Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World

This series provides sophisticated and authoritative overviews of periods of ancient history, genres of classical literature, and the most important themes in ancient culture. Each volume comprises between twenty-five and forty concise essays written by individual scholars within their area of specialization. The essays are written in a clear, provocative, and lively manner, designed for an international audience of scholars, students, and general readers.

Ancient History


A Companion to the Roman Army

Edited by Paul Erdkamp

A Companion to the Roman Republic

Edited by Nathan Rosenstein and Robert Morstein-Marx

A Companion to the Roman Empire

Edited by David S. Potter

A Companion to the Classical Greek World

Edited by Konrad H. Kinzl

A Companion to the Ancient Near East

Edited by Daniel C. Snell

A Companion to the Hellenistic World

Edited by Andrew Erskine

A Companion to Late Antiquity

Edited by Philip Rousseau

A Companion to Ancient History

Edited by Andrew Erskine

A Companion to Archaic Greece

Edited by Kurt A. Raaflaub and Hans van Wees

A Companion to Julius Caesar

Edited by Miriam Griffin

A Companion to Byzantium

Edited by Liz James

A Companion to Ancient Egypt

Edited by Alan B. Lloyd

A Companion to Ancient Macedonia

Edited by Joseph Roisman and Ian Worthington

A Companion to the Punic Wars

Edited by Dexter Hoyos

A Companion to Augustine

Edited by Mark Vessey

A Companion to Marcus Aurelius

Edited by Marcel van Ackeren

Literature and Culture


A Companion to Classical Receptions

Edited by Lorna Hardwick and Christopher Stray

A Companion to Greek and Roman Historiography

Edited by John Marincola

A Companion to Catullus

Edited by Marilyn B. Skinner

A Companion to Roman Religion

Edited by Jörg Rüpke

A Companion to Greek Religion

Edited by Daniel Ogden

A Companion to the Classical Tradition

Edited by Craig W. Kallendorf

A Companion to Roman Rhetoric

Edited by William Dominik and Jon Hall

A Companion to Greek Rhetoric

Edited by Ian Worthington

A Companion to Ancient Epic

Edited by John Miles Foley

A Companion to Greek Tragedy

Edited by Justina Gregory

A Companion to Latin Literature

Edited by Stephen Harrison

A Companion to Greek and Roman Political Thought

Edited by Ryan K. Balot

A Companion to Ovid

Edited by Peter E. Knox

A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language

Edited by Egbert Bakker

A Companion to Hellenistic Literature

Edited by Martine Cuypers and James J. Clauss

A Companion to Vergil's Aeneid and its Tradition

Edited by Joseph Farrell and Michael C. J. Putnam

A Companion to Horace

Edited by Gregson Davis

A Companion to Families in the Greek and Roman Worlds

Edited by Beryl Rawson

A Companion to Greek Mythology

Edited by Ken Dowden and Niall Livingstone

A Companion to the Latin Language

Edited by James Clackson

A Companion to Tacitus

Edited by Victoria Emma Pagán

A Companion to Women in the Ancient World

Edited by Sharon L. James and Sheila Dillon

A Companion to Sophocles

Edited by Kirk Ormand

A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East

Edited by Daniel Potts

Title Page


The Column of Marcus Aurelius in Piazza Colonna.

Section drawing (west–east as seen from the north) of the pedestal of the Column. E. Petersen, A. von Domaszewski, and G. Calderini (1896), Die Marcus-Säule auf Piazza Colonna in Rom. Munich. pl. 3.

The pedestal of the Column in the 16th century. A. Lafreri, Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae, circa 1550 (no date), p. 34 (no pagination).

The lower portion of the Column, seen from the east.

Scene XVI, the Rain Miracle, final portion of the scene showing the Rain God. E. Petersen, A. von Domaszewski, and G. Calderini (1896), Die Marcus-Säule auf Piazza Colonna in Rom. Munich. pl. 23A.

