Triumph of Marcus Aurelius

Triumph of Marcus Aurelius

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Marcus Aurelius’s Wife Cheated on Him With A Gladiator

M arcus Aurelius is famous today as a Stoic philosopher. History remembers him also as one of the Five Good Roman Emperors. To a broader audience, he became known through the Hollywood movie — Gladiator.

In the movie, Aurelius had a son Commodus who eventually fights in Colosseum as a gladiator. Also, in reality, Commodus performed as a gladiator.

The Romans gossiped Commodus was not Aurelius’s biological son. They believed his true father was the gladiator who had been the lover of his mother, Faustina the Younger. How else they could explain Commodus’s obsession with the gladiator fights?

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Annius Verus was born at Rome on 26 April AD 121. His paternal great-grandfather, Annius Verus from Uccubi (near Corduba) in Baetica, had brought the family, wealthy through the production of olive oil, to prominence by gaining the rank of senator and praetor.

After this, his paternal grandfather (also Marcus Annius Verus) held the office of consul three times. It was this grandfather who adopted Marcus Aurelius after his father’s death, and at whose grand residence the young Marcus grew up.

His father, also called Marcus Annius Verus, married Domitia Lucilla, cam came from a wealthy family which owned a tile factory (which Marcus would inherit) close to Rome. But he would die young, when his son was only about three years old.

Early on in his life Marcus had the additional names ‘Catilius Severus’ to his name. This was in honour of his maternal step-grandfather who had been consul in AD 110 and 120.

To complete the picture of Marcus’ family ties, one needs also to mention his paternal aunt, Annia Galeria Faustina (Faustina the Elder), who was the wife of Antoninus Pius.

No emperor since Tiberius had spent such a long time in preparing and waiting to accede to the throne as Marcus Aurelius. It remains unknown just how it was that the young boy Marcus so early in his life attracted the attention of Hadrian, who affectionately nicknamed him ‘Verissimus’, enrolled him to equestrian rank at the age of only six, made him a priest of the Salian order at the age of eight and had him educated by the best teachers of the day.

Then in AD 136, Marcus was betrothed to Ceionia Fabia, the daughter of Lucius Ceionius Commodus, by wish of emperor Hadrian. Shortly after this Hadrian announced Commodus as his official heir. As son-in-law to the imperial heir, Marcus now found himself at the very highest level of Roman political life.

Though Commodus was not to be heir apparent for long. He already died on 1 January AD 138. Hadrian though needed an heir fo he was growing old and his health was beginning to fail him. He clearly appeared to like the idea of seeing Marcus on the throne one day, but knew he was not old enough. And so Antoninus Pius became the successor, but only by and in turn adopting Marcus, and Commodus’ orphaned son, Lucius Ceionius Commodus as his heirs.

Marcus was 16 when the adoption ceremony took place on 25 February AD 138. It was on this occasion that he assumed the name Marcus Aurelius. The accession to the throne of the joint emperors was to set a precedent, which should be repeated many times in the coming centuries.

As Hadrian died shortly after and Antoninus Pius assumed the throne, Marcus soon shared in the work of the high office. Antoninus sought for Marcus to gain experience for the role he would one day have to play. And with time, both seemed to have shared true sympathy and affection for each other, like father and son.

As these bonds grew stronger Marcus Aurelius broke off his engagement to Ceionia Fabia and instead became engaged to Antoninus’ daughter Annia Galeria Faustina (Faustina the Younger)in AD 139. An engagement which should lead to marriage in AD 145.

Faustina would bear him no fewer than 14 children during their 31 years of marriage. But only one son and four daughters were to outlive their father.
In AD 139 Marcus Aurelius was officially made Caesar, junior emperor to Antoninus, and in AD 140, at the age of only 18, he was made consul for the first time.

Just as there was no doubt whom of his two adopted sons Antoninus favoured, it was clear that the senate, too, preferred Marcus Aurelius. When in AD 161 Antoninus Pius died, the senate sought to make Marcus sole emperor. It was only due to Marcus Aurelius’ insistence, reminding the senators of the wills of both Hadrian and Antoninus, that his adoptive brother Verus was made his imperial colleague.

Had the rule of Antoninus Pius been a period of reasonable calm, the the reign of Marcus Aurelius would be a time of almost continuous fighting, made yet worse by rebellions and plague.

When in AD 161 war broke out with the Parthians and Rome suffered setbacks in Syria, it was emperor Verus who left for the east in order to lead the campaign. And yet, as Verus spent most of his time pursuing his pleasures at Antioch, leadership of the campaign was left in the hands of the Roman generals, and – to some degree – even in the hands of Marcus Aurelius back in Rome.

As if it were not enough trouble that, when Verus returned in AD 166, his troops brought with them a devastating plague which racked the empire, then the northern frontiers should also see successive attacks across the Danube by ever more hostile Germanic tribes.

By autumn AD 167 the two emperors set out together, leading an army northward. But only on hearing of their coming, the barbarians withdrew, with the imperial army still in Italy.

Marcus Aurelius though deemed it necessary for Rome to reassert its authority to the north. The barbarians should not grow confident that they could attack the empire and withdraw as they pleased.

And so, with a reluctant co-emperor Verus, he set out for the north for a show of strength. When they thereafter returned to Aquileia in northern Italy plague ravaged the army camp and the two emperors decided it wiser to head for Rome. But emperor Verus, perhaps affected by the disease, never made it back to Rome. He died, only after a short while into journey, at Altinum (early AD 169).

This left Marcus Aurelius sole emperor of the Roman world.

But already in late AD 169 the very same Germanic tribes which had caused the trouble which had taken Marcus Aurelius and Verus over the Alps launched their yet biggest assault across the Danube. The combined tribes of Quadi and Marcomanni broke through the Roman defenses, crossed the mountains into Italy and even laid siege to Aquileia.

Meanwhile further east the tribe of the Costoboci crossed the Danube and drove south into Greece. Marcus Aurelius, his armies enfeebled by the plague gripping his empire, had great trouble re-establishing control. It was only achieved in an arduous, embittered campaign lasting for years. Harsh conditions only yet further strained his forces. One battle took place in the deepest winter on the frozen surface of the river Danube.

Though throughout these gruesome wars Marcus Aurelius still found the time for governmental affairs. He administered government, dictated letters, heard court cases in an exemplary fashion, with a remarkable sense of duty. He is said to have spent up to eleven to twelve days on a difficult court case, at times even dispensing justice at night.

If Marcus Aurelius’ reign was to be one of almost constant warfare, then it stands in stark contrast to his being a deeply intellectual man of a peaceful nature. He was an ardent student of Greek ‘stoic’ philosophy and his rule is perhaps the closest to that of a true philosopher king, the western world ever came to know.

His work ‘Meditations’, an intimate collection of his profound thoughts, is perhaps the most famous book ever written by a monarch.

But if Marcus Aurelius was a profound and peaceful intellect, then he bore little sympathy for followers of the Christian faith. To the emperor Christians seemed mere fanatical martyrs, who stubbornly refused to have any part in the greater community which was the Roman empire.

If Marcus Aurelius saw in his empire the union of the people of the civilized world, then the Christians were dangerous extremists who sought to undermine this union for the sake of their own religious beliefs. For such people Marcus Aurelius had no time and no sympathy. The Christians were persecuted in Gaul during his reign.

In AD 175 yet another tragedy occurred to an emperor so haunted by bad fortune. As Marcus Aurelius fell ill when was fighting on campaign on the Danube, a false rumour appeared to have emerged which announced he was dead. Marcus Cassius, the governor of Syria who had been appointed to the command of the east of the empire, was hailed emperor by his troops. Cassius was a loyal general to Marcus Aurelius.

It is very unlikely that he would have acted, if he had not thought the emperor dead. Though it is likely that the prospect of Marcus’ son Commodus taking the throne might have spurned Cassius on to act quickly at hearing of the throne having fallen vacant. It is also believed that Cassius enjoyed the support of the the empress, Faustina the Younger, who was with Marcus’ but feared him dying from illness.

But with Cassius hailed emperor in the east and Marcus Aurelius still alive there was no going back. Cassius now couldn’t simply resign. Marcus prepared to move east to defeat the usurper. But shortly after news reached him that Cassius had been killed by his own soldiers.

The emperor, aware of the misunderstanding which had led to Cassius’ unwitting revolt, did not begin a witch hunt to seek out any conspirators. Perhaps because he knew of his wife’s own support of Cassius in this tragedy.

In order however to avert any future chance of civil war, should rumours of his death arise again, he now (AD 177) made his son Commodus his co-emperor.

Commodus had already held the position of Caesar (junior emperor) since AD 166, but now his status of co-Augustus made his succession inevitable.
Then, with Commodus alongside him, Marcus Aurelius toured the east of the empire, where Cassius revolt had arisen.

The wars along the Danube however were not at an end. In AD 178 Marcus Aurelius and Commodus left for the north where Commodus would play a prominent role alongside his father in leading the troops.

If the fortunes of war were with the Romans this time and the Quadi were seriously mauled in their own territory beyond the Danube (AD 180), then any joy was offset by the old emperor now being seriously ill.A long lasting illness, – he had for some years complained of stomach and chest pains -, finally overcame the emperor and Marcus Aurelius died on 17 March AD 180 near Sirmium.

Emperor of Rome

When his time came, on the death of Emperor Antoninus in 161 CE, Marcus Aurelius had no political equal. Yet he held fast to Hadrian's old wishes and refused to accept his status in Rome unless his adopted brother Lucius Verus could govern alongside him (this despite Marcus not having the fondest memory of Hadrian himself).

