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Marcus Aurelius: Contributions & Accomplishments

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  • 0:04 The Five Good Emperors
  • 0:49 The Young Marcus Aurelius
  • 1:57 Emperor Marcus Aurelius
  • 4:04 Aurelius the Philosopher
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mark Koscinski

Mark has a doctorate from Drew University and teaches accounting classes. He is a writer, editor and has experience in public and private accounting.

In this lesson, you will learn about the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, including how he ascended to the throne and his achievements. You will also learn about his philosophical writing.

The Five Good Emperors

The Roman Empire always suffered from the lack of an organized and recognized succession plan for the office of the emperor (known as 'being raised to the imperial purple'). Civil war and chaos often followed the death of an emperor, as various factions, most notably the army, fought to have their leader acclaimed emperor.

Marcus Aurelius was an emperor or Rome from 161 to 180 CE. He was the last of what are referred to as the Five Good Emperors. These emperors did not rely on dynastic succession but selected the ablest candidates as their successors. They were also known as the Five Good Emperors because their method of nominating successors prevented civil war for almost 100 years.

The Young Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was born on April 26, 121 CE, into a wealthy Roman family. He mastered Latin and Greek, both commonly used languages in the Roman Empire. His true love, however, was Stoicism, a moral philosophy dedicated to reason and self-restraint. Emperor Pius Antonius, who was adopted by Emperor Hadrian after his successor died, also adopted Marcus Aurelius when Aurelius was about 17 years old, at Hadrian's insistence.

Aurelius began his training to run the Empire. In 140 CE, Aurelius became a consul, one of two chief magistrates in Rome, for the first time. This position was a coveted role because many politicians aspired to reach this level of office. Consuls served as chairmen of the Senate, advisors, and wielded the highest judicial power in the empire. He would hold this office twice more in his lifetime. As his training continued, Aurelius maintained his interest in philosophy. He married the emperor's daughter Faustina in 145 CE, cementing his succession to the imperial throne.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius

After the death of his adoptive father in 161 CE, Aurelius changed his name to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus to emphasize his connection to the previous emperor. This was a frequent practice for emperors throughout the history of the Roman Empire. Aurelius ruled with his adoptive brother Lucius Verus as his co-emperor. Together, they battled the Parthians to secure the eastern borders of the empire. Foreshadowing the tetrarchy (a system of multiple emperors adopted over a century later) Verus conducted the war effort while Aurelius governed in Rome. The campaign was successful.

Aside from protecting the eastern borders, the adoptive brothers needed to secure the northern border from German tribes. The natural border of the empire was the Danube River, which was crossed by Germanic invaders in the late 160s CE. This time, both Aurelius and Verus left on the campaign, but Verus then died in 169 CE. Aurelius continued the campaign and succeeded in driving the Germans back across the border.

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