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What was the medium for Marcus Aurelius's Meditations?

What was the medium for Marcus Aurelius's Meditations?

I imagine Romans using papyrus and quills on a still table, allowing time for the ink to dry, which may not be possible in a battlefield. I once saw a documentary which depicts him walking off in solitude to write on something handheld. What was the actual medium of the battlefield manuscripts and where did he sit to write them? Did he transcribe them to better media later?


We have no idea, because of an 800 year gap in the provenance of the work. Even the source codex for the original printed publication in 1559 was lost shortly afterwards.


We cannot know for sure. Documentaries of that time tend not to be very accurate.

But given the general frame of "what did ancient Romans use to write on while away from a desk?" we might justly infer that it would have to be something robust, light weight, easy to write on and something without the need for a firm underground.

That gives a wax tablet as the prime candidate for such an application:

Writing on the wax surface was performed with a pointed instrument, a stylus. Writing by engraving in wax required the application of much more pressure and traction than would be necessary with ink on parchment or papyrus, and the scribe had to lift the stylus in order to change the direction of the stroke.
Therefore, the stylus could not be applied with the same degree of dexterity as a pen. A straight-edged, spatula-like implement (often placed on the opposite end of the stylus tip) would be used in a razor-like fashion to serve as an eraser. The entire tablet could be erased for reuse by warming it to about 50 °C and smoothing the softened wax surface. The modern expression of "a clean slate" equates to the Latin expression "tabula rasa".


Writing with stylus and folding wax tablet. painter, Douris, ca 500 BC (Berlin)

Roman scribe with his stylus and tablets on his tomb stele at Flavia Solva in Noricum Wax tablets were used for a variety of purposes, from taking down students' or secretaries' notes to recording business accounts. Early forms of shorthand were used too.

modern reconstruction of a wax tablet


Ancient Writing Materials: Wax Tablets - birth certificate on a wax tablet Latin and Greek 128 AD

And with a hat tip to a certain user:


WP: Herkulaneischer_Meister_002: Tondo of Woman with wax tablets and stylus (so-called "Sappho"), National Archaeological Museum of Naples (inventory no. 9084). Roman fresco of about 50, from Pompeii (VI, Insula Occidentalis) - Discovered in 1760, is one of the most famous and beloved paintings, commonly called Sappho. Actually portrays a high-society Pompeian woman, richly dressed with gold-threaded hair and large gold earrings, bringing the stylus to the mouth and holding the wax tablets, notoriously accounting documents which therefore have nothing to do with poetry and even less with the famous Greek writer.

The second most likely candidate would be a blackboard, or slate1, that also could have been assembled like a wax tablet into a "little book". One example of his application is the Tablette de Marsiliana. It was made by Etruscans approximately 675-650 BCE from ivory:


1: Note the dubious history section for slate on wikipedia. The Etruscan tablet could have been used both ways: to impress the wax on it without any wax with a stilus or to directly write on it with either chalk or a stilus plumbeus (or any metal point).


Meditations

Meditations (Medieval Greek: Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν , romanized: Ta eis he'auton, lit. 'things to one's self') is a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from AD 161 to 180, recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy.

Marcus Aurelius wrote the 12 books of the Meditations in Koine Greek [1] as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. [2] It is possible that large portions of the work were written at Sirmium, where he spent much time planning military campaigns from 170 to 180. Some of it was written while he was positioned at Aquincum on campaign in Pannonia, because internal notes tell us that the first book was written when he was campaigning against the Quadi on the river Granova (modern-day Hron) and the second book was written at Carnuntum.

It is unlikely that Marcus Aurelius ever intended the writings to be published. The work has no official title, so "Meditations" is one of several titles commonly assigned to the collection. These writings take the form of quotations varying in length from one sentence to long paragraphs.


Final thoughts

These are useful lessons from Marcus that can help you succeed at work, school, etc. you don’t need to be a Stoic, but employing this Stoic mentality could help you become your better self and do the things that are more important on your do-to list.

Always strive to be your authentic self and be sanguine about life and let impediment advances your actions, don’t allow it to stop you. Also, remember to take the necessary action now or concentratedly push yourself today toward your purpose in life, and discern what is worth your time and what is not.

Take action, don’t wait for a situation to be ideal because if you are waiting for a situation to be ideal or perfect, the sad truth sad is, a situation will never be ideal. And remember, you don’t have to see the result before believing that it possible if you truly believe it, you can visualize the result beforehand.

Lastly, when you find yourself in any situation or problem, you have a choice to make. You either focus on finding a solution by taking action or focusing on finding excuses by doing nothing. Or you can focus on both, and I promise you, the wiser decision is to focus on finding the solution to the problem by advancing action. Don’t allow impediments to preclude you from getting the desired result that you want in life.

Marcus applied it and became successful, and you, too, can do the same. He did it under pressure as an emperor, and you too can do it provided you take on a similar mindset that will accelerate you to achieve your desired goals in life.


Contents

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]

leaves,
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)


#3 On doing what’s right

Even though he was an Emperor with unimaginable power, Marcus Aurelius tried not to let it go to his head. He reminded himself frequently that he is a part of a larger whole, over which even he has limited control, and that he should focus his efforts on helping the whole, rather than just himself.

So by keeping in mind the whole I form a part of, I’ll accept whatever happens. And because of my relationship to other parts, I will do nothing selfish, but aim instead to join them, to direct my every action toward what benefits us all and to avoid what doesn’t (Book 10, Section 6).

For an Emperor, Marcus Aurelius had a surprising mindset. Throughout Meditations, he speaks about reigning in his ego, selfishness, and expectations for the good of everyone.

He also has the unique perspective that what is good for everyone is also what is good for him. In his eyes, putting himself first went against the order of things, because he saw himself merely as a part of a larger whole.


Reason and Meaning


Statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback.

(The following post from March 2015, recently surpassed 100,000 views. I reprint it below.)

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 AD) was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 and is one of the most important Stoic philosophers. What today we call the Meditations take the form of a personal notebook, which wasn’t intended for publication. Aurelius called them “Writings To Myself.” They were written in Greek, although his native tongue was Latin, and were probably composed while he was on military campaigns in central Europe, c. AD 171-175. Today it is widely regarded as one of the most important works in all of Western literature. He died, most likely from the plague or cancer, on a military campaign in present-day Austria. The work is divided into 12 short books.

In Book I Aurelius thanks those to whom he is indebted. He thanks his grandfather for teaching him to be candid, modest, and even-tempered his father for teaching him to be humble, calm, and frugal his mother for teaching him to be generous and non-materialistic and his teachers who taught him the value of hard work, self-discipline, equanimity, rationality, humor, and tolerance. From his teachers, he also learned to love practical philosophy, instead of metaphysics, logic and the vanity of the Sophists. He also thanks his wife for being affectionate.