Although the first time since before Octavian that Rome had two constitutionally equal leaders, there were no illusions about who had seniority. Lucius was to Marcus as a helmsman to his captain or a lieutenant-general to his proconsul despite being in every way equal before the law. Such an arrangement had been intended several times before - by Octavian and by Tiberius - but it was only at the behest of the modest Marcus that this finally came to pass and the powers of an Augustus came to be shared. Since Lucius had shied away from political power all of these years, the first order of business was to grant him tribunicia potestas and imperium.

As Antoninus Pius did, Marcus and Lucius quickly became popular with the people of Rome, for acting civiliter (never flaunting their civic authority), permitting free expression (allowing even open criticism of their rule, as by the comedian Marullus), and dealing personally with the troubles of the people (going in person to offer relief to those affected by the 161-162 CE flooding of the Tiber). Marcus Aurelius especially would become renowned for the great attention he gave to legal affairs, devoting a tremendous amount of his personal time to hearing cases brought before him by private citizens and issuing rescripta throughout his reign in response to petitions on both public and private matters (issued as epistulae and subscriptiones respectively).

The Parthian War

Emboldened by this change of guard in Rome, Shah Vologases III moved quickly to usurp Rome's client king in Armenia and to install his own nominee, the Arsacid prince Pacorus. After crushing the legions of Cappadocian governor M. Sedatius Severianus, the Parthians under their Commander Chosrhoes advanced into Syria and ousted its governor L. Attidius Cornelianus. Unfortunately for Rome, this invasion coincided with high pressure from the Chatti against the limes of Germania Superior and from northern tribes against the Antonine Wall in Britannia. While C. Aufidius Victorinus, a friend of Marcus, was sent to deal with matters in Germany, the Britannic governor M. Statius Priscus had to be sent to defend Cappadocia and was replaced in Britain by Sextus Calpurnius Agricola, fresh from service in Germania Superior. Since neither emperor had military experience, good generals were essential for the military success of Rome in these local theaters.

Nonetheless, the presence of an emperor was equally crucial for the legions, so it was decided that one of the emperors would go to the front in person. Marcus Aurelius volunteered himself for this task, setting out for the east as soon as he could muster his praetorians and some reinforcement legions from the European limites (viz. I Minervia, II Adiutrix, and V Macedonica). For this imperial expeditio, Marcus brought along the senior military man M. Pontius Laelianus, alongside other less veteran comites of senatorial rank (less veteran only because no one could be as experienced - nor as serious, mind you - as Laelianus was said to be).

Reaching the east before the end of Summer 162 CE, Marcus and Laelianus set about whipping the Syrian legions into shape, clamping down on their prior laziness and debauchery. Within a short time, they were setting out down the Euphrates, preventing the Persians from reaching Edessa and, no doubt, deposing Rome's client king, Mannus, in Osrhoene. Meanwhile, Priscus was moving ahead in Armenia, retaking the capital before the end of 163. Another Arsacid, Sohaemus, who was a Roman senator of consular rank, was crowned King of Armenia by Marcus. For the occasion, new coins were minted with the phrase REX ARMINIIS DATUS and the title of Armeniacus was accepted by both emperors.

By the Summer of 164, Marcus accompanied the majority of the Roman forces in their progress down the Tigris, after taking Nisibis in mid-Spring (allowing time to recuperate before the final push). Reaching the twin cities of Mesopotamia, Marcus graciously offered Vologases an opportunity to make peace before the city was lost and the palace burned to the ground.

Administrative Reform

Following the Parthian Wars, the returning Triumph of General Avidius Cassius and his soldiers brought a terrible thing back to Italia - the plague. Known by Galen as the Antonine Plague, it pervaded the region from 165 to 180 and has been attributed the deaths of both Marcus and Lucius. Further to the east, a Roman embassy sent by Antoninus finally arrived in Han China to trade with the great eastern empire. While the trade went well and the embassy returned safely, no further attempts at contact were sent by the emperors.

For most of the 160's and early 170's, Marcus toured the eastern provinces in between military campaigns along the Danube to repel and punish the rebellious Quadi, Marcomanni and Iazyges people. In the city of Athens in 173, he gave a speech on philosophy to a large crowd, among whom was a young boy aged only eight years. Afterward, the boy followed the emperor home and began asking him naively honest questions about his speech that day. Marcus learned that the boy was an orphan, and due to the emperor's propensity for helping the poor and young, adopted the precocious young Gaius Corellus Sulla before returning to the Danubian Frontier.

Aurelius raised Sulla the way he remembered his own parents raising him, and taught him the virtues which he himself held dear. Almost immediately, he realized that the boy was smarter than he even first thought, and deeply impressed by his continued academic progress, named Sulla his successor in 178, superseding the previous choice of his biological son Commodus. What happens next is a little unclear, but historians believe that Sulla's future wife, Polonia (then only a servant girl in the court), poisoned Commodus after learning from his sister that the man intended to kill the heir-apparent himself. At the time, neither Aurelius nor Sulla were aware of what had transpired and both of them attributed Commodus' untimely demise to the plague.

Two years later, on July 2nd, Marcus Aurelius finally gave in to his illness and died peacefully with Sulla and his four surviving daughters at his bedside. After the appropriate period of mourning, Gaius Corellus Sulla was proclaimed Caesar Sulla, emperor of Rome, by the Senate and Legion.

Tapestry, wool and silk, 7-8 warps per cm, The Triumph of Marcus Aurelius from a set of two of the History of Marcus Aurelius, workshop of Michiel Wauters after a design by Abraham van Diepenbeeck, c. 1660-1679. A rectangular panel cut from a larger piece. In the foreground to the right of centre is a Roman soldier wearing armour and a helmet and walking down steps, with only the top half of his body visible. He turns back to look at two prisoners whom he leads on a chain tied around their wrists. To the left of the soldier is a man wearing a green cloak and a laurel wreath holding up a standard which disappears above the edge of the tapestry, and another figure wearing red is cut off on the far left. Behind the figures is a chariot drawn by two horses and ridden by the triumphant figure of Marcus Aurelius, whose legs are visible but his body is cut off by the top of the tapestry.

Marcus Aurelius (121-180) was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD. He was known as the Philosopher King and is best remembered for the ‘Meditations’, a series of auto-biographical meditations on the duties of a ruler. His life appears in a number of late Roman histories but was codified in the sixteenth century by the Franciscan historian Francisco Antonia de Guevara, whose ‘Libro Aureo de Marco Aurelio Emperador’ was published in 1529, dedicated to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The ‘Libro Aureo’ (‘or ‘Golden Book’) told the story of the Philosopher King as a series of short narratives, each of which had a moral. An expanded edition of the book appeared in Barcelona in 1647 (De Mendonça 1939) and it was almost certainly this edition that provided the source for the present tapestry set. This tapestry and its companion, a fragment from ‘The Triumph of Marcus Aurelius’ (no. 557891), are part of a series telling the story of Marcus Aurelius. There was originally a third tapestry from the set at Packwood showing ‘Marcus Aurelius presenting his son to the Philosophers’, but this was stolen in 1991 (no. 557924). Although the tapestries were once thought to be English (Marillier 1930), they were in fact woven in the Antwerp workshop of Michiel Wauters (d. 1679), whose monogram appears on a number of other surviving examples. The records of the Firm Forchoudt, art dealers who exported tapestries from the Netherlands throughout Europe in the late seventeenth century, contain references to Marcus Aurelius tapestries woven by Michiel Wauters in the 1670s (Denucé 1936, pp. 373, 374, 377), and two tapestries from the series along with a set of eight cartoons appeared in Wauters’s posthumous warehouse inventory in 1679 (Denucé 1932, p. 300). An undated letter from Michiel Wauters to the art dealer Guillaum Forchoudt confirms that the ‘Marcus Aurelius’ tapestries were designed by the Antwerp painter and printmaker Abraham van Diepenbeeck (1596-1675) (Denucé 1931, p. 272). Diepenbeeck began supplying tapestry designs for the Wauters brothers in 1655, and in the following twenty years he designed at least 11 different tapestry sets for them. Diepenbeeck appears to have provided his designs in the form of drawings in ink which were then translated into cartoons by specialist cartoon painters. Three of Diepenbeeck’s drawings for the ‘Marcus Aurelius’ tapestries survive in the British Museum, the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna and the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt (Steadman 1982, pp. 47-48). Reversed copies of three drawings, possibly made by a cartoon painter, are in the Whitworth Art Gallery. The ‘History of Marcus Aurelius’ was among the most popular of the Wauters tapestry sets, and numerous examples survive. The most complete are a set of five in the Museum of Applied Arts, Milan (Forti-Grazzini 1984, cats. 13-16, pp. 32-37, and figs. 44-56) and a set of six in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon (De Mendonça 1939). A number of tapestries from the series have been recorded in collections in Britain (Forti-Grazzini 1984, p. 33). A panel showing ‘Marcus Aurelius berating his wife Faustina’ at Sizergh Castle (998627) is one of more than thirty Wauters tapestries in National Trust houses. (Helen Wyld, 2009)

Lucius Verus and the Parthians

In AD 161, after a long and largely peaceful reign, Antoninus Pius died, leaving the 40 year old Marcus Aurelius to take his place. The Senate clearly favored the mature Marcus over his 31 year old joint heir Lucius Verus, who had an almost Neronian reputation for personal indulgence (such as cavorting with actors), and attempted to name Marcus as sole emperor to replace Antoninus. Marcus Aurelius, however, insisted on following the wills of both Hadrian and Antoninus by having his adopted brother Lucius Verus secured as "co-emperor". He married his daughter Lucilla to Verus to further cement the relationship in AD 164.

