MARCUS AURELIUS 161-180 AD, As Struck 179/180 AD
Obverse: M AVREL ANTONINVS AVG, laureate head right
Reverse: TR P XXXIIII IMP X [COS III], S C in exergue,
wolf and twins in cave
RIC III 1247; Cohen 976
Marcus Aurelius Den "Equity"
Marcus Aurelius AD 139-180 Silver Denarius
Obverse: M ANTONINVS AVG PM PARTH MAX - Laureate head
Reverse: TR P XXII IMP IIII COS III - Equity standing
left, holding scales and cornucopia
Rome mint: Dec 167 - Feb 168 = RIC III, 178, page
227 - Cohen 892/3.10 g
Marcus Aurelius (Latin: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; 26 April 121
– 17 March 180 AD) was Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180. He ruled
with Lucius Verus as co-emperor from 161 until Verus' death in 169.
Marcus Aurelius was the last of the so-called Five Good Emperors.
He was a practitioner of Stoicism, and his untitled writing, commonly known
as the Meditations, is the most significant source of the modern understanding
of ancient Stoic philosophy.
During his reign, the Roman 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.
Aurelius' 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, a state of psychological
stability and composure, 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 AD, but are in fact written by a single
author (referred to here as "the biographer") from the later 4th century
(c. 395 AD).
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
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 AD, and a daughter, Annia Cornificia Faustina, probably born in 122
or 123 AD. Verus (III) probably died in 124 AD, 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
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, Marcus' intended
father-in-law, as his successor and adopted him as his son. The selection
was done invitis omnibus, "against the wishes of everyone". While
there will never be absolute certainty regarding his motives, it would
appear that his goal was to eventually place the then-too-young Marcus
on the throne. As part of his adoption, Commodus took the name Lucius
Aelius Caesar. His health was so poor that during a ceremony to mark
his becoming heir to the throne, he was too weak to lift a large shield
on his own. 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 AD, 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 Aurelius was the nephew of Antoninus'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. He reportedly greeted the news that Hadrian
had become his adoptive grandfather with sadness, instead of joy.
Only with reluctance did he move from his mother's house on the Caelian
to Hadrian's private home.
At some time in 138 AD, 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. If not 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'
Antoninus bolstered Marcus' dignity: Marcus was made consul for 140 AD,
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
AD. As the heir apparent, Marcus became princeps iuventutis, head
of the equestrian order. He now took the name Caesar: Marcus Aelius
Aurelius Verus Caesar. 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 AD, 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 AD, Marcus married Faustina, as had been planned since 138
AD. 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 AD, 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 AD.) 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
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
– 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 his adoptive father, Antoninus, 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
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 Marcus...as 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
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
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
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,
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 may have claimed 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, ruler of Daqin, who can be identified either with Marcus Aurelius
or his predecessor Antoninus Pius. In addition to Republican-era
Roman glasswares found at Guangzhou along the South China Sea, Roman golden
medallions made during the reign of Antoninus Pius and perhaps even Marcus
Aurelius have been found at Óc Eo, Vietnam, then part of the Kingdom
of Funan near the Chinese province of Jiaozhi (in northern Vietnam).
This may have been the port city of Kattigara, described by Ptolemy (c.
150) as being visited by a Greek sailor named Alexander and laying beyond
the Golden Chersonese (i.e. Malay Peninsula). Roman coins from the
reigns of Tiberius to Aurelian have been found in Xi'an, China (site of
the Han capital Chang'an), although the far greater amount of Roman coins
in India suggests the Roman maritime trade for purchasing Chinese silk
was centered there, not in China or even the overland Silk Road running
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:
The Roman Empire during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. His annexation
of lands of the Marcomanni and the Jazyges – perhaps to be provincially
called Marcomannia and Sarmatia – was cut short in 175 by the revolt of
Avidius Cassius and in 180 by his death.
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 year 19, crossed the Danube together
with the Lombards and other Germanic tribes. Soon thereafter, 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 personally led the struggle against the Germanic tribes
for most of his remaining life. The Romans suffered at least two
serious defeats by the Quadi and Marcomanni, who would cross the Alps,
ravage Opitergium (Oderzo) and besiege Aquileia, the main Roman city of
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 prevented by a usurpation in 175 of the governor
of Syria, Avidius Cassius, which was prompted by false news of the death
of Marcus after an illness. The rebellion quickly gathered support
in 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
He was succeeded by his son Commodus, whom he had named Caesar in 166 and
with whom he had jointly ruled since 177. It was only the second
time that a "non-adoptive" son was chosen as heir to the throne.
