Marcus Aurelias, widely considered as the father of stoicism, ruled the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 AD. Although he is widely celebrated as a philosopher, most of his time as a leader was spent fighting different wars. Alongside August Ceasar, Marcus Aurelius is believed to be one of the greatest emperors to rule Rome. His biography is nothing short of mind-blowing, and for that, we highlight some outrageous facts about the man who shaped a significant chunk of political history.

1. Commodus Did Not Kill Marcus Aurelius

Thanks to the depictions of the movie Gladiator (2000), many people believe Marcus Aurelius was killed by his son and successor, Commodus. However, a more acceptable version of how the philosopher bowed out is that he suffered from some disease while on a military exhibition with his troops. Historians believe the contagious disease in question was probably the Antonine plague.

2. Marcus Aurelius Had a Servant Whose Work was to Remind Him That He is Just a Man

As an emperor, Aurelius received lots of compliments from his subjects. They were so many that the philosopher had a servant follow him everywhere to remind him not to let the praises get to his head. Whenever someone mentioned something positive to Marcus, the aide would whisper to his ear, “You’re just a man … just a man”.

3. People Didn’t Melt Marcus Aurelius Statue Thinking It was Constantine the Great’s

During a time when people would melt equestrian imperial statues for bronze, that of Marcus Aurelius was one out of two that survived. One of the reasons it remained was because people mistook it for that of Constantine the Great.

4. Aurelius Successor, Commodus Wasn’t a Great Leader

After Marcus Aurelius’ death, his son, Commodus, took over. Given the splendid job that Aurelius had done, it was almost impossible that his successor would match his standards, let alone surpass them. However, Commodus didn’t even come close; he was cruel and erratic – the opposite of Marcus Aurelius. He destabilized the Roman economy and caused political upheaval. Eventually, Commodus was strangled to death by a fellow wrestler, an incident that was planned by his mistress, Marcia.

5. Marcus Aurelius Declined to Rule without His Step-Brother

When Marcus Aurelius was crowned as the emperor, his first order of business was to appoint his step-brother, Lucius Verus, as the co-emperor. Aurelius was so serious about it that he declined to sit in front of the Senate without Lucius. According to Stoics, Marcus believed that it was unfair for him to rule by himself.

6. Marcus Aurelius was not from the Noble Roman Lineage

Marcus Aurelius was adopted by his grandfather after his father, Annius, died when he was three. His grandfather was close to the current emperor, Hadrian, who later grew fond of Marcus. By six years old, Marcus had been enrolled in the equestrian order. His uncle took the throne but under Hadrian’s demands, which included the adoption of Marcus and Lucius. That’s how Marcus found his way to the throne without blood relations with the royal family.

7. Out of His 20 Years in Power, Aurelius Spent 12 of Them at War

It is quite surprising that Marcus Aurelius had the time to develop many unique philosophies, considering that out of the 20 years he ruled Rome, 12 were spent at war. With his step-brother Lucius, Marcus fought the war in Parthia and the Marcomannic wars, which began in 169 CE and ended in 180 CE.

8. Marcus Aurelius Liked to Dance

Again, as a stoic, activities like dancing were unheard of, but Marcus Aurelius didn’t care. During his youthful days at the College of Salii, Marcus led a dance group that would perform ritual songs for the god of war. He also practiced martial dance as a way of memorizing fighting skills.

9. Marcus Aurelius Had a Strong Bond with His Mother

If you read through Marcus Aurelius’ biography, very little is mentioned about the mother because he was adopted by his grandfather when he was young. However, when you go through his book, Meditations, Marcus speaks fondly of her. According to history, Marcus Aurelius’s mother was Domitia Calvilla and was from a wealthy family. Domitia inherited a great deal of fortune from Cn. Domitius.

10. He Didn’t Look Forward to Being a Leader

Even though Marcus Aurelius grew to become one of the best Roman emperors, he did not look forward to it. It is believed that Marcus cried when he was told he would be the future emperor. He knew he had to lead through war, plagues, and financial challenges.

11. Marcus Aurelius Used to Cry a Lot

For an emperor, a stoic one for that matter, Marcus Aurelius cried a lot. He shed tears when his favorite tutor passed away and when he was told about the many lives that had been lost to the plague. At the time, a man crying was considered weak.

12. Marcus’s Co-Emperor, Lucius Verus, Sprinkled Gold Dust on His Hair

Lucius Verus, Marcus’s co-emperor, sprinkled gold dust on his hair to make it shiny.

13. Marcus Aurelius Heavily Relied on Opium

It was public knowledge that Marcus Aurelius imbibed opium for medicinal benefits. However, it is often discussed in low tones that perhaps he was heavily dependent on the drug to the extent that he wouldn’t function properly without it.

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Last Update: March 15, 2024