Marcus Aurelius Antoninus: Emperor and Stoic Philosopher

Born in 121 AD of patrician birth, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was raised to be the 18th Emperor of Rome. He was originally born into the Verus family. He was kindly though rigorously raised by his grandfather. One of his tutors was Marcus Cornelius Fronto, with whom he frequently corresponded. (Extant letters shed light on his industrious and kindly nature as a youth.)

He was exposed to stoicism at an early age through the works of Diogenes. His dedication to philosophy and his even temper led him to be adopted at a young age to be heir to the imperial throne. He was married to the daughter of Emperor Antoninus, Faustina. For 23 years under the tutelage of Antoninus he learned how to rule the Roman Empire, while still intensely pursuing his study of stoic philosophy.

In 161 AD the old emperor died and Marcus Aurelius became Emperor on his own. Though he was an efficient administrator, a just magistrate, and a competent military leader, his reign was afflicted with many calamities. This was partly due to the fact that his less competent adopted brother was co-ruler for much of this time. But there were also a series of wars and rebellions. Marcus Aurelius was often on campaign to deal with troubles on the Roman frontiers.

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His wife bore him five sons, but only one, Commodus, lived to adulthood. He took up the imperial mantle when Marcus Aurelius died in 180 AD. The reign of Commodus is now thought by historians to be the beginning of the downfall of the Roman Empire.

The Meditations

In spite of having been one of the great emperors of Rome, Marcus Aurelius is best remembered for having written a book of maxims on stoic philosophy called "The Meditations". It was written in Greek in 12 segments while he was marching with his army in the Danubian marshes. They are rather random thoughts on stoicism. Some believe that they are notes for an intended organized volume. Other's believe that they were a kind of private journal that helped him to live an ordered existence.

"The Meditations" is hardly cosmogony. It is mainly a practical guide to living. It is partly based on the musing of Epictetus another stoic philosopher that remains much respected. It addresses "how life is to be lived well". In it he is preoccupied with his soul and its spiritual state. Today, "The Meditations" is widely read and remains a guide for living well."

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