The New Student's Reference Work/Aurelius Antoninus, Marcus


Aure′lius Antoni′nus, Marcus, the noblest and, in personal qualities, the most attractive of the Roman emperors, was born at Rome, 121 A. D. His original name was Marcus Annius Verus. Both his father, Annius Verus, and his mother, Domitia Camilla, were of noble blood. On the death of his father, Marcus was adopted by his grandfather, who bestowed the greatest possible care on his education. When a child he attracted the interest of the emperor, Hadrian, who, when he named Antoninus Pius as his successor, stipulated that the latter in turn should adopt both Marcus, who was his nephew, and Lucius C. Commodus. In Antoninus, who was a wise and prudent ruler and a thoroughly food man, Marcus had the best of guardians. In appreciation of the advantages of his youth Marcus himself says: “To the gods I am indebted for having good grandfathers, good parents, a good sister, good teachers, good associates, nearly everything good.” While he first studied rhetoric and poetry, he early abandoned these for the study of philosophy and law, having become fascinated with the Stoic philosophy as taught by Diognetus. It was from his stoic teachers that he learned so many valuable lessons—to work hard, to deny himself, to avoid listening to slander, to endure misfortunes, never to deviate from his purpose, to be delicate in correcting others. Through all his stoical training Aurelius preserved the natural sweetness of his nature and became the most lovable and saintliest of pagans. In the year 140 A. D. he was made consul, and from this period on to the death of Antoninus, in 161 A. D., he discharged the duties of his various offices with the greatest fidelity. Antoninus in his last moments left the succession to Aurelius, without naming Commodus; but Aurelius voluntarily shared the throne with the latter, who henceforth bore the name of Lucius Verus, and Rome for the first time was governed by two emperors. Before the close of 161 A. D. the Parthian War broke out and Lucius was sent to quell the insurrection; but he gave himself up to licentious pleasures and intrusted the army to Cassius, who proved an able general, and gained several victories. The empire was now beset by many dangers. A revolt broke out in the German provinces; in Rome a pestilence raged; floods and earthquakes had laid large portions of the city in ruins; and these calamities increased the terror in which the people held their savage enemies. To allay the public alarm Aurelius placed himself at the head of the Roman legions and marched against the barbarians. He conquered the rebellious tribes and made them sue for peace in 168 A. D. Lucius died in the following year. In 170 A. D. the barbarous tribes again revolted, and from this time the contest continued almost through the whole life of the emperor. Though fond of peace, he was brave and relentless in suppressing rebellion. The most famous of all his victories was the one gained over the Quadi in 174 A. D. The effect was to bring the Germanic tribes from all quarters to sue for peace. Aurelius was now called to the east, where Cassius, the governor, had rebelled and seized the whole of Asia Minor; but before he reached there he learned that Cassius had been killed. On his arrival he burned the papers of Cassius without reading them, so that he might not learn who had been guilty of treason, treated the provinces which had rebelled with great kindness, and freely forgave the nobles who had favored Cassius. On his way home he visited Egypt and Greece, everywhere showing a deep interest in the welfare of his vast empire and securing the warm regard of his subjects, who were astonished at his lenity and goodness. He reached Rome in 176 A. D. The next year he went to Germany, where the tribes had again revolted. He again was victorious in several bloody battles, but, worn out with anxiety and fatigue, he died March 17, 180 A. D. The one blot on the character of Marcus Aurelius was his persecution of the Christians, who had been misrepresented to him and whom he regarded as enemies of the empire. His Meditations have been translated into English, German, French and Spanish, Several books have been written on his life and character. The best estimate of him is found in Dean Farrar’s Seekers After God. Compare, also, Pater’s Marius the Epicurean.