In Book II Aurelius reminds us that each day we will meet some terrible people. But we have faults too, so we shouldn’t be angry with them. For we are all just bits of blood, bones, and breath our life is fleeting our bodies will decay. As for death, it is nothing to fear it can’t hurt us. But what is most important about us is our minds. We shouldn’t let them be slaves to selfish passions, quarrel with fate, or be anxious about the present or afraid of the future. We can’t guarantee fame or fortune, but we can keep our minds calm and free from injury, a state superior to both pleasure and pain. Freedom is the control of our minds.

In Book III Aurelius tells us to be mindful of little things like cracks in a loaf of bread, the texture of figs and olives, and the expressions of wild animals—even mundane things have charm he says. But we shouldn’t gossip or speculate about what others say or do. Instead, think and talk only about things you would not be ashamed of if they were found out. Think and talk with sincerity and cheerfulness, and there will be a kind of divinity within you. There is nothing more valuable than a mind pursuing truth, justice, temperance, fortitude, rationality and the like. So be resolute in pursuit of the good.

In Book IV Aurelius tells us that we can always find solitude in our own minds. If our minds are serene, we will find peace and happiness. As for how others view us, we have little control over this. But virtue is still virtue even if it isn’t acknowledged. Remember, our lives are ephemeral, one day we live, the next we are dead. So act virtuous, use your time well, and be cheerful. Then, when you drop from life’s tree, you will drop like a ripe fruit.

In Book V Aurelius says we should get up each morning and do good work. We should act naturally and contribute to society, unconcerned about the reproach of others. And don’t ask or expect payment or gratitude for doing good deeds. Instead, be satisfied with being like a vine that bears good fruit. Virtue is its own reward.

In Book V Aurelius disavows revenge—better not to imitate injury. We should do our duty, act righteously and not be disturbed by the rest, for in the vastness of space and time we are insignificant. Think of good things and control your mind.

In Book VII Aurelius advocates patience and tolerance. Nature works like wax, continually transforming—so be patient. People will speak ill of you no matter what you do, but be tolerant. Evil people try our patience and tolerance, but we can remain happy by controlling our response to them.

In Book VIII Aurelius argues that being disconnected from humanity is like cutting off one of your own limbs. Instead, live connected to nature and other people. No matter what you encounter maintain a moderate and controlled mind. If you are cursed by others, don’t let it affect you any more than your cursing the spring affects the springtime.

In Books IX, X, and XI Aurelius argues that we should be moderate, sincere, honest, and calm. If someone reports that you are not virtuous, dispel such notions with your probity, and use humor to disarm the worst people.

In Books XII Aurelius asks why we love ourselves best, but so often value the opinion of others over our own. This is a mistake. Remember too that the destiny of the greatest and worst of human beings is the same—they all turn to ashes. Do not then be proud, but be humble. Die in serenity. As Aurelius wrote from his tent, far from home and never to return: “Life is warfare and a stranger’s sojourn, and after fame, oblivion.”

Reflections – I want to learn more about Stoicism, Buddhism, and other practical philosophies. I think there is a hunger today for practical philosophies of life, especially in the modern world where religious stories no longer provide comfort to so many. For more on Stoic philosophy see my posts on: Seneca, Cicero, the Stoics on emotions, and how Epictetus helped Admiral James Stockdale endure more than seven years as a prisoner of war.


How Marcus Aurelius wrote The Meditations

If thou would’st master care and pain,
Unfold this book and read and read again
Its blessed leaves, whereby thou soon shalt see
The past, the present, and the days to be
With opened eyes and all delight, all grief,
Shall be like smoke, as empty and as brief.

This epigram is found at the end of a Vatican manuscript of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, one of the most widely-read spiritual and philosophical classics of all time. Readers of The Meditations are usually aware that Marcus was a Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher. However, they often don’t realize how much more we know about him.

Marcus studied rhetoric under Fronto for many years, and learned certain techniques from him that appear to have shaped the writing of The Meditations.

In my recent book, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, I drew upon the surviving evidence to make connections between Marcus’ life and thought. We have three main contemporary biographical sources: The Historia Augusta, Cassius Dio’s Historia Romana, and Herodian’s History of the Empire from the Death of Marcus.

In addition to these, one of our most important sources is a cache of letters belonging to Marcus’ family friend and rhetoric tutor Marcus Cornelius Fronto. These were discovered in the early 19th century by the Italian scholar Angelo Mai. They give us a remarkable window into the private life of the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher.

We learn, for instance, that Marcus was, in private, an exceptionally warm and affectionate man. He also shows evidence of being adept at diplomacy and at resolving conflicts between his friends. As we’ll see, Marcus studied rhetoric under Fronto for many years, and learned certain techniques from him that appear to have shaped the writing of The Meditations.

“It is that I learn from you to speak the truth. That matter (of speaking the truth) is precisely what is so hard for gods and men…” — Marcus

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Meditations on Meditations: Reflections on a First Reading of Marcus Aurelius

While Stoicism is an ancient philosophy, it’s experiencing a bit of a resurgence in our modern world. There’s a plethora of new books and articles on the topic, most of them quoting what’s taken to be the Stoic bible: Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations .

Much of what’s written about Stoicism these days, though, assumes that the reader has already engaged with that classic text. I recently realized that diving into the new How to Be a Stoic or any of Ryan Holiday’s well-known books was fairly worthless without having first read Aurelius.

So I decided to finally read the little volume and keep a journal of sorts of my own meditations while reading Meditations . This isn’t a summary or overview of the book, or of Stoic philosophy. Rather, it’s simply a collection of thoughts and lessons I took from my first reading. While a 100-page book would usually take me maybe 90 minutes to finish, getting through Meditations required a few solid weeks. It’s so jam-packed with wisdom that my brain just couldn’t handle more than a few pages at a time. You’ll understand then why the below article couldn’t possibly cover all that the book has to offer, and I can’t recommend enough picking up a copy for yourself and diving in.

Note: All quotes are from Meditations unless otherwise noted. A variety of translations were used.

1. Every Man Has a Primary Battle

Life is warfare . . . Then what can guide us? Only philosophy.

One of the most important things to understand about Aurelius’ meditations is that they were private writings to himself. Personal reminders on the rules and guidelines for living. A collection of journal entries, really. They didn’t even have the title Meditations until perhaps hundreds of years later. At first, the collection of thoughts and writings were simply known as “the writings of Marcus” or some variation thereof.

Why is this so important? The writings are still chock-full of wisdom that can be broadly applied, aren’t they?

But of course they are! As with all writing, however, context matters.