Despite the peaceful and easy transition from Antoninus to Aurelius and Verus, including an all important surplus treasury, the new emperors faced several immediate crises. The flooding of the Tiber River introduced a temporary famine that was overcome through the personal intervention of the emperors. In Britannia war loomed with restless tribes, and along the Danube the Chatti crossed into Raetia, perhaps as a forebear of later Germanic incursions to come. These incidents were effectively managed by appointed legates, but in the east, old rivalries with Parthia would require far more attention. Disagreement between the two powers over accession issues in Armenia had been kindling since the later years of Antoninus reign and had in fact been a matter of contention dating back to the reign of Nero over a century earlier.

With the death of Antoninus, Vologaesus III, King of Parthia, may have viewed the establishment of a Roman diarchy as a sign of weakness. Compounding this issue may have been the fact that neither of the two emperors had acquired any military experience whatsoever. Whatever the case may have been, Vologaesus seized a perceived moment of Roman weakness and installed his own candidate upon the Armenian throne. Rome's response was swift but initially ineffective. A Roman legion under Severianus marched from Cappadocia into Armenia and was routed at Elegeia, prompting the Parthians to invade Roman territory. The governor of Syria, Attidius Cornelianus, suffered defeats as well, pressuring the Romans for definitive personal involvement from the imperial family.

Marcus Aurelius dispatched Lucius Verus to Parthia to oversee the war and to give it an air of heightened importance, but Verus was more inclined to enjoy himself on the trip than to prepare for war. As reported in the Historia Augusta, "Verus, after he had come to Syria, lingered amid the debaucheries of Antioch and Daphne and busied himself with gladiatorial bouts and hunting." Aurelius was fully aware of his "brother's" inadequacies, and Verus' presence was more a statement indicating the importance of the campaign than an indication of military command.

Fortunately, despite Verus' indulgences, his legates were focused on the task at hand. Statius Priscus, Avidius Cassius and Martius Verus were entrusted with command of the legions while Marcus Aurelius conducted affairs of the state back in Rome. Though the details provided by the ancients are scant, the Historia Augusta credits Priscus with an invasion of Armenia that took the capital of Artaxata. Avidius Cassius was credited by Cassius Dio as having led the overall campaign. After withstanding the early attacks of Vologaesus, Avidius Cassius advanced deep into Mesopotamia, eventually razing Seleucia and the Parthian palaces in Ctesiphon. Though the involvement of Martius Verus is limited only to the mention of his name by the ancients, it was he who later as governor of Cappadocia interceded on behalf of Marcus Aurelius against the revolt of the afore-mentioned Avidius Cassius. This, however, was some years off, and for now the 5 year campaign (161 - 166 AD) against Parthia proved to be as decisive as any war in recent Roman history. A Roman candidate once again sat the Armenian throne, and Parthia had been thoroughly defeated.

Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius were both honored with the titles Armeniacus and Parthicus, as Verus returned to Rome to celebrate a triumph. However, with the return of his army came a terrible plague (presumably smallpox thanks in large part to the descriptions of the ancient physician Galen) which spread throughout the empire. While the plagues devastating effects are debated (as far as total death toll) there is no question that the next few years were predominately focused on efforts to defeat it. Of its potentially 5 million victims over the course of the next 15 years, its most notorious victim in the early stages was likely Lucius Verus himself. After both he and Aurelius had personally marched north to investigate Germanic incursions along the Danube, they found the plague was spreading rapidly among the legions. Returning to Italy in AD 169, Verus fell ill and at the age of 38 years the junior emperor died, leaving Rome once again with a single emperor: Marcus Aurelius.

Triumph of Marcus Aurelius - History

Marcus Aurelius (121-180) reigned as Roman Emperor between 161 and his death, 19 years later. For the first eight years, he and Lucius Verus acted as co-emperors, after which Aurelius ruled alone. His reign came at the end of a period of internal stability and military success for the Romans, and his personal achievements led to his being included as the last of the so-called “Five Good Emperors.” Aurelius was also noted for his philosophical writings, including the book Meditations, which was about how to use nature to keep one’s balance during wartime.


Aurelius was born in Rome on April 26, 121. Like most Emperors at this time, he was born into a rich and privileged household, whose members possessed both great monetary wealth and considerable political influence. The young Marcus proved himself to be a hard-working and diligent student, learning both Greek and Latin to a high standard. In fact, his academic achievements were sufficient to bring him to the attention of the Emperor Hadrian, who was impressed by his serious and committed approach to his studies.

Even at this young age, however, Aurelius had become interested in the teachings of Stoic philosophy. This movement gave prominence to self-restraint, reason, and fate. Among the most influential of the works of Stoicism was Discourses. This book, which was the work of the philosopher Epictetus, an ex-slave, caught the attention of Aurelius, and he resolved to take a similar approach to the way he lived his own life.

Meanwhile, Hadrian had been looking for a man to be his successor as Emperor, since his originally preferred candidate was no longer alive. Hadrian decided to adopt the man who would one day become Emperor: Pius Antonius, who was at that time known as Titus Aurelius Antoninus. Both Marcus Aurelius and the deceased candidate’s own son were adopted by Antoninus, at the instigation of Hadrian himself. Aurelius learned from the example that his newly adopted father displayed in his administrative roles.

The Path to Power

Marcus Aurelius became consul for the first of three times in 140. As time went on, his powers and responsibilities increased considerably, and he eventually became one of Antoninus’ most important advisers and supporters. During this period, while he maintained his studies of philosophy, Aurelius also began to pay attention to legal affairs. Five years after becoming consul, he married the daughter of the Emperor, Faustina. The couple enjoyed a happy domestic life, and among the best known of their numerous children were Commodus and Lucilla.

In 161, Antoninus died, and his adoptive son was crowned as the new Emperor, taking the name of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus in his father’s honor. Lucius Verus, whose full name was Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustus, is thought to have enjoyed the title of co-ruler, although some authorities doubt that Verus had much real power when compared to that of his adoptive brother. Furthermore, some historians argue that only Marcus Aurelius was named as the earlier Emperor’s successor.

A Turbulent Period

Antoninus had enjoyed a reign which had seen the Roman Empire prosper and remain largely at peace. This peace was quickly to be shattered in the new era, with not only war but also disease ravaging many Roman lands. Among the first conflicts was that over eastern lands with the powerful Parthian Empire. Aurelius remained in Rome to oversee the Empire as a whole, so Verus was responsible for much of the battle planning. The Romans won a fine victory, due in part to the skills of generals such as Avidius Cassius.

Nevertheless, the triumph had not come without a high cost. Soldiers returning from the east brought back a plague which took quite a toll on the Roman population, and which recurred at regular intervals for many years. Aurelius and his brother could not focus only on domestic affairs, however, for there was another military threat arising – and this one was much closer to the heart of the Empire.

The late 160s saw German tribesmen attacking Roman settlements along the Danube River, an affront that could not be ignored. Aurelius and Verus quickly raised an army and set off to defeat the invaders. In 169, Verus died, after which Aurelius continued alone to face the German tribes.

Internal Dissent

Despite his successes on the battlefield, there were powerful elements within the Roman Empire who were dissatisfied with Marcus Aurelius’ imperial style and wished him gone. Rumors began to spread, probably planted deliberately by insiders, that the Emperor was terminally ill, and one of these reached the ear of Avidius Cassius. The general took the initiative and proclaimed himself Emperor, a move which pushed Aurelius to go east himself in order to put down the rebellion and re-establish control of his troops.

Cassius himself never faced Aurelius for the right to rule the Roman Empire, since the usurper was killed for his attempt of treason by his own army. Instead, the Emperor and his wife made a grand tour of the eastern lands of the Empire, and succeeded in underlining his authority and legitimacy, re-establishing himself as unquestioned ruler. His success in this task was leavened by his deep sorrow at the loss of Faustina, who died before the couple could return to Rome.

In 177, Aurelius named Commodus, his son, as co-Emperor. The German tribes were once again rebelling, and the two men went into battle together. It was the hope of Marcus Aurelius that a signal victory in the fight against what he saw as northern barbarians would not only consolidate the Empire’s hold on western Germany, but also allow it to take great tracts of territory east of the Rhine that had never been in Roman hands.

Death and Aftermath

The wars against the Germans were still raging when Marcus Aurelius died in Vienna on March 17, 180. Despite this, Commodus – now the sole ruler of the Roman world – quickly decided to call a halt to the fighting in the north, and eastern Germany never became part of the Roman Empire. Aurelius himself was cremated and declared a god, after which his ashes were interred in Hadrian’s mausoleum in Rome. In honor of his military achievements, he was granted a temple and a column in the capital city.

Aurelius’ demise brought an end to the period during which the Roman Empire was at its height. Commodus proved to be a much less capable ruler, partly on account of his neurotic nature and enormous ego and partly because he was seen as an outsider by powerfully connected political and military figures. It is usually considered, however, that for Aurelius to have named anyone else as his preferred successor would have resulted in a civil war – as indeed happened many times in the following years.

