyone else to identify them, and why he uses technical Stoic terminology without explanation.[4] Further, it dispels the mystery of his collecting sayings of philosophers without much scruple as to whether the philosophy from which the sayings come is consistent with Stoicism. Finally, it directs readers to look for the psychological errors Marcus is trying to combat, or the correct attitude he is trying to inculcate, when he brings up some doctrine or argument, whether Stoic or not. So for example, xi.18, which begins by saying that human beings came into the world for the sake of each other and that the metaphysical alternatives are atoms or Nature (see below, 4.1), is a list of ten prescriptions against anger (cf. ix.42). Again, ix.28 invokes the Stoic doctrine of eternal recurrence to bring to mind the insignificance of mortal things. This suggests that despite the quotability of individual assertions in the Meditations, we should approach them by studying their ‘therapeutic’ context, that is, by asking: what psychological effect(s) is Marcus trying to achieve by saying this? When Marcus says ‘p’, he is not always simply expressing his belief that p.

The approach taken below follows Hadot's (1998, 5) lead that for the ancients philosophy was a way of life, and that Marcus' Meditations show us what it was like for an individual to try to live a Stoic life. However, rather than trying to cover all the themes in Marcus in this light—in addition to the topics discussed below, he talks about time, fate, death, the cycles of change in the cosmos—I focus on one basic question for Marcus' project of living Stoically: by what principles does a Stoic act? Addressing this basic question leads into discussion of the two virtues Marcus has the most to say about: justice and piety.

2.Living Stoically

Marcus is explicit that what he is trying to do is to live as a philosopher, and that he understands this in Stoic terms:

…you are no longer able to have lived your whole life as a philosopher since youth; and it is clear to many others and to you yourself that you are far from philosophy. So you are confused: the result is that obtaining the reputation of a philosopher is no longer easy for you … If you have seen truly where the matter lies, then leave behind your reputation and be content even if you live the remainder of life, however long [it may be], as your nature wills. Consider what it wills, and let nothing else distract you. For your experience tells you how much you have strayed: nowhere in so-called reasonings, wealth, reputation, enjoyment, nowhere do you find living well. So where is it? In doing those things which human nature seeks. And how will one do these things? If one has doctrines from which [flow] one's impulses and actions. Which doctrines? Those concerning goods and evils: that nothing is good for a human being which does not make him just, temperate, courageous, free; that nothing is bad, which does not make him the contraries of the aforementioned. (viii.1)

Like any good Stoic, Marcus is enjoining himself to follow his nature. But to live according to these principles, any Stoic must bring them down to earth: what, in this particular situation, does my nature will?

The passage above appears to explain how one might ‘follow nature’ by saying that one must modify the doctrines that inform one's impulses and actions, that is to say, one's beliefs about good and bad. How will this help? Marcus says, for example, that if we believe that pleasure is good and pain evil, then we will be resentful of the pleasures enjoyed by the vicious and the pains suffered by the virtuous. And if we are resentful of what happens, we will be finding fault with Nature and will be impious (ix.1.3). But we can already see from this that while false beliefs about good and bad make it impossible for us to follow nature and to act virtuously, their removal does not by itself enable us to follow nature and act virtuously. For once I know that pleasure and pain are indifferent, I still need to know, granting that pleasure and pain are neither good nor evil, how I should value this pleasure and that pain, in order to be following nature.

The first century Stoic philosopher Seneca argues in his letters for the usefulness of concrete advice for certain types of situations (praecepta) on the grounds that having eliminated vice and false opinion, one will not yet know what to do and how to do it (94.23), for inexperience, not only passion, prevents us from knowing what to do in each situation (94.32); Seneca also says that nature does not teach us what the appropriate action is in every case (94.19). Perhaps Marcus thinks that there is, in every choice situation, something one can do that is productive of virtue (he says, ‘nothing is good for a human being which does not make him just, temperate, courageous, free’), and that is the appropriate action. Alternatively, he may think that what produces virtue is not the content of one's action but the thoughts that go along with it. But what thoughts are these? Surely, if virtue is to have any content, thinking ‘only virtue is good’ is not going to be sufficient.

2.1 The Deliberative Content Problem: The Good, The Bad, and the Indifferent

The study of textbook Stoicism shows us that anyone who tries to live as a Stoic will face a problem in specifying what the content of Stoic deliberation is supposed to be. Stoicism teaches that virtue is the only good, that vice is the only evil, and that everything else is indifferent. That is to say, only virtue can contribute to our happiness; only vice can contribute to our unhappiness. Poverty, ill-repute, and ill-health are not bad, for their possession does not make us unhappy; wealth, fame and good are not good because their possession does not make us happy. If one asks, how then shall I act? On what should I base my choices so that they are rational and not arbitrary?, the textbook answer is that among indifferents some are to be preferred as being in accordance with nature (Diogenes Laertius vii.101–5; Stobaeus ii.79.18–80, 13; ii.82.20–1, Epictetus ii.6.9 [for these passages see Long and Sedley 1987, section 58]). So whereas it is absolutely indifferent how many hairs one has on one's head or whether the number of stars in the sky is even or odd, we do, and in most cases should, prefer and select wealth, fame and good health over poverty, ill-repute and sickness, because these are (in most cases) in accordance with nature. Cicero gives one reason why there must be value-differences among indifferents: if everything aside from virtue and vice were absolutely indifferent, the perfected rationality of the Stoic wise person would have no function or task to carry out (On Ends iii.50). Would wisdom's exercise consist in flipping coins to select one indifferent over another?

Stoicism's prescription for what to do, for the content of our actions, is to act in accordance with nature. The formula for happiness, in Cleanthes, is ‘living in agreement with nature’ and in Chrysippus, ‘living according to the experience of what happens by nature’ (Stoabeus ii.75.11–76.8). When we follow nature our actions are appropriate, (kathêkonta; for Marcus' use of this term, see i.2, iii.1.2, iii.16.2, vi.22, vi.26.3), and an appropriate action is an action for which there is a reasonable (eulogon) justification (Stobaeus ii.85.13–86.4). But an appropriate action is not a morally perfect or virtuous action (katorthôma) unless it is done from understanding, the wise and stable condition possessed only by the fully virtuous person. Appropriate and morally perfect actions do not differ in content, but only in the total mental state of the agent performing them. Unfortunately texts that deal explicitly with appropriate action leave certain crucial questions unanswered: can there be more than one appropriate action in a given situation, and is the sense of ‘reasonable justification’ like the law's ‘reasonable doubt’ or ‘reasonable person’? Or is the appropriate action just the virtuous action minus the virtuous state of mind? Epictetus reports Chrysippus' remark that if he knew he was fated to be ill, then he would have an impulse towards that (ii.6.9). This remark suggests that since he doesn't know whether he is fated to be ill, the appropriate action for him is to select health. But suppose he is in fact fated to be ill: would both selecting health and selecting sickness be appropriate actions for him at the time? Is the standard for appropriateness, or accordance with nature, what it is reasonable to do given one's understanding or lack of understanding of nature, or is it what a virtuous person would do with her fully rational understanding of nature?

Diogenes Laertius reports a distinction between appropriate actions that do not depend on circumstances, such as looking after one's health and sense-organs, and appropriate actions that are appropriate only in certain circumstances, such as mutilating oneself (Diogenes Laertius vii.108–9); could it be that the selection of health is always appropriate, no matter what the consequences, and no matter what the alternative? A majority of scholars take appropriate actions to be the type of action that is typically in accordance with nature, and would typically be selected by the virtuous person; however token actions of that type could fail to be in accordance with nature and would be rejected by the virtuous person. On the other hand, Brennan (1996, 326–29) argues that there is only one appropriate action for any situation, so that selection of what is preferred, or usually according to nature, is only prima facie appropriate. ‘Reasonable justification’, on this interpretation, is the reasoning available to the virtuous person; the standard for reasonableness is right reason—as it is in other Stoic uses of ‘reasonable’, such as in the description of the good emotions (eupatheiai). Further, Chrysippus' claim that the fully virtuous person performs all appropriate actions and leaves no appropriate action unperformed (SVF iii.510) would be false if there were more than one appropriate action per situation.

In either case, the problem is that while living as a Stoic requires that one be able to say about particular token actions whether they ought to be selected—as according to nature, preferred indifferents, appropriate actions—the texts seem only to tell us about the types of actions that ought to be selected. The Stoic is left with observations such as that it is our nature to preserve our bodily constitution (Diogenes Laertius vii.85–86), but there are situations in which we ought to give up our lives (Cicero On Duties iii.89–115, On Ends iii.60). Perhaps there is nothing further to be said in general to direct the selection of token actions, but then it is entirely mysterious how trying to live in accordance with nature is supposed to help with living virtuously.

Barney 2003 and Brennan 2005 examine whether Stoicism might direct one to maximize one's own possession of preferred indifferents, and note the conflict between this and the sorts of virtuous behavior the good Stoic is supposed to engage in, like sacrificing his life for his country. To explain Stoic judgments that we ought to do what is best for the whole community rather than only ourselves, Brennan 2005 appeals to the Stoic doctrine of oikeiôsis: we have a natural tendency to care for others, at first our family and friends and ultimately our fellow-citizens and fellow-humans (154–59). This tendency may not be strong enough to overcome self-interest; however, Brennan argues that the Stoic's realization that indifferents do not contribute to happiness weakens one barrier to impartial deliberation: if indifferents were good, the Stoic would want them for herself; since they are not good, she deliberates about how to distribute them as justice demands (164–65). Since considerations of virtue cannot (on pain of circularity) enter into her deliberations, what gives ‘justice's demands’ content (at least in Cicero, and Cicero attributes similar views to Chrysippus) are considerations of the community's utility and respect for property-rights (206–26). These indifferents are to be preferred as more in accordance with nature than, for example, one's individual utility.

