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Marcus Aurelius becomes the 16th Emperor of Rome

Today on March 7, 161, Marcus Aurelius was proclaimed the joint sixteenth Emperor of Rome alongside his adopted stepbrother Verus.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, nicknamed the Philosopher King, reigned as emperor for almost twenty years. As a young boy, Emperor Hadrian and others noticed his intellectual and hard-working nature. Hadrian arranged for Marcus Aurelius to become the adopted son of his successor, Titus Antonius. As a young man, he worked alongside Antonius to learn the ways of good government, military command, and public affairs. He would eventually marry the emperor’s daughter Faustina — a woman who was his legal step sister. The imperial couple had many children, together with Commodus and Lucilla being the most famous. Marcus Aurelius developed a keen interest in the fields of philosophy and law. He was particularly interested in Stoicism, a brand of philosophy that emphasizes fate, reason, and self-restraint.

After the death of Antonius in 161, Marcus insisted he co-rule with his stepbrother Verus. Eight years later, he became the sole emperor following the sudden death of Verus. Marcus Aurelius was the last of the Five Good Emperors — a series of rulers whose succession was not determined by bloodline but rather on pure merit. The Roman Empire reached the pinnacle of its power during this period. He and Verus spent much of their early years at war with the Parthian empire in the east. Towards the end of his reign, he focused on suppressing the rebellious Germanic tribes to the north.

In 177, Marcus Aurelius named his son Commodus as his co-ruler. Four years later, the emperor suddenly died under mysterious circumstances. In the movie Gladiator, Commodus was indeed depicted suffocating his elderly father. While impossible to confirm, many historians believe he likely committed the treasonous act. Commodus certainly a drastic departure from the previous emperors. He would go down as one of the worst emperors in Roman history. With little interest in war, he quickly ended his father’s military campaigns along with his aspirations for conquering Germania. Marcus Aurelius is not generally remembered for his military conquests but rather his rational approach to governing. His philosophical contributions and guide to self-improvement were published in a series known as The Meditations.


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