Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, (121-180 A.D.), Roman emperor, 161-80, and a Stoic philosopher. Marcus Aurelius, as he was commonly called, was the last of the five “good emperors,” who ruled Rome during 96-180 A.D. He resembled the ideal ruler described by Plato and the Stoics—a philosopher-king. His Meditations, or Thoughts, is a collection of moral maxims.

Marcus Aurelius was born into a wealthy family in Rome. His original name was Marcus Annius Verus. In 138 his uncle, Emperor Antoninus Pius, adopted him and Lucius Verus as joint heirs. The two were co-rulers from 161 until 169, when Lucius Verus died.

During the reign of Marcus Aurelius the Roman Empire came under heavy attack from barbarians. After 167 he spent most of his time fighting in Germany. The main internal problem was a plague, introduced from the East in 165. It took a heavy toll of lives throughout the empire. Marcus Aurelius donated a large part of his fortune to the state treasury, depleted by the costs of war and the effects of the plague. He broke with custom by choosing his own son, Commodus, to succeed him. Commodus, who ruled 180-92, became one of the worst tyrants in Roman history.

Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations at night in his army quarters. This work, written in Greek, is concerned with how life is to be lived well.

Marcus Aurelius had a deeper religious fervour than most other Stoics, and was primarily concerned with the state of his soul. In his Meditations, he showed a warm love for his fellow human beings and a belief in a personal god. His rule was generally kind and benevolent, except for his severe persecution of Christians, whom he regarded as a subversive threat to society and the empire.