Marcus Aurelius was a warrior, emperor, father, and husband. As a child, he lost his father when he was just a few years old, and as was common practice for aristocratic families of that era, Marcus was raised largely by mentors, nurses (nannies), and grandparents. When Aurelius became a father himself, he endured the deaths of eight children. All of that leads to the main themes that can be found in Meditations . You’ll see the same topics come up again and again and again.

Why does Aurelius write so much about death? Because he was surrounded by it — his family, his soldiers, his friends. Why does he write so much about not letting other people’s bad actions and attitudes affect you? As an emperor he was dealing with greedy politicians day in and day out, as well as naysaying citizens.

These meditations were written to himself as admonitions about how to think and behave in the midst of his specific environment and his specific struggles.

Aurelius likely battled with keeping a positive attitude in dealing with others. He of course mourned death and needed reminders that it was a natural event that couldn’t be controlled. His Stoicism was a remarkably practical philosophy centered on simply surviving and staying sane in his world.

As David Brooks noted in his fantastic podcast with Brett, every man has a primary battle or two in life. Dwight Eisenhower could be viciously angry, but found ways to deal with it. Jack London battled alcoholism, and while it ultimately contributed to his death, he battled through it, and lived a remarkably productive life. It’s quite possible that Marcus Aurelius feared death (not just his, but for his loved ones too) and had a short temper, and so he wrote himself these notes, repeating his themes over and over.

Let this be a lesson that while all humans face universal challenges, each of us has a primary struggle or two in life. Laziness, substance abuse, compulsive lying, over-eating, etc. It could also be things out of your control — the death of a spouse or child, an abusive family, job loss. Whatever your own personal context may be, it would serve you well to do like Marcus and write out meditations and exhortations to yourself as “moral reminders” — pithy ideas to keep you going in the midst of ongoing hardships and struggles.

2. Every Man Should Take Lessons from Everyone Around Him

From my grandfather Verus I learned good morals and the government of my temper.

From the reputation and remembrance of my father, modesty and a manly character.

From my mother piety and beneficence . . .

Meditations starts out with Aurelius listing lessons he’s learned from various people in his life. From his governor, “to work with my own hands,” from Rusticus (one of his teachers) “to read carefully, and not to be satisfied with a superficial understanding of a book,” and of course various character traits from his family members, as seen in the quote above.

Surely, not all of Aurelius’ mentors were perfect. And how do I know this? Because nobody is! Among his list of seventeen people in the opening chapter there was likely common character flaws like selfishness, jealousy, and anger, as well as rank betrayals and outright crime. Aurelius was wise enough to know, though, that there are lessons to be learned from everyone around us. A failing, even multiple failings, doesn’t negate someone’s ability to have a positive impact on your life.

Our modern culture, however, has forgotten this ancient lesson. A moral failing by a modern business person, celebrity, politician, or even a company sparks internet outrage and calls for boycotts. Behaviors of historical figures now judged to be offensive, even if common to the time in which the men lived, are enough to write off all of their other admirable virtues and worthy accomplishments.

We don’t write ourselves off despite our flaws. Likewise, the wisest of men know that every person is a mosaic of virtue and vice, and that wisdom can be found in everyone, if only you’re willing to look.

3. Fate Plays a Role in Every Man’s Life — You Can Either Fight It or Accept It

To the gods I am indebted for having good grandfathers, good parents, a good sister, good teachers, good associates, good kinsmen and friends, nearly everything good.

For all these [blessings in my life] require the help of the gods and fortune.

As Isaac Lidsky has said, accept that life is a game of poker. While there are certain things you can do to increase your odds of winning, a large part of each hand is completely out of your control. Would you fight the cards dealt in a given hand, arguing that it’s not fair or that you want a re-shuffle? Of course not. While life is certainly higher stakes than poker, you just have to accept that what happens, happens. Even with death.

You can either double down and try to gain a greater grip of control (and lose much in the process), or you can know that whatever randomness and complexity life throws your way can be an opportunity to learn, grow, and build your resilience, even if the hand you’ve been dealt is pretty crappy. Sometimes even a 7-2 — statistically the worst starting hand in poker — wins out every once in a while.

4. A Man is Not to Be Consumed by the Actions and Attitudes of Others

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. . . . none of them can hurt me.”

“Don’t waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people . . . It will keep you from doing anything useful.”

“Why do you not rather act than complain?”

How much of your day is spent complaining — either out loud or silently — about the actions of others? The driver who cut you off. The slow barista. Our deadlocked government. Your crank boss. How much of your energy and time is wasted thinking and stewing about those things?

As Aurelius wisely notes, you cannot be harmed or hurt by any of these people unless you allow it. Your life is wasted in choosing to be guided by the thoughts and actions of others.

We aren’t in control of the events that play out around us. But we are in control of our own attitude and responses to those events. It’s really that simple.

Viktor Frankl clung to this idea when he was imprisoned at both Auschwitz and Dachau during the Holocaust. He said: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

5. Strenuous Action is the Answer

“When thou hast trouble in getting up, say to thyself: I awake to do the work of a man why then should I grieve for having to do the things for which I was sent into the world? Was I born to remain warmly in bed under my covers? But it is so pleasant. Wert thou born for pleasure, then? Was it not for action, for work?”

“On the occasion of every act ask yourself . . . Will I regret it?”

“Why were you born? For pleasure? See if that answer will stand up to questioning.”

As Kyle Eschenroeder rightly notes in his Pocket Guide to Action , action is indeed the answer. I would add to that the notion of strenuousity as well.

The catchphrase of The Strenuous Life is “Do Hard Things.” The point being that hard things — learning new skills, pushing yourself physically and mentally, serving others — is far more inherently fulfilling and satisfying than leading an easy, climate-controlled, smartphone-saturated lifestyle.

In the last year or so, my own little family has adopted that motto as well. As parents to a toddler, my wife and I have noticed that a lot of other parents complain about losing their old lifestyle. They miss going out to eat, traveling, hanging out with friends, and in general, doing adventurous things. What we’ve also noticed is that missing out on those things is mostly self-imposed. Sure, it’s far more difficult taking a hike with kids than staying in and watching cartoons, and it requires more mental energy and willpower than you’d expect. But what my wife and I have noticed in every single instance is that it’s better to get outside on an adventure than stay at home . Even when ( when , not if — this is not a hypothetical example) your toddler screams his way down the mountain and you have to sing Taylor Swift to keep him remotely happy. It’s still worth it.

While Aurelius, in one of the above quotes, seems to be downplaying the value of pleasure, I believe he’s downplaying the value of lazy pleasure. Of lying in bed (or on the couch) all day, drinking and eating to your heart’s content while bingeing on the new season of Hot New Show That Everyone References . There is immense pleasure to be found in partaking in the strenuous life. And because it’s earned , it’s a pleasure that’s far greater than what you’d find simply lying about. I assure you, a good meal and a good beer tastes far better when you’ve first hiked a few miles or lifted a few hundred pounds of iron.