Scene XI, the Lightning Miracle. E. Petersen, A. von Domaszewski, and G. Calderini (1896), Die Marcus-Säule auf Piazza Colonna in Rom. Munich. pl. 18A.

The middle portion of the Column, seen from the east.

Scene LXVI, showing Roman soldiers presenting severed barbarian heads to Marcus Aurelius. E. Petersen, A. von Domaszewski, and G. Calderini (1896), Die Marcus-Säule auf Piazza Colonna in Rom. Munich. pl. 75B.

The equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. Rome, Museo Capitolino.

Drawing of the Campus Lateranensis by Marten van Heemskerck, circa 1532–36. Berlin Staatliche Museen (Kupferstichkabinett, 79 D 2, fol. 71v).

Aureus of Antoninus Pius, AD 140. Rev.: M. Aurelius Caesar. Numismatica Ars Classica 49 (October 21, 2008), no. 235; RIC III 417e.

Sestertius of M. Aurelius Caesar, AD 140–44. Obv.: M. Aurelius Caesar. Numismatica Ars Classica 51 (March 5, 2009), no. 1016; RIC III 1232b.

Aureus of M. Aurelius Caesar, AD 145. Obv.: M. Aurelius Caesar. Numismatica Ars Classica 41 (November 20, 2007), no. 94; RIC III 432.

Sestertius of M. Aurelius Caesar, AD 147. Obv.: M. Aurelius Caesar. Hess-Divo AG 314 (May 4, 2009), no. 1564; RIC III 1248.

Aureus of M. Aurelius Caesar AD 152. Obv.: M. Aurelius Caesar. Auktionshaus H.D. Rauch 84 (May 13, 2009), no. 591; RIC III 452d.

Sestertius of M. Aurelius Caesar, AD 160. Obv.: M. Aurelius Caesar. Numismatik Lanz München 141 (May 26, 2008), no. 463; RIC III 1352.

AE-medaillon of M. Aurelius Caesar, AD 145. Rev.: Aeneas and Ascanius sacrificing. Münzkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin [18200638].

Sestertius of M. Aurelius Caesar, AD 149. Rev.: Pietas holding child on left arm and stretching out her right hand towards another child. Auktionshaus Meister & Sonntag 5 (September 19, 2007), no. 142; RIC III 1280.

Portrait head in Holkham Hall (Fittschen, Antonin. Prinzen 13 A4). .

Farnborough Hall (Fittschen 24 B 16). .

Copenhagen NCG Cat. 700 (Poulsen II no. 81). .

Rome, Palazzo Braschi (Fittschen/Zanker I no. 68). .

Column of Marcus Aurelius, scene LV. E. Petersen, A. von Domaszewski, and G. Calderini (1896), Die Marcus-Säule auf Piazza Colonna in Rom. Munich.

Column of Marcus Aurelius, scene LX–LXI. E. Petersen, A. von Domaszewski, and G. Calderini (1896), Die Marcus-Säule auf Piazza Colonna in Rom. Munich.

Relief panel, profectio of Marcus Aurelius. No. Anderson 2534, representation of a Roman relief panel with the depiction of Marcus Aurelius, the so-called profectio relief, Arch of Constantine, Rome. Alinari Archives, Florence.

Relief panel, triumph of Marcus Aurelius. .

Notes on Contributors

Marcel van Ackeren is Associated Professor/Senior Research Fellow in the Philosophy Department at the University of Cologne, Germany. He is the author of the monographs Das Wissen vom Guten. Bedeutung und Kontinuität des Tugendwissens in den Dialogen Platons (2003), Heraklit. Vielfalt und Einheit seines Denkens (2005), and Die Philosophie Marc Aurels, 2 vols. (2011). He is the editor of Platon Verstehen (2004), The Political Identity of the West (2005), Understanding Ancient Philosophy (2006), Warum Philosophie (2011), and Meditations and Representations. Marcus Aurelius in Interdisciplinary Light (2012).