The only other having been a century earlier when Vespasian was succeeded
by his son Titus. Historians have criticized the decision, citing
Commodus' erratic behavior and lack of political and military acumen.
At the end of his history of Marcus' reign, Cassius Dio wrote an encomium
to the emperor, and described the transition to Commodus in his own lifetime
...[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.
Michael Grant, in The Climax of Rome (1968), writes
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.
Image of Roman Empire 180 AD Marcus Aurelius
(Attribution: By Tataryn77 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons)
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 such as Justin
Martyr, Athenagoras and Melito gave him the title, too. The last
named went so far as to call Marcus Aurelius "more philanthropic and philosophic"
than Antoninus Pius and Hadrian, and set him against the persecuting emperors
Domitian and Nero to make the contrast bolder. "Alone of the emperors,"
wrote the historian Herodian, "he gave proof of his learning not by mere
words or knowledge of philosophical doctrines but by his blameless character
and temperate way of life."
Iain King concludes Marcus Aurelius' legacy is tragic, because the emperor's
"Stoic philosophy – which is about self-restraint, duty, and respect for
others – was so abjectly abandoned by the imperial line he anointed on
In the 1964 movie The Fall of the Roman Empire he was portrayed by Alec
Guinness and in the 2000 movie Gladiator by Richard Harris. Both
movie plots posited that Marcus Aurelius was assassinated because he intended
to pass down power to his adopted son, a Roman general, instead of his
biological son, Commodus.
Attitude towards Christians:
In the first two centuries of the Christian era, it was local Roman officials
who were largely responsible for persecution of Christians. In the
second century, the emperors treated Christianity as a local problem to
be dealt with by their subordinates. The number and severity of persecutions
of Christians in various locations of the empire seemingly increased during
the reign of Marcus Aurelius. The extent to which Marcus Aurelius
himself directed, encouraged, or was aware of these persecutions is unclear
and much debated by historians. According to Gibbon, with the onset
of the Germanic war, his treatment of the Christians degraded with increased
persecutions uncharacteristic of the previous years of his reign and those
of his predecessors.
Marriage and children:
Aurelius married his first cousin Faustina the Younger in 145. During
their 30-year marriage, Faustina bore 13 children. Only one son and
four daughters outlived their father:
- Annia Aurelia Galeria Faustina (147–after 165)
- Gemellus Lucillae (died around 150), twin brother of
- Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla (148/50–182), twin sister
married her father's co-ruler Lucius Verus
- Titus Aelius Antoninus (born after 150, died before
7 March 161)
- Titus Aelius Aurelius (born after 150, died before
7 March 161)
- Hadrianus (152–157)
- Domitia Faustina (born after 150, died before 7 March
- Annia Aurelia Fadilla (159–after 211)
- Annia Cornificia Faustina Minor (160–after 211)
- Titus Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus (161–165), twin brother
- Lucius Aurelius Commodus Antoninus (Commodus) (161–192),
brother of Titus Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus, later emperor
- Marcus Annius Verus Caesar (162–169)
- Vibia Aurelia Sabina (170–died before 217)
While on campaign between 170 and 180, Aurelius wrote his Meditations in
Greek as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. The
title of this work was added posthumously—originally he titled his work
simply: "To Myself". He had a logical mind and his notes were representative
of Stoic philosophy and spirituality. Meditations is still revered
as a literary monument to a government of service and duty. The book
has been a favourite of Frederick the Great, John Stuart Mill, Matthew
Arnold, Goethe, Wen Jiabao, and Bill Clinton.
It is not known how far Marcus' writings were circulated after his death.
There are stray references in the ancient literature to the popularity
of his precepts, and Julian the Apostate was well aware of Marcus' reputation
as a philosopher, though he does not specifically mention the Meditations.
The book itself, though mentioned in correspondence by Arethas of Caesarea
in the 10th century and in the Byzantine Suda, was first published in 1558
in Zurich by Wilhelm Holzmann, from a manuscript copy that is now lost.
The only other surviving complete copy of the manuscript is in the Vatican
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