Marcus Aurelius (121–180 CE) was a Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, often considered one of the “Five Good Emperors” of the Roman Empire. His reign lasted from 161 to 180 CE, and he was known for his wisdom, dedication to duty, and philosophical temperament.
Born as Marcus Annius Verus in Rome, he was adopted by the emperor Antoninus Pius and was raised to be his successor. Marcus Aurelius is best remembered for his work “Meditations,” a series of personal reflections and philosophical musings written in Greek during his military campaigns. “Meditations” is a key text in the Stoic philosophical tradition, offering insights into Marcus Aurelius’ own Stoic practice and his efforts to live a virtuous life in accordance with Stoic principles.
The work has been highly influential and continues to be studied and admired for its wisdom and practical guidance. As a Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius believed in the importance of living in harmony with the natural order of the universe and striving for virtue, which he defined as wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. He emphasised the importance of self-mastery, rationality, and emotional resilience, urging individuals to focus on what they can control and accept what they cannot.
During his reign, Marcus Aurelius faced numerous challenges, including wars with the Parthian Empire and the Germanic tribes, as well as the Antonine Plague, which devastated the Roman population. Despite these difficulties, he managed to maintain the stability and prosperity of the empire, demonstrating his commitment to duty and the welfare of his people. Marcus Aurelius’ death in 180 CE marked the end of the Pax Romana, a period of relative peace and stability that had lasted for nearly two centuries. His son, Commodus, succeeded him as emperor, but his reign was marked by instability, and he is often considered to be the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire.
In summary, Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher whose reign was characterised by wisdom, dedication to duty, and philosophical reflection. His work “Meditations” remains an influential and widely-read text in the Stoic tradition, offering valuable insights into the practice of virtue and the cultivation of inner resilience.