As we shall see, Marcus' way of addressing the deliberative content problem is in one respect like Cicero's: the characterization of right conduct comes from ideas about what justice demands, and the content of justice comes from outside Stoic ethics proper. In Marcus' case, it comes from the idea that the cosmos is a city and that all rational beings are fellow-citizens of this city. The role of citizen brings with it certain conventional expectations of conduct and Marcus simply transfers these expectations to citizenship of the cosmopolis.

3. Justice: Acting for the Sake of the Cosmopolis

Marcus says that one should be concerned with two things only: acting justly and loving what is allotted one (x.11, cf. xii.1). He fleshes out ‘acting justly’ in terms of acting communally (ix.31), and adds that wherever one is, one should live as a citizen of the cosmic city (x.15). Appeal to the idea that the cosmos is a city allows him to say that we should do well for all humanity (viii.23), for we each have a citizen's duty to contribute to the welfare of the whole cosmopolis. Conversely, anyone who does not contribute to the communal goal (to koinônikon telos) is acting seditiously (ix.23); one may not even hate one man, for this rends the community (xi.8).

This communal goal is specified in terms of indifferents rather than virtue, so it seems that one should aim to bring about preferred indifferents for the whole of which one is a part. Explaining that the interest (to sumpheron) of the whole and of a part cannot conflict, Marcus writes that by ‘interest’ he means intermediate things (tôn mesôn) (vi.45). Even though food is not a good and hunger not an evil, a Stoic will respond to a hungry person with food, rather than (only) a lecture that food is not a good and hunger not an evil. Presumably this response is grounded in our natural concern (oikeiôsis), which at its most intense is responsible for parents' caring for their children (Diogenes Laertius vii.85), and Marcus tells himself to regard other human beings as most his own (oikeiotaton) when thinking how to benefit them and how not to obstruct their plans (v.20).

Marcus says that the rational nature does well when it directs impulses (hormai) to communal action (viii.7). We must do what follows from our constitution, and the communal faculty (to koinônikon) plays the leading part in the human constitution (vii.55). After the communal faculty comes the rational faculty (vii.55), but again, the rational faculty is perfected in justice (ix.22). As a human being, one is a perfective part of a political organism; it follows from this that one's every action should be perfective of political life (ix.23). Sometimes Marcus goes so far as to identify the good (agathon) of a rational creature with community (v.16).

Finally, Marcus simply denies that there is ever any conflict between the good of the individual and the good of the whole community of which that individual is a part. He says, on the one side, that what the nature of the whole brings about is good (agathon) for each part (ii.3), and that what is not hurtful to the city can't be hurtful to its citizen (v.22). On the other side, he says that the perfection, well-being, and stability of the whole depends on what happens to each part (v.8). He compares the relationship between separate rational individuals and the community to limbs and body, which are so constituted as to work together (vii.13). The comparison between the citizen-city relationship and the limb-body relationship goes back to Plato's Republic (462b-d), according to which in the ideal city, harm to one citizen or part of the city is felt as harm to the rest of the citizens or the city as a whole. While Plato emphasizes the unity of sentiment in the ideal city, Marcus emphasizes the citizen's being a functional part of the whole city: just as this matter would not be a limb at all without the body of which it is a part, so too, this human individual would not be what he is without a city of which he is a part (Marcus must mean the cosmic city).

Marcus' claims about the harmony between the welfare or advantage of wholes and parts are also central to his conception of piety.

4. Piety: Welcoming What Happens as Part of the Whole

Marcus writes,

Every nature is satisfied with itself when it goes well, and the rational nature goes well when it assents to nothing false or unclear among its impressions, when it directs impulses to communal actions, when it generates desires and inclinations for only those things that are in our power, and when it welcomes everything apportioned to it by common nature. (viii.7)

The last of these four behaviors is productive of piety. The key idea in piety is that the cosmos as a whole is providentially designed, and so is as good as it can be, and so its parts are as good as they can be, and so our attitude towards every part ought to be acceptance—or as he sometimes puts it more strongly, love. According to Hadot (1998, 128), Marcus follows Epictetus in distinguishing impulse (hormê) from desire (orexis), and innovates by restricting impulse to the sphere of our activity. Desire, parallel to impulse, is restricted to the sphere of our passivity; thus, we should desire whatever befalls us. Hadot is mistaken here, for according to the Stoics, our reactions to what befalls us are also impulses, and desire is a species of impulse. Marcus says either to restrict desire to what is up to us (ix.7) or to quench (sbêsai) it. Epictetus tells us to refrain from desire for the time being (iii.24.23, 24, 85). The reason to quench desire is the danger of desiring the wrong thing: to desire something is to believe it to be good, and to have a runaway impulse towards it. Notice that this also gives us an argument against desiring the things that befall one. We might note that Marcus, in the passage above, recommends not desiring but welcoming (aspazomenê) whatever befalls one. Perhaps we should associate desire (orexis) with pursuing, and welcoming with contentment upon receiving

We can use our understanding of piety as appreciation of providence to illuminate two slogans frequently found in Marcus: ‘providence or atoms?’ and ‘erase impressions’.

4.1 Providence or Atoms?

Nine times in the Meditations, Marcus lays out the alternatives: providence, nature, reason, on the one hand, or atoms, on the other (iv.3, vi.24, vii.32, vii.50, viii.17, ix.28, xi.39, x.6, xi.18). Although he does not explain, the reference is clear enough: either the world and what happens is the design of a providential God, as believed by the Stoics (and Platonists), or the outcome of atoms colliding randomly in the void, as believed by the Epicureans. What is not obvious is why Marcus is laying out these alternatives. Is it because his grasp of Stoic physics is so tenuous that he must be open to the possibility that Epicurean physics is true (Rist 1982, 43, Annas 2004, 116)? Marcus does at one point express despair about his own grasp of physics (vii.67). Or is his point that whether one's physics is Epicurean or Stoic, one must live as the Stoics enjoin (Annas, 108–114, Hadot, 148), that is to say, rationally, with a single purpose, rising above conventional goods and evils (ix.28)? Does the convergence of Epicureans and Stoics on such ethical points, in view of the two schools' very different physical opinions, strengthen his confidence in the ethics (Annas, 109)?

In one passage of the Meditations, Marcus gives the ‘providence or atoms’ alternatives when he is clearly interested in the convergence of ethical opinion among all the wise—not only Stoics and Epicureans, for he also cites Democritus, Plato and Antisthenes—on the insignificance of matters which ordinary people value most (life and death, pain, reputation) and the far greater importance of virtue (vii.32 & FF). In this context, Marcus puts Epicurus' view that at death our soul-atoms are dispersed and we cease to exist on all fours with the Stoic view that Nature either extinguishes or transforms us at death. Here Marcus also quotes Epicurus on pain with approval: pain is either bearable (if long-lasting) or short (if intense). His point seems to be that whatever one's particular philosophical allegiance, allegiance to philosophy involves rising above pain, death, and reputation—and also, it turns out, involves not grumbling: for if the way things are is due to providence, then they could not be better and one is wrong to grumble, but if the way things are is due to chance, then it is pointless to grumble (viii.17, ix.39).

Still, Marcus is not really open to the possibility of Epicurean physics. He asserts repeatedly, after laying out the ‘providence or atoms’ options, that the world is in fact governed by an intelligent nature of which he is a functional part, like a citizen of a state (iv.3, x.6). So we should not make too much of Marcus' diffidence about his mastery of physics (vii.67), for he may only mean that his own technical grasp of Stoic physics is inadequate, rather than that he lacks confidence in its superiority over Epicurean physics. Elsewhere he insists that he has a sufficient conception (ennoia) of a life according to nature so as to live it (i.9, 17).

Further, Marcus innovates in deriving from Providence the Stoic doctrine of the indifference of everything aside from virtue and vice: since wealth, reputation, and health are distributed among the virtuous and the vicious indiscriminately, he reasons, they cannot be good, for that would be contrary to Providence (ii.11). This does not mean Marcus is generally grounding ethics in physics, however.[5] According to the Stoics, the beliefs of anyone other than a wise and fully virtuous person are weak and unstable (since not anchored in an understanding of the whole), and so we should expect a non-wise Stoic like Marcus to seek out all kinds of reasons to shore up his ethical beliefs. Marcus can consistently regard these ‘back-up’ arguments for a moment of weakness as weaker and less plausible than the Stoic arguments and at the same time as important to have at hand—as a smoker might hang on to ‘it gives you wrinkles’ for the moments in which ‘it gives you cancer’ isn't doing the trick.

Finally, Marcus uses ‘providence or atoms’ in the Meditations to drive out an impious attitude:

Are you discontented with the part you have been assigned in the whole? Recall the alternatives: Providence or atoms, and how many are the demonstrations, that the cosmos is a city. (iv.3.2)

To understand what the thought, ‘providence or atoms’, is doing here we have to connect it with the discontent that is the topic of the passage. Marcus is admonishing himself for his discontent with things as they stand, saying to himself, ‘if you are finding fault with things as they are, then you must think that they are not due to Providence. But if they're not due to Providence, then they're the result of random causes.’ In this passage, ‘atoms’ functions as the implicit commitment of one who finds fault with things as they are. The reasoning works to raise the stakes for someone who is grumbling at the way things are. It brings out that there is a contradiction between believing, as a Stoic must, that the world is providentially run, and being discontented with anything that happens. Once the contradiction is brought out, it becomes clear which of the two alternatives a Stoic must plump for, and what follows about the attitudes he must consequently adopt towards the world and every part of it. Sometimes Marcus spells out these steps: ‘But look at the evidence in favour of Providence—the whole cosmos is organised like a city, that is to say, each part is so organized as to serve the good of the whole’. For example, at iv.27, Marcus appears to be starting to consider the twin possibilities that the world is a cosmos or a chaotic mixture (kukeôn, referring perhaps to Heraclitus fr. 125), but then he immediately asserts that it is a cosmos. Often, however, Marcus does not have to spell this out. In any event, what ‘atoms’ stands for, in this context, is impiety. So Marcus is telling his grumbling self: your grumbling is evidence of impiety, evidence of your being like an Epicurean—except that actual Epicureans are more philosophical and do not grumble about an irrational cosmos bringing them bad luck, but rather, try themselves to live rationally.

