Aurelius Marcus Annius Verus Antoninus
Aurelius Marcus Annius Verus Antoninus Roman emperor from 161 to 180, was born in 121, and at the age of eighteen adopted by the Emperor Antoninus Pius, whom he succeeded, in 161, on the throne. He was educated by Sextus of Chaeronea, a grandson of Plutarch, and became early in life an ardent admirer and adherent of the Stoic philosophy. On his accession to the throne he magnanimously shared the government with his adopted brother Verus. Shortly after a war broke out with the Parthians, which was victoriously terminated by the generals of Verus. Both emperors held a triumph, and assumed the title Parthicus. A more dangerous war broke out on the northern frontier of the empire with a number of German tribes, as the Marcomanni, Alani, and many others. It was carried on, with many vicissitudes, until 169, when the barbarians sued for peace. In the same year Verus died. Soon the war was renewed; and in the course of it, in 174, a celebrated victory was gained by Marcus Aurelius over the Quadri in consequence of a sudden thunder-storm, by which the Romans, who greatly suffered from want of water, were saved from apparently imminent defeat. The emperor ascribed the victory to Jupiter Tonans; but the twelfth legion, composed largely of Christians, ascribed it to their prayers. The statement of Eusebius, that the emperor gave to this legion the name Legio Fulminatrix (Thundering Legion), and threatened penalties on such as accused Christians merely on account of their religion, is generally rejected as inaccurate (Eusebius, Ch. Hist. 5, 5). See Lardner, Works, 7, 178-198. Avidius Cassius rebelled against Aurelius, but was murdered by his own adherents. Aurelius pardoned the rebels, revisited Rome in 176, celebrated his victories by a triumph, and soon after marched again, with his son Commodus, against the Marcomanni; but before the conclusion of the war he died at Vindobona (now Vienna), in 180. Aurelius was one of the best emperors the Roman Empire ever had;
truthful, just, severe against himself, but mild toward all other men; and his life, in the main, corresponded to his philosophical principles. The only blot in his reign is the persecution of Christians. The first persecution during his reign seems to have occurred at Lingona in 167, and in it Polycarp, the last surviving disciple of the apostle John, lost his life. In 177, the Christians of Gaul, especially the churches of Lyons and Vienna, were subjected to a cruel persecution, in which a great many Christians fell, and among them Pothinus, bishop of Lyons. SEE PERSECUTIONS. The philosophical emperor acted logically in persecuting the Christians, who disobeyed the laws of Rome, while he held it his duty to uphold those laws. He believed that the new religion was a superstition, and that it was dangerous to the state. This was enough for him. Aurelius wrote a work (in Greek) entitled Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν (Meditations), from the composition of which he has received the title of "Philosopher." There are editions of it by Casaubonus (London, 1643), Gataker (Cambr. 1654), Schulz (Schlesw. 1802). and Koraes (Par. 1816). It has been translated into the languages of all civilized nations, and even into Persian by Hammer (Vienna, 1831). A new English version by G. Long appeared in 1863 (London). — Smith's Diet. of Class. Biog. s.v.; Neander, Ch. Hist. 1, 105-115; Lardner, Works, 1. c. Neander, On Greek Ethics, Bibliotheca Sacra, 10:476 sq.