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Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was the Emperor of Rome from 161 until his death. Born Marcus Annius Verus, he was adopted by the emperor Antoninus Pius in 138, and married his daughter Annia Galeria Faustina a few years later. He succeeded to the throne without difficulty on Antoninus' death. Marcus Aurelius was educated by the best tutors in Rome and was a devotee of Stoicism. However, he felt with more religious fervour the communion of man in the unity of the universe than most other Stoics. In his later years he wrote the Meditations as a relief from his lonely office, in which he attempts to reconcile his Stoic philosophy of virtue and self-sacrifice with his role as emperor.
Throughout his reign as emperor he was engaged in defensive wars on the northern and eastern frontiers of the empire. His legions succeeded in repelling the invasion of Syria by the Parthians in 166, but Rome was again forced into battle in 167 by the Germanic tribes on the Rhine-Danube frontier. He returned to Rome intermittently during the German campaign to make legal and administrative reforms. Although he was particularly concerned with public welfare and sold even his personal possessions to alleviate the effects of famine and plague within the empire, he ruthlessly persecuted the Christians, believing them a threat to the imperial system. In 176 he returned to the northern frontier, hoping to extend the boundaries of the empire northeastward to the Wisla (Vistula) river. He died of the plague in Vindobona (now Vienna) on March 17, 180, before he could begin the invasion. His plan was abandoned by his son and successor, Commodus. As emperor he also lowered taxes and was a champion of the poor, for whom he founded schools, orphanages, and hospitals. He also tried to humanize criminal laws and the treatment of slaves by their masters.
As a philosopher Aurelius believed that a divine providence had placed reason in man, and it was in the power of man to be one with the rational purpose of the universe. This is a duty to a man himself and to the citizens of God's State. No man can be injured by another, he can only injure himself. He attempted to be a philosopher-king, which he considered a moral rather than a political ideal. He believed that the moral life leads to tranquility, and stressed the virtues of wisdom, justice, fortitude, and moderation.
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