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Marcus Aurelius
as Caesar under Antoninus Pius  AD 139 - 161
as Augustus  AD 161 - 180 (7 March AD 161 - 17 March 180)

Marcus Aelius Aurelius Verus (earlier Marcus Anius Verus).
Adopted son of Antoninus Pius and heir of Hadrian;
Husband of Faustina Junior;
Father of Comodus, Lucilla, Annius Verus and Aurelius Antoninus;
Father-in-low of Lucius Verus.

Marcus Aurelius was born Marcus Anius Verus in 121 in a senatorial family. At an young age he attracted the attention of Hadrian, who assigned him good teachers, promoted him through the public service hierarchy, and introduced him to Antoninus Pious, who betrothed him to his daughter Annia Galeria and made him heir to the throne in 146 and then designated him emperor in 161. Marcus Aurelius took power and then requested that the Senate appoints Lucius Verus as his colleague.
The beginning of this joint reign coincided with massive pressure from Germanic confederations on the Danube and the upper Rhine. Chatti, Morcomanni, and Sarmatians pressed along the Danubian limes, stirred by other population pressures in western Eurasia, and Marcus Aurelius led the Roman legions in a series of successful campaigns that saw fighting on a scale not even anticipated some decades before. The confrontation lasted throughout the reign of Marcus Aurelius, and consisted in swift, devastating Germanic raids in Roman territory, which the legions had to repulse and overcome only with great effort and heavy casualties. To minimize his losses, the emperor began systematic settlements of Germanic groups on imperial land, assigning the settlers to Roman landholders. A second strategy was to push the imperial frontier further north, creating the new provinces of Sarmatia and Marcomannia, which shortened the limes and added the advantage of having naturally defensible, mountainous borders. The attempts to stabilize the northwest had to be combined with excursion to the east, as in 175, when Marcus Aurelius had to head to Syria to quash the rebellion of Avidius Cassius. Having celebrated his Triumph, the emperor headed north again, and in 178 his generals decisively crushed the Marcomanni. Marcus Aurelius had little joy from the success however, for he fell seriously ill shortly thereafter and died in March 180, to be succeeded by his highly eccentric, to say the least, son Commodus.
In his internal policies he strengthened the imperial administration to meet the needs of the increasingly complex empire, had a keen interest in legal affairs, and generously distributed cash to the population. This, however, along with the necessities of incessant wars, put the imperial treasure under pressures it was unable to sustain and Marcus Aurelius had to use quite the only economic means available, debasement of silver coinage and auctions of imperial property, to keep his fiscal policies afloat.
As a person Marcus Aurelius belongs to the few very educated and highly sophisticated Roman emperors and was something of a philosopher himself. His book on Stoic philosophy written in Greek, Meditations, is perhaps the most profound book ever composed by a ruler. It comprises his most important legacy, with the Stoic injunction that “Men exist for each other, then either improve them or put up with them.”

Mints: Caesarea Cappadociae, Rome.

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