Marco Aurelio, Biography of the Philosopher Emperor

Marco Aurelio was the “last good emperor”. A figure of great intellectual relevance that bequeathed us works of great philosophical interest as his Meditations. Also, this work served as inspiration to renowned psychologists such as Albert Ellis.


Marco Aurelio is known as the last of the “five good emperors”. Often, historians define him as a loyal ruler of the Roman Empire, but above all, as a great thinker who also suffered the weight of the throne. His desire was always to cultivate as a philosopher, therefore, his appointment as emperor, limited in part his intellectual purposes.

We can criticize Marco Aurelio Antonino Augusto, nicknamed the Sage or the Philosopher, various things in his career. We do not understand, for example, why he chose as a successor someone with the dubious psychological balance as his Comfortable son. Nor do we share the extermination that he carried out with the Marcomans and the Sarmatians.

Now, to this day, the wake of his figure is still admired and respected for many reasons. The first, for being that emperor who always tried to be fair. He was also someone who practiced introspection and who, unlike many of his predecessors, did not let himself be carried away by excesses, hedonism or glory.

Marco Aurelio was the Caesar philosopher. He rose as the forerunner of self-help theories and books thanks to invaluable works such as his Meditations. In fact, personalities from the history of psychology such as Albert Ellis, nurture many of their ideas of that stoic approach, those roots from which to learn to control thought to bring balance to life.

“When you get up in the morning, think about the privilege of living: breathe, think, enjoy, love.”

-Marco Aurelio-

Biography of the wise emperor, Marco Aurelio

Marco Aurelio was born in Rome on April 26 of the year 121 A.D. He was the son of the politician Marco Annio Vero and Domicia Lucila. Even as a child he became interested in Greek and Latin rhetoric, and also in philosophy. It was a natural inclination, an interest also encouraged by his mother, which instilled in him the importance of leading an austere life, of being humble in every way.

Although there was something undeniable, something that could never harmonize with the idea of ​​leading a simple existence. His great paternal aunt was Vibia Sabina, wife of the Emperor Hadrian. In this way, he always provided the best education, coming to have as teachers Herod Atticus and Marco Cornelio Frontón, the latter being his friend and spiritual adviser. In fact, in the year 133, Marcus Aurelius had fallen seduced by stoicism, and wore the mantle of a philosopher.

The appointment of the new emperor

In 136, Adriano named Lucio Vero as his successor. However, the emperor was always admired for the honesty and profound wisdom of Marco Aurelio. So much so, that it was common for him to always offer advice and to become little by little his right hand. In that prudent, accurate, reflective figure.

He was consul three times and married the daughter of Emperor Antoninus, Faustina. Later he would receive the tribunicia potestas as well as the imperium, the greatest formal powers of the Roman Empire. In this way, at the age of 40, Marco Aurelio finally ascended to the throne with Lucio Vero. However, with the death of the latter, he eventually became emperor.

The last good emperor

With the appointment of Marco Aurelio as emperor, a conflictive period in the Empire was opened. The attacks of the barbarians lashed the boundaries of Rome. Also the revolts, the epidemics and the constant uprisings challenged the natural temper of the regent, known by all for his habitual serenity and moral strength.

It is known, for example, that he had no military experience and that he hated blood. So much so, that he even ordered the gladiators to leave the circuses to serve in the army. He was also concerned to improve the condition of the slaves and to get rid of all kinds of luxuries to reduce the economic crisis suffered by the Empire.

Thus, in his relationship with Christians, he adopted the same position as Trajan: he did not persecute them. He did not share his religious practices, but he never put them at his point of attention. He also enjoyed some success, managed to cope with the pressure of the barbarians, controlled the Germans and snatched part of Mesopotamia to the deliveries in 161.

After the time of peace, in 175 he accepted the entrance to the empire of groups of barbarians. However, he would find his end in 177, during a campaign where the plague took his life. Your comfortable son will assume the position of emperor, ending what would be the reign of the last good emperor (as they were before Nerva, Trajan, Adriano, Antonino Pio and Marco Aurelio himself).

Meditations, the art of living well and its influence in psychology

Marco Aurelio is considered the last great Stoic of antiquity. Through his letters and those writings that were collected in a book known as Meditations, we discovered the intellectual depth of the Caesar philosopher.

In this work, written in a series of maxims or reflections, the bases of self-help books are undoubtedly based. Moreover, we intuit, in turn, many concepts that would later develop in modern psychology.

Marco Aurelio tells us how the use of reason offers us courage in the face of adversity. Although many of these ideas are rooted in the principles of the Stoicism of Epictetus and Neoplatonism, we can find in it equally interesting ideas.

In this way, perspectives such as the rational emotive behavioral therapy of Albert Ellis (1955), are also inspired by many of those principles that Marco Aurelio transmitted to us in his Meditations.

He argues, for example, that unexpected, uncomfortable or problematic events are not truly true until we interpret it that way. It is our mind and thought that puts the filter of anguish, we who add the emotional component to an event.

As we see, the basis of irrational thoughts is found in the work of the last good emperor, Marco Aurelio.

The philosophy and psychology of tranquility

In Meditations, Marco Aurelio reminds us that people are wise and virtuous by nature. Now, to maintain that internal balance, that tranquility, we must move the mind away from both the memories of the past and the expectations of the future.

This principle is argued using in turn a principle of logic: it is useless to worry about a future that does not yet exist. Therefore, it is better to abandon ourselves in harmony to the present and to our own becoming. When that moment arrives, we will have to face it with adequate integrity, judgment and know-how.

The life lived well, for Marco Aurelio, had to be erected under a principle of absolute simplicity. There is no need to worry about what does not yet exist. It is better to get rid of what is not useful, what is superfluous. We must flee from the pleasures that do not feed the mind, we should not give value to criticism or foolish words and what is more important … There is no better refuge than the interior itself.

Although the world is at war, what we should never lose is peace of heart, harmony of being. Since with that quality, there will be no difficulty or setback that we can not face. As we see, the thoughts of Marco Aurelio are still precious gifts of wisdom and reflection.