This last use of ‘providence or atoms’ shows that since Marcus is writing to bring about certain psychological effects in himself, we have to look to context to determine what the desired effect is, and then determine how the things he tells himself are supposed to bring about the effect. Perhaps the desired effect calls for hyperbolic statements in order to correct for some natural tendency he thinks he has. If we do not keep this in mind as we read Marcus, we will only find contradictions, tensions, and ambivalences and we will conclude that Marcus is an eclectic and imprecise thinker.[6]

4.2 Erase Impressions

Marcus often tells himself, ‘erase (exaleipsai) your impressions (phantasiai)’ (v.2, vii.29, viii.29, ix.7, cf. ii.5, iii.16, v.36). According to Stoic epistemology, things in the world impress images of themselves on human and animal souls, rather as shapes might impress themselves on a wax tablet, or writing might appear on a blank piece of paper. Human beings may also assent to or withhold assent from these impressions; judgments are the result of our assenting to impressions, or more precisely to the propositional articulations of our impressions. While assent is voluntary, impressions are not (cf. Epictetus fr. 9). So clearly we can't erase our impressions in the sense of simply wiping them out, but then what is Marcus telling himself to do? In exchanges with Academic skeptics, the Stoics say that the wise person does not assent except to impressions that represent accurately the thing in the world that is their cause (‘kataleptic’ impressions); how does Marcus' injunction to ‘erase’ impressions relate to this standard?

According to Hadot (103–4), by ‘erase impressions’ Marcus means ‘assent only to objective and physical descriptions of externals’. What Marcus is telling himself to erase, Hadot says, is value-judgments about everything external to his character. Hadot thinks Marcus is simply confused in using the term phantasia for these judgments (the correct term, which he sometimes uses [cf. iv.39, v.26, viii.4], and which he sometimes distinguishes from phantasia [cf. viii.47–49], is hupolêpsis or ‘assumption’).

The distinction between objective physical facts and subjective value judgments is more existentialist than Stoic—for the Stoics value is objective, and indeed Marcus repeatedly exults in the beauty and goodness of the cosmos as a whole. (We should not assume that the evaluations are all added by us, the subjects, to the impression, for the Stoics think that there are evaluative impressions, cf. Epictetus fr. 9.) Nevertheless, it is right that Marcus, following Epictetus, recommends refraining from judging ‘good’ or ‘bad’ since those describe only virtue and vice and none but the fully virtuous person really knows those (see, e.g., Encheiridion 45). And it is also right that Marcus often deals with things that are conventionally accorded high value in reductive material terms. So, for example, he writes,

Take for instance the impression in the case of relishes and such edibles, that this one is the corpse of a fish, and that one of bird or pig. And again that this Phalernian [wine] is the little juice of a bunch of grapes, and the purple-edged robe is sheep's wool dyed by the blood of a shellfish; and in the case of things having to do with sexual union [that it is] friction of the genitals with the excretion of mucus in spasms. Such are the impressions that get at things and go right into them, so that one sees how each thing really is. (vi.13, cf. viii.21, 24)

Indeed, Marcus himself describes what he is doing here as defining what each thing is stripped naked, and enumerating the components into which it disintegrates (iii.11); elsewhere he adds that this technique leads one to despise the thing so analyzed (xi.2).

However, this is only one of two complementary ways Marcus deals with his impressions. The other is to consider things that are conventionally disvalued in their larger context, so as to show what good they serve. Indeed, the passage recommending the examination of each thing stripped naked continues,

… nothing is so productive of greatness of mind as to be able to examine, systematically and in truth, each of the things that befall us in life, and to look always at it so as to consider what sort of use (chreia) it provides for what sort of cosmos and what value (axia) it has for the whole, and what in relation to the human being, he being a citizen of the highest city, of which other cities are like households (iii.11, cf. viii.11, iv.23, iii.2, vi.36, vii.13, x.20, 25)

Here Marcus is recommending, for the purpose of correct appreciation of the value of things, the reintegration of each thing into its cosmic context. So contrary to first appearances, the goal is not to regard things in the world as stripped of value, but rather, to see each thing's true value, which is determined by considering its contribution to the whole cosmos. The physical description of each thing is not a description of its naked physical appearance when isolated from everything else, but its reintegration into the beautiful and intelligent design of the cosmos. So Marcus writes,

For example, when some parts of baking bread crack open, these cracks too, even though in a way they are contrary to the baker's orders, are somehow fitting and in their own way rouse eagerness for food. Again, figs, when they are ripest, gape open … and many other things, if one were to look at them individually, would be far from beautiful of appearance, but nevertheless, on account of their following things that come to be by nature are well-ordered and educate our soul. (iii.2)

Insight into what is in accordance with nature is gained by determining, for each thing that obtains, its contribution to, or functional role in, the cosmos. (An alternative way of spelling out what is in accordance with nature might have been to look at what regularly happens, or what happens with healthy specimens, etc.) And once one understands this functional contribution, one is able to see the value of each thing, how beautifully it contributes to a well-designed whole.

Now that we have a sense of what erased impressions are to be replaced with, we can return to the questions of what is to be erased, and what it is to be erased. Marcus does seem to speak indifferently about judgments and impressions: he tells himself to erase his impressions, and he tells himself to remove opinion (iv.7, viii.40); he tells himself he can bear what his opinion renders bearable and do what his impressions deem advantageous or appropriate (x.3). But this need not be because Marcus is confused about the difference between an impression and a judgment; he may just be using the term ‘impression’ more loosely, as his predecessors, Stoic as well as non-Stoic, do. For the predecessors: Marcus' Stoic role-model, Epictetus, says the Iliad is nothing but impressions and the use of impressions (i.28.13). Marcus himself uses the term ‘impression’ for a recognition (of his own need to be straightened out, i.7), a conception of a standard (of a constitution observing equality before the law) (i.14), the impression a person makes on others (i.15), and an appearance—the way a thing strikes someone (i.16). These are all accepted uses of the term. So it's more fruitful to ask: what kind of impression are we supposed to erase?

Plato's Protagoras, which greatly influenced the Stoics, can help us here. This text contrasts the power of phantasia (often translated ‘appearance’) with an art of measurement, the former often going wrong because comparative or perspectival (A looks tall because she's beside the very short B; B looks taller than A because she's closer to me), and standing in need of correction by an unchanging standard (a meter ruler, for example) (356b-57a). That Marcus may find the same defects of isolation and perspective in impressions is suggested indirectly by the corrections he prescribes: inspect your impressions (ii.7, iii.6, v.22, viii.13, viii.26); test them by ‘physicizing, ethicizing, dialecticizing’ (viii.13), that is to say, by seeing how they fare when tested against your physical, ethical, and dialectical understanding—all of which are informed by a picture of the whole. In xii.18, he tells himself:

Always look at the whole: what that thing is that gives you such an impression, and undo it, distinguishing it into its cause, its matter, its point, the time within which it must come to a stop.

To the extent that impressions are involuntary, Marcus' ‘erase’ may mean ‘override’. He may be saying: for the purposes of action and response, wipe out the influence of such-and-such impressions (Plato's Protagoras, similarly, speaks of rendering the power of appearance unauthoritative [356e]); focus instead on your understanding of the whole, which will give you a different impression. However, the Stoics' image of the mind as a wax tablet being impressed by different shapes or a piece of paper on which different things may be written gives a particular point to talk of ‘erasing.’ The work Marcus is doing is to replace one inadequate impression with another, the second better grounded in a comprehension of reality. Perhaps making the second mark requires erasing the first—or perhaps making the second mark is a means of erasing the first, for it may be that the withholding of assent from compelling impressions requires countering them with others.

At v.16, Marcus says that one's mind will be of the same character as the impressions it has. This seems unfair, if impressions are entirely involuntary. Marcus may think that while involuntary in the moment, impressions are subject to control in the long run. Perhaps if I keep refusing to assent to my present impression that wealth is good, wealth will eventually cease to appear to me as good. It is also not implausible that one's character and opinion would influence one's impressions, especially in the case of evaluative impressions (such as that x is good or to-be-preferred) and impressions it requires some expertise to have (such as that y is treadle for a foot loom).

5. Conclusion

As mentioned above (1.1), Marcus' Meditations touch on many more topics than the ones addressed here, but we get further in understanding Marcus if we focus on a topic and see how his remarks on that topic are related to his overall project of reminding himself how a Stoic should live. It would be worth working this out for others of his frequent remarks, such as that we are tiny and temporary fragments in the cosmos, that death takes us all in the end, that we ought to live purposively rather than like mechanical toys.


Primary Literature

Works by Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius ed. C.R.Haines, Loeb Classical Library (1930). Marcus Cornelius Fronto ed. C. R. Haines, Loeb Classical Library (1919), 2 vols. Other Ancient Sources

Cicero, On Ends, tr. H. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library (1914). –––, On Duties, tr. W. Miller, Loeb classical Library (1913). Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, vol. 2, tr. R. D. Hicks, Loeb Classical Library (1925). Epictetus, Discourses, Manual and Fragments, tr. W.A. Oldfather, Loeb Classical Library (1925), 2 vols. Plato, Complete Works, eds. J. Cooper and D. Hutchinson, Hackett (1997). Seneca VI, Letters 93–124 tr. R. W. Gummere, Loeb Classical Library (1925).