6. A Man Should Think, Do, and Be Good

“While you live, while it is in your power, be good.”

“Consider if you have behaved to all in such a way that this way be said of you: Never has he wronged a man in deed or word.”

“Look within. Within is the foundation of good, and it will ever bubble up, if you will ever dig.”

“No longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such.”

“What is your art? To be good.”

In most instances, we know what it means to do good in our world. Do you return the wallet you found on the ground, even if you could just take it without anyone noticing? Do you help the old woman next to you struggling to get her groceries in the car, even if you’re running a little bit late? Do you attend a funeral to show your support, even though its hundreds of miles away? Should you welcome your new neighbor, even if you know it’ll be a little awkward at first?

We know, inside of us, that the answer to these questions should be yes . But our actions sometimes — even often — differ from what we know to be right. Life just gets in the way. Work beckons, meals need to be prepared, you just need to sit down for a minute.

But, as mentioned above, life is better when we engage in doing hard things. And many times doing and being good is one of those hard things. So how do you make it easier?

As Aurelius advises, “inquire of yourself as soon as you wake from sleep.” Start every morning by getting in a mindset where you’re prepared to look for opportunities to serve and be useful. Benjamin Franklin practiced this, asking himself every morning “What good shall I do this day?” Then, at the end of the day, review your actions and inquire of yourself, as he did, “What good have I done today?” By bookending your day with a meditation on goodness, you will orient your soul more and more towards virtue.

Make your art that of being good. Do not simply think on it or talk about it do good .

Conclusion

I wrote down the following in my journal immediately after finishing Meditations for the first time:

The general sense of the book seems to be that Marcus Aurelius is imploring himself to live with thoughtfulness and purposefulness of action, because our time on earth is fixed and short and should not be wasted. That doesn’t mean to ignore pleasure, or to ignore pain, but simply not to be overcome or driven by those things.

I ultimately found the exercise of meditating on Meditations to be rather enriching. The insights I gained from reading this ancient work and journaling about its applications to my own modern life have stuck with me. If you’ve never read Meditations before, I encourage you to take a few weeks to study Aurelius’ little volume of philosophy. Keep a notebook close by and write down your reflections on his words, and how you might use them to better engage your own primary struggle, live more strenuously, and do good.

Be sure to listen to our podcast about the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius:


Contents

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]

leaves,
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)


Almost exactly ten years ago, I bought the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius on Amazon. Amazon Prime didn’t exist then and to qualify for free shipping, I had to purchase a few other books at the same time. Two or three days later they all arrived.

It’s a medium sized paperback, mostly white with a golden spine. On the cover Marcus is shown in relief, pardoning the barbarians. “Here, for our age, is Marcus’s great work,” says Robert Fagles in his blurb. I was 19 years old. I didn’t know who Marcus Aurelius was (besides the old guy in Gladiator) and I certainly didn’t know who Robert Fagles or Gregory Hays, the translator, was. But something drew me to this book almost immediately. I suppose it was luck that brought me to the specific translation I’d chosen (Modern Library Edition)—though the Stoics would call it fated—but what arrived would change my life.

It would be for me, what Tyler Cowen would call a “a quake book,” shaking everything I thought I knew about the world (however little that actually was). I would also become what Stephen Marche has referred to as a “centireader,” reading Marcus Aurelius well over 100 times across multiple editions and copies.

In the course of those readings and my study of stoicism, a lot has changed. Marcus Aurelius has guided me through breakups and getting married, through being relatively young and poor and relatively older and well-off. His wisdom has helped me with getting fired and with quitting, with success and with struggles. I’ve carried him to close to a dozen countries and moved him to multiple houses. I’ve turned to him for articles and books and casual dinner conversation. The one pristine white cover is now its own shade of tan, but with every read, every time I’ve touched the book, I’ve gotten something new or been reminded of something timeless and important.

Now with the release of my own translation and compendium, The Daily Stoic (and a daily email newsletter at DailyStoic.com), I wanted to take the time to reflect on what I’ve learned in ten years with one of the greatest and most unique pieces of literature ever created.

-It was the opening passage of Book 5—about our reluctance to get out of bed and get moving in the morning—that struck me most on my first read. As you can see, I wrote “FUCK” with a highlighter and you can see how important that passage was to me at the time in a 2007 blog post. Later, I would print out this passage and put it next to my desk and bed. I think it was that as a college student I needed that extra motivation. I was a little lazy and entitled. I needed to seize life and take advantage of it—and Marcus served me well in that regard for a long time.

-Though I will say that today, I think less about the passage that motivates me to do more and be more active. If I was to put a different one on my desk, I’d choose from Book Ten, “If you seek tranquility, do less.”

-In my first read of Meditations, I highlighted the line “It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character.” In a later read I added brackets around that line, just for more emphasis. And I underlined in pen what came after, “Otherwise, it cannot harm you—inside or out.”

-Pages XXVI and XXV of Hays’s introduction is where I was first introduced to the distillation of Stoicism into three distinct disciplines (perception, action, will). It was this order that eventually shaped both The Obstacle is the Way and The Daily Stoic. When I get asked to explain the three disciplines, this is usually my short answer: See things for what they are. Do what we can. Endure and bear what we must.

-Hays’s introduction also lists Alexander Pope, Goethe and William Alexander Percy as students and fans of Marcus Aurelius. Reading works by all of these individuals—especially Percy (and his adopted son, Walker Percy)—sent me down a rabbit hole that would be one of the most enjoyable of my reading life. I encourage everyone to read Percy’s Lanterns on the Levee.

-In Book Four, Marcus reminds himself to think about all the doctors who “died, after furrowing their brows over how many deathbeds, how many astrologers, after pompous forecasts about other’s ends.” In black pen—somewhat recently it looks like—I added “or plotters, schemers and strategists, outsmarted, outmaneuvered and destroyed.” I suppose that was a dig at myself and other smart people. None of what we do lasts, no matter how clever or brilliant. It’s good to remember that.

-“So we throw out other people’s recognition. What’s left for us to prize?” I answer in blue pen in one read, “To embrace and to resist our nature.” What do I—what did Marcus—mean by that? I think it’s encouraging what is good about us and to fight against what is bad. To encourage the parts of ourselves that are moral, helpful, honest and aware and to fight against what is selfish, petty, shortsighted and wrong. It’s to live by what Warren Buffett calls the “inner scorecard” and ignore the outer one (other people’s recognition).

-In that same passage, Marcus also writes “If you can’t stop prizing a lot of other things? Then you’ll never be free—free, independent, imperturbable.” I have in my copy a jotted note from Fight Club, “Only when you’ve lost everything, you are free to do anything.”

