Today on March 7th 161, Marcus Aurelius was proclaimed the joint sixteenth Emperor of Rome alongside his adopted step-brother Verus.
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, also known as the Philosopher King, reigned as emperor for almost twenty years. As a young boy, Emperor Hadrian and others noticed his dedicated and hard-working nature. Hadrian arranged for Marcus to become the adopted son of his successor, Titus Antonius. He worked alongside Antonius and learned the ways of good government, military command, and public affairs. Marcus also developed a strong interest in philosophy and law. He was particularly interested in Stoicism, a brand of philosophy that emphasizes fate, reason and self-restraint. Upon the death of Antonius, Marcus insisted he co-rule with his step brother, Verus, who died eight years later.
Marcus married the emperor’s daughter, Faustina (his legal step sister). The couple had many children together, however, Commodus and Lucilla would become the most famous. Marcus was the last of the Five Good Emperors, a series of rulers whose succession was not determined by bloodline, but rather on true merit. The Roman Empire undoubtedly 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, he named his son Commodus as his co-ruler and then died four years later. In the movie ‘Gladiator’, Aurelius was suffocated to death by Commodus. While impossible to confirm, many historians believe Commodus did indeed murder his aging father. He was certainly a drastic departure from his intellectual father, and would go down as one of the worst emperors in history. Commodus had little interest in war and quickly ended his father’s dreams of conquering Germania. Marcus is not 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.