"Marco Aurelio bronzo" by Zanner - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -



   also named Marcus Annius Verus, consul JA0126, relative of Hadrian


   - Marcus Annius Verus "Aurelius" (Antoninus) [WNBD1983] [EB1986]
   - Marcus Aurelius [wMG/Clark] [wGreen] [wMG/Howery] [wRDavidH/Julia]


   [S395] royal_lineage.ged, June 2006.

Rome was originally the capital of the Roman emperor. Later, it moved to Milan, and then Ravenna (A.D. 402-476). After the fall of Romulus Augustulus, in A.D. 476, Rome continued to have an emperor for almost another millennium, but that Roman emperor ruled from the East.


(31 or) 27 B.C. - 14 A.D. Augustus 14 - 37 Tiberius 37 - 41 Caligula 41 - 54 Claudius 54 - 68 Nero Year of the 4 Emperors

(ends with Vespasian) 68 - 69 Galba 69 Otho 69 Vitellius

Flavian Dynasty

69 - 79 Vespasian 79 - 81 Titus 81 - 96 Domitian 5 Good Emperors

96 - 98 Nerva 98 - 117 Trajan 117 - 138 Hadrian 138 - 161 Antoninus Pius 161 - 180 Marcus Aurelius (161 - 169 Lucius Verus)

(The next cluster of emperors is not part of a specific dynasty or other common grouping, but includes 4 from the year of the 5 emperors, 193.) 177/180 - 192 Commodus 193 Pertinax 193 Didius Julianus 193 - 194 Pescennius Niger 193 - 197 Clodius Albinus


193 - 211 Septimius Severus 198/212 - 217 Caracalla 217 - 218 Macrinus 218 - 222 Elagabalus 222 - 235 Severus Alexander (More emperors without a dynastic label, although it includes the year of the 6 emperors, 238.) For more on this age of chaos, read Brian Campbell's excellent synopsis in The Romans and Their World.

235 - 238 Maximinus 238 Gordian I and II 238 Balbinus and Pupienus 238 - 244 Gordian III 244 - 249 Philip the Arab 249 - 251 Decius 251 - 253 Gallus 253 - 260 Valerian 254 - 268 Gallienus 268 - 270 Claudius Gothicus 270 - 275 Aurelian 275 - 276 Tacitus 276 - 282 Probus 282 - 285 Carus Carinus Numerian


285-ca.310 Diocletian 295 L. Domitius Domitianus 297-298 Aurelius Achilleus 303 Eugenius 285-ca.310 Maximianus Herculius 285 Amandus 285 Aelianus Iulianus 286?-297? British Emperors 286/7-293 Carausius 293-296/7 Allectus

293-306 Constantius I Chlorus Dynasty of Constantine

293-311 Galerius 305-313 Maximinus Daia 305-307 Severus II 306-312 Maxentius 308-309 L. Domitius Alexander 308-324 Licinius 314? Valens 324 Martinianus 306-337 Constantinus I 333/334 Calocaerus 337-340 Constantinus II 337-350 Constans I 337-361 Constantius II 350-353 Magnentius 350 Nepotian 350 Vetranio 355 Silvanus 361-363 Julianus 363-364 Jovianus

(More emperors without a dynastic label) 364-375 Valentinianus I 375 Firmus 364-378 Valens 365-366 Procopius 366 Marcellus 367-383 Gratian 375-392 Valentinianus II 378-395 Theodosius I 383-388 Magnus Maximus 384-388 Flavius Victor 392-394 Eugenius

[See: Table of Eastern and Western Emperors]

395-423 Honorius [Division of the Empire - Honorius' brother Arcadius ruled the East 395-408] 407-411 Constantine III usurper 421 Constantius III 423-425 Johannes 425-455 Valentinian III 455 Petronius Maximus 455-456 Avitus 457-461 Majorian 461-465 Libius Severus 467-472 Anthemius 468 Arvandus 470 Romanus 472 Olybrius 473-474 Glycerius 474-475 Julius Nepos 475-476 Romulus Augustulus

Table of Eastern and Western Emperors

Print Resources Chris Scarre: Chronicle of the Roman Emperors Adkins and Adkins: Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome

Rome and Roman Empire Maps Related Articles

Roman Battles Here's Why These Are the Most Important People in Ancient History How Taxes Led to the Fall of Rome Dates of the Roman Emperors A Timeline of the 5 Eras of Ancient Roman History Age at Accession of the Roman Emperors Our Expert Recommends

Emperors Age At Accession Roman Emperors Names and Dates from Diocletian to A.D. 476. Second Century Timeline of the Roman Emperors Roman Emperors Timeline of the Third Century Roman Emperors Timeline of the 4th Century DIR An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors Fifth Century Roman Timeline Byzantine Emperors Other Third Century Chaos Emperors

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius (/ɔːˈriːliəs/; Latin: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; 26 April 121-17 March 180 AD) was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180. He ruled with Lucius Verus as co-emperor from 161 until Verus' death in 169. He was the last of the Five Good Emperors, and is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers.

During his reign, the Empire defeated a revitalized Parthian Empire in the East: Aurelius' general Avidius Cassius sacked the capital Ctesiphon in 164. In central Europe, Aurelius fought the Marcomanni, Quadi, and Sarmatians with success during the Marcomannic Wars, although the threat of the Germanic tribes began to represent a troubling reality for the Empire. A revolt in the East led by Avidius Cassius failed to gain momentum and was suppressed immediately.

Marcus Aurelius' Stoic tome Meditations, written in Greek while on campaign between 170 and 180, is still revered as a literary monument to a philosophy of service and duty, describing how to find and preserve equanimity in the midst of conflict by following nature as a source of guidance and inspiration.


The major sources for the life and rule of Marcus Aurelius are patchy and frequently unreliable. The most important group of sources, the biographies contained in the Historia Augusta, claim to be written by a group of authors at the turn of the 4th century, but are in fact written by a single author (referred to here as "the biographer") from the later 4th century (c. 395).

The later biographies and the biographies of subordinate emperors and usurpers are a tissue of lies and fiction, but the earlier biographies, derived primarily from now-lost earlier sources (Marius Maximus or Ignotus), are much more accurate. For Marcus' life and rule, the biographies of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus and Lucius Verus are largely reliable, but those of Aelius Verus and Avidius Cassius are full of fiction.

A body of correspondence between Marcus' tutor Fronto and various Antonine officials survives in a series of patchy manuscripts, covering the period from c. 138 to 166. Marcus' own Meditations offer a window on his inner life, but are largely undateable, and make few specific references to worldly affairs. The main narrative source for the period is Cassius Dio, a Greek senator from Bithynian Nicaea who wrote a history of Rome from its founding to 229 in eighty books. Dio is vital for the military history of the period, but his senatorial prejudices and strong opposition to imperial expansion obscure his perspective.

Some other literary sources provide specific detail: the writings of the physician Galen on the habits of the Antonine elite, the orations of Aelius Aristides on the temper of the times, and the constitutions preserved in the Digest and Codex Justinianus on Marcus' legal work. Inscriptions and coin finds supplement the literary sources.

Early life and career

Marcus' family originated in Ucubi, a small town southeast of Córdoba in Iberian Baetica. The family rose to prominence in the late 1st century AD. Marcus' great-grandfather Marcus Annius Verus (I) was a senator and (according to the Historia Augusta) ex-praetor; in 73–74, his grandfather, Marcus Annius Verus (II), was made a patrician. Verus' elder son—Marcus Aurelius' father—Marcus Annius Verus (III) married Domitia Lucilla.

Lucilla was the daughter of the patrician P. Calvisius Tullus Ruso and the elder Domitia Lucilla. The elder Domitia Lucilla had inherited a great fortune (described at length in one of Pliny's letters) from her maternal grandfather and her paternal grandfather by adoption. The younger Lucilla would acquire much of her mother's wealth, including a large brickworks on the outskirts of Rome—a profitable enterprise in an era when the city was experiencing a construction boom.

Lucilla and Verus (III) had two children: a son, Marcus, born on 26 April 121, and a daughter, Annia Cornificia Faustina, probably born in 122 or 123. Verus (III) probably died in 124, during his praetorship, when Marcus was only three years old. Though he can hardly have known him, Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Meditations that he had learned "modesty and manliness" from his memories of his father and from the man's posthumous reputation. Lucilla did not remarry.

Lucilla, following prevailing aristocratic customs, probably did not spend much time with her son. Marcus was in the care of "nurses". Even so, Marcus credits his mother with teaching him "religious piety, simplicity in diet" and how to avoid "the ways of the rich". In his letters, Marcus makes frequent and affectionate reference to her; he was grateful that, "although she was fated to die young, yet she spent her last years with me".

After his father's death, Aurelius was raised by his paternal grandfather Marcus Annius Verus who, according to Roman Law, had always retained the "patria potestas" over his son and grandson. Technically this was not an adoption, since an adoption would be the legal creation of a new and different "patria potestas" (II). Another man, Lucius Catilius Severus, also participated in his upbringing. Severus is described as Marcus' "maternal great-grandfather"; he is probably the stepfather of the elder Lucilla. Marcus was raised in his parents' home on the Caelian Hill, a district he would affectionately refer to as "my Caelian".

It was an upscale region, with few public buildings but many aristocratic villas. Marcus' grandfather owned his own palace beside the Lateran, where Marcus would spend much of his childhood. Marcus thanks his grandfather for teaching him "good character and avoidance of bad temper". He was less fond of the mistress his grandfather took and lived with after the death of Rupilia Faustina, his wife. Marcus was grateful that he did not have to live with her longer than he did.

Marcus was taught at home, in line with contemporary aristocratic trends; Marcus thanks Catilius Severus for encouraging him to avoid public schools. One of his teachers, Diognetus, a painting-master, proved particularly influential; he seems to have introduced Marcus to the philosophic way of life. In April 132, at the behest of Diognetus, Marcus took up the dress and habits of the philosopher: he studied while wearing a rough Greek cloak, and would sleep on the ground until his mother convinced him to sleep on a bed.