-When I first read Meditations, I was in the middle of some ridiculous drama with my college roommates. I won’t bore you with the details, but at the time, I was frustrated, disappointed and miserable about where I was living. I think this was the reason that I latched on the the meditation in Book Six, about how if you were sparring with someone and they hurt you, you wouldn’t yell at them or whine or hold it against them—you’d just make a mental note about it and act accordingly in the future. I can see where I actually wrote the name of my roommates down to explicitly make this connection. “Do not hate them,” I wrote to myself, “remain aloof.”

-I said earlier that all I’d originally known of Marcus Aurelius was that he was the “old guy in Gladiator.” Future research taught me that depiction was even more interesting than the movie presented. First off, Maximus (Russell Crowe’s character) was based on a real Roman story—the general Cincinnatus, who saved Rome but wanted simply to return to his farm. Second, Marcus’s son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) was real too—and probably even more horrible in real life. He was in fact, killed by a gladiator and he did enjoy torturing and hurting people. It makes you think: How could such a great man have had such an awful son? What does that say about his teachings?

-Marcus writes “Mastery of reading and writing requires a master. Still, more so life.” I wrote “Tucker, R.G” in the margins next to that passage. R.G stands for Robert Greene—who was and is my master in writing and, more, in life. Tucker refers to Tucker Max, who was a mentor of mine in writing and business. It occurs to me now that I understood this passage only partway—I was focused on the first half, when really the “more so life” line is the most important. Understanding this could have saved me a lot of trouble.

-In Book Twelve, as Meditations is wrapping up, Marcus writes “It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” This passage struck me early on, I can tell. But it struck me hardest in 2014, when I was re-reading the passage. I know this because I wrote an article with that line as the title, as I was dealing with the fact that my book had just been snubbed by the New York TimesBestseller list and I was dealing with the fallout. It was helpful to ask: Why do I care what these people think again? Why does their opinion matter to me? Understanding the words is not always enough, sometimes we have to really feel them—to have their meaning forced upon us. This was one of those events.

-Going back through my copy to write this post, I found a white notecard with some bullet points written on it. At first I couldn’t figure out what these were about. Then I realized they were notes I’d written down before my conversation with Greg Bishop, a reporter for Sports Illustrated, when he interviewed me for a story he was doing on stoicism and the NFL. One bullet is a line from Arnold Schwarzenegger, “always stronger that we think we know.”

-On what I would guess is my third or fourth read, I marked this passage: “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” There are not many reminders of your own mortality at 20. This was one of my first.

-There’s no question that for every first time reader of Meditations, it’s the opening line of Book Two is one of the most striking: “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly.”

-And then the passage which follows is great—if not a bit contradictory: “Throw away your books stop letting yourself be distracted.” Did he mean the very book I was reading?

-One of my favorite lines: “To accept without arrogance, to let it go with indifference.” Another translation of the same: “Receive without pride, let go without attachment.”

-In one passage, Marcus justifies his love of art. He points out that tragedies (plays) help remind us of what can happen in life. He also makes an interesting point—“If something gives you pleasure on that stage, it shouldn’t cause you anger on this one.” If you can appreciate it in fiction, you can appreciate it in life—and learn from both.

-In Book Five, I learned what philosophy really was. It’s not an “instructor,” as Marcus put it. It’s not the courses I was taking in school. It is medicine. It’s “a soothing ointment, a warm lotion.” It’s designed to help us deal with the difficulties of life—to heal, as Epicurus said, the suffering of man.

-It wasn’t until last week, re-reading Marcus that I noticed the word “stillness” as it appears in Book Six, 7: “To move from one unselfish action to another with God in mind. Only there, delight and stillness.” Stillness was something I had been thinking about a lot—how to find it, how to get it, why it’s superior to activity. I was looking for it in Eastern texts and here it has been in Stoicism the entire time.

-Book Nine, 6 I found not only a potential epigraph for my book The Obstacle is the Way (which I noted in blue pen in 2013) but the best possible summation of Stoicism there is:

“Objective judgement, now, at this very moment.

Unselfish action, now, at this very moment.

Willing acceptance—now, at this very moment—of all external events.

-At some point after I read the Hays translation, I picked up another translation of Marcus—probably one by George Long or A. S. L. Farquharson, that was free online. I was immediately struck by how the beautiful, lyrical book I loved had become dense and unreadable. It struck me that if I had cheaped out and tried to get for free what I’d bought instead, my entire life might have turned out differently. Books are investments. Be glad to put in your money.

-Marcus has a wonderful phrase for the approval and cheering of other people. He calls it “the clacking of tongues”—that’s all public appraise is, he says. Anyone that works in the public eye, who puts their work or their life out there for consumption, could use to remember this phrase.

–“Often injustice lies in what you aren’t doing, not only in what you are doing.” Or, as we say more modernly, ‘The only thing required for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing…’

-Don’t try to get even with other people, Marcus says at one point. Just don’t be like that.

-“The student as a boxer, not a fencer.” Why? Because the fencer has a weapon they must pick up. A boxer’s weapons are a part of him, he and the weapon are one. Same goes for knowledge, philosophy and wisdom.

-Marcus commands himself to winnow his thoughts. He has a great standard. If someone were to ask you right now, “What are you thinking about?” could you give a concise answer? If not, you’re daydreaming and wandering too much.

-“It stares you right in the face,” Marcus writes. “No role is so well suited to philosophy as the one you happen to be in right now.” Was he referring specifically to the role of emperor? Did he mean that any and every role is the perfect one for philosophy? I prefer to think it is the latter.

-I’ve been lucky enough that some generous fans have sent me rare old copies of Meditations. They’re falling apart, worn with age. It strikes me what a Stoic would have thought if given a book that was then a couple hundred years old. They’d think about the person who owned it and what became of them (dead), they’d think about all the things the person did other than study philosophy (mostly pointless stuff), and they’d also think of the difficult times that the wisdom contained within may have helped them (which is what I think now). And then they’d consider how we are all subject to the rhythm of events and that someone may pick up this book after them and have the same thoughts.

-Going through one copy of the Hays translation a few years ago, I found a receipt. It said January 2007 and it was from a Borders in Riverside, California. I’d bought mine on Amazon, so I knew it wasn’t mine. Then I realized, this was my wife’s copy. She’d bought the book shortly after we’d met, on my recommendation. That she’d read it after I mentioned it in passing, made me think our feelings might be mutual. It was one of the first things we’d connected over. Ten years later we are still together.

-In Gregory Hays’s intro he says that “an American president” claims to re-read Marcus Aurelius every year. Some research turned up that Bill Clinton was that president. Was that where I got the idea to keep reading and re-reading the book? To use it as a reminder of all the lessons that success would bring?