Martin Beckmann is Assistant Professor in the Department of Classics, McMaster University, in Hamilton, Canada. He is author of The Column of Marcus Aurelius: Genesis and Meaning of a Roman Imperial Monument (2011).

Anthony R. Birley was Professor of Ancient History at Manchester University from 1974 until 1990 and at Düsseldorf University from 1990 until 2002, when he retired. He is at present Honorary Professor in the Department of Classics and Ancient History, Durham University, and Visiting Professor in the School of Historical Studies, Newcastle University. His books include Marcus Aurelius (1966; German translation, 1968; 2nd English edition 1987; Italian translation, 1990; Spanish translation, 2009), Septimius Severus the African Emperor (1971; 2nd edition 1988, corrected reprint 1990), Hadrian. The Restless Emperor (1997; Polish translation, 2002; Spanish translation, 2003; German translation, 2006).

Lukas de Blois is Emeritus Professor of Ancient History at the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. He has published books and articles on the history of the Roman Empire in the third century AD, the history of the Late Roman Republic, ancient historiography (Sallust, Tacitus, Cassius Dio), Plutarch's works, and Greek Sicily in the fourth century BC. He also published a manual with R.J. van der Spek, Introduction to the Ancient World (2nd edition 2008).

Susanne Börner is lecturer at the Chair for Ancient History of the University of the Saarland, Saarbrücken, Germany. She is author of the archaeological monograph Marc Aurel im Spiegel seiner Münzen und Medaillons. Eine vergleichende Analyse der stadtrömischen Prägungen zwischen 138 und 180 n. Chr. (2012).

Dietrich Boschung is Director of the Center for Advanced Studies ‘Morphomata’ and Professor in Classical Archaeology at the University of Cologne, Germany. He is the author of several monographs and articles on Roman art and ancient portraiture.

Julia Bruch is teaching Medieval History at the University of Mannheim, Germany. Her area of research is nunneries in the Middle Ages.

Matteo Ceporina is a doctoral student in Classical Philology at the University of Padua in Padua, Italy. He devoted his studies to the manuscript tradition of the Meditations and is currently advisor of Professor P. Hadot for the forthcoming Budé edition of Marcus Aurelius.

Werner Eck is Professor (Emeritus) for Ancient History at the University of Cologne, Germany. He is working on the political, administrative, social, and military history of the Roman Empire. He is one of the editors of the Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, and he is responsible for the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum and the Prosopographia Imperii Romani in the Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Among his books and articles are The Age of Augustus (2007, 2nd edition 2009), four chapters in the Cambridge Ancient History XI, Rom und Judaea (2007), La romanisation de la Germanie (2007), and the first volume of the Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae (2010), edited together with a group of German and Israeli scholars.

Mark J. Edwards is Tutor in Theology at Christ Church, Oxford, and Lecturer in Patristics in the Theology Faculty of the University of Oxford. He is the author of Origen against Plato (2002), Culture and Philosophy in the Age of Plotinus (2006) and Catholicity and Heresy in the Early Church (2009), and co-editor (with Simon Price and Martin Goodman) of Apologetics in the Roman Empire (1999).

Michael Erler is Professor Ordinarius of Classics at the University of Würzburg, Germany. He was Junior Fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, DC, Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Edinburgh, and is author of monographs and numerous articles on Ancient Greek and Roman Literature as well as Ancient Philosophy, amongst them Der Sinn der Aporien in den Dialogen Platons (1987), Epikur – Die Schule Epikurs-Lukrez. Die Philosophie der Antike Bd. 4/1 (1994), Römische Philosophie (1997), Platon (2006), Platon. Die Philosophie der Antike Band 2/2 (2007).

Thomas Fischer is Professor of the Archaeology of Roman Provinces at the University of Cologne, Germany. He is the author of Die römischen Provinzen. Eine Einführung in das Studium ihrer Archäologie (2002).