A new set of tutors—Alexander of Cotiaeum, Trosius Aper and Tuticius Proculus—took over Marcus' education in about 132 or 133. Little is known of the latter two (both teachers of Latin), but Alexander was a major littérateur, the leading Homeric scholar of his day. Marcus thanks Alexander for his training in literary styling. Alexander's influence—an emphasis on matter over style, on careful wording, with the occasional Homeric quotation—has been detected in Marcus' Meditations.

Succession to Hadrian, 136–38

In late 136, Hadrian almost died from a haemorrhage. Convalescent in his villa at Tivoli, he selected Lucius Ceionius Commodus as his successor, and adopted him as his son. The selection was done invitis omnibus, "against the wishes of everyone"; its rationale is still unclear. As part of his adoption, Commodus took the name Lucius Aelius Caesar. After a brief stationing on the Danube frontier, Aelius returned to Rome to make an address to the senate on the first day of 138. The night before the speech, however, he grew ill, and died of a haemorrhage later in the day. On 24 January 138, Hadrian selected Aurelius Antoninus as his new successor.

After a few days' consideration, Antoninus accepted. He was adopted on 25 February. As part of Hadrian's terms, Antoninus adopted Marcus and Lucius Verus, the son of Lucius Aelius. By this scheme, Lucius Verus, who was already Hadrian's adoptive grandson through his natural father, remained Hadrian's adoptive grandson through his new father. The adoption of Marcus Aurelius was probably a suggestion of Antoninus himself, since the former was the nephew of the later's wife and would be his favorite son.

Marcus became M. Aelius Aurelius Verus; Lucius became L. Aelius Aurelius Commodus. At Hadrian's request, Antoninus' daughter Faustina was betrothed to Lucius. Marcus was appalled to learn that Hadrian would become his adoptive grandfather. Only with reluctance did he move from his mother's house on the Caelian to Hadrian's private home.

At some time in 138, Hadrian requested in the senate that Marcus be exempt from the law barring him from becoming quaestor before his twenty-fourth birthday. The senate complied, and Marcus served under Antoninus, consul for 139. Marcus' adoption diverted him from the typical career path of his class. But for his adoption, he probably would have become triumvir monetalis, a highly regarded post involving token administration of the state mint; after that, he could have served as tribune with a legion, becoming the legion's nominal second-in-command. Marcus probably would have opted for travel and further education instead. As it was, Marcus was set apart from his fellow citizens. Nonetheless, his biographer attests that his character remained unaffected: "He still showed the same respect to his relations as he had when he was an ordinary citizen, and he was as thrifty and careful of his possessions as he had been when he lived in a private household."

After a series of suicide attempts, all thwarted by Antoninus, Hadrian left for Baiae, a seaside resort on the Campanian coast. His condition did not improve, and he abandoned the diet prescribed by his doctors, indulging himself in food and drink. He sent for Antoninus, who was at his side when he died on 10 July 138. His remains were buried quietly at Puteoli. The succession to Antoninus was peaceful and stable: Antoninus kept Hadrian's nominees in office and appeased the senate, respecting its privileges and commuting the death sentences of men charged in Hadrian's last days. For his dutiful behavior, Antoninus was asked to accept the name "Pius".

Heir to Antoninus Pius, 138–45

Immediately after Hadrian's death, Antoninus approached Marcus and requested that his marriage arrangements be amended: Marcus' betrothal to Ceionia Fabia would be annulled, and he would be betrothed to Faustina, Antoninus' daughter, instead. Faustina's betrothal to Ceionia's brother Lucius Commodus would also have to be annulled. Marcus consented to Antoninus' proposal.

Antoninus bolstered Marcus' dignity: Marcus was made consul for 140, with Antoninus as his colleague, and was appointed as a seviri, one of the knights' six commanders, at the order's annual parade on 15 July 139. As the heir apparent, Marcus became princeps iuventutis, head of the equestrian order. He now took the name Caesar: Marcus Aelius Aurelius Verus Caesar.[56] Marcus would later caution himself against taking the name too seriously: "See that you do not turn into a Caesar; do not be dipped into the purple dye—for that can happen". At the senate's request, Marcus joined all the priestly colleges (pontifices, augures, quindecimviri sacris faciundis, septemviri epulonum, etc.); direct evidence for membership, however, is available only for the Arval Brethren.

Antoninus demanded that Marcus take up residence in the House of Tiberius, the imperial palace on the Palatine. Antoninus also made him take up the habits of his new station, the aulicum fastigium or "pomp of the court", against Marcus' objections. Marcus would struggle to reconcile the life of the court with his philosophic yearnings. He told himself it was an attainable goal—"where life is possible, then it is possible to live the right life; life is possible in a palace, so it is possible to live the right life in a palace"—but he found it difficult nonetheless. He would criticize himself in the Meditations for "abusing court life" in front of company.

As quaestor, Marcus would have had little real administrative work to do. He would read imperial letters to the senate when Antoninus was absent, and would do secretarial work for the senators. His duties as consul were more significant: one of two senior representatives of the senate, he would preside over meetings and take a major role in the body's administrative functions. He felt drowned in paperwork, and complained to his tutor, Fronto: "I am so out of breath from dictating nearly thirty letters". He was being "fitted for ruling the state", in the words of his biographer. He was required to make a speech to the assembled senators as well, making oratorical training essential for the job.

On 1 January 145, Marcus was made consul a second time. He might have been unwell at this time: a letter from Fronto that might have been sent at this time urges Marcus to have plenty of sleep "so that you may come into the Senate with a good colour and read your speech with a strong voice". Marcus had complained of an illness in an earlier letter: "As far as my strength is concerned, I am beginning to get it back; and there is no trace of the pain in my chest. But that ulcer [...] I am having treatment and taking care not to do anything that interferes with it." Marcus was never particularly healthy or strong. The Roman historian Cassius Dio, writing of his later years, praised him for behaving dutifully in spite of his various illnesses.

In April 145, Marcus married Faustina, as had been planned since 138. Since Marcus was, by adoption, Antoninus Pius' son, under Roman law he was marrying his sister; Antoninus would have had to formally release one or the other from his paternal authority (his patria potestas) for the ceremony to take place. Little is specifically known of the ceremony, but it is said to have been "noteworthy". Coins were issued with the heads of the couple, and Antoninus, as Pontifex Maximus, would have officiated. Marcus makes no apparent reference to the marriage in his surviving letters, and only sparing references to Faustina.

Fronto and further education, 136–61

After taking the toga virilis in 136, Marcus probably began his training in oratory. He had three tutors in Greek, Aninus Macer, Caninius Celer, and Herodes Atticus, and one in Latin, Fronto. The latter two were the most esteemed orators of the day. (Fronto and Atticus, however, probably did not become his tutors until his adoption by Antoninus in 138.) The preponderance of Greek tutors indicates the importance of the language to the aristocracy of Rome. This was the age of the Second Sophistic, a renaissance in Greek letters. Although educated in Rome, in his Meditations, Marcus would write his inmost thoughts in Greek.

Herodes was controversial: an enormously rich Athenian (probably the richest man in the eastern half of the empire), he was quick to anger, and resented by his fellow-Athenians for his patronizing manner. Atticus was an inveterate opponent of Stoicism and philosophic pretensions. He thought the Stoics' desire for a "lack of feeling" foolish: they would live a "sluggish, enervated life", he said. Marcus would become a Stoic. He would not mention Herodes at all in his Meditations, in spite of the fact that they would come into contact many times over the following decades.

Fronto was highly esteemed: in the self-consciously antiquarian world of Latin letters, he was thought of as second only to Cicero, perhaps even an alternative to him. He did not care much for Herodes, though Marcus was eventually to put the pair on speaking terms. Fronto exercised a complete mastery of Latin, capable of tracing expressions through the literature, producing obscure synonyms, and challenging minor improprieties in word choice.

A significant amount of the correspondence between Fronto and Marcus has survived. The pair were very close. "Farewell my Fronto, wherever you are, my most sweet love and delight. How is it between you and me? I love you and you are not here." Marcus spent time with Fronto's wife and daughter, both named Cratia, and they enjoyed light conversation.

He wrote Fronto a letter on his birthday, claiming to love him as he loved himself, and calling on the gods to ensure that every word he learned of literature, he would learn "from the lips of Fronto". His prayers for Fronto's health were more than conventional, because Fronto was frequently ill; at times, he seems to be an almost constant invalid, always suffering—about one-quarter of the surviving letters deal with the man's sicknesses. Marcus asks that Fronto's pain be inflicted on himself, "of my own accord with every kind of discomfort".

Fronto never became Marcus' full-time teacher, and continued his career as an advocate. One notorious case brought him into conflict with Herodes. Marcus pleaded with Fronto, first with "advice", then as a "favor", not to attack Herodes; he had already asked Herodes to refrain from making the first blows. Fronto replied that he was surprised to discover Marcus counted Herodes as a friend (perhaps Herodes was not yet Marcus' tutor), allowed that Marcus might be correct, but nonetheless affirmed his intent to win the case by any means necessary: "...the charges are frightful and must be spoken of as frightful. Those in particular which refer to the beating and robbing I will describe in such a way that they savour of gall and bile. If I happen to call him an uneducated little Greek it will not mean war to the death." The outcome of the trial is unknown.

By the age of twenty-five (between April 146 and April 147), Marcus had grown disaffected with his studies in jurisprudence, and showed some signs of general malaise. His master, he writes to Fronto, was an unpleasant blowhard, and had made "a hit at" him: "It is easy to sit yawning next to a judge, he says, but to be a judge is noble work." Marcus had grown tired of his exercises, of taking positions in imaginary debates. When he criticized the insincerity of conventional language, Fronto took to defend it. In any case, Marcus' formal education was now over. He had kept his teachers on good terms, following them devotedly. It "affected his health adversely", his biographer writes, to have devoted so much effort to his studies. It was the only thing the biographer could find fault with in Marcus' entire boyhood.

