Marcus Aurelius

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius (Marcus Aelius Aurelius Antoninus) (mär´kəs ôrē´lēəs), 121–180, Roman emperor, named originally Marcus Annius Verus. He was a nephew of Faustina, the wife of Antoninus Pius, who adopted him. Marcus married Antoninus' daughter, another Faustina. From youth he was a diligent student and a zealous Stoic. With his adoptive brother, Lucius Verus, as colleague, Marcus succeeded Antoninus in 161. Verus allowed him to dominate, and from 169 Marcus was sole emperor. His reign was spent defending the empire against Parthians, Germans, and Britons. He won a victory over the Marcomanni (167–168), which was commemorated by the Antonine column (Piazza Colonna, Rome), erected by his son and successor, Commodus. Devoted to his duty and humanitarian in his conception of it, Marcus Aurelius was concerned with improving living conditions for the poor, particularly minors. He was always lenient with political criminals and tried to decrease the brutality at gladiatorial shows. He did, however, persecute the Christians, whom he regarded as natural enemies of the empire. His Meditations, available in several translations, expresses with great beauty and humanity a philosophy with a Stoic basis. The virtuous character of Marcus Aurelius is revealed in his letters to his tutor Fronto.

See biography by A. R. Birley (1966); study by J. H. Oliver (1970).

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