Stoicism in a time of pandemic: how Marcus Aurelius can help

T he Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was the last famous Stoic philosopher of antiquity. During the last 14 years of his life he faced one of the worst plagues in European history. The Antonine Plague, named after him, was probably caused by a strain of the smallpox virus. It’s estimated to have killed up to 5 million people, possibly including Marcus himself.

From AD166 to around AD180, repeated outbreaks occurred throughout the known world. Roman historians describe the legions being devastated, and entire towns and villages being depopulated and going to ruin. Rome itself was particularly badly affected, carts leaving the city each day piled high with dead bodies.

In the middle of this plague, Marcus wrote a book, known as The Meditations, which records the moral and psychological advice he gave himself at this time. He frequently applies Stoic philosophy to the challenges of coping with pain, illness, anxiety and loss. It’s no stretch of the imagination to view The Meditations as a manual for developing precisely the mental resilience skills required to cope with a pandemic.

First of all, because Stoics believe that our true good resides in our own character and actions, they would frequently remind themselves to distinguish between what’s “up to us” and what isn’t. Modern Stoics tend to call this “the dichotomy of control” and many people find this distinction alone helpful in alleviating stress. What happens to me is never directly under my control, never completely up to me, but my own thoughts and actions are – at least the voluntary ones. The pandemic isn’t really under my control but the way I behave in response to it is.

Much, if not all, of our thinking is also up to us. Hence, “It’s not events that upset us but rather our opinions about them.” More specifically, our judgment that something is really bad, awful or even catastrophic, causes our distress.

This is one of the basic psychological principles of Stoicism. It’s also the basic premise of modern cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), the leading evidence-based form of psychotherapy. The pioneers of CBT, Albert Ellis and Aaron T Beck, both describe Stoicism as the philosophical inspiration for their approach. It’s not the virus that makes us afraid but rather our opinions about it. Nor is it the inconsiderate actions of others, those ignoring social distancing recommendations, that make us angry so much as our opinions about them.

Many people are struck, on reading The Meditations, by the fact that it opens with a chapter in which Marcus lists the qualities he most admires in other individuals, about 17 friends, members of his family and teachers. This is an extended example of one of the central practices of Stoicism.

Marcus likes to ask himself, “What virtue has nature given me to deal with this situation?” That naturally leads to the question: “How do other people cope with similar challenges?” Stoics reflect on character strengths such as wisdom, patience and self-discipline, which potentially make them more resilient in the face of adversity. They try to exemplify these virtues and bring them to bear on the challenges they face in daily life, during a crisis like the pandemic. They learn from how other people cope. Even historical figures or fictional characters can serve as role models.

With all of this in mind, it’s easier to understand another common slogan of Stoicism: fear does us more harm than the things of which we’re afraid. This applies to unhealthy emotions in general, which the Stoics term “passions” – from pathos, the source of our word “pathological”. It’s true, first of all, in a superficial sense. Even if you have a 99% chance, or more, of surviving the pandemic, worry and anxiety may be ruining your life and driving you crazy. In extreme cases some people may even take their own lives.

In that respect, it’s easy to see how fear can do us more harm than the things of which we’re afraid because it can impinge on our physical health and quality of life. However, this saying also has a deeper meaning for Stoics. The virus can only harm your body – the worst it can do is kill you. However, fear penetrates into the moral core of our being. It can destroy your humanity if you let it. For the Stoics that’s a fate worse than death.

A perfectly preserved head of Marcus Aurelius unearthed by Jordanian French archeologists in the ancient Nabatean city of Petra, Jordan, in 2015. Photograph: Laurent Borel/AFP/Getty Images

Finally, during a pandemic, you may have to confront the risk, the possibility, of your own death. Since the day you were born, that’s always been on the cards. Most of us find it easier to bury our heads in the sand. Avoidance is the No1 most popular coping strategy in the world. We live in denial of the self-evident fact that we all die eventually. The Stoics believed that when we’re confronted with our own mortality, and grasp its implications, that can change our perspective on life quite dramatically. Any one of us could die at any moment. Life doesn’t go on forever.

THINKERS AT WAR – Marcus Aurelius

One of Rome’s most remarkable rulers, Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) is commonly regarded as the last of ‘the five good emperors’. Along with his predecessors – Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and Antonius Pius – Marcus brought stability to an unstable empire. The five presided over almost a century of competent government in the age of that Gibbon considered the most ‘golden’.

But it was Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor, who inadvertently brought this golden age to an end.

He had been singled out for an imperial life when he was still a teenager. The dying Hadrian had instructed his successor, Antonius Pius, to adopt the young philosopher. Antonius Pius, one of longest-serving emperors, became infirm in his last years, so Marcus Aurelius gradually assumed the imperial duties. By the time he succeeded in AD 161, he was already well-practised in public administration.

The Eastern Question

Marcus immediately became the first emperor to appoint a co-ruler. It was a clever arrangement: it made it much harder for usurpers to snatch power, since they had to assassinate two rulers, not one. It also recognised that the empire had become too huge to administer from a single capital.

Marcus’ cousin Lucius Verus was given responsibility for the eastern half of the Empire and made responsible for confronting the Parthians (who controlled Persia), which had just moved into the buffer state of Armenia. Recognising flaws in Lucius’ character, however, Marcus made sure that his co-emperor was accompanied by trustworthy generals. Even so, Lucius’ victorious five-year campaign was marred when his army plundered a city even after it had surrendered.

Although he was far from the action, Lucius’ campaign in the East shaped Marcus’ reign in three ways. First, it meant that the senior emperor was free to concentrate on administration and public affairs. Contemporary accounts describe him as very judicious and deeply interested in the processes of government.

Even allowing for court propaganda, it is reasonable to assume that Marcus had an affinity for the decision-making role demanded by high office. He would certainly need it – because of two further implications of the Parthian campaign.

Plague and barbarians

Lucius’ soldiers did not come home from the wars just with trophies they also brought back a plague. Possibly a strain of smallpox, it is estimated to have killed some five million Roman citizens – perhaps 10% of the total – including the co-emperor Lucius himself in AD 169. As well as destabilising Roman society, the plague made the Empire vulnerable to invasion.

To garner forces for the Eastern campaign, Marcus Aurelius had slimmed down his troops on the long European frontier – roughly demarcated by the Rhine and the Danube rivers. Aware he was weakening his defences, he had warned his local governors against provoking the borderland tribes. It did not work. Germanic tribes raided west into Gaul, and, in AD 166, the Marcomanni of Bohemia broke their alliance with Rome and launched a much more serious invasion across the Danube.

Marcus Aurelius was forced to act. Unlike previous emperors, who had spent many years campaigning in the provinces, Marcus was a relative novice at expeditionary warfare. But he duly left for the front, stationing himself in modern-day Serbia and Austria, in an effort to repulse the invasion.

He suffered two early defeats, and the barbarians crossed the Alps and mounted the first successful invasion of Italy in two and a half centuries, attacking the Roman city of Aquileia.


It was during these campaigning years that Marcus wrote his famous Meditations. Removed from the cultural and intellectual life of Rome, he may have turned to philosophy for mental stimulation. But the books also reveal a moral exploration – as if the Emperor were searching for guidance as he made testing and important decisions without any source of reflection other than himself.

He concludes on advice which is at odds with the brutality of his situation. Whereas many in the Roman world had no qualms about being cruel, and some even revelled in it, Marcus Aurelius reveals himself to be a considerate, even sensitive man.

He remained on the front until the climax of his wars against the Germanic tribes. He won perhaps his most important battle at the end of AD 173, fought over a frozen part of the River Danube. The Quadi and Iazyges tribes had formed an alliance. The Emperor was outnumbered and surrounded. But Marcus ordered his men to form square, covered by a shield-wall, with the cavalry (including himself) protected in the centre.

Even though the tribesmen had trained their horses to ride over ice, they were unable to break the Roman formations, and, in close-quarter fighting, superior Roman discipline won out. The Quadi and Iazyges were routed. In AD 175 the Roman Emperor was able to impose punitive peace terms on both tribes.

Marcus had almost ended the Germanic threat, but he died in AD 180 before what was to be the final confrontation. Commodus, his son, successor, and by all accounts a megalomaniac, wasted the advantage so that he could return to the pleasures of Rome.

For all his wisdom, Marcus Aurelius had entrusted a vain teenager with imperial office (Commodus is depicted with some accuracy in the film Gladiator). The move established the principle of genetic rather than meritocratic inheritance at Rome.

Marcus Aurelius was undoubtedly a great man: an intellectual who navigated Rome masterfully through severe difficulties. The tragedy is that his philosophy – which is about self-restraint, duty, and respect for others – was so abjectly abandoned by the imperial line he anointed on his death.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

The most famous account of the end of Rome, Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, starts by describing Marcus Aurelius as the last of the good emperors. Ominously, the book says that all the factors which eventually caused Rome to collapse became evident during his reign.

Military factors certainly drained Rome’s strength. For several centuries, the Empire fought intermittently with the Persians and their successors in the Middle East. They also battled along their frontiers with various Germanic tribes, and later confronted barbarians on Roman soil.

Vital negotiations were mishandled, provoking the Empire’s enemies to storm the city of Rome in AD 410 and to ravage it again in AD 455. By then, the old superiority of the Roman military machine was fast waning, and the balance of power on the battlefield was shifting to the Germanic barbarians of Central Europe.

The Western Roman Empire’s last major military expedition was to Libya in AD 468 – an attempt to seize from the Vandals the grain supply on which Italy depended. The mission ended in disaster, and the former superpower was starved into disintegration.