Fronto had warned Marcus against the study of philosophy early on: "it is better never to have touched the teaching of philosophy...than to have tasted it superficially, with the edge of the lips, as the saying is". He disdained philosophy and philosophers, and looked down on Marcus' sessions with Apollonius of Chalcedon and others in this circle. Fronto put an uncharitable interpretation of Marcus' "conversion to philosophy": "in the fashion of the young, tired of boring work", Marcus had turned to philosophy to escape the constant exercises of oratorical training. Marcus kept in close touch with Fronto, but he would ignore his scruples.

Apollonius may have introduced Marcus to Stoic philosophy, but Quintus Junius Rusticus would have the strongest influence on the boy. He was the man Fronto recognized as having "wooed Marcus away" from oratory. He was twenty years older than Marcus, older than Fronto. As the grandson of Arulenus Rusticus, one of the martyrs to the tyranny of Domitian (r. 81–96), he was heir to the tradition of "Stoic opposition" to the "bad emperors" of the 1st century; the true successor of Seneca (as opposed to Fronto, the false one). Marcus thanks Rusticus for teaching him "not to be led astray into enthusiasm for rhetoric, for writing on speculative themes, for discoursing on moralizing texts...To avoid oratory, poetry, and 'fine writing'".

Births and deaths, 147–160

On November 30, 147, Faustina gave birth to a girl, named Domitia Faustina. She was the first of at least thirteen children (including two sets of twins) that Faustina would bear over the next twenty-three years. The next day, 1 December, Antoninus Pius gave Marcus the tribunician power and the imperium—authority over the armies and provinces of the emperor. As tribune, Marcus had the right to bring one measure before the senate after the four Antoninus could introduce. His tribunican powers would be renewed, with Antoninus', on 10 December 147.

The first mention of Domitia in Marcus' letters reveals her as a sickly infant. "Caesar to Fronto. If the gods are willing we seem to have a hope of recovery. The diarrhea has stopped, the little attacks of fever have been driven away. But the emaciation is still extreme and there is still quite a bit of coughing." He and Faustina, Marcus wrote, had been "pretty occupied" with the girl's care. Domitia would die in 151.

In 149, Faustina gave birth again, to twin sons. Contemporary coinage commemorates the event, with crossed cornucopiae beneath portrait busts of the two small boys, and the legend temporum felicitas, "the happiness of the times". They did not survive long. Before the end of the year, another family coin was issued: it shows only a tiny girl, Domitia Faustina, and one boy baby. Then another: the girl alone. The infants were buried in the Mausoleum of Hadrian, where their epitaphs survive. They were called Titus Aurelius Antoninus and Tiberius Aelius Aurelius.

Marcus steadied himself: "One man prays: 'How I may not lose my little child', but you must pray: 'How I may not be afraid to lose him'." He quoted from the Iliad what he called the "briefest and most familiar saying...enough to dispel sorrow and fear":

the wind scatters some on the face of the ground; like unto them are the children of men. – Iliad 6.146

Another daughter was born on 7 March 150, Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla. At some time between 155 and 161, probably soon after 155, Marcus' mother, Domitia Lucilla, died. Faustina probably had another daughter in 151, but the child, Annia Galeria Aurelia Faustina, might not have been born until 153. Another son, Tiberius Aelius Antoninus, was born in 152. A coin issue celebrates fecunditati Augustae, "the Augusta's fertility", depicting two girls and an infant. The boy did not survive long; on coins from 156, only the two girls were depicted. He might have died in 152, the same year as Marcus' sister, Cornificia.

By 28 March 158, however, when Marcus replied, the child was dead, Marcus thanked the temple synod, "even though this turned out otherwise". The child's name is unknown. In 159 and 160, Faustina gave birth to daughters: Fadilla, after one of Faustina's dead sisters, and Cornificia, after Marcus' dead sister.

Antoninus Pius' last years, 152–61

Meanwhile, during the reign of Pius, as a prince and future emperor, Marcus' adoptive brother Lucius Verus received careful education from the famous “grammaticus” Marcus Cornelius Fronto. The young Verus was reported to have been an excellent student, fond of writing poetry and delivering speeches. Lucius started his political career as a quaestor in 153, two years before the legal age of 25 (Marcus held the office at 17). In 154, he was consul, nine years before the legal age of 32 (Marcus held the office at 18 and 23), and in 161 was consul again with Marcus Aurelius as his senior partner.

Lucius had no other titles, except that of "son of Augustus". Lucius had a markedly different personality from Marcus: he enjoyed sports of all kinds, but especially hunting and wrestling; he took obvious pleasure in the circus games and gladiatorial fights. He did not marry until 164.

In 156, Antoninus Pius turned 70. He found it difficult to keep himself upright without stays. He started nibbling on dry bread to give him the strength to stay awake through his morning receptions. As Antoninus aged, Marcus would take on more administrative duties, more still when he became the praetorian prefect (an office that was as much secretarial as military) Gavius Maximus died in 156 or 157. In 160, Marcus and Lucius were designated joint consuls for the following year. Perhaps Antoninus was already ill; in any case, he died before the year was out.

Two days before his death, the biographer reports, Antoninus was at his ancestral estate at Lorium, in Etruria, about twelve miles (19 km) from Rome. He ate Alpine cheese at dinner quite greedily. In the night he vomited; he had a fever the next day. The day after that, 7 March 161, he summoned the imperial council, and passed the state and his daughter to Marcus. The emperor gave the keynote to his life in the last word that he uttered when the tribune of the night-watch came to ask the password—"aequanimitas" (equanimity). He then turned over, as if going to sleep, and died. His death closed out the longest reign since Augustus, surpassing Tiberius by a couple of months.


Accession of Marcus and Lucius, 161

After the death of Antoninus Pius, Marcus was effectively sole ruler of the Empire. The formalities of the position would follow. The senate would soon grant him the name Augustus and the title imperator, and he would soon be formally elected as Pontifex Maximus, chief priest of the official cults. Marcus made some show of resistance: the biographer writes that he was "compelled" to take imperial power. This may have been a genuine horror imperii, "fear of imperial power". Marcus, with his preference for the philosophic life, found the imperial office unappealing. His training as a Stoic, however, had made the choice clear. It was his duty.

Although Marcus showed no personal affection for Hadrian (significantly, he does not thank him in the first book of his Meditations), he presumably believed it his duty to enact the man's succession plans. Thus, although the senate planned to confirm Marcus alone, he refused to take office unless Lucius received equal powers. The senate accepted, granting Lucius the imperium, the tribunician power, and the name Augustus. Marcus became, in official titulature, Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; Lucius, forgoing his name Commodus and taking Marcus' family name, Verus, became Imperator Caesar Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustus. It was the first time that Rome was ruled by two emperors.

In spite of their nominal equality, Marcus held more auctoritas, or "authority", than Lucius. He had been consul once more than Lucius, he had shared in Antoninus' administration, and he alone was Pontifex Maximus. It would have been clear to the public which emperor was the more senior. As the biographer wrote, "Verus obeyed a lieutenant obeys a proconsul or a governor obeys the emperor."

Immediately after their senate confirmation, the emperors proceeded to the Castra Praetoria, the camp of the praetorian guard. Lucius addressed the assembled troops, which then acclaimed the pair as imperatores. Then, like every new emperor since Claudius, Lucius promised the troops a special donative. This donative, however, was twice the size of those past: 20,000 sesterces (5,000 denarii) per capita, with more to officers. In return for this bounty, equivalent to several years' pay, the troops swore an oath to protect the emperors. The ceremony was perhaps not entirely necessary, given that Marcus' accession had been peaceful and unopposed, but it was good insurance against later military troubles.

Upon his accession he also devalued the Roman currency. He decreased the silver purity of the denarius from 83.5% to 79%—the silver weight dropping from 2.68 grams to 2.57 grams. However, Marcus would later revisit the issue of currency reform.

Antoninus Pius' funeral ceremonies were, in the words of the biographer, "elaborate". If his funeral followed the pattern of past funerals, his body would have been incinerated on a pyre at the Campus Martius, while his spirit would rise to the gods' home in the heavens. Marcus and Lucius nominated their father for deification. In contrast to their behavior during Antoninus' campaign to deify Hadrian, the senate did not oppose the emperors' wishes. A flamen, or cultic priest, was appointed to minister the cult of the deified Antoninus, now Divus Antoninus. Antoninus Pius' remains were laid to rest in the Hadrian's mausoleum, beside the remains of Marcus' children and of Hadrian himself. The temple he had dedicated to his wife, Diva Faustina, became the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. It survives as the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda.

In accordance with his will, Antoninus' fortune passed on to Faustina. (Marcus had little need of his wife's fortune. Indeed, at his accession, Marcus transferred part of his mother's estate to his nephew, Ummius Quadratus.) Faustina was three months pregnant at her husband's accession. During the pregnancy she dreamed of giving birth to two serpents, one fiercer than the other. On 31 August she gave birth at Lanuvium to twins: T. Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus. Aside from the fact that the twins shared Caligula's birthday, the omens were favorable, and the astrologers drew positive horoscopes for the children. The births were celebrated on the imperial coinage.

Early rule, 161–62

Soon after the emperors' accession, Marcus' eleven-year-old daughter, Annia Lucilla, was betrothed to Lucius (in spite of the fact that he was, formally, her uncle). At the ceremonies commemorating the event, new provisions were made for the support of poor children, along the lines of earlier imperial foundations. Marcus and Lucius proved popular with the people of Rome, who strongly approved of their civiliter ("lacking pomp") behavior. The emperors permitted free speech, evidenced by the fact that the comedy writer Marullus was able to criticize them without suffering retribution. At any other time, under any other emperor, he would have been executed. But it was a peaceful time, a forgiving time. And thus, as the biographer wrote, "No one missed the lenient ways of Pius."