Pascale Fleury is Professor of Classics at the Institut d'études anciennes of the Département des littératures, Université Laval, Québec, Canada. She has published a French translation of the Letters of Fronto (2003) and a study on the literary traditions of the corpus (2006).

Angelo Giavatto (PhD, Bologna 2006) is currently Alexander von Humboldt Stipendiat at the University of Cologne, Germany. He dedicated a study to Marcus Aurelius' Meditations (Interlocutore di se stesso. La dialettica di Marco Aurelio, 2008). His main research focuses are Roman Stoicism, Plato and Platonism as well as linguistic theories in Antiquity.

Christopher Gill is Professor of Ancient Thought at the University of Exeter. He is author of Personality in Greek Epic, Tragedy, and Philosophy: The Self in Dialogue (1996), The Structured Self in Hellenistic and Roman Thought (2006), and Naturalistic Psychology in Galen and Stoicism (2010).

Jean-Baptiste Gourinat is Directeur de recherche (Senior Researcher) in Philosophy at the CNRS, Paris, and Directeur-adjoint of the Centre de recherches sur la pensée antique ‘Léon Robin’ at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. He is the author or editor of several books on Stoicism including La dialectique des stoïciens (2000), Les stoïciens (2007, 3rd edition 2011), and Lire les stoïciens, co-edited with Jonathan Barnes (2009). He is currently revising and completing Pierre Hadot's translation and commentary for the Budé edition of Marcus Aurelius.

Olivier Hekster is Professor in Ancient History at the Radboud University Nijmegen, and chair of the international network Impact of Empire. He is author of Commodus: An Emperor at the Crossroads (2002) and Rome and Its Empire, AD 193–284 (2008), as well as a number of articles and edited volumes on Roman imperial history.

Katrin Herrmann has been granted a scholarship at the University of Erfurt, Germany. Her field of interest is the Roman Empire, mainly the third century AD.

Leofranc Holford-Strevens was before retirement Consultant Scholar-Editor at Oxford University Press. He is the author of Aulus Gellius: An Antonine Scholar and his Achievement (2005) and of numerous works on classical studies, modern literatures, musicology, and computistics.

Péter Kovács (1969) is Professor in Classics at the Pázmány Péter Catholic University in Piliscsaba, Hungary. He is the author of the monograph Marcus Aurelius' Rain Miracle and the Marcomannic Wars, the editor of the series Fontes Pannoniae Antiquae and the co-editor with Géza Alföldy of the Pannonian fasciculi of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum III2.

Jill Kraye is Librarian and Professor of the History of Renaissance Philosophy at the Warburg Institute, London. She is the author of numerous articles on Renaissance humanism and philosophy as well as on the later influence of classical philosophy. She is the co-editor (with Martin Stone) of Humanism and Early Modern Philosophy (2000).

Anthony A. Long is Professor of Classics, Irving Stone Professor of Literature, and Affiliated Professor of Philosophy and of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of various books on Ancient Philosophy, including most recently Epictetus. A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life (2002) and From Epicurus to Epictetus. Studies in Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy (2006).

Irmgard Männlein-Robert is orderly Professor of Classics (Greek Philology) at the University of Tübingen, Germany. She writes on various themes in the fields of literary theory, poetics, and Greek philosophy, and she is co-editor with Dietmar Koch and Niels Weidtmann of Platon und das Göttliche, Antike-Studien Band 1 (2010, collected volume of the first ‘Tübinger Platon-Tage’ 2008).

Gretchen Reydams-Schils is Professor in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame, with concurrent appointments in Philosophy and Theology. She works in the areas of Platonism and Stoicism, and is the author of Demiurge and Providence: Stoic and Platonist Readings of Plato's ‘Timaeus’ (1999) and The Roman Stoics: Self, Responsibility, and Affection (2005). She also directs the Notre Dame Workshop on Ancient Philosophy.