But Rome fell victim to these military challenges because of other weaknesses. Marcus Aurelius had to deal with only one serious usurper, but future Emperors faced many, and often succumbed to them: civil wars directed Rome’s military manpower against itself.

Rome was also afflicted by social tensions and a shift in attitudes which made citizens less willing to fight for the Empire. Gibbon called it ‘a decline in civic virtue’.

It is hard to know which of several inter-related reasons caused Rome’s collapse, and the whole process has been endlessly debated ever since. Lead poisoning, plagues, climate change, demographics, aristocratic in-breeding, Christianity, and economic causes have all been cited.

Many commentators have sought explanations from their own times. Edward Gibbon was an English MP who wrote his masterpiece between 1776 and 1789, just as the British Empire was losing their American colonies. His end-of-empire them seemed very contemporary.

This article was featured in issue 48 of Military History Monthly.


The major sources depicting the life and rule of Marcus are patchy and frequently unreliable. The most important group of sources, the biographies contained in the Historia Augusta, claimed to be written by a group of authors at the turn of the 4th century AD, but it is believed they were in fact written by a single author (referred to here as 'the biographer') from about 395 AD. [3] The later biographies and the biographies of subordinate emperors and usurpers are unreliable, but the earlier biographies, derived primarily from now-lost earlier sources (Marius Maximus or Ignotus), are much more accurate. [4] For Marcus's life and rule, the biographies of Hadrian, Antoninus, Marcus, and Lucius are largely reliable, but those of Aelius Verus and Avidius Cassius are not. [5]

A body of correspondence between Marcus's tutor Fronto and various Antonine officials survives in a series of patchy manuscripts, covering the period from c. 138 to 166. [6] [7] Marcus's own Meditations offer a window on his inner life, but are largely undateable and make few specific references to worldly affairs. [8] 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. [9] Some other literary sources provide specific details: 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 Justinianeus on Marcus's legal work. [10] Inscriptions and coin finds supplement the literary sources. [11]

Name Edit

Marcus was born in Rome on 26 April 121. His name at birth was supposedly Marcus Annius Verus, [13] but some sources assign this name to him upon his father's death and unofficial adoption by his grandfather, upon his coming of age, [14] [15] [16] or at the time of his marriage. [17] He may have been known as Marcus Annius Catilius Severus, [18] at birth or some point in his youth, [14] [16] or Marcus Catilius Severus Annius Verus. Upon his adoption by Antoninus as heir to the throne, he was known as Marcus Aelius Aurelius Verus Caesar and, upon his ascension, he was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus until his death [19] Epiphanius of Salamis, in his chronology of the Roman emperors On Weights and Measures, calls him Marcus Aurelius Verus. [20]

Family origins Edit

Marcus's paternal family was of Roman Italo-Hispanic origins. His father was Marcus Annius Verus (III). [21] The gens Annia was of Italian origins (with legendary claims of descendance from Numa Pompilius) and a branch of it moved to Ucubi, a small town south east of Córdoba in Iberian Baetica. [22] [23] This branch of the Aurelii based in Roman Spain, the Annii Veri, rose to prominence in Rome in the late 1st century AD. Marcus's great-grandfather Marcus Annius Verus (I) was a senator and (according to the Historia Augusta) ex-praetor his grandfather Marcus Annius Verus (II) was made patrician in 73–74. [24] Through his grandmother Rupilia, Marcus was a member of the Nerva-Antonine dynasty the emperor Trajan's sororal niece Salonia Matidia was the mother of Rupilia and her half-sister, Hadrian's wife Sabina. [25] [26] [note 1]

Marcus's mother, Domitia Lucilla Minor (also known as Domitia Calvilla), was the daughter of the Roman patrician P. Calvisius Tullus and inherited a great fortune (described at length in one of Pliny's letters) from her parents and grandparents. Her inheritance included large brickworks on the outskirts of Rome – a profitable enterprise in an era when the city was experiencing a construction boom – and the Horti Domitia Calvillae (or Lucillae), a villa on the Caelian hill of Rome. [29] [30] Marcus himself was born and raised in the Horti and referred to the Caelian hill as 'My Caelian'. [31] [32] [33]

The adoptive family of Marcus was of Roman Italo-Gallic origins: the gens Aurelia, into which Marcus was adopted at the age of 17, was a Sabine gens Antoninus Pius, his adoptive father, came from the Aurelii Fulvi, a branch of the Aurelii based in Roman Gaul.

Childhood Edit

Marcus's sister, Annia Cornificia Faustina, was probably born in 122 or 123. [34] His father probably died in 124, when Marcus was three years old during his praetorship. [35] [note 2] Though he can hardly have known his father, Marcus wrote in his Meditations that he had learned 'modesty and manliness' from his memories of his father and the man's posthumous reputation. [37] His mother Lucilla did not remarry [35] and, following prevailing aristocratic customs, probably did not spend much time with her son. Instead, Marcus was in the care of 'nurses', [38] and was raised after his father's death by his grandfather Marcus Annius Verus (II), who had always retained the legal authority of patria potestas over his son and grandson. Technically this was not an adoption, the creation of a new and different patria potestas. Lucius Catilius Severus, described as Marcus's maternal great-grandfather, also participated in his upbringing he was probably the elder Domitia Lucilla's stepfather. [16] Marcus was raised in his parents' home on the Caelian Hill, an upscale area with few public buildings but many aristocratic villas. Marcus's grandfather owned a palace beside the Lateran, where he would spend much of his childhood. [39] Marcus thanks his grandfather for teaching him 'good character and avoidance of bad temper'. [40] He was less fond of the mistress his grandfather took and lived with after the death of his wife Rupilia. [41] Marcus was grateful that he did not have to live with her longer than he did. [42]

From a young age, Marcus displayed enthusiasm for wrestling and boxing. Marcus trained in wrestling as a youth and into his teenage years, learned to fight in armour and led a dance troupe called the College of the Salii. They performed ritual dances dedicated to Mars, the god of war, while dressed in arcane armour, carrying shields and weapons. [43] Marcus was educated at home, in line with contemporary aristocratic trends [44] he thanks Catilius Severus for encouraging him to avoid public schools. [45] One of his teachers, Diognetus, a painting master, proved particularly influential he seems to have introduced Marcus Aurelius to the philosophic way of life. [46] 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. [47] A new set of tutors – the Homeric scholar Alexander of Cotiaeum along with Trosius Aper and Tuticius Proculus, teachers of Latin [48] [note 3] – took over Marcus's education in about 132 or 133. [50] Marcus thanks Alexander for his training in literary styling. [51] Alexander's influence – an emphasis on matter over style and careful wording, with the occasional Homeric quotation – has been detected in Marcus's Meditations. [52]

Succession to Hadrian Edit

In late 136, Hadrian almost died from a hemorrhage. Convalescent in his villa at Tivoli, he selected Lucius Ceionius Commodus, Marcus's intended father-in-law, as his successor and adopted son, [53] according to the biographer 'against the wishes of everyone'. [54] While his motives are not certain, it would appear that his goal was to eventually place the then-too-young Marcus on the throne. [55] 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. [56] 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. However, the night before the speech, he grew ill and died of a hemorrhage later in the day. [57] [note 4]

On 24 January 138, Hadrian selected Aurelius Antoninus, the husband of Marcus's aunt Faustina the Elder, as his new successor. [59] As part of Hadrian's terms, Antoninus, in turn, adopted Marcus and Lucius Commodus, the son of Lucius Aelius. [60] Marcus became M. Aelius Aurelius Verus, and Lucius became L. Aelius Aurelius Commodus. At Hadrian's request, Antoninus's daughter Faustina was betrothed to Lucius. [61] Marcus 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. [62]

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, the consul for 139. [63] Marcus's 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'. [64]

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. [65] His remains were buried quietly at Puteoli. [66] 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. [67] For his dutiful behaviour, Antoninus was asked to accept the name 'Pius'. [68]

Heir to Antoninus Pius (138–145) Edit

Immediately after Hadrian's death, Antoninus approached Marcus and requested that his marriage arrangements be amended: Marcus's betrothal to Ceionia Fabia would be annulled, and he would be betrothed to Faustina, Antoninus's daughter, instead. Faustina's betrothal to Ceionia's brother Lucius Commodus would also have to be annulled. Marcus consented to Antoninus's proposal. [71] He 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 Marcus Aelius Aurelius Verus Caesar. [72] 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'. [73] At the senate's request, Marcus joined all the priestly colleges (pontifices, augures, quindecimviri sacris faciundis, septemviri epulonum, etc.) [74] direct evidence for membership, however, is available only for the Arval Brethren. [75]

Antoninus demanded that Marcus reside in the House of Tiberius, the imperial palace on the Palatine, and take up the habits of his new station, the aulicum fastigium or 'pomp of the court', against Marcus's objections. [74] 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' [76] – but he found it difficult nonetheless. He would criticize himself in the Meditations for 'abusing court life' in front of company. [77]

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. [78] But he felt drowned in paperwork and complained to his tutor, Marcus Cornelius Fronto: 'I am so out of breath from dictating nearly thirty letters'. [79] He was being 'fitted for ruling the state', in the words of his biographer. [80] He was required to make a speech to the assembled senators as well, making oratorical training essential for the job. [81]