Marcus replaced a number of the empire's major officials. The ab epistulis Sextus Caecilius Crescens Volusianus, in charge of the imperial correspondence, was replaced with Titus Varius Clemens. Clemens was from the frontier province of Pannonia and had served in the war in Mauretania. Recently, he had served as procurator of five provinces. He was a man suited for a time of military crisis. Lucius Volusius Maecianus, Marcus' former tutor, had been prefectural governor of Egypt at Marcus' accession. Maecianus was recalled, made senator, and appointed prefect of the treasury (aerarium Saturni). He was made consul soon after. Fronto's son-in-law, Aufidius Victorinus, was appointed governor of Upper Germany.

Fronto returned to his Roman townhouse at dawn on 28 March, having left his home in Cirta as soon as news of his pupils' accession reached him. He sent a note to the imperial freedman Charilas, asking if he could call on the emperors. Fronto would later explain that he had not dared to write the emperors directly. The tutor was immensely proud of his students. Reflecting on the speech he had written on taking his consulship in 143, when he had praised the young Marcus, Fronto was ebullient: "There was then an outstanding natural ability in you; there is now perfected excellence. There was then a crop of growing corn; there is now a ripe, gathered harvest. What I was hoping for then, I have now. The hope has become a reality." Fronto called on Marcus alone; neither thought to invite Lucius.

Lucius was less esteemed by his tutor than his brother, as his interests were on a lower level. Lucius asked Fronto to adjudicate in a dispute he and his friend Calpurnius were having on the relative merits of two actors. Marcus told Fronto of his reading—Coelius and a little Cicero—and his family. His daughters were in Rome, with their great-great-aunt Matidia; Marcus thought the evening air of the country was too cold for them. He asked Fronto for "some particularly eloquent reading matter, something of your own, or Cato, or Cicero, or Sallust or Gracchus—or some poet, for I need distraction, especially in this kind of way, by reading something that will uplift and diffuse my pressing anxieties."

Marcus' early reign proceeded smoothly. Marcus was able to give himself wholly to philosophy and the pursuit of popular affection. Soon, however, Marcus would find he had many anxieties. It would mean the end of the felicitas temporum ("happy times") that the coinage of 161 had so glibly proclaimed.

In the spring of 162, the Tiber overflowed its banks, flooding much of Rome. It drowned many animals, leaving the city in famine. Marcus and Lucius gave the crisis their personal attention. In other times of famine, the emperors are said to have provided for the Italian communities out of the Roman granaries.

Fronto's letters continued through Marcus' early reign. Fronto felt that, because of Marcus' prominence and public duties, lessons were more important now than they had ever been before. He believed Marcus was "beginning to feel the wish to be eloquent once more, in spite of having for a time lost interest in eloquence". Fronto would again remind his pupil of the tension between his role and his philosophic pretensions: "Suppose, Caesar, that you can attain to the wisdom of Cleanthes and Zeno, yet, against your will, not the philosopher's woolen cape."

The early days of Marcus' reign were the happiest of Fronto's life: his pupil was beloved by the people of Rome, an excellent emperor, a fond pupil, and, perhaps most importantly, as eloquent as could be wished. Marcus had displayed rhetorical skill in his speech to the senate after an earthquake at Cyzicus. It had conveyed the drama of the disaster, and the senate had been awed: "not more suddenly or violently was the city stirred by the earthquake than the minds of your hearers by your speech". Fronto was hugely pleased.

War with Parthia, 161–66 Origins to Lucius' dispatch, 161–62

On his deathbed, Antoninus Pius spoke of nothing but the state and the foreign kings who had wronged him. One of those kings, Vologases IV of Parthia, made his move in late summer or early autumn 161. Vologases entered the Kingdom of Armenia (then a Roman client state), expelled its king and installed his own—Pacorus, an Arsacid like himself. The governor of Cappadocia, the front-line in all Armenian conflicts, was Marcus Sedatius Severianus, a Gaul with much experience in military matters.

Convinced by the prophet Alexander of Abonutichus that he could defeat the Parthians easily, and win glory for himself, Severianus led a legion (perhaps the IX Hispana) into Armenia, but was trapped by the great Parthian general Chosrhoes at Elegia, a town just beyond the Cappadocian frontiers, high up past the headwaters of the Euphrates. Severianus made some attempt to fight Chosrhoes, but soon realized the futility of his campaign, and committed suicide. His legion was massacred. The campaign had only lasted three days.

There was threat of war on other frontiers as well—in Britain, and in Raetia and Upper Germany, where the Chatti of the Taunus mountains had recently crossed over the limes. Marcus was unprepared. Antoninus seems to have given him no military experience; the biographer writes that Marcus spent the whole of Antoninus' twenty-three-year reign at his emperor's side—and not in the provinces, where most previous emperors had spent their early careers.

More bad news arrived: the Syrian governor's army had been defeated by the Parthians, and retreated in disarray. Reinforcements were dispatched for the Parthian frontier. P. Julius Geminius Marcianus, an African senator commanding X Gemina at Vindobona (Vienna), left for Cappadocia with detachments from the Danubian legions. Three full legions were also sent east: I Minervia from Bonn in Upper Germany, II Adiutrix from Aquincum, and V Macedonica from Troesmis.

The northern frontiers were strategically weakened; frontier governors were told to avoid conflict wherever possible. M. Annius Libo, Marcus' first cousin, was sent to replace the Syrian governor. He was young—his first consulship was in 161, so he was probably in his early thirties—and, as a mere patrician, lacked military experience. Marcus had chosen a reliable man rather than a talented one.

Marcus took a four-day public holiday at Alsium, a resort town on the coast of Etruria. He was too anxious to relax. Writing to Fronto, he declared that he would not speak about his holiday. Fronto replied ironically: "What? Do I not know that you went to Alsium with the intention of devoting yourself to games, joking and complete leisure for four whole days?" He encouraged Marcus to rest, calling on the example of his predecessors (Antoninus had enjoyed exercise in the palaestra, fishing, and comedy), going so far as to write up a fable about the gods' division of the day between morning and evening—Marcus had apparently been spending most of his evenings on judicial matters instead of at leisure. Marcus could not take Fronto's advice. "I have duties hanging over me that can hardly be begged off," he wrote back. Marcus put on Fronto's voice to chastise himself: "'Much good has my advice done you', you will say!" He had rested, and would rest often, but "—this devotion to duty! Who knows better than you how demanding it is!"

Fronto sent Marcus a selection of reading material, and, to settle his unease over the course of the Parthian war, a long and considered letter, full of historical references. In modern editions of Fronto's works, it is labeled De bello Parthico (On the Parthian War). There had been reverses in Rome's past, Fronto writes, but, in the end, Romans had always prevailed over their enemies: "always and everywhere [Mars] has changed our troubles into successes and our terrors into triumphs".

Lucius at Antioch, 162–65

Over the winter of 161–62, as more bad news arrived—a rebellion was brewing in Syria—it was decided that Lucius should direct the Parthian war in person. He was stronger and healthier than Marcus, the argument went, more suited to military activity. Lucius' biographer suggests ulterior motives: to restrain Lucius' debaucheries, to make him thrifty, to reform his morals by the terror of war, to realize that he was an emperor. Whatever the case, the senate gave its assent, and, in the summer of 162, Lucius left. Marcus would remain in Rome; the city "demanded the presence of an emperor".

Lucius spent most of the campaign in Antioch, though he wintered at Laodicea and summered at Daphne, a resort just outside Antioch. Critics declaimed Lucius' luxurious lifestyle. He had taken to gambling, they said; he would "dice the whole night through". He enjoyed the company of actors. Libo died early in the war; perhaps Lucius had murdered him.

In the middle of the war, perhaps in autumn 163 or early 164, Lucius made a trip to Ephesus to be married to Marcus' daughter Lucilla. Marcus moved up the date; perhaps he had already heard of Lucius' mistress, the low-born and beautiful Panthea. Lucilla's thirteenth birthday was in March 163; whatever the date of her marriage, she was not yet fifteen. Lucilla was accompanied by her mother Faustina and M. Vettulenus Civica Barbarus, the half-brother of Lucius' father. Civica was made comes Augusti, "companion of the emperors"; perhaps Marcus wanted him to watch over Lucius, the job Libo had failed at.

Marcus may have planned to accompany them all the way to Smyrna (the biographer says he told the senate he would); this did not happen. Marcus only accompanied the group as far as Brundisium, where they boarded a ship for the east. Marcus returned to Rome immediately thereafter, and sent out special instructions to his proconsuls not to give the group any official reception.

Counterattack and victory, 163–66

The Armenian capital Artaxata was captured in 163. At the end of the year, Verus took the title Armeniacus, despite having never seen combat; Marcus declined to accept the title until the following year. When Lucius was hailed as imperator again, however, Marcus did not hesitate to take the Imperator II with him.

Occupied Armenia was reconstructed on Roman terms. In 164, a new capital, Kaine Polis ('New City'), replaced Artaxata. A new king was installed: a Roman senator of consular rank and Arsacid descent, Gaius Julius Sohaemus. He may not even have been crowned in Armenia; the ceremony may have taken place in Antioch, or even Ephesus. Sohaemus was hailed on the imperial coinage of 164 under the legend Rex armeniis Datus: Lucius sat on a throne with his staff while Sohamenus stood before him, saluting the emperor.

In 163, the Parthians intervened in Osroene, a Roman client in upper Mesopotamia centered on Edessa, and installed their own king on its throne. In response, Roman forces were moved downstream, to cross the Euphrates at a more southerly point. Before the end of 163, however, Roman forces had moved north to occupy Dausara and Nicephorium on the northern, Parthian bank. Soon after the conquest of the north bank of the Euphrates, other Roman forces moved on Osroene from Armenia, taking Anthemusia, a town southwest of Edessa.