Amy Richlin is Professor of Classics at UCLA, and has published widely on the history of sexuality and on Latin literature; her books include The Garden of Priapus (1983, 2nd edition 1992) and Marcus Aurelius in Love (2006). She is at work on a long-term project on the reception of Fronto's letter-book: How Fronto's Letters Got Lost: Reading Roman Pederasty in Modern Europe.

David Sedley is Laurence Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, where he is also a Fellow of Christ's College. He is co-author (with Anthony A. Long) of The Hellenistic Philosophers (1987), and his most recent monograph is Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity (2007).

John Sellars is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of the West of England, Bristol, and a member of Wolfson College, Oxford. He is the author of The Art of Living: The Stoics on the Nature and Function of Philosophy (2003, 2nd edition 2009) and Stoicism (2006), as well as a number of articles on ancient Stoicism and its reception.

Peter Stewart is Director of the Classical Art Research Centre and University Lecturer in Classical Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford. His publications include Statues in Roman Society: Representation and Response (2003), Roman Art (2004), and The Social History of Roman Art (2008).


Another Companion . . . At the beginning, the idea of editing a Companion to Marcus Aurelius seemed to be unattractive to me. Colleagues pointed out that this would imply an enormous amount of work and that there are already many, if not too many, companions. Not really amazed by the fact that the latter was mentioned even by those who had already edited (or written for) a companion, I started a survey that revealed to me that the initial idea was not about editing another companion on Marcus, but the first one. That changed my mind and I quickly realized that all of my colleagues were quite right about the amount of work this project meant. On the one hand, I had to plan the volume without being able to glance at previous companions to Marcus Aurelius and on the other, I envisaged a volume bringing together as many disciplines as necessary in order to present as much as possible of Marcus Aurelius. Therefore, I would not have been able to start or finish this without the help of many kinds of persons and I would like to thank at least some of them.

The most important gratitude belongs to the contributors. They wrote the volume, so it is theirs, not mine. As this volume tries to gather perspectives from many academic disciplines, and I am only a historian of philosophy, I sometimes was in need of the expertise of the contributors, on which to base my editorial decisions. Many contributors were enthusiastic about the volume and supported me by making helpful suggestions.

Christopher Gill was the first to convince me that such a companion would be a good idea. He intensively discussed my plans for the volume and my own work on Marcus with me. All of this was very helpful.

The Fritz Thyssen Foundation generously financed a three-year research period devoid of any administrative or otherwise distracting duties and thereby enabled me to develop my own ideas on Marcus' Meditations and to work on this volume.

Edward Champlain, Simon Swain, Christopher Jones, and some anonymous reviewers gave valuable hints and recommendations.

Though all the credit for the content of the book belongs to the contributors, without Mareike Hauer and Lee Klein there would be no book, but only an enormous amount of emails and digital files. They transformed all of this into uniform chapters and finally into a book.

I would also like to thank Semra Mägele, who translated the chapters by Dietrich Boschung, and Lee Klein, who translated the chapters by Werner Eck.

Blackwell's representatives, Haze Humbert, Galen Smith, and also Rebecca du Plessis and especially Leah Morin, virtually never let me down.

Marcel van Ackeren


AE L'Année Épigraphique
CIL Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum
CRAI Comptes rendus de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres
FGrHist Die Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker
HA Historia Augusta
HRR Historicorum Romanorum Reliquiae
IG Inscriptiones Graecae
IGR Inscriptiones Graecae ad Res Romanas Pertinentes
ILS Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae
IMS Inscriptions de la Mésie supérieure
Inscr.It. Inscriptiones Italiae
IvEph Inschriften von Ephesos
LIMC Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae
MGH Monumenta Germaniae Historica
MIR Moneta Imperii Romani
MSS Manuscripts
OGIS Orientis Graeci Inscriptiones Selectae
PIR Prosopographia Imperii Romani
RIC Roman Imperial Coinage
RIT Römische Inschriften von Tarraco
RIU Die Römischen Inschriften Ungarns
RMD Roman Military Diplomas
SEG Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum
SIG Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum
SVF Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta
ThesCRA Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum
TitAq Tituli Aquincenses
TRH Tituli Romani in Hungaria reperti
ZPE Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik

