Marcus Aurelius (26 April 121 – 17 March 180) was Roman emperor from 161 to 180. He was the last one of the Five Good Emperors and of the Pax Romana, an age of relative stability for the Empire. He is also remembered as one of the most renowned philosophers in history.
Marcus Aurelius was born into an aristocratic family in Rome on 26th April 121. His father, Marcus Annius Verus (III), died when Marcus Aurelius was three years old. Subsequently, he was adopted by his uncle, Antoninus Pius, who later became Roman Emperor. Aurelius received an excellent education, studying Philosophy, Rhetoric and Law. During this time, he developed an interest in Stoicism, which emphasized the importance of living in accordance with reason, virtue, and nature, and had a profound impact on Aurelius' worldview.
Marcus learned the ways of government and public affairs thanks to Antoninus and in 140, he became consul. Throughout the years, he gained more power and responsibilities, which lead to him becoming an important source of counsel for the emperor. In the meanwhile, he married Faustina, Antoninus’ daughter, which whom he had many children. In 161, Antoninus passed away and Marcus Aurelius became Emperor of the Roman Empire, along with his adoptive brother, Lucius Verus.
During their reign, Marcus Aurelius and Verus worked together to address the challenges facing the empire. They led a successful campaign against the Parthians, which resulted in the capture of their capital city, Ctesiphon, in 165. However, the war took a toll on the Roman army, and a deadly outbreak of disease swept through their ranks. Returning soldiers brought it back with them to Rome, and a portion of the population of the city was wiped out. After the Parthian War ended, the two emperors faced the attacks from the German tribes. However, Verus died in 169 and Marcus Aurelius pushed on alone, attempting to keep away the Germans.
In 175, the emperor faced another challenge which threatened his authority. After hearing a rumour about Marcus Aurelius being deathly ill, Avidius Cassius claimed the title of emperor for himself. As a result, Marcus had no choice but to travel to the East to regain control. Still, the two of them never got to fight, as Cassius was murdered by his own soldiers. Instead, Marcus Aurelius toured eastern provinces with the aim of re-establishing his authority.
Despite all of these issues, Aurelius was a just and wise ruler who was deeply committed to the well-being of his people. He believed that the role of the emperor was to serve the people, and worked tirelessly to improve their lives. One of his most significant accomplishments is the reformation of the legal system, making it more just and equitable for all citizens. He also worked to improve the conditions of slaves and prisoners and advocated for the rights of women and children. In addition, he encouraged the growth of philosophy and the arts and supported the development of schools and libraries throughout the empire.
Death and Legacy
In 177, Marcus Aurelius made his son Commodus his co-ruler, and the two of them fought together against the Germanic tribes. A few years later, in 180, Aurelius fell ill during a military campaign and died. He was then succeeded by Commodus, who is known for his incompetency and whose reign put an end to the golden period of peace and stability of the Pax Romana.
Marcus Aurelius is remembered as one of the greatest Roman emperors of all time since he left a lasting legacy as both a philosopher and a ruler despite his relatively short reign. Moreover, his commitment to Stoic principles has had a lasting impact on philosophy and has influenced many other thinkers throughout History. His writings, particularly his book Meditations, have been praised for their wisdom and are still studied by political and military leaders around the world.
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