Marcus Aurelius is considered to one of the great Emperors of Rome who was not only a skilled military leader but also a great philosopher in the Stoic tradition.
He was born in AD 121 and both of his parents came from wealthy backgrounds. His father died when Marcus was three years old and by the time he was six he had gained the attention of the Emperor Hadrian who oversaw his education. Hadrian ensured that Marcus was taught by some of the greatest scholars in Rome who educated him in literature, drama, geometry, Greek oratory, Greek and Latin. Marcus later abandoned most of those subjects in favour of philosophy, with the work of the Greek philosopher Epictetus being a major influence on his thinking.
In 138, while still a young man, the Emperor Antoninus Pius adopted Marcus, and in 161 he himself became Emperor. Marcus insisted he would only take up the Emperorship if Lucius Verus were also installed. Marcus’s insistence on Lucius joining him as Emperor was a military one. At that time Rome was fighting wars on multiple fronts and Marcus wanted someone he could trust to marshal the troops who he knew would not at some point lead a revolt against him. Lucius and Marcus were loyal to each other up until Lucius’s death in 169.
After Lucius’s death, Marcus was the sole Emperor and due to the incessant wars in the provinces he was unable to spend much time indulging his philosophical pursuits. He did manage to found four Chairs of Philosophy in Athens, one for each of the main philosophical schools of thought, Aristotelian, Epicurean, Platonic and Stoic.
Marcus Aurelius died on 17 March 180 in the city of Vindobona, which was situated where Vienna is today. History remembers him as the last of the ‘Five Good Emperors’ of the Nervan-Antonian dynasty. Marcus’ son Commodus replaced his father as Emperor and although he reigned over a relatively stable period in Roman history, in terms of war and peace, his personal behavior and antics were not in the spirit of those Emperors that came immediately before him. Commodus was eventually murdered in a plot that involved his mistress Marcia, thus bringing to an end the highly regarded Nervan-Antonian dynasty.