The Study of Marcus Aurelius


Marcel van Ackeren

Marcus Annius Verus was born in April, AD 121, at Rome. Under his later name, Marcus Aurelius, he is still a well known figure. How do we account for that? He was heir to the throne for 23 years (from 138) and then Roman emperor (from 161 until his death in 180). However, not all Roman emperors are as well known as Marcus beyond the small circle of ancient historians. Marcus Aurelius was also a philosopher; in fact the last important Stoic philosopher of antiquity. His philosophical work – the Meditations – is one of the most widely read philosophical texts from antiquity (it is not read only by scholars). Images of him, such as the equestrian statue, are familiar icons that have often been copied and which have inspired subsequent artworks. From Cassius Dio (71.1.1) and Herodian (History of the Empire from the Death of Marcus 2, 10, 3) to Machiavelli (Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy I, ch. 10) and modern rulers, he has been considered a paragon of a good political leader. Especially since early modern times, ruling politicians, for instance Frederick the Great or Bill Clinton, have wanted to be known as enthusiastic readers of Marcus' work and have announced that Marcus is their favorite philosopher and their paradigm (whatever that means and whatever consequences that might have had – or not had – on their own actions). The figure of Marcus Aurelius has even featured in popular novels (The World According to Garp by John Irving) and Hollywood blockbusters (The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) and Gladiator (2000)).

1. The Conjunction of Philosophy and Politics

Marcus' reception and reputation does not rest on the two independent pillars of being an emperor and being a philosopher. It is their combination that intrigues, and has always intrigued. Most famous and influential was Plato's demand for philosopher-kings (Respublica 473c–e). The ‘conjunction of these two things, political power and philosophic intelligence’ can be obtained in two ways, for ‘either philosophers become kings in our states or those whom we now call our kings and rulers take to the pursuit of philosophy seriously and adequately’. During his reign, Marcus quickly gained a reputation as the personification of a conjunction of this sort.

At first glance it is easy to see why this is so. Marcus was born into a rich and politically influential family, and his ancestors had already held high office; however, this fact alone would not have guaranteed that he became emperor. At a very young age, Marcus won the favor of Hadrian, which might be explained – at least partially – by Marcus' character. Hadrian nicknamed him Verissimus (the most true, HA Marcus 1.10, 2.1). And it was Hadrian himself who picked Marcus for the highest office. When Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius in order for Pius become his successor, he made Pius adopt the young Marcus in order for Marcus to become Pius' successor (HA Pius 4.4–7). According to his biographer, young Marcus was not only an eager student of philosophy; he literally wanted to live like a philosopher (HA Marcus 6.1–4). From letters, which Marcus wrote to his Latin teacher Cornelius Fronto, we also know that he preferred (Stoic) philosophy to rhetoric, which was at that time a highly respected art (Fronto 1.1.214, 2.66.17). That Marcus was regarded as a special, philosophical ruler is highlighted in the Historia Augusta, by the fact that his biography is the only one with a title that does not only list his name but also characterizes him: vita Marci Antonini philosophi (Life of Marcus Antoninus the Philosopher).