-Absolute power corrupts absolutely is what we say. But Marcus had absolute power. To me, his writing and his life are proof that the right principles and the right discipline—if followed rigorously—can help buck this timeless trend.

-Marcus reminded himself: “Don’t await the perfection of Plato’s Republic.” He wasn’t expecting the world to be exactly the way he wanted it to be, but Marcus knew instinctively, as the Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper would later write, that “he alone can do good who knows what things are like and what their situation is.”

-It’s funny to think that his writings may be as special as they are because they were never intended for us to be read. Almost every other piece of literature is a kind of performance—it’s made for the audience. Meditations isn’t. In fact, their original title (Ta eis heauton) roughly translates as To Himself.

-It’s also interesting to think that we have no idea if the meditations were once ordered differently. All we have now are translations of translations—no original writing from his hand survives. It all could have been arranged in an entirely different format originally (Did all the books have titles originally—as the first two do? Are those titles made up? Were they all numbered originally? Or were even the breaks between thoughts added in by a later translator?)

-Who hasn’t used the expressions “I’ll be honest with you” or “With all due respect” or “I’ll be straight with you.” It wasn’t until I read Marcus’s specific condemnation of these phrases that I really thought about what they were saying—honesty, respect, straightforwardness should be the default. If you have to specifically preface your remarks with it, that’s a sign something is wrong with your normal speech and your normal habits.

-“But if you accept the obstacle and work with what you’re given, an alternative will present itself—another piece of what you’re trying to assemble. Action by action.” There’s no question that we’re going to be stopped from what we’d like to do, or even desperately need to do from time to time. Money will be lost. Plans will be frustrated. Long held dreams will be broken. People (including us) will be hurt. And yet, as bad as these situations are and will be, I think you’ll have to admit, they don’t prevent everything. You can still practice honesty, forgiveness, friendship, patience, humility, good spirit, resilience, creativity, and on and on.

-It must have been many reads in before I came to understand that many of the admonishments—Don’t waste time, Don’t lose your temper, Stop getting caught up in things that don’t matter—must be there because Marcus had recently done the exact opposite. Remember, this was essentially his journal, the meditations are reflections written after a long hard day. They are not abstractions, they are notes on what he can do better next time.

-There is a line in Joseph Brodsky’s essay about the famous equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (which I went to Rome a few years ago to see). “If Meditations is antiquity,” he says, “then it is we who are the ruins.” What I think he means by that is that when you compare the strength and power and rigorous self-honesty of Marcus’s writings to now, all you can feel is a sense of decay. It feels like we have regressed instead of progressed.

-A great rhetorical exercise from Marcus goes essentially like this: “Is a world without shameless people possible? No. So this person you’ve just met is one of them. Get over it.” It’s a good thing to remember every time you meet someone who frustrates or bothers you.

-One of the benefits of reading a book so many times is that it starts to feel like it’s following you everywhere. It’s like when you get a new car and all of a sudden you start seeing that car everywhere—it’s like you and those drivers are suddenly on the same time. I remember reading East of Eden shortly after Meditations, and guess who is quoted everywhere? Then I read John Stuart Mill, and Marcus appeared again. Then on a trip to New York City I was walking up 41 St and there’s a plaque with a quote from Marcus. It’s one of the most amazing feelings, you find the thread of the work everywhere and it’s like you’re both on the same team, with the same message to propagate.

-One of the most practical things I’ve learned from the Stoics is an exercise I’ve come to call “contemptuous expressions.” I love how Marcus would take fancy things and describe them in almost cynical, dismissive language—roasted meat is a dead animal and vintage wine is old, fermented grapes. He even describes the Emperor’s purple cloak as just a piece of fabric dyed with shellfish blood. The aim was to see these things as they really are, to “strip away the legend that encrusts them.” I try to use this exercise every day.

-The short lines are the best:

“Discard your misperceptions.

Stop being jerked like a puppet.

Limit yourself to the present.”

-Imagine the emperor of Rome, with his captive audience and unlimited power, telling himself not to be a person of “too many words and too many deeds.” How great is that? How inspiring?

-It wasn’t until working with Steve Hanselman on the translations in The Daily Stoic that I was made aware of just how malleable translation was. I assumed that Hays was capturing the inherent beauty in Marcus. In some sense he was, but he was also choosing to write beautifully—someone could just as easily decide to be blunt and literal. It gave me a new appreciation for the art of translation—and how much room for interpretation there is in all of it.

-If there was one translation I would love to read it would be the late Pierre Hadot’s. In his excellent book The Inner Citadel about Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism, Hadot did original translations for the passages he quotes—but sadly he died without publishing a full translation of Marcus for wider consumption.

-It was in reading Hadot that I first got an explicit explanation of what he calls “turning obstacles upside down.” I’d obviously read the original passage he quotes several times in Hays, but Hadot’s translation was different, it made it clearer. The original title of my book was “Turning Obstacles Upside Down.” It was only in reading The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs that I found the Zen saying, “The obstacle is the path” that I was able to combine it all and come up with the book.

-“Everything lasts for a day, the one who remembers and the remembered.” That means something special coming from a guy whose face you can still see on Roman coins you can buy on Etsy.

-From Marcus I learned who Heraclitus was (Marcus quotes him a lot). “No man steps in the same river twice,” is one of the line he quotes. What a beautiful idea. I loved it so much that when I was in college I added a special “Quote of the Week” section to the student newspaper—just so I could use it.

-After I read Marcus, I immediately read Epictetus (Lebell’s The Art of Living translation), then Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, then back to the Penguin translation of Epictetus, then Seneca’s On The Shortness of Life. It’s been a ten year journey now, and I still feel like I am at the very beginning of it. Or at least, there is so much further left to go.

-How crazy is it that not only does Marcus’s “journal” survive to us, so do the letters between him and his rhetoric teacher, Cornelius Fronto? The Stoics might say that such an event was “fated” but I’d say we are incredibly lucky that chance did not destroy these documents and deprive humanity of them.

-Marcus talks about the logos—essentially the force of the universe—repeatedly. That word seemed familiar to me when I first read it. Then I made the connection, Viktor Frankl, the psychologist and Holocaust survivor named his school of psychology logotherapy.

-Still, I was a bit confused as to what the logos was. Hays—and many writers—have used the analogy of a dog tied to a cart to explain our connection to the logos. The cart (the logos) is moving and we are pulled behind it. We have a little slack to move here and there, but not much.

-I think instinctively at 19 years old, I rejected this idea. Predetermination? No free will? Please. That sounded religious. College kids are often attracted to atheism for precisely the freedom and empowerment it implies. But as I have gotten older, I’ve started to understand how much we are shaped by chance and forces beyond our control. It strikes me, then, that the debate is not whether we are in fact the dog tied to the moving cart but rather, just how long the rope is? How much room to we have to explore and determine our own pace? A lot? A little?

