Reign of Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius
Roma, busto di marco aurelio, 170-180 dc ca.jpg
Bust of Marcus Aurelius in the Art Institute of Chicago, United States
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Reign8 March 161 – 17 March 180
PredecessorAntoninus Pius
SuccessorCommodus
Co-emperorsLucius Verus (161–169)
Commodus (177–180)
BornMarcus Annius Verus
26 April 121
Rome
Died17 March 180(180-03-17) (aged 58)
Vindobona or Sirmium
Burial
SpouseFaustina the Younger
Issue14, incl. Commodus, Marcus Annius Verus, Antoninus and Lucilla
Regnal name
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus
DynastyNerva-Antonine
Father
MotherDomitia Lucilla

The reign of Marcus Aurelius began with his accession on 8 March 161 following the death of his adoptive father, Antoninus Pius, and ended with his own death on 17 March 180. Marcus first ruled jointly with his adoptive brother, Lucius Verus. They shared the throne until Lucius' death in 169. Marcus was succeeded by his son Commodus, who had been made co-emperor in 177.

Under Marcus, Rome fought the Roman–Parthian War of 161–66 and the Marcomannic Wars. The so-called Antonine plague occurred during his reign. In the last years of his rule, Marcus composed his personal writings on Stoic philosophy known as Meditations.

Sources

Marble statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

The major sources for the life and rule of Marcus are patchy and frequently unreliable. The biographies contained in the Historia Augusta claim to be written by a group of authors at the turn of the 4th century, but are in fact written by a single author (referred to here as "the biographer of the Historia Augusta") from the later 4th century (c. 395). The later biographies and the biographies of subordinate emperors and usurpers consist largely of lies and fiction, but the earlier biographies, derived primarily from now-lost earlier sources (Marius Maximus or Ignotus) are much more reliable.[1] For Marcus Aurelius' life and rule, the biographies of Hadrian, Pius, Marcus and Lucius Verus are largely reliable, but those of Aelius Verus and Avidius Cassius are partly invented.[2]

A body of correspondence between Marcus Aurelius' tutor Marcus Cornelius Fronto and various Antonine officials survives in a series of patchy manuscripts, covering the period from c. 138 to 166.[3] Marcus' own Meditations offer a window on his inner life, but are largely undateable, and make few specific references to worldly affairs.[4] The main narrative source for the period is Cassius Dio, a Greek senator from Bithynian Nicaea who wrote a history of Rome from its founding to 229 in eighty books. Dio is vital for the military history of the period, but his senatorial prejudices and strong opposition to imperial expansion obscure his perspective.[5] Some other literary sources provide specific detail: the writings of the physician Galen on the habits of the Antonine elite, the orations of Aelius Aristides on the temper of the times, and the constitutions preserved in the Digest and Codex Justinianus on Marcus' legal work.[6] Inscriptions and coin finds supplement the literary sources.[7]

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