On 1 January 145, Marcus was made consul a second time. Fronto urged him in a letter 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'. [82] 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 [. ] [note 5] I am having treatment and taking care not to do anything that interferes with it'. [83] Never particularly healthy or strong, Marcus was praised by Cassius Dio, writing of his later years, for behaving dutifully in spite of his various illnesses. [84] In April 145, Marcus married Faustina, legally his sister, as had been planned since 138. [85] Little is specifically known of the ceremony, but the biographer calls it 'noteworthy'. [86] 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. [87]

Fronto and further education Edit

After taking the toga virilis in 136, Marcus probably began his training in oratory. [88] 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 their time, [89] but probably did not become his tutors until his adoption by Antoninus in 138. The preponderance of Greek tutors indicates the importance of the Greek language to the aristocracy of Rome. [90] 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. [91]

Atticus 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. [92] Atticus was an inveterate opponent of Stoicism and philosophic pretensions. [93] He thought the Stoics' desire for apatheia was foolish: they would live a 'sluggish, enervated life', he said. [94] In spite of the influence of Atticus, Marcus would later 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. [95]

Fronto was highly esteemed: in the self-consciously antiquarian world of Latin letters, [96] he was thought of as second only to Cicero, perhaps even an alternative to him. [97] [note 6] He did not care much for Atticus, 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. [97]

A significant amount of the correspondence between Fronto and Marcus has survived. [101] The pair were very close, using intimate language such as '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' in their correspondence. [102] Marcus spent time with Fronto's wife and daughter, both named Cratia, and they enjoyed light conversation. [103]

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 learnt of literature, he would learn 'from the lips of Fronto'. [104] 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 [105] – about one-quarter of the surviving letters deal with the man's sicknesses. [106] Marcus asks that Fronto's pain be inflicted on himself, 'of my own accord with every kind of discomfort'. [107]

Fronto never became Marcus's full-time teacher and continued his career as an advocate. One notorious case brought him into conflict with Atticus. [108] Marcus pleaded with Fronto, first with 'advice', then as a 'favour', not to attack Atticus he had already asked Atticus to refrain from making the first blows. [109] Fronto replied that he was surprised to discover Marcus counted Atticus as a friend (perhaps Atticus was not yet Marcus's tutor), and allowed that Marcus might be correct, [110] but nonetheless affirmed his intent to win the case by any means necessary: '[T]he charges are frightful and must be spoken of as frightful. Those in particular that refer to the beating and robbing I will describe so 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'. [111] The outcome of the trial is unknown. [112]

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'. [113] 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. [114] In any case, Marcus's 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's entire boyhood. [115]

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'. [116] He disdained philosophy and philosophers and looked down on Marcus's sessions with Apollonius of Chalcedon and others in this circle. [101] Fronto put an uncharitable interpretation of Marcus's '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. [117] Marcus kept in close touch with Fronto, but would ignore Fronto's scruples. [118]

Apollonius may have introduced Marcus to Stoic philosophy, but Quintus Junius Rusticus would have the strongest influence on the boy. [119] [note 7] He was the man Fronto recognized as having 'wooed Marcus away' from oratory. [121] He was older than Fronto and twenty years older than Marcus. 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 [122] the true successor of Seneca (as opposed to Fronto, the false one). [123] 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''. [124]

Philostratus describes how even when Marcus was an old man, in the latter part of his reign, he studied under Sextus of Chaeronea:

The Emperor Marcus was an eager disciple of Sextus the Boeotian philosopher, being often in his company and frequenting his house. Lucius, who had just come to Rome, asked the Emperor, whom he met on his way, where he was going to and on what errand, and Marcus answered, ' it is good even for an old man to learn I am now on my way to Sextus the philosopher to learn what I do not yet know.' And Lucius, raising his hand to heaven, said, ' O Zeus, the king of the Romans in his old age takes up his tablets and goes to school.' [125]

Births and deaths Edit

On 30 November 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 gave Marcus the tribunician power and the imperium – authority over the armies and provinces of the emperor. As tribune, he had the right to bring one measure before the senate after the four Antoninus could introduce. His tribunician powers would be renewed with Antoninus's on 10 December 147. [126] The first mention of Domitia in Marcus's 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. [127] Domitia would die in 151. [128]

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. [129] 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'. [130] He quoted from the Iliad what he called the 'briefest and most familiar saying. enough to dispel sorrow and fear': [131]

the wind scatters some on the face of the ground
like unto them are the children of men.

Another daughter was born on 7 March 150, Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla. At some time between 155 and 161, probably soon after 155, Marcus's mother Domitia Lucilla died. [132] Faustina probably had another daughter in 151, but the child, Annia Galeria Aurelia Faustina, might not have been born until 153. [133] Another son, Tiberius Aelius Antoninus, was born in 152. A coin issue celebrates fecunditati Augustae, 'to Augusta's fertility', depicting two girls and an infant. The boy did not survive long, as evidenced by coins from 156, only depicting the two girls. He might have died in 152, the same year as Marcus's sister Cornificia. [134] By 28 March 158, when Marcus replied, another of his children was dead. Marcus thanked the temple synod, 'even though this turned out otherwise'. The child's name is unknown. [135] In 159 and 160, Faustina gave birth to daughters: Fadilla and Cornificia, named respectively after Faustina's and Marcus's dead sisters. [136]

Antoninus Pius's last years Edit

Lucius started his political career as a quaestor in 153. He was consul in 154, [137] and was consul again with Marcus in 161. [138] 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. [139] [note 8] He did not marry until 164. [143]

In 156, Antoninus 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) when Marcus Gavius Maximus died in 156 or 157. [144] In 160, Marcus and Lucius were designated joint consuls for the following year. Antoninus may have already been ill. [136]

Two days before his death, the biographer reports, Antoninus was at his ancestral estate at Lorium, in Etruria, [145] about 19 kilometres (12 mi) from Rome. [146] 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, [147] 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). [148] He then turned over, as if going to sleep, and died. [149] His death closed out the longest reign since Augustus, surpassing Tiberius by a couple of months. [150]

Accession of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus (161) Edit

After Antoninus died in 161, 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. [151] 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 to him that it was his duty. [152]

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. [153] Thus, although the senate planned to confirm Marcus alone, he refused to take office unless Lucius received equal powers. [154] The senate accepted, granting Lucius the imperium, the tribunician power, and the name Augustus. [155] Marcus became, in official titulature, Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus Lucius, forgoing his name Commodus and taking Marcus's family name Verus, became Imperator Caesar Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustus. [156] [note 9] It was the first time that Rome was ruled by two emperors. [159] [note 10]

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's rule, and he alone was Pontifex Maximus. It would have been clear to the public which emperor was the more senior. [159] As the biographer wrote, 'Verus obeyed Marcus. as a lieutenant obeys a proconsul or a governor obeys the emperor'. [160]

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. [161] 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. [162] The ceremony was perhaps not entirely necessary, given that Marcus's accession had been peaceful and unopposed, but it was good insurance against later military troubles. [163] 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 g (0.095 oz) to 2.57 g (0.091 oz). [164]

Antoninus's funeral ceremonies were, in the words of the biographer, 'elaborate'. [165] If his funeral followed those of his predecessors, his body would have been incinerated on a pyre at the Campus Martius, and his spirit would have been seen as ascending to the gods' home in the heavens. Marcus and Lucius nominated their father for deification. In contrast to their behaviour during Antoninus's 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 Divus Antoninus. Antoninus's remains were laid to rest in Hadrian's mausoleum, beside the remains of Marcus's children and of Hadrian himself. [166] 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. [163]

In accordance with his will, Antoninus's fortune passed on to Faustina. [167] (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. [168] ) 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. [169] On 31 August, she gave birth at Lanuvium to twins: T. Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus. [170] [note 11] Aside from the fact that the twins shared Caligula's birthday, the omens were favorable, and the astrologers drew positive horoscopes for the children. [172] The births were celebrated on the imperial coinage. [173]

Early rule Edit

Soon after the emperors' accession, Marcus's eleven-year-old daughter, Annia Lucilla, was betrothed to Lucius (in spite of the fact that he was, formally, her uncle). [174] At the ceremonies commemorating the event, new provisions were made for the support of poor children, along the lines of earlier imperial foundations. [175] Marcus and Lucius proved popular with the people of Rome, who strongly approved of their civiliter ('lacking pomp') behaviour. The emperors permitted free speech, evidenced by the fact that the comedy writer Marullus was able to criticize them without suffering retribution. As the biographer wrote, 'No one missed the lenient ways of Pius'. [176]

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. [177] Lucius Volusius Maecianus, Marcus's former tutor, had been prefectural governor of Egypt at Marcus's accession. Maecianus was recalled, made senator, and appointed prefect of the treasury (aerarium Saturni). He was made consul soon after. [178] Fronto's son-in-law, Gaius Aufidius Victorinus, was appointed governor of Germania Superior. [179]

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. [180] 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.' [181] Fronto called on Marcus alone neither thought to invite Lucius. [182]

Lucius was less esteemed by Fronto 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. [183] 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.' [184] Marcus's early reign proceeded smoothly he was able to give himself wholly to philosophy and the pursuit of popular affection. [185] Soon, however, he would find he had many anxieties. It would mean the end of the felicitas temporum ('happy times') that the coinage of 161 had proclaimed. [186]

In either autumn 161 or spring 162, [note 12] 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. [188] [note 13] In other times of famine, the emperors are said to have provided for the Italian communities out of the Roman granaries. [190]

Fronto's letters continued through Marcus's early reign. Fronto felt that, because of Marcus's 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'. [191] 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'. [192]

The early days of Marcus's reign were the happiest of Fronto's life: Marcus was beloved by the people of Rome, an excellent emperor, a fond pupil, and perhaps most importantly, as eloquent as could be wished. [193] 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. [194]