-Marcus’s Meditations are filled with self-criticism. It’s important to remember, however, that that’s as far as it goes. There was no self-flagellation, no paying penance, no self-esteem issues from guilt or self-loathing. This self-criticism is constructive.

-There is a passage is Marcus where he talks about sitting next to a smelly, rude person. It must have been just a couple months after I first read that that I was on a flight from Long Beach to New York. I was stuck in the middle seat. The person next to me was horrible. They were imposing in my space. They were being obnoxious. I was stewing. Then this hit me: Either I say something or I let it go. All the anger left me. I went back to what I was doing. I probably think of that line every other time I get on a plane now.

-As a reminder of the man and the principles in the book, I ended up buying a marble bust of Marcus carved in 1840 that sits on my desk where I can see it daily. It’s probably the most expensive piece of “art” I own—it cost $900. But for the reminders it’s given me and the calming presence it has had, it’s worth every penny. To think that 3 or 4 generations of people may have owned this thing. That someone will own it after I die.

-Years later, one of my readers created and sent me two 3D printed busts of both Marcus and Seneca which sit in my library. They’re a lot cheaper and they weigh a lot less but they have the same impact.

-I set out to learn everything I could about Marcus Aurelius. At one point, I found an old academic paper that suggested Marcus’s writing was shaped by an addiction to opium—why else would have written down extended, cerebral reflections about spinning away from the earth and looking at things from far above? The answer is because this is a Stoic exercise that goes back thousands of years (and in fact, has also been observed by astronauts thousands of years later). All the things that people do hallucinogens to explore, you can also do while sober as a judge. It just takes work.

-Explicitly setting standards for himself in Book 10, Marcus extolls himself to be: “Upright. Modest. Straightforward. Sane. Cooperative. Disinterested.” In a blog post in 2007, I added the following for myself: Empathetic. Open. Diligent. Ambitious.

-I wrote a piece about Peter Thiel’s long campaign for revenge against Gawker earlier this year. As I was writing it, a line from Marcus came rushing back from the recesses of my memory: “The best way to avenge yourself is to not be like that.”

-In writing The Daily Stoic, I got to parse the words of Marcus Aurelius (and his translators) in ways I otherwise never would have done. I’ve always liked the line, “How trivial the things we want so passionately are.” In my initial readings, I’d always thought it was beautiful the way he was saying “passionately are.” Upon later reflection, I realized Hays/Aurelius were saying “the things are want so passionately, are” which has its own beauty.

-You also come to realize and understand the deeper historical references. For instance, in one passage, Marcus writes “To escape imperialization, that indelible stain.” I know, obviously, what “imperialism” and “imperial” mean but it wasn’t until many reads later that I came to understand he meant to escape the trappings of his office. He was saying: I must avoid being changed and corrupted by my office. Not all of us hold executive power, but we all can use that advice.

-When translating for The Daily Stoic, our editor asked about a line where Marcus says “enough of this whiny, miserable life. Stop monkeying around!” Would Marcus have ever seen a monkey, she asked? Or is this a modern line? Of course he would have! In fact, his psychopathic son probably killed a bunch of them in the coliseum. Marcus supposedly hated the gladiatorial games but he definitely would have been familiar with a shocking amount of African wildlife.

-Another interesting factoid about Marcus—proof, I think that he lived his philosophy. He was selected for the throne by Hadrian who set in line a succession plan that involved Hadrian adopting the elderly Antoninus Pius who in turn adopted Marcus Aurelius. When Marcus eventually ascended to the throne, what was his first decision? He appointed his step-brother Lucius Verus co-emperor. He was given unlimited, executive power and the first thing he did was share it with someone he was not even technically related to? That’s magnanimity.

-His advice on change is amazing. We’re like rocks—we gain nothing by going up and lose nothing by coming back down.

-“Don’t allow yourself to be heard any longer griping about public life, not even with your own ears!” You chose this life, he is telling himself, and that means you don’t get to complain about it.

-I was lucky enough to interview Gregory Hays in 2007. I asked him what his favorite passage was. He quoted: “Keep in mind how fast things pass by and are gone–those that are now and those to come. Existence flows past us like a river: the ‘what’ is in constant flux, the ‘why’ has a thousand variations. Nothing is stable, not even what’s right here. The infinity of past and future gapes before us—a chasm whose depths we cannot see.” I have to admit I missed the brilliance of that one the first time, but it’s stuck with me ever since.

-Did you know that Ambrose Bierce, the amazing Civil War-era writer and Mark Twain contemporary, was a big fan of the Stoics? Clearly his grandparents were too since his father was named Marcus Aurelius Bierce and his uncle, Lucius Verus Bierce (Marcus’s step brother and co-emperor).

-When I interviewed Robert Greene for The Daily Stoic’s companion website, I was surprised to hear he also loved the passage about “seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig.” As he explained to me: “I’ve tried to bring that across in my writing. For instance, to deconstruct things like power and seduction and to see the actual elements in play instead of the legends surrounding them.”

-During our interview he actually showed me his own copy of the Meditations and could remember the camping trip when he had written all the notes on the pages. On several of them he had marked AF in the marginalia, a shorthand for amor fati—a love of one’s fate. As he explained the idea, “Stop wishing for something else to happen, for a different fate. That is to live a false life.”

-The best way to learn and to lead is by example. I think that’s why I liked Marcus’s book so much—he was showing me (us) what is possible. As he put it “Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we’re practically showered with them.”

-In my own education I’ve always followed Marcus’s dictum to “go straight to the seat of intelligence—your own, the world’s, your neighbors.” He also writes that learning to read and write requires a master—and so does the art of life. To me, people like Robert Greene were that master and so were people like Marcus. You have to go straight to the sources of knowledge and absorb what you can from them.

-During one of his most dangerous and threatening adventures, the journey down the “River of Doubt,” Teddy Roosevelt carried with him a copy of Meditations. I would kill to flip through his copy! Did he sit down at night and read few pages? Are there interesting notes in the margins? What were his favorite passages? A more Stoic question: How many other famous or important men and women have sat down with a copy of Marcus? And where are they now? Gone and mostly forgotten.

-In my work with bestselling authors and creatives there is one line from Marcus that I am often tempted to quote: “Ambition,” he reminded himself, “means tying your well-being to what other people say or do…Sanity means tying it to your own actions.” Doing good work is what matters. Recognition and rewards—those are just extra. To be too attached to results you don’t control? That’s a recipe for misery.

-Despite his privileges, Marcus Aurelius had a difficult life. The Roman historian Cassius Dio mused that 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 throughout these struggles he never gave up. It’s an inspiring example for us to think about today if we get tired, frustrated, or have to deal with some crisis.

