Felix dies natalis tibi sit, Marcus Aurelius! The last of the “Five Good Emperors,” Marcus Aurelius was born on 26 April 121 CE. The adoptive son of Antoninus Pius, whom Hadrian anointed as his successor in early 138, Marcus Aurelius began rule as a co-Emperor alongside his adopted brother, Lucius Verus, in 161 CE. Their joint rule was an effective one during which they accomplished several key feats, including a resounding triumph over the Parthians in 164 CE.
Following Verus’ death five years later, Marcus took the reigns of the Roman Empire and guided it forward with a steady hand. In addition to military victories and legal reforms, Marcus Aurelius is also well known for his philosophical ruminations, which he compiled into the book, Meditations,first published in 167 CE. His closing decade of rule was equally as successful: following a prolonged expedition with his wife, Faustina the Younger, through the Roman Empire’s eastern provinces, Marcus also took great strides to expand Rome’s hold into the region of the Danube River. He declared his son, Commodus, his co-Emperor in 177 CE, only shortly before his death on 17 March 180 CE in present-day Vienna.
Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, erected 175 CE. Bronze. Capitoline Museum, Rome.
Portrait Bust, c. 170 CE. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.
Cameo Portrait of Marcus Aurelius, late 16th-early 17th century. Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Portrait of a Youthful Marcus Aurelius, 140-150 CE. San Antonio Museum of Art.