Marcus Aurelius by Joshua Parsons
Marcus Aurelius (121 AD – 180 AD) was a Roman Emperor well known for being a philosophical thinker and for being the last of the Five Good Emperors. Aurelius’ reign as Emperor was known for its defeat of the Parthian Empire and Germanic tribes, increased persecution of Christians in the Empire, and being the last period of Pax Romana. During his life, he wrote about many philosophical ideas that were later published into a book called Meditations; this book gives us a modern understanding of Stoic philosophy and is known as one of the greatest philosophical works ever written.
Not much is known about his early childhood but we do know that Aurelius was born to a wealthy family in Rome and that his father died when he was three years old. He lived with his mother but was raised by his grandfather after his father’s death. He avoided public school and instead was taught at home by tutors. Catilius Severus who may have introduced him to philosophy and Alexander of Cotiaeum who advanced his literary styling tutored him.
Marcus would become Emperor in 161 AD but how he became Emperor is confusing. We know Emperor Hadrian almost died in 136 AD so he decided to name a successor and in doing so, he chose Lucius Ceionius Commodus while that same year Marcus married his daughter Ceionia Fabia. Two years after Commodus died, Hadrian chose Titus Aurelius Antoninus who was Marcus’ Aunt’s husband. After this, Titus adopted Marcus and his new brother Commodus. He divorced his first wife, and in 145 AD, he married his cousin, the Emperor’s daughter, Annia Galeria Faustina. After years of being, Consuls and working diligently in government and public affairs Marcus would become Emperor after his father’s death in 161 AD.
The same year Marcus became Emperor the Roman province of Syria was invaded by the Parthians. The Parthians were eventually defeated but the returning men coming home from the war brought plague that ravished the Empire. In 167 AD, a massive invasion force from across the Danube marched into Northern Italy and besieged a couple of cities. Thanks to Marcus, the invasion force was pushed back and a Roman invasion across the Danube was launched. Marcus would spend the next four years successfully fighting to bring the tribes of the Danube to a peace agreement. Both of these wars brought much turmoil to the Empire both physically and economically causing people in 175 AD to rebel in the Eastern provinces. Throughout these challenges, Marcus’ leadership was tested but he never wavered and in doing so ensured that all enemies of the Empire were defeated.
All of Marcus’ life he wrote down his thoughts on everyday life and about works of Socrates and Plato. These would eventually be written into a book called Meditations and as stated previous this book is considered by some to be one of the best philosophical works ever. In his writing, he teaches us many things, for example, the importance of analyzing one’s own judgment of themselves and others and the development of a cosmic perspective. He says this about judgment, “You have the power to strip away many superfluous troubles located wholly in your judgment, and to possess a large room for yourself embracing in thought the whole cosmos, to consider everlasting time, to think of the rapid change in the parts of each thing, of how short it is from birth until dissolution, and how the void before birth and that after dissolution are equally infinite” (Sellars, “Marcus Aurelius”). Another thing he focuses on is that a person needs to find their own place in the universe and that they need to see that everything comes from nature, and so everything will eventually return to nature in time. He talks about, “Being a good man”(Roberts, “Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World”) by having strong ethical principles and being able to keep focus without any distractions. One of his last main ideas he says, “The only way a man can be harmed by others is to allow their reaction to overpower themselves” (Sellars, “Marcus Aurelius”).
Crook, John. “Britannica.” https://www.britannica.com/biography/Marcus-Aurelius-Roman-emperor. August 28, 2018.
Sellars, John. “Marcus Aurelius.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2002. https://www.iep.utm.edu/marcus. August 28, 2018.
Roberts, John. Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World. OX: Oxford University Press, 2007.
History.com Staff. “History.com”. https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/marcus-aurelius. August 28, 2018.