Born: Circa April 20, 121, in Rome
Died: March 17, 180, in Vindobona (now Vienna, Austria)
Marcus Aurelius was the nephew, by marriage, of Antoninus Pius. Pius, who later became emperor, adopted Aurelius who eventually married Pius' daughter in 145.
As the son of the emperor, Aurelius was educated by private tutors and studied poetry and rhetoric. At about the age of twelve, he became interested in Stoicism, the philosophy that a wise man should be unaffected by either pleasure or pain, joy or grief. At the age of 25, he began an intense study of philosophy and law.
Aurelius became emperor in 161 and elevated his brother to the status of co-emperor, likely as a result of his sense of duty and obligation to fulfill the wishes of Pius. This was the first time that Rome had ever been ruled by two men. Most of the management of the empire, however, fell to Aurelius.
As an emperor, Aurelius was concerned with the effects of famine and the general welfare of the people within his state. He founded schools, orphanages and hospitals, reduced taxes, and tried to humanize the criminal law system and the treatment of slaves. He even sold his personal belongings to raise money to ease the suffering of the empire's people.
The only group that he is known to have persecuted was the Christians. He held nothing specifically against their religion but since Christianity was not a state religion it was therefore considered damaging to the solidarity of the empire.
Aurelius was very active in the defense of his empire. He guarded Syria from invasion by the Parthians in 166, battled the German tribes on the Rhine-Danube frontier in 167 and launched his last campaign to extend the empire's boundaries to the north in 176. He died of the plague before he could push beyond the Vistla river.
He is best remembered as a philosopher for Meditations: twelve books of moral concepts written in Greek and first translated into English in 1558. His philosophy that a moral life leads to tranquillity emphasized the importance of wisdom, justice, and moderation. His style of writing used the everyday language of the time and avoided abstract concepts.