-From the Stoics, I learned about the concept of the Inner Citadel. It is this fortress, they believed, that protects our soul. Though we might be physically vulnerable, though we might be at the mercy of fate in many ways, our inner domain is impenetrable. As Marcus put it (repeatedly, in fact), “stuff cannot touch the soul.”

-Right after the 2008 presidential elections, I remember connectingObama’s “teachable moment” about the Reverend Wright scandal and how it illustrated Marcus’s principle of turning the obstacle upside down. As Obama put it, turning the negative situation into the perfect platform for his landmark speech about race, he would be “missing an important opportunity for leadership.” It’s something I try to think about in my own life as a boss and as a soon-to-be-father.

-Bill Belichick tells his players: “Do your job.” Marcus makes it clear what that job is: “What is your vocation? To be a good person.”

-Marcus is a beautiful writer, capable of finding beauty in strange places. In one passage, he praises the “charm and allure” of nature’s process, the “stalks of ripe grain bending low, the frowning brow of the lion, the foam dripping from the boar’s mouth.” As a writer, I’ve learned a lot from this skill of his. As a person, I’ve learned more. It’s about looking for majesty everywhere and anywhere.

-At one point Marcus tells himself to “Avoid false friendship at all costs.” I think he’s right, but we can take it a step further: What if, instead, we ask about the times that we have been false to ourfriends?

-Marcus constantly points out how the emperors who came before him were barely remembered just a few years later. To him, this was a reminder that no matter how much he conquered, no matter how much he inflicted his will on the world, it would be like building a castle in the sand—soon to be erased by the winds of time. The same is true for us.

-It’s interesting how much of Meditations is made up of short quotes and passages from other writers. In a way, it’s really Marcus’s commonplace book (and he’s inspired me to keep my own). One of my favorites is Marcus quoting a lost line from Euripides: “You shouldn’t give circumstances the power to rouse anger, for they don’t care at all.”

-I’ve talked a little bit about my tendency to overwork and to compulsively do. Marcus has a good reminder: “In your actions, don’t procrastinate. In your conversations, don’t confuse. In your thoughts, don’t wander. In your soul, don’t be passive or aggressive. In your life, don’t be all about business.”

-Marcus was one of the first writers to articulate the notion of cosmopolitanism—saying that he was a citizen of the world, not just of Rome. Which is an interesting and impressive thought…considering his job was as the first citizen of Rome.

-Marcus had many responsibilities, as those who hold executive power do. He judged cases, heard appeals, sent troops into battle, appointed administrators, approved budgets. A lot rode on his choices and actions. He wrote this reminder to himself which beautifully illustrates the kind of man he was: “Never shirk the proper dispatch of your duty, no matter if you are freezing or hot, groggy or well-rested, vilified or praised, not even if dying or pressed by other demands.”

-In the first book of Meditations, Marcus thanks Rusticus for teaching him “to read carefully and not be satisfied with a rough understanding of the whole, and not to agree too quickly with those who have a lot to say about something.” It’s a reminder for us in this busy media world of liars and bullshit artists. Don’t be satisfied with the superficial impression. Don’t be reactive. Know.

-How was Marcus introduced to the Stoics? We’re not quite sure but we do know that he got his copy of Epictetus from Rusticus (and in fact, Rusticus may have provided him his own notes from attending Epictetus’s lectures). A number of my favorite books came to me from my teachers. In fact, I was introduced to the Stoics by asking Dr. Drew for a book recommendation. Who did he recommend? Epictetus.

-Marcus writes, “Don’t lament this and don’t get agitated.” It calls to mind the motto of another statesman, the British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli: “Never complain, never explain.”

-Long before modern discussions of self-talk, Marcus understood the notion: “Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought.”

-At one point, Marcus essentially says to not ever do anything that we would be worried might remain ‘behind closed doors.’ It’s easy to say, but hard to do. Who wouldn’t be embarrassed if their email account was leaked or if a fight with their spouse was made public? We all do things in private that we would never do in front of other people. Which is a good thought/test to evaluate our behavior before we embark on something.

-In Book Six we find one of the strongest encouragements that Marcus gives himself. He says, basically: If someone else has done it—then it is humanly possible. If it’s humanly possible, then of course you can do it too.

-I’ve found over the years that jealousy is a toxic emotion. We want so desperately what others have that we lose the pleasure of the things we already have. Marcus provides a solution: “Don’t set your mind on things you don’t possess…, but count the blessings you actually possess and think how much you would desire them if they weren’t already yours.”

-Repeatedly Marcus warns himself that anger and grief only serve to make bad situations worse. Being pissed off that someone was rude to you isn’t soothing—it’s agitating. Being sad that you’ve lost something doesn’t bring it back, it exaggerates your sense of loss. It’s like the first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.

-When I was on the Tim Ferriss podcast this summer I learned that he had one of my favorite quotes from Marcus taped to his fridge: “When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstance, revert at once to yourself, and don’t lose the rhythm more than you can help. You’ll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep going back to it.”

-What is tragic about Marcus, as one scholar wrote, is how 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.” As I said, Marcus’s terrible son, is an important reminder that it doesn’t matter how good you are at your job, if you neglect your duties at home…

-“We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle said, “therefore, excellence is not an act but a habit.” The Stoics add to that that we are a product of our thoughts (“Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind,” is how Marcus put it).

-Marcus consistently admonishes himself to return to the present moment and focus on what’s in front of him. This idea of being “present” seems very Eastern but of course it’s central to Stoicism too. “Stick with the situation at hand,” he tells himself, “and ask, “Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?” You’ll be embarrassed to answer.” Yup.

-In Meditations we find one of the most helpful exercises when seeking perspective: “Run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend…or not even a legend.” Eventually, all of us will pass away and slowly be forgotten. We should enjoy this brief time we have on earth—not be enslaved to emotions that make us miserable and dissatisfied.

I’ll leave you with one final lesson, in fact, it’s the lesson we chose to close The Daily Stoic with. Marcus was clearly a big reader, he clearly took copious notes and studied philosophy deeply. Yet he took the unusual step of reminding himself to put all that aside.

“Stop wandering about!” he wrote. “You aren’t likely to read your own notebooks, or ancient histories, or the anthologies you’ve collected to enjoy in your old age. Get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue—if you care for yourself at all—and do it while you can.”

At some point, we must stop our reading, put all the advice from Marcus and the other stoics aside and take action. So that, as Seneca put it, the “words become works.”

That’s what I have tried to do over the last ten years. To alternate between the reading and the doing. I’m not perfect at it. I’m not even as far along as I’d like to be. But I am making progress.


Watch the video: Accurate reading with Marcus Day on the Medium Wave Show (January 2022).