Marcus Aurelius is a Roman emperor known for his brave exploits against the Germans and the Parthians. Apart from being a valiant ruler, he is also known for his philosophical intellect. With his good governance practices, he helped the Roman Empire achieve its golden age – right before it collapsed to the ground.
Marcus Aurelius Facts
1. He became an emperor due to adoption.
His accession to the throne is a puzzle to many historians, mainly because of the many entanglements that he encountered along the way. He was initially engaged to Ceionia Fabia, daughter of Commodus, who Emperor Hadrian named his successor. Commodus eventually died, and the engagement was called off. Hadrian eventually adopted Titus Aurelius Antoninus, Marcus’ uncle. The latter adopted Marcus, who was earmarked as the future emperor at age 17. After Antoninus’ long and prosperous reign, Marcus was crowned emperor at age 40.
2. Marcus Aurelius named his adoptive brother co-emperor.
When he became emperor, Marcus was renamed as Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus – a lengthy moniker common to rulers back then. His stepbrother Lucius Verus, then named Lucius Aurelius Verus Augustus, was then named co-emperor – to his behest. This was a historical moment for Rome because, for the first time, it had two emperors with basically the same constitutional powers, an interesting fact about Marcus Aurelius. Despite ruling together, it was clear that Marcus had more authority – he alone was the Pontifex Maximus.
The Roman citizenry liked the rule of the brothers as they were not extravagant compared to those before them. They allowed free speech – writers were even free to criticize the governing duo.
Marcus by himself was a good emperor – mainly because he had experience before ascending to the throne. He respected the Senate enough to ask for their blessing when spending money – he need not do so because he can do whatever he pleases as the emperor of Rome. He was also well-regarded by jurists who described him as a “conscientious and prudent emperor who was well-versed with the law.”
3. Marcus’ reign was marked with war and disease.
Marcus’ rule saw countless wars and a disease that almost decimated the population. In the 160s, he and his brother Lucius went into war against the Parthians for control of the east. They succeeded mainly because of the General Avidius Classius, who will be discussed later. Though they triumphed against the Parthians, the returning soldiers brought with them a deadly pestilence – the Antonine plague that killed thousands of Roman citizens for several years.
The same year, Marcus and Verus found themselves embroiled in another war – this time with the Germanic tribes who ransacked a Roman city. Unfortunately, Lucius Verus died in the middle of the campaign, leaving Marcus alone to fend for himself.
4. His son Commodus became his joint emperor as well.
An interesting fact about Marcus Aurelius is that he had a hobby of naming relatives co-emperors. A few years after Lucius Verus’ death (thought to be due to the plague,) he named his son Commodus a joint emperor. Together, they resumed the Danubian wars, a cause Marcus and Lucius fought for before the latter died.
5. He was almost deposed in the year 175.
General Avidius Classius was the prefect of eastern provinces, including the all-important Egyptian stronghold. Despite a vast amount of power, he tried to topple Marcus’ rule. He started a rumor that Marcus has died – and that he was the rightful heir to the throne. Marcus marched to fight Avidius but it wasn’t necessary, the traitorous general ended up being assassinated by his soldiers.
6. Marcus Aurelius loved Philosophy.
Described as a smart and hardworking student, Marcus grew tired of the usual Latin and Greek languages taught to him by Marcus Cornelius Fronto and Herodes Atticus. Instead, he set his sights on philosophy, specifically the Diatribai or Discourses. This work was popularized by Epictetus, a former slave who became a noteworthy Stoic philosopher.
7. He authored “The Meditations,” considered as one of the best books in the world.
An interesting fact about Marcus Aurelius is that he wrote a book called “The Meditations,” which contained inner thoughts of the emperor. Written in Greek, the book featured the emperor’s thoughts and reflections. It featured passages inspired by Stoicism, the school of philosophy he studied as a young adult.
According to modern historians, the book bared more than just the Emperor’s anxieties – it showed his ‘addiction’ as well. Marcus was sickly and was taking something for his chronic ulcer – the mental results of which might be found as scribblings in his book.
8. Marcus Aurelius was the last ruler of the “Pax Romana.”
Pax Romana, sometimes called Pax Augusta, is a 207-year period marked by the stability and peace of the Roman Empire. It started in 87 AD with Caesar Augustus, the founder of the Roman Principate (or the first period,) and ended with Marcus Aurelius’ death in 180 AD. Pax Romana saw the height of the empire’s lands. During these two centuries, the Roman territories played host to approximately 70 million inhabitants – a third of the world’s population back then.
9. He was also the last of the Five Good Emperors.
Augustus was one of the “Five Good Emperors” that Niccolo Macchiavelli named in his book, “The Discourses on Livy.” Together with Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius, Marcus and the aforementioned emperors exemplified good governance although they were adopted and were not blood heirs to the throne.
10. The persecution of Christians was said to increase during his reign.
Marcus disliked Christians, however, historians believe that he did not initiate the persecution of the said sect. The increase in killings was linked to the denunciation of Christians by the local populace, especially during times of instability. When this happens, a governor must act, and deaths are usually the result.
11. Marcus Aurelius had a large family.
Marcus married his adoptive father Antoninus’ daughter Faustina. The couple had their first daughter, Domitia Faustina, in the year 147. Following her were at least thirteen children, including two sets of twins, an interesting Marcus Aurelius fact. Faustina was very fertile, sadly, most of the children she bore died during infancy.
As one of the Five Good Emperors, Marcus Aurelius was undoubtedly one of the better rulers during the Roman empire’s glory days. Although it crumbled rather badly after his death, he has secured a legacy that is praised up until now.
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