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Marcus Aurelius emperor

(161—180)


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Ad 161–80,

was born in 121 and named Marcus Annius Verus. His homonymous grandfather, Marcus Annius Verus, from Ucubi (Espejo) in Baetica, consul for the third time in 126 and city prefect, a relative of Hadrian and an influential figure, brought him up after his father's early death. His mother Domitia Lucilla inherited the fortune created by Cn. Domitius Afer. From early childhood Marcus was a favourite of Hadrian, who nicknamed him Verissimus. At the age of 15 he was betrothed at Hadrian's wish to Ceionia Fabia, daughter of the man Hadrian adopted as Lucius Aelius Caesar. In 138 Hadrian ordered his second heir Antoninus Pius, whose wife was Marcus' aunt Annia Galeria Faustina, to adopt Marcus along with Aelius' son Lucius: he now became Marcus (Aelius) Aurelius Verus Caesar. When Hadrian died, Marcus was betrothed to Antoninus' daughter, his own cousin Annia Galeria Faustina, instead of Ceionia. Quaestor in 139, first elected consul in 140 and again in 145, he married in the latter year; his first child was born on 30 November 147; the next day he received tribunicia potestas (tribunician power) and imperium (a grant of supreme military and civil authority) and Faustina became Augusta (fasti Ostienses). Marcus was educated by a host of famous teachers, one being the orator Fronto; many of their letters survive. His leaning to philosophy, already manifest when he was 12, became the central feature of his life. He was much influenced by Quintus Junius Rusticus (elected to a second consulship in 162), son or grandson of a Stoic ‘martyr’ of ad 93, and by the teaching of Epictetus. Although Marcus is called a Stoic, his Meditations (see below) are eclectic, with elements of Platonism and Epicureanism as well. Further, he was much indebted to Antoninus, who receives a lengthier tribute than anyone else in the Meditations (1. 16; another version, 6. 30). His tranquil family life is vividly portrayed in his correspondence and recalled with affection in the Meditations. Faustina bore him further children; several died in infancy, but the couple had four daughters when Marcus succeeded Antoninus on 7 March 161; and Faustina was again pregnant.

Marcus at once requested the senate to confer the rank of co-emperor on his adoptive brother Lucius, as Hadrian had intended. Lucius took Marcus' name Verus, while Marcus assumed that of Antoninus. There were thus two Augusti for the first time, equal rulers, except that only Marcus was Pontifex Maximus (head of the college of priests) and he had greater auctoritas (prestige). The coinage proclaimed the concordia Augustorum (concord of the emperors), Lucius Verus was betrothed to Marcus' eldest daughter Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla, and the felicitas temporum (happiness of the times) was further enhanced when Faustina gave birth to twin sons on 31 August, their names honouring Antoninus (Titus Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus) and Lucius (Lucius Aurelius Commodus). But Antoninus' death had unleashed trouble on the frontiers: in Britain, dealt with by Sextus Calpurnius Agricola; Upper Germany, to which Marcus' close friend Aufidius Victorinus, Fronto's son-in-law, was sent; along the Danube; and, most seriously, in the east. The Parthians seized Armenia, defeated the governor of Cappadocia (who took his own life), and invaded Syria. It was decided that an expeditionary force was needed, to be led by Lucius Verus, with an experienced staff. Verus left Italy in 162 and was based at Antioch until 166 (with a visit to Ephesus in 164 to marry Lucilla), but was merely a figurehead. After the expulsion of the Parthians from Armenia by Statius Priscus (163), he took the title Armeniacus (accepted by Marcus in 164), crowning a new king, Sohaemus. Other generals, notably Avidius Cassius, defeated the Parthians in Mesopotamia: Ctesiphon was captured and Seleuceia on the Tigris sacked at the end of 165. Verus became Parthicus Maximus, Marcus following suit after a short delay. In 166 further success led to the title Medicus. But plague had broken out in the eastern army; the threat in the north was becoming acute—the despatch of three legions to the east had weakened the Rhine—Danube limes (frontier). Verus was obliged to make peace, celebrating a joint triumph with Marcus (12 October 166). Each became Pater Patriae (father of the fatherland) and Marcus' surviving sons, Commodus (whose twin had died) and Annius Verus (b. 162), became Caesar.

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Subjects: Classical Studies.


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