In 165, Roman forces moved on Mesopotamia. Edessa was re-occupied, and Mannus, the king deposed by the Parthians, was re-installed. The Parthians retreated to Nisibis, but this too was besieged and captured. The Parthian army dispersed in the Tigris. A second force, under Avidius Cassius and the III Gallica, moved down the Euphrates, and fought a major battle at Dura.

By the end of the year, Cassius' army had reached the twin metropolises of Mesopotamia: Seleucia on the right bank of the Tigris and Ctesiphon on the left. Ctesiphon was taken and its royal palace set to flame. The citizens of Seleucia, still largely Greek (the city had been commissioned and settled as a capital of the Seleucid Empire, one of Alexander the Great's successor kingdoms), opened its gates to the invaders. The city got sacked nonetheless, leaving a black mark on Lucius' reputation. Excuses were sought, or invented: the official version had it that the Seleucids broke faith first.

Cassius' army, although suffering from a shortage of supplies and the effects of a plague contracted in Seleucia, made it back to Roman territory safely. Lucius took the title Parthicus Maximus, and he and Marcus were hailed as imperatores again, earning the title 'imp. III'. Cassius' army returned to the field in 166, crossing over the Tigris into Media. Lucius took the title 'Medicus', and the emperors were again hailed as imperatores, becoming 'imp. IV' in imperial titulature. Marcus took the Parthicus Maximus now, after another tactful delay.

Conclusion of the war and events at Rome, mid-160s–167

Most of the credit for the war's success must be ascribed to subordinate generals, the most prominent of which was C. Avidius Cassius, commander of III Gallica, one of the Syrian legions. Cassius was a young senator of low birth from the north Syrian town of Cyrrhus. His father, Heliodorus, had not been a senator, but was nonetheless a man of some standing: he had been Hadrian's ab epistulis, followed the emperor on his travels, and was prefect of Egypt at the end of Hadrian's reign. Cassius also, with no small sense of self-worth, claimed descent from the Seleucid kings. Cassius and his fellow commander in the war, Martius Verus, still probably in their mid-thirties, took the consulships for 166. After their consulships, they were made governors: Cassius, of Syria; Martius Verus, of Cappadocia.

At Rome, Marcus was occupied with family matters. Matidia, his great-aunt, had died. However, her will was invalid under the lex Falcidia: Matidia had assigned more than three-quarters of her estate to non-relatives. This was because many of her clients were included in codicils to her will. Matidia had never confirmed the documents, but as she was dying, her clients had sealed them in with the original, making them valid. Fronto urged Marcus to push the family's case, but Marcus demurred, saying his brother would make the final decision.

On the return from the campaign, Lucius was awarded with a triumph; the parade was unusual because it included the two emperors, their sons and unmarried daughters as a big family celebration. Marcus Aurelius' two sons, Commodus, five years old, and Annius Verus, three, were elevated to the status of Caesar for the occasion.

The returning army carried with them a plague, afterwards known as the Antonine Plague, or the Plague of Galen, which spread through the Roman Empire between 165 and 180. The disease was a pandemic believed to be either of smallpox or measles, and would ultimately claim the lives of two Roman emperors—Lucius Verus, who died in 169, and Marcus Aurelius, whose family name, Antoninus, was given to the epidemic. The disease broke out again nine years later, according to the Roman historian Dio Cassius, and caused up to 2,000 deaths a day at Rome, one-quarter of those infected. Total deaths have been estimated at five million.

A possible contact with Han China occurred in 166 when a Roman traveller visited the Han court, claiming to be an ambassador representing a certain Andun (Chinese: 安敦), who can be identified either with Marcus Aurelius or his predecessor Antoninus Pius.

Legal and administrative work, 161–80

Like many emperors, Marcus spent most of his time addressing matters of law such as petitions and hearing disputes; but unlike many of his predecessors, he was already proficient in imperial administration when he assumed power. Marcus took great care in the theory and practice of legislation. Professional jurists called him "an emperor most skilled in the law" and "a most prudent and conscientiously just emperor". He shows marked interest in three areas of the law: the manumission of slaves, the guardianship of orphans and minors, and the choice of city councillors (decuriones). In 168 he revalued the denarius, increasing the silver purity from 79% to 82% — the actual silver weight increasing from 2.57 grams to 2.67 grams. However, two years later Marcus reverted to the previous values because of the military crises facing the empire.

War with Germanic tribes 166–180

During the early 160s, Fronto's son-in-law Victorinus was stationed as a legate in Germany. He was there with his wife and children (another child had stayed with Fronto and his wife in Rome). The condition on the northern frontier looked grave. A frontier post had been destroyed, and it looked like all the peoples of central and northern Europe were in turmoil. There was corruption among the officers: Victorinus had to ask for the resignation of a legionary legate who was taking bribes.

Experienced governors had been replaced by friends and relatives of the imperial family. L. Dasumius Tullius Tuscus, a distant relative of Hadrian, was in Upper Pannonia, succeeding the experienced M. Nonius Macrinus. Lower Pannonia was under the obscure Ti. Haterius Saturnius. M. Servilius Fabianus Maximus was shuffled from Lower Moesia to Upper Moesia when Iallius Bassus had joined Lucius in Antioch. Lower Moesia was filled by Pontius Laelianus' son. The Dacias were still divided in three, governed by a praetorian senator and two procurators. The peace could not hold long; Lower Pannonia did not even have a legion.

Starting in the 160s, Germanic tribes and other nomadic people launched raids along the northern border, particularly into Gaul and across the Danube. This new impetus westwards was probably due to attacks from tribes further east. A first invasion of the Chatti in the province of Germania Superior was repulsed in 162.

Far more dangerous was the invasion of 166, when the Marcomanni of Bohemia, clients of the Roman Empire since 19, crossed the Danube together with the Lombards and other Germanic tribes. At the same time, the Iranian Sarmatians attacked between the Danube and the Theiss rivers.

Due to the situation in the East, only a punitive expedition could be launched in 167. Both Marcus and Verus led the troops. After the death of Verus (169), Marcus led personally the struggle against the Germanic tribes for the great part of his remaining life. The Romans suffered at least two serious defeats by the Quadi and Marcomanni, who could cross the Alps, ravage Opitergium (Oderzo) and besiege Aquileia, the main Roman city of north-east Italy.

At the same time the Costoboci, coming from the Carpathian area, invaded Moesia, Macedonia and Greece. After a long struggle, Marcus Aurelius managed to push back the invaders. Numerous members of Germanic tribes settled in frontier regions like Dacia, Pannonia, Germany and Italy itself. This was not a new thing, but this time the numbers of settlers required the creation of two new frontier provinces on the left shore of the Danube, Sarmatia and Marcomannia, including today's Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Some Germanic tribes who settled in Ravenna revolted and managed to seize possession of the city. For this reason, Marcus Aurelius decided not only against bringing more barbarians into Italy, but even banished those who had previously been brought there.

The emperor's plans were, however, prevented by a revolt in East, led by Avidius Cassius, which was prompted by false news of the death of Marcus after an illness. Of the eastern provinces, only Cappadocia and Bithynia did not side with the rebels. When it became clear that Marcus Aurelius was still alive, Cassius' fortunes declined quickly and he was killed by his troops after only 100 days of power.

Together with his wife Faustina, Marcus Aurelius toured the eastern provinces until 173. He visited Athens, declaring himself a protector of philosophy. After a triumph in Rome, the following year he marched again to the Danubian frontier. After a decisive victory in 178, the plan to annex Moravia and West Slovakia seemed poised for success but was abandoned after Marcus Aurelius again fell ill in 180.

Death and succession 180

Marcus Aurelius died on 17 March 180, in the city of Vindobona (modern Vienna). He was immediately deified and his ashes were returned to Rome, and rested in Hadrian's mausoleum (modern Castel Sant'Angelo) until the Visigoth sack of the city in 410. His campaigns against Germans and Sarmatians were also commemorated by a column and a temple built in Rome.

Marcus gave the succession to his son Commodus, whom he had named Caesar in 166 and made co-emperor in 177. This decision, putting an end to the series of "adoptive emperors", was highly criticized by later historians since Commodus was a political and military outsider, as well as an extreme egotist with neurotic problems.

At the end of his history of Marcus' reign, Cassius Dio wrote an encomium to the emperor, and described the transition to Commodus, to Dio's own times, with sorrow.

...[Marcus] did not meet with the good fortune that he deserved, for he was not strong in body and was involved in a multitude of troubles throughout practically his entire reign. But for my part, I admire him all the more for this very reason, that amid unusual and extraordinary difficulties he both survived himself and preserved the empire. Just one thing prevented him from being completely happy, namely, that after rearing and educating his son in the best possible way he was vastly disappointed in him. This matter must be our next topic; for our history now descends from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust, as affairs did for the Romans of that day. –Cassius Dio 71.36.3–4

Michael Grant, in The Climax of Rome (1968), writes of Commodus:

The youth turned out to be very erratic, or at least so anti-traditional that disaster was inevitable. But whether or not Marcus ought to have known this to be so, the rejections of his son's claims in favour of someone else would almost certainly have involved one of the civil wars which were to proliferate so disastrously around future successions.

Legacy and reputation

Marcus Aurelius acquired the reputation of a philosopher king within his lifetime, and the title would remain his after death; both Dio and the biographer call him "the philosopher". Christians—Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Melito—gave him the title, too. The last named went so far as to call Marcus "more philanthropic and philosophic" than Antoninus Pius and Ha


view all 17

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor's Timeline

April 26, 121
Rome, Latium, Italy
November 30, 147
Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Lazio, Italy
July 148
Roma, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Lazio, Italy
August 31, 161
Lanuvium, Latium Lanuvio, Roman Empire