Every once in a great while, you may find something in your life that truly changes your perspective. If you’re a diary fan, for example, you may have read different diaries from different figures throughout history, like Virginia Woolf, President Truman, Anne Frank, or Lewis Carroll. While these older diaries can be intriguing, the fact of the matter is that, in context, most of them are fairly recent. If you want to really go back, a diary like Marcus Aurelius’, former Roman Emperor, will give you a picture of life that you may have never imaged.
Marcus Aurelius ruled Rome unlike a lot of others before him. Ruling in the 100s (yes, the one-hundreds), Aurelius’ diary entries show an incredibly intelligent man for his time. He was considered a great philosopher, a kind soul, and his Stoic tome Meditations, which were written in Greek during a military campaign from 170 to 180, is a collection of works revered as some of the most important of that era or any other.
It’s difficult to give an accurate biography of a figure who lived and ruled nearly 2,000 years ago. We’re speaking about Biblical times here, literally, and the ways in which people expressed themselves in literature was oftentimes fantastical, often through poetry, and hardly ever through a day-to-day historical accounting of lives. That aside, the evidence compiled about Marcus Aurelius suggests that he was born in 121 and died in 180 at 58 years of age.
In 161, he ruled as Roman Emperor alongside Lucius Verus. When Verus died in 169, Aurelius assumed the title of Rome’s sole Emperor and continued to rule for 11 more years, until 180. He is considered to be the last of the Five Good Emperors – Emperors who set up good governments, treated their people fairly, and who didn’t rule as tyrants. These Emperors include: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius, and Marcus Aurelius.
Within his own lifetime, Marcus became known as a “philosopher king,” constantly passing on his wisdom to others and chronicling his thoughts in writing. Other Roman Emperors to succeed Aurelius, and even early Christians, kept that title for the Emperor and it’s one that has stuck throughout history, even though Emperors of much later dates would try to change it.
Other than Julius Caesar’s nephew Octavian, who became the first Roman Emperor Augustus, Marcus Aurelius is often considered to be the most popular of all Roman Emperors, even more so than Nero. Aurelius was said to had been assassinated due to the fact that he was planning to promote a Roman General to the throne instead of his son, Commodus. This has been the subject of a couple of movies, including The Fall of the Roman Empire, and 2000’s blockbuster hit Gladiator.
While Aurelius’ diaries do paint a vivid picture of Roman life at the time and of the era in general, they also delve into the man’s personal feelings. He writes about being in love outside of his marriage, heartbreak and death, and even how his love, whom he impregnated, married another man and he did not stop it.
He also speaks of running into his son out of wedlock, Maximus, and extols the boy’s virtues in detail. The Emperor’s diary also covers a wide range of campaigns and other political and war-time situations, giving a very descriptive picture of the atmosphere in the 100s in Rome.