Birthday: April 26, 121
Died At Age: 58
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus
Born Country: Italy
Born in: Rome, Italy
Famous as: Philosopher
Quotes By Marcus Aurelius
Spouse/Ex-: Faustina the Younger
father: Marcus Annius Verus
mother: Domitia Lucilla
children: Annia Cornificia Faustina Minor, Annia Galeria Aurelia Faustina, Commodus, Domitia Faustina, Fadilla, Gemellus Lucillae, Hadrianus Marcus Aurelius, Lucilla, Marcus Annius Verus Caesar, marcus aurelius cornifícia, Titus Aelius Antoninus, Titus Aelius Aurelius, Titus Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus, Vibia Aurelia Sabina
Died on: March 17, 180
place of death: Vindobona, Austria
City: Rome, Italy
Who was Marcus Aurelius?
Marcus Aurelius was one of the most revered Roman Emperors who believed in placing his empire before everything else. He served as the last emperor of the 'Pax Romana,' an age of relative stability and peace in the Roman Empire. An eager follower of Stoicism, his philosophical ideals and writings were compiled and preserved in a dairy for over ten years. This compilation is known to the world today as ‘Meditations.’ At a time when battle and malady destabilized the Roman empire, Aurelius made sure that he lived up to the expectation of his people by protecting them from the callousness of the Germans and the Parthians. It is believed that this powerful leader spent his childhood and early years by focusing on music, drama, literature, science, and geometry. In his youth, he studied philosophy with fervor and also developed an interest in law, which eventually earned him the position of the leader of the senate. During his reign as the emperor, he fought the northern nemeses along with his brother Verus and son Commodus and thus began expanding his empire’s borders. 13 centuries after his rule, Italian Renaissance diplomat and writer Niccolò Machiavelli named Marcus as one of Roman Empire's ‘Five Good Emperors.’ Today, he is remembered for his reign as a Roman emperor, writings, and reflective nature.
Childhood & Early Life
Marcus Aurelius was born on 26 April 121, into a wealthy, prominent family, in Rome, Italy. He was extremely bright as a young boy. He was a dedicated student, tutored by many private educators.
He was passionate about literature, music, Latin, and Greek. He also took great interest in the works of Stoic philosopher Epictetus who had a great influence on Marcus right from his early years. His intellectual dedication was noticed by the-then Emperor Hadrian.
After Hadrian’s former choice of heir passed away, he chose Titus Aurelius Antoninus to succeed him as the emperor. Hadrian also arranged for Antoninus to take young Aurelius under his wings at the age of 17.
Thus, he lived and worked closely with his adopted father Antoninus, learning the ways of political and public affairs.
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Accession & Reign
In 140 CE, Aurelius became emissary or leader of the senate—a post he would hold twice in his life. As years passed, he was given more political errands and official powers. Thus, he slowly progressed into a sturdy source of backing and guidance for his adoptive father Antoninus.
During this time, he also continued to study philosophy and harbored an interest in law. After his father passed away in 161 CE, he rose to power and was officially known as ‘Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus.’
While many documents suggest that he was the emperor’s only successor, Aurelius is believed to have insisted his brother Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustus to serve as the co-ruler.
Unlike the non-violent reign of their father Antoninus, the joint sovereignty of the two brothers was marked with several bloody wars and plagues. Through the mid and late-160s, the brothers combated the Parthians for control over the lands in the East.
Verus, his brother, supervised the war struggle, while Aurelius took care of their empire back home. Much of their victory in the battle against the Parthians has been credited to the generals employed under Verus, particularly Avidius Cassius.
The soldiers, who returned from war to Rome, carried with them a number of lethal illnesses, which destroyed nearly half the population of Rome.
Aurelius and his brother locked horns with the German tribes in the late-160s. This was after the tribes had crossed the Danube River and attacked a Roman city.
Following the sudden death of his brother Verus (possibly due to an illness) in 169 CE, Aurelius continued the battle with his troops, fighting the Germans from the border.
In 175 CE, his position as the emperor was challenged by none other than Avidius Cassius. While Aurelius was away combating the Germans, rumors were rife that he had become seriously ill. Seizing the opportunity, Cassius claimed the title of the emperor for himself.
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This forced Aurelius to travel back to Rome to regain control; however, he never had to confront Cassius as Cassius was killed by his own soldiers. Thus, he got back to traveling the eastern regions with his wife, re-establishing control in every city he set foot on.
In 177 CE, Aurelius made his son Commodus as his co-ruler. They fought the German tribes and also tussled with the northern enemies of the empire, while trying to extend the empire’s geographical borders.
In 167, the German tribes invaded a Roman city. Marcus and Verus arranged for funds for their own soldiers. After assembling a strong army, they drove the Germans away from their land. However, Verus died during this time and Aurelius became the sole emperor of the Roman Empire.
Personal Life & Legacy
Marcus Aurelius married Faustina the Younger, a relative, in 145. The couple had 13 children in their marriage of three decades. Two of their children— Lucilla and Commodus— went on to become famous.
From 170 to 180, Aurelius wrote ‘Meditations,’ a philosophical text. The book was first published in 1558 in Zurich, and the only remaining copy can be found in the Vatican library.
Marcus Aurelius passed away in Vindobona (Vienna) on 17 March 180, and his ashes were taken back to Rome. His son Commodus succeeded his father as the emperor. In 410, Marcus’ battles against the Germans were memorialized by a pillar and a shrine in Rome.
He was posthumously honored with the title ‘philosopher-king’; a title that still exists today.
The 1964 film ‘The Fall of the Roman Empire’ and the 2000 film ‘Gladiator’ were based on Marcus Aurelius’ life and career.
This famous Roman emperor was a devout student of philosophy. He loved the subject so much that he donned the attire of a philosopher. He even cultivated the habit of sleeping on the floor, until his mother stopped him from doing so.