Authors: Marcus Aurelius

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Roman emperor and philosopher

April 26, 121

Rome (now in Italy)

March 17, 180

Sirmium, Pannonia (now in Serbia) or Vindobona (now Vienna, Austria)


Born in Rome in 121 CE as Marcus Annius Verus and later named Marcus Aelius Aurelius Antoninus, Marcus Aurelius (MAHR-kuhs aw-REEL-yuhs) was one of two writers who are identified forever with the philosophy of Stoicism. The other, Epictetus, was originally a slave; Marcus Aurelius was an emperor of Rome who, educated by private tutors, including Marcus Cornelius Fronto, studied poetry and rhetoric. About the age of twelve he became interested in Stoicism, and at twenty-five he began the study of this philosophy and the law. {$I[AN]9810000710} {$I[A]Marcus Aurelius} {$I[geo]ROMAN EMPIRE;Marcus Aurelius} {$I[tim]0121 c.e.;Marcus Aurelius}

Marcus Aurelius

(Library of Congress)

In 161, when he was forty, Marcus Aurelius became the emperor of Rome, devoting most of his reign to defending the empire from marauders from Europe and Asia. Extremely popular with his subjects, Marcus Aurelius was a benevolent emperor, and his treatment of slaves and orphans was generous beyond his times. His only cruelty was to the members of the new Christian religion; his objection was not to the religion as such but to the fact that it was not a state religion and therefore harmed the solidarity of Rome. After his death in 180 he was deified.

In the early nineteenth century, scholars rediscovered correspondence between Marcus Aurelius and Fronto, who may have had an affair. These letters were later published in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, illuminating modern understanding of romantic relationships in antiquity.

The reign of Marcus Aurelius marked an unsettled period in Roman history. Besides the foes outside the empire, Rome was plagued by earthquakes and pestilence. It is perhaps fortunate for history that Marcus Aurelius was one of the world’s greatest Stoics, feeling always that one should seek not happiness but serenity. His great work, the Meditations, is the record of a life led on Stoic principles. It has been praised highly for its practical morality and the absence of abstract statements with little basis in everyday experience.

Author Works Nonfiction: Tōn eis heauton, c. 171–80 (Meditations, 1634) The Correspondence of Marcus Cornelius Fronto with Marcus Aurelius, 1919 (2 volumes; C. R. Haines, editor) Bibliography Arnold, E. Vernon. Roman Stoicism. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971. A series of lectures by a classical scholar, arranged in seventeen chapters. The thought of Marcus Aurelius receives ample treatment, as he is discussed in four chapters. Aurelius Antoninus, Marcus. The “Meditations” of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Translated by R. Graves. London: Robinson, 1792. Graves was a clergyman and an Oxford don. His assessment of Marcus Aurelius, written toward the end of the Enlightenment, is of historical interest. Accompanied by a biography and notes. Aurelius Antoninus, Marcus. The Emperor’s Handbook: A New Translation of the “Meditations.” Translated by C. Scot Hicks and David V. Hicks. New York: Scribner, 2002. A lucid translation. Includes index. Birley, Anthony. Marcus Aurelius: A Biography. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1966. Rev. ed. London: Routledge, 2000. In this well-researched study, Birley aims to disinfect the image of Marcus Aurelius of numerous historical fictions. Includes an illuminating profile of the philosopher-ruler’s early education as revealed through correspondence with his tutor Fronto. Bibliography and index. Hadot, Pierre. The Inner Citadel: The “Meditations” of Marcus Aurelius. Translated by Michael Chase. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. This analysis of the main themes in the Meditations also provides background to the work. Morford, Mark P. O. The Roman Philosophers: From the Time of Cato the Censor to the Death of Marcus Aurelius. New York: Routledge, 2002. Places the philosopher in context. Richlin, Ann, editor and translator. Marcus Aurelius in Love. U of Chicago P, 2006. A modern translation of the correspondence between Marcus Aurelius and Fronto that views their relationship as a romance. Also provides commentary on the letters' discovery, publication history, and provenance. Wenley, R. M. Stoicism and Its Influence. New York: Cooper Square, 1963. A defense of the importance of Stoicism against historians of philosophy who have tended to dismiss it lightly. Discussions of Marcus Aurelius are liberally sprinkled throughout the text.

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