War with Parthia (161–166) Edit

On his deathbed, Antoninus spoke of nothing but the state and the foreign kings who had wronged him. [195] One of those kings, Vologases IV of Parthia, made his move in late summer or early autumn 161. [196] Vologases entered the Kingdom of Armenia (then a Roman client state), expelled its king and installed his own – Pacorus, an Arsacid like himself. [197] The governor of Cappadocia, the frontline in all Armenian conflicts, was Marcus Sedatius Severianus, a Gaul with much experience in military matters. [198]

Convinced by the prophet Alexander of Abonutichus that he could defeat the Parthians easily and win glory for himself, [199] Severianus led a legion (perhaps the IX Hispana [200] ) into Armenia, but was trapped by the great Parthian general Chosrhoes at Elegeia, a town just beyond the Cappadocian frontiers, high up past the headwaters of the Euphrates. After Severianus made some unsuccessful efforts to engage Chosrhoes, he committed suicide, and his legion was massacred. The campaign had lasted only three days. [201]

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. [202] Marcus was unprepared. Antoninus seems to have given him no military experience the biographer writes that Marcus spent the whole of Antoninus's twenty-three-year reign at his emperor's side and not in the provinces, where most previous emperors had spent their early careers. [203] [note 14]

More bad news arrived: the Syrian governor's army had been defeated by the Parthians, and retreated in disarray. [205] 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. [206] Three full legions were also sent east: I Minervia from Bonn in Upper Germany, [207] II Adiutrix from Aquincum, [208] and V Macedonica from Troesmis. [209]

The northern frontiers were strategically weakened frontier governors were told to avoid conflict wherever possible. [210] M. Annius Libo, Marcus's first cousin, was sent to replace the Syrian governor. His first consulship was in 161, so he was probably in his early thirties, [211] and as a patrician, he lacked military experience. Marcus had chosen a reliable man rather than a talented one. [212]

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. [214] Fronto replied: '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?' [215] He encouraged Marcus to rest, calling on the example of his predecessors (Antoninus had enjoyed exercise in the palaestra, fishing, and comedy), [216] 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. [217] Marcus could not take Fronto's advice. 'I have duties hanging over me that can hardly be begged off', he wrote back. [218] Marcus Aurelius 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!' [219]

Fronto sent Marcus a selection of reading material, [221] 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, [222] 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'. [223]

Over the winter of 161–162, news that a rebellion was brewing in Syria arrived and it was decided that Lucius should direct the Parthian war in person. He was stronger and healthier than Marcus, the argument went, and thus more suited to military activity. [224] Lucius's biographer suggests ulterior motives: to restrain Lucius's debaucheries, to make him thrifty, to reform his morals by the terror of war, and to realize that he was an emperor. [225] [note 15] Whatever the case, the senate gave its assent, and, in the summer of 162, Lucius left. Marcus would remain in Rome, as the city 'demanded the presence of an emperor'. [227]

Lucius spent most of the campaign in Antioch, though he wintered at Laodicea and summered at Daphne, a resort just outside Antioch. [228] Critics declaimed Lucius's luxurious lifestyle, [229] saying that he had taken to gambling, would 'dice the whole night through', [230] and enjoyed the company of actors. [231] [note 16] Libo died early in the war perhaps Lucius had murdered him. [233]

In the middle of the war, perhaps in autumn 163 or early 164, Lucius made a trip to Ephesus to be married to Marcus's daughter Lucilla. [234] Marcus moved up the date perhaps he had already heard of Lucius's mistress Panthea. [235] Lucilla's thirteenth birthday was in March 163 whatever the date of her marriage, she was not yet fifteen. [236] Lucilla was accompanied by her mother Faustina and Lucius's uncle (his father's half-brother) M. Vettulenus Civica Barbarus, [237] who was made comes Augusti, 'companion of the emperors'. Marcus may have wanted Civica to watch over Lucius, the job Libo had failed at. [238] Marcus may have planned to accompany them all the way to Smyrna (the biographer says he told the senate he would), but this did not happen. [239] He only accompanied the group as far as Brundisium, where they boarded a ship for the east. [240] He returned to Rome immediately thereafter, and sent out special instructions to his proconsuls not to give the group any official reception. [241]

The Armenian capital Artaxata was captured in 163. [242] At the end of the year, Lucius took the title Armeniacus, despite having never seen combat Marcus declined to accept the title until the following year. [243] When Lucius was hailed as imperator again, however, Marcus did not hesitate to take the Imperator II with him. [244]

Occupied Armenia was reconstructed on Roman terms. In 164, a new capital, Kaine Polis ('New City'), replaced Artaxata. [245] 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. [246] Sohaemus was hailed on the imperial coinage of 164 under the legend Rex armeniis Datus : Lucius sat on a throne with his staff while Sohaemus stood before him, saluting the emperor. [247]

In 163, the Parthians intervened in Osroene, a Roman client in upper Mesopotamia centred on Edessa, and installed their own king on its throne. [248] In response, Roman forces were moved downstream, to cross the Euphrates at a more southerly point. [249] Before the end of 163, however, Roman forces had moved north to occupy Dausara and Nicephorium on the northern, Parthian bank. [250] 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. [251]

In 165, Roman forces moved on Mesopotamia. Edessa was re-occupied, and Mannus, the king deposed by the Parthians, was re-installed. [252] The Parthians retreated to Nisibis, but this too was besieged and captured. The Parthian army dispersed in the Tigris. [253] A second force, under Avidius Cassius and the III Gallica, moved down the Euphrates, and fought a major battle at Dura. [254]

By the end of the year, Cassius's 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 was sacked nonetheless, leaving a black mark on Lucius's reputation. Excuses were sought, or invented: the official version had it that the Seleucids broke faith first. [255]

Cassius's army, although suffering from a shortage of supplies and the effects of a plague contracted in Seleucia, made it back to Roman territory safely. [256] Lucius took the title Parthicus Maximus, and he and Marcus were hailed as imperatores again, earning the title 'imp. III'. [257] Cassius's army returned to the field in 166, crossing over the Tigris into Media. Lucius took the title 'Medicus', [258] and the emperors were again hailed as imperatores, becoming 'imp. IV' in imperial titulature. Marcus took the Parthicus Maximus now, after another tactful delay. [259] On 12 October of that year, Marcus proclaimed two of his sons, Annius and Commodus, as his heirs. [260]

War with Germanic tribes (166–180) Edit

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). [265] 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. [266]

Experienced governors had been replaced by friends and relatives of the imperial family. Lucius Dasumius Tullius Tuscus, a distant relative of Hadrian, was in Upper Pannonia, succeeding the experienced Marcus Nonius Macrinus. Lower Pannonia was under the obscure Tiberius Haterius Saturnius. Marcus Servilius Fabianus Maximus was shuffled from Lower Moesia to Upper Moesia when Marcus Iallius Bassus had joined Lucius in Antioch. Lower Moesia was filled by Pontius Laelianus's 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. [267]

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. [268]

Far more dangerous was the invasion of 166, when the Marcomanni of Bohemia, clients of the Roman Empire since 19 AD, crossed the Danube together with the Lombards and other Germanic tribes. [269] Soon thereafter, the Iranian Sarmatian Iazyges attacked between the Danube and the Theiss rivers. [270]

The Costoboci, coming from the Carpathian area, invaded Moesia, Macedonia, and Greece. After a long struggle, Marcus 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 decided not only against bringing more barbarians into Italy, but even banished those who had previously been brought there. [271]

Legal and administrative work Edit

Like many emperors, Marcus spent most of his time addressing matters of law such as petitions and hearing disputes, [272] but unlike many of his predecessors, he was already proficient in imperial administration when he assumed power. [273] He took great care in the theory and practice of legislation. Professional jurists called him 'an emperor most skilled in the law' [274] and 'a most prudent and conscientiously just emperor'. [275] He showed 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). [276]

Marcus showed a great deal of respect to the Roman Senate and routinely asked them for permission to spend money even though he did not need to do so as the absolute ruler of the Empire. [277] In one speech, Marcus himself reminded the Senate that the imperial palace where he lived was not truly his possession but theirs. [278] In 168, he revalued the denarius, increasing the silver purity from 79% to 82% – the actual silver weight increasing from 2.57–2.67 g (0.091–0.094 oz). However, two years later he reverted to the previous values because of the military crises facing the empire. [164]

Trade with Han China and outbreak of plague Edit

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), ruler of Daqin, who can be identified either with Marcus or his predecessor Antoninus. [279] [280] [281] In addition to Republican-era Roman glasswares found at Guangzhou along the South China Sea, [282] Roman golden medallions made during the reign of Antoninus and perhaps even Marcus 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 lying beyond the Golden Chersonese (i.e. Malay Peninsula). [283] [note 17] 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 centred there, not in China or even the overland Silk Road running through Persia. [284]

