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|Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus|
|Born||26 April 121|
|Died||2 July 180 (50 years)|
|Title||16th Caesar of Rome|
|Coronation||Curia Julia, Rome|
|Reign||8 March 161-169|
169-2 July 180
|Beliefs||Stoicism & Polytheism|
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (26 April 121 - 2 July 180) was the Caesar of Rome from 161 until his death in 180 CE. Ruling alongside co-emperor Lucius Verus until his death in 169, Marcus was sole emperor for eleven years of his reign. His rule faced the onslaught of a renewed Parthian Kingdom and dangerous invasions by the Germanic tribes along the frontier. Aside from these struggles, Marcus Aurelius' reign is remembered for being a prosperous period of Imperial Rome, earning him classification as the fourth of the historical Princepes Boni.
His treatment of his subjects and wise management of the state earned him the reputation from later historians as a philosopher-king. One factor in receiving this title is the memoirs Marcus' son published after his death as Meditations. The text is a series of quotations from Marcus Aurelius, ranging from a line to a paragraph, likely written for himself. It is a testament to the clarity and rationality of his mind.
The military achievements of Marcus Aurelius across the Danube are commemorated in a doric column which now sits in the city of Aurelia in Dacia. On his death, Marcus was buried in Hadrian's Mausoleum, relocated to the Valentissima District in 1582. His epitaph, chosen by his son, Sulla out of the Illiad reads, "the wind scatters some on the face of the ground, like unto them are the children of men".
Originating from Baetica, Aurelius' family came to be influential members of the Senate in the first century CE. By 74 Marcus' grandfather, Marcus Annius Verus the second, was made a patrician as son of a senator and ex-praetor Marcus Annius Verus the first. Marcus Annius Verus the third and his wife, Domitia Lucilla, gave birth to their first child, Marcus Aurelius on April 26, 121 CE. From his parents, Marcus claims to have learned his ideals of piety, simplicity and modesty, among other things which greatly influenced his philosophical outlook on life.
After his parents' death and his adoption by Verus the second, Marcus Aurelius became a prominent aristocrat, master of the Salii order of priests and later, prefect of the city of Rome. His rise in influence was facilitated by Caesar Hadrian, who knew the boy as Verissimus (most true). On the emperor's death, it was requested of his successor, Antoninus Pius, that Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Commodus be adopted as his own successors.
At the death of Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius was effectively sole ruler of Rome, and although he showed what is called horror imperii, he believed it was his duty to guide the Roman Empire. He even made certain that Hadrian's plan of succession, where Aurelius had to rule alongside Lucius, was put into effect as well. This marked the first and only time that Rome was ruled by two emperors at once. However, while Marcus and Lucius were nominally equal, it was made very clear that Aurelius had seniority of the title. Marcus had more auctoritas than Lucius and he alone was Pontifex Maximus, head of the Roman religion. A later historian wrote "...[it is] as a lieutenant obeys a proconsul". The status quo of imperial succession was broken another way when the new Caesars offered twice the usual donative to the Praetorian Guard as they were required to swear an oath of fealty to not one but two emperors of Rome.
The emperors' early rule garnered the full support of the Roman people, especially after provisions to assist poor children were granted in 161. Free speech continued to be respected by the government and very little fuss was made even when the writer Marullus criticized the emperors themselves. When the Tiber river flooded, damaging the capital and its food supply, the two emperors intervened personally to resolve the plight of their people, a type of act which Marcus Aurelius continued making throughout his reign, helping other areas with famines. As well, Aurelius was renowned for the great attention he gave to petitions and matters of law, earning him the praise from jurists of being "an emperor most skilled in the law".
Following the Parthian Wars, the returning Triumph of General Avidius Cassius and his soldiers brought a terrible thing back to Italia - the plague. Known by Galen as the Antonine Plague, it pervaded the region from 165 to 180 and has been attributed the deaths of both Marcus and Lucius. Further to the east, a Roman embassy sent by Antoninus finally arrived in Han China to trade with the great eastern empire. While the trade went well and the embassy returned safely, no further attempts at contact were sent by the emperors.
For most of the 160's and early 170's, Marcus toured the eastern provinces in between military campaigns along the Danube to repel and punish the rebellious Quadi, Marcomanni and Iazyges people. In the city of Athens in 173, he gave a speech on philosophy to a large crowd, among whom was a young boy aged only eight years. Afterward, the boy followed the emperor home and began asking him naively honest questions about his speech that day. Marcus learned that the boy was an orphan, and due to the emperor's propensity for helping the poor and young, adopted the precocious young Gaius Corellus Sulla before returning to the Danubian Frontier.
Aurelius raised Sulla the way he remembered his own parents raising him, and taught him the virtues which he himself held dear. Almost immediately, he realized that the boy was smarter than he even first thought, and deeply impressed by his continued academic progress, named Sulla his successor in 178, superseding the previous choice of his biological son Commodus. What happens next is a little unclear, but historians believe that Sulla's future wife, Polonia (then only a servant girl in the court), poisoned Commodus after learning from his sister that the man intended to kill the heir-apparent himself. At the time, neither Aurelius nor Sulla were aware of what had transpired and both of them attributed Commodus' untimely demise to the plague.
Two years later, on July 2nd, Marcus Aurelius finally gave in to his illness and died peacefully with Sulla and his four surviving daughters at his bedside. After the appropriate period of mourning, Gaius Corellus Sulla was proclaimed Caesar Sulla, emperor of Rome, by the Senate and Legion.