Although Marcus allegedly liked to quote Plato's dictum (HA Marcus 27.7), we may not assume that Marcus was a Platonic philosopher-king or thought of himself as such. He was less ambitious:

So set to work, if you are able, and do not look around you to see if anyone will notice. You should not hope for Plato's ideal state, but be satisfied to make even the smallest advance. . . . The work of philosophy is simple and modest; do not seduce me into vain ostentation. (Meditations 9, 29)

In fact, it is not clear that Marcus thought of himself as a philosopher. In the Meditations he bluntly states that he had ‘resigned any hopes of excelling in dialectics and natural philosophy’ (7, 67). Though Marcus' education was excellent, he had to abandon his plans of a life devoted entirely to philosophy. He knew that he could not have become a professional philosopher, and he was aware that the philosophers in Plato's Republic need more than five decades of training before they can engage in political affairs. Hence Marcus did not regard himself as sufficiently well educated to be a Platonic philosopher-king. But there are two more substantial reasons why Marcus was not a Platonic philosopher-king. Plato naturally assumed that it should be Platonic philosophy that guides our political affairs. However, Marcus was a Stoic philosopher. Marcus' contemporaries knew that he had philosophical ambitions; but the most important and detailed source of Marcus' philosophical convictions, the Meditations, was – as far as we know – a completely private work. We do not have any evidence that anybody else knew about its contents or even its existence before the end of the fourth century. It is only from the work itself that we (modern readers) know for certain that Marcus was definitely a Stoic philosopher. This conviction may have been in contrast to his public actions as emperor, since in this role he did not openly favor Stoicism over other philosophical schools or above rhetoric. As an emperor he was always eager to be impartial. He founded chairs of philosophy (for Platonists, Peripatetics, Epicureans, and Stoics) and rhetoric in Athens, which were enormously prestigious positions; however, Marcus did not pick the persons who held these chairs himself (Philostratus, Vitae Sophistarum 2.2.566). In public he even avoided criticizing the Sophists openly or arguing with them (Philostratus, Vitae Sophistarum 2.1.652–53). In the Meditations (1, 7; 1, 16; 6, 30), however, he shows he despised them. This already indicates that, in the case of Marcus, the relation between philosophy and politics is a complex one; although Marcus had clear-cut philosophical ambitions, he somehow concealed his firm convictions, probably for the sake of his political duties. This leads to the second reason why one should not too hastily assume that Marcus Aurelius was a Platonic philosopher-king: Plato called for a direct application of philosophy in the realm of politics. The objects of knowledge with which the philosopher has become acquainted were also supposed to function as paradigms, that is, guidelines for his policies. Knowledge will automatically turn into politics (Respublica 500a–501e).

It is open to question whether Marcus really thought that philosophy had this kind of direct and dominant impact on his reign. This is not the place to decide if we can find actual traces of his philosophy in his political decisions and to pinpoint influences. It is enough to claim that, from a methodological point of view, it is very difficult to find traces of his philosophical beliefs in his political and judicial decisions. Results are rare, despite the fact that we moderns are in a better position than Marcus' contemporaries, since we know the Meditations. It seems more plausible to think that Marcus had some kind of confidence in philosophy, or that the philosopher Marcus was supporting the emperor Marcus by stressing that one has do one's duty, no matter what one's nature is or what place one has in society.

If it is not the strict Platonic version of the conjunction of philosophical intelligence and political power, what kind of combination of these two things made Marcus so attractive? Marcus personifies something that has been appealing for many centuries, in which the understanding both of politics and philosophy has changed substantially many times. Although the Meditations do not contain any narrative of specific events or references to the current state of affairs, Marcus clearly exhibited a certain type of character or attitude towards the world and politics. Also, according to historical sources, he managed to a large extent to live up to his ideals. Marcus was given the title of ‘Caesar’ in 140 (Dio 71.35.5; HA Marcus 6.3) and held it for more than 40 years, that is, for more than two-thirds of his life. However, in the Meditations, written after more than 30 years of being a Caesar, he still worries about the effects this might have on him:

Take care that you are not turned into a Caesar, that you are not stained with purple; for such things do come about. Keep yourself simple, then, and good and sincere, dignified, free from affection, a friend to justice, reverend to the gods, affectionate, and firm in performance of your duties. Struggle to remain such a man as philosophy wished to make you. Honour the