The Life and Accomplishments of Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius

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Marcus Aurelius (r. A.D. 161-180) was a Stoic philosopher and one of the five good Roman emperors (r. A.D. 161-180). He was born on April 26, A.D. 121, according to DIR Marcus Aurelius, or perhaps April 6 or 21. He died on March 17, 180. His Stoic philosophical writings are known as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, which were written in Greek. He was succeeded by his son the infamous Roman emperor Commodus. It was during the reign of Marcus Aurelius that the Marcomannic War broke out at the northern frontier of the empire. It was also the time of the important physician Galen who wrote about a particularly virulent pandemic that was given Marcus Aurelius' family name.

Quick Facts

  • Name at birth: Marcus Annius Verus
  • Name as emperor: Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus
  • Dates: April 26, 121 - March 17, 180
  • Parents: Annius Verus and Domitia Lucilla;
  • Adoptive father: (Emperor) Antoninus Pius
  • Wife: Faustina, daughter of Hadrian; 13 children, including Commodus

Family History and Background

Marcus Aurelius, originally Marcus Annius Verus, was the son of the Spanish Annius Verus, who had received patrician rank from Emperor Vespasian, and Domitia Calvilla or Lucilla. Marcus' father died when he was three months old, at which time his grandfather adopted him. Later, Titus Antoninus Pius adopted Marcus Aurelius at the age of 17 or 18 as part of an agreement he had made with Emperor Hadrian promoting Antoninus Pius to the status of heir.


The Augustan History says that it was when Marcus was adopted as heir that he was first called "Aurelius" instead of "Annius." Antoninus Pius made Marcus consul and caesar in A.D. 139. In 145, Aurelius married his sister by adoption, Faustina, daughter of Pius. After they had a daughter, he was granted tribunician power and imperium outside Rome. When Antoninus Pius died in 161, the Senate awarded the imperial power to Marcus Aurelius; however, Marcus Aurelius gave joint power to his brother (by adoption) and called him Lucius Aurelius Verus Commodus. The two co-ruling brothers are referred to as Antonines -- as in the Antonine plague of 165–180. Marcus Aurelius ruled from A.D. 161-180.

Imperial Hotspots

  • Syria
  • Armenia (Marcus Aurelius took the name Armeniacus)
  • Parthia (took the name Parthicus)
  • Chatti (took the name Germanicus by 172 since the name appears in inscriptions then [Cassius Dio])
  • Britons
  • Marcomanni (when Aurelius defeated them and freed the Pannonian provinces, he and his son Commodus celebrated a triumph)


As Marcus Aurelius was preparing for the Marcommanic War (along the Danube, between Germanic tribes and Rome), a plague broke out killing thousands. The Antonini (Marcus Aurelius and his co-emperor/brother-by adoption) helped with burials expenses. Marcus Aurelius also aided the Romans in time of famine and so is thought of as a particularly benevolent rule.


Marcus Aurelius died in March 180. Before his funeral, he had been declared a god. When his wife, Faustina, had died in 176, Marcus Aurelius asked the Senate to deify her and built her a temple. The gossipy Augustan History says that Faustina had not been a chaste wife and that it was considered a stain on Marcus Aurelius' reputation that he promoted her lovers.

Marcus Aurelius' ashes were put in Hadrian's mausoleum.

Marcus Aurelius was succeeded by his biological heir, in contradistinction to the previous four good emperors. Marcus Aurelius' son was Commodus.

The Column of Marcus Aurelius

The Column of Marcus Aurelius had a spiral staircase leading to a top from which one could view the Antonine funerary monuments in the Campus Martius. Marcus Aurelius' German and Sarmatian campaigns were shown in relief sculptures spiraling up the 100-Roman-foot column.

'The Meditations'

Between 170 and 180, Marcus Aurelians wrote 12 books of generally pithy observations from what is considered a Stoic perspective while emperor, in Greek. These are known as his Meditations.


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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "The Life and Accomplishments of Marcus Aurelius." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 28). The Life and Accomplishments of Marcus Aurelius. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "The Life and Accomplishments of Marcus Aurelius." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).