The Antonine Plague started in Mesopotamia in 165 or 166 at the end of Lucius's campaign against the Parthians. It may have continued into the reign of Commodus. Galen, who was in Rome when the plague spread to the city in 166, [285] mentioned that 'fever, diarrhoea, and inflammation of the pharynx, along with dry or pustular eruptions of the skin after nine days' were among the symptoms. [286] It is believed that the plague was smallpox. [287] In the view of historian Rafe de Crespigny, the plagues afflicting the Eastern Han empire of China during the reigns of Emperor Huan of Han (r. 146–168) and Emperor Ling of Han (r. 168–189), which struck in 151, 161, 171, 173, 179, 182, and 185, were perhaps connected to the plague in Rome. [288] Raoul McLaughlin writes that the travel of Roman subjects to the Han Chinese court in 166 may have started a new era of Roman–Far East trade. However, it was also a 'harbinger of something much more ominous'. According to McLaughlin, the disease caused 'irreparable' damage to the Roman maritime trade in the Indian Ocean as proven by the archaeological record spanning from Egypt to India, as well as significantly decreased Roman commercial activity in Southeast Asia. [289]

Death and succession (180) Edit

Marcus died at the age of 58 on 17 March 180 of unknown causes in his military quarters near the city of Sirmium in Pannonia (modern Sremska Mitrovica). He was immediately deified and his ashes were returned to Rome, where they 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. [290] Some scholars consider his death to be the end of the Pax Romana. [291]

Marcus was succeeded by his son Commodus, whom he had named Caesar in 166 and with whom he had jointly ruled since 177. [292] Biological sons of the emperor, if there were any, were considered heirs [293] however, it was only the second time that a "non-adoptive" son had succeeded his father, the only other having been a century earlier when Vespasian was succeeded by his son Titus. Historians have criticized the succession to Commodus, citing Commodus's erratic behaviour and lack of political and military acumen. [292] At the end of his history of Marcus's reign, Cassius Dio wrote an encomium to the emperor, and described the transition to Commodus in his own lifetime with sorrow: [294]

[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.

–Dio lxxi. 36.3–4 [294]

Dio adds that from Marcus's first days as counsellor to Antoninus to his final days as emperor of Rome, "he remained the same [person] and did not change in the least." [295]

Michael Grant, in The Climax of Rome, writes of Commodus: [296]

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. [296]

Marcus acquired the reputation of a philosopher king within his lifetime, and the title would remain after his death both Dio and the biographer call him 'the philosopher'. [297] [298]

Christians such as Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, and Eusebius also gave him the title. [299] The last-named went so far as to call him "more philanthropic and philosophic" than Antoninus and Hadrian, and set him against the persecuting emperors Domitian and Nero to make the contrast bolder. [300]

The historian Herodian wrote:

"Alone of the emperors, 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." [301]

Iain King explains that Marcus's legacy was tragic:

"[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 his death." [302]

In the first two centuries of the Christian era, it was local Roman officials who were largely responsible for the persecution of Christians. In the second century, the emperors treated Christianity as a local problem to be dealt with by their subordinates. [303] The number and severity of persecutions of Christians in various locations of the empire seemingly increased during the reign of Marcus. The extent to which Marcus himself directed, encouraged, or was aware of these persecutions is unclear and much debated by historians. [304] The early Christian apologist, Justin Martyr, includes within his First Apology (written between 140 and 150 A.D.) a letter from Marcus Aurelius to the Roman senate (prior to his reign) describing a battlefield incident in which Marcus believed Christian prayer had saved his army from thirst when "water poured from heaven," after which, "immediately we recognized the presence of God." Marcus goes on to request the senate desist from earlier courses of Christian persecution by Rome. [305]

Marcus and his cousin-wife Faustina had at least 13 children during their 30-year marriage, [126] [306] including two sets of twins. [126] [307] One son and four daughters outlived their father. [308] Their children included:

  • Domitia Faustina (147–151) [126][138][309]
  • Titus Aelius Antoninus (149) [129][307][310]
  • Titus Aelius Aurelius (149) [129][307][310] (150 [132][309] –182 [311] ), married her father's co-ruler Lucius Verus, [138] then Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus, had issue from both marriages (born 151), [134] married Gnaeus Claudius Severus, had a son
  • Tiberius Aelius Antoninus (born 152, died before 156) [134]
  • Unknown child (died before 158) [136] (born 159 [309][136] ), [138] married Marcus Peducaeus Plautius Quintillus, had issue (born 160 [309][136] ), [138] married Marcus Petronius Sura Mamertinus, had a son
  • Titus Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus (161–165), elder twin brother of Commodus [310] (Commodus) (161–192), [312] twin brother of Titus Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus, later emperor, [310][313] married Bruttia Crispina, no issue (162 [260] –169 [306][314] ) [138]
  • Hadrianus [138] (170 [310] – died before 217 [315] ), [138] married Lucius Antistius Burrus, no issue

Except where otherwise noted, the notes below indicate that an individual's parentage is as shown in the above family tree.

  1. ^ Sister of Trajan's father: Giacosa (1977), p. 7.
  2. ^ Giacosa (1977), p. 8.
  3. ^ ab Levick (2014), p. 161.
  4. ^ Husband of Ulpia Marciana: Levick (2014), p. 161.
  5. ^ ab Giacosa (1977), p. 7.
  6. ^ abcDIR contributor (Herbert W. Benario, 2000), "Hadrian".
  7. ^ ab Giacosa (1977), p. 9.
  8. ^ Husband of Salonia Matidia: Levick (2014), p. 161.
  9. ^ Smith (1870), "Julius Servianus". [dead link]
  10. ^ Suetonius a possible lover of Sabina: One interpretation of HA Hadrianus11:3
  11. ^ Smith (1870), "Hadrian", pp. 319–322. [dead link]
  12. ^ Lover of Hadrian: Lambert (1984), p. 99 and passim deification: Lamber (1984), pp. 2–5, etc.
  13. ^ Julia Balbilla a possible lover of Sabina: A. R. Birley (1997), Hadrian, the Restless Emperor, p. 251, cited in Levick (2014), p. 30, who is sceptical of this suggestion.
  14. ^ Husband of Rupilia Faustina: Levick (2014), p. 163.
  15. ^ abcd Levick (2014), p. 163.
  16. ^ abcd Levick (2014), p. 162.
  17. ^ abcdefg Levick (2014), p. 164.
  18. ^ Wife of M. Annius Verus: Giacosa (1977), p. 10.
  19. ^ Wife of M. Annius Libo: Levick (2014), p. 163.
  20. ^ abcde Giacosa (1977), p. 10.
  21. ^ The epitomator of Cassius Dio (72.22) gives the story that Faustina the Elder promised to marry Avidius Cassius. This is also echoed in HA"Marcus Aurelius" 24.
  22. ^ Husband of Ceionia Fabia: Levick (2014), p. 164.
  23. ^ abc Levick (2014), p. 117.
  • DIR contributors (2000). "De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Rulers and Their Families" . Retrieved 14 April 2015 .
  • Giacosa, Giorgio (1977). Women of the Caesars: Their Lives and Portraits on Coins. Translated by R. Ross Holloway. Milan: Edizioni Arte e Moneta. ISBN0-8390-0193-2 .
  • Lambert, Royston (1984). Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous. New York: Viking. ISBN0-670-15708-2 .
  • Levick, Barbara (2014). Faustina I and II: Imperial Women of the Golden Age. Oxford University Press. ISBN978-0-19-537941-9 .
  • William Smith, ed. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.

While on campaign between 170 and 180, Marcus wrote his Meditations in Greek as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. The original title of this work, if it had one, is unknown. 'Meditations' – as well as other titles including 'To Himself' – were adopted later. 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. According to Hays, the book was a favourite of Christina of Sweden, Frederick the Great, John Stuart Mill, Matthew Arnold, and Goethe, and is admired by modern figures such as Wen Jiabao and Bill Clinton. [316] It has been considered by many commentators to be one of the greatest works of philosophy. [317]

It is not known how widely Marcus's 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 his reputation as a philosopher, though he does not specifically mention Meditations. [318] It survived in the scholarly traditions of the Eastern Church and the first surviving quotes of the book, as well as the first known reference of it by name ('Marcus's writings to himself') are from Arethas of Caesarea in the 10th century and in the Byzantine Suda (perhaps inserted by Arethas himself). It was first published in 1558 in Zurich by Wilhelm Xylander (ne Holzmann), from a manuscript reportedly lost shortly afterwards. [319] The oldest surviving complete manuscript copy is in the Vatican library and dates to the 14th century. [320]

The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome is the only Roman equestrian statue which has survived into the modern period. [322] This may be due to it being wrongly identified during the Middle Ages as a depiction of the Christian emperor Constantine the Great, and spared the destruction which statues of pagan figures suffered. Crafted of bronze in circa 175, it stands 11.6 ft (3.5 m) and is now located in the Capitoline Museums of Rome. The emperor's hand is outstretched in an act of clemency offered to a bested enemy, while his weary facial expression due to the stress of leading Rome into nearly constant battles perhaps represents a break with the classical tradition of sculpture. [323]

A close up view of the Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Capitoline Museums

A full view of the equestrian statue

Marcus's victory column, established in Rome either in his last few years of life or after his reign and completed in 193, was built to commemorate his victory over the Sarmatians and Germanic tribes in 176. A spiral of carved reliefs wraps around the column, showing scenes from his military campaigns. A statue of Marcus had stood atop the column but disappeared during the Middle Ages. It was replaced with a statue of Saint Paul in 1589 by Pope Sixtus V. [324] The column of Marcus and the column of Trajan are often compared by scholars given how they are both Doric in style, had a pedestal at the base, had sculpted friezes depicting their respective military victories, and a statue on top. [325]

The Column of Marcus Aurelius in Piazza Colonna. The five horizontal slits allow light into the internal spiral staircase.

The column, right, in the background of Panini's painting of the Palazzo Montecitorio, with the base of the Column of Antoninus Pius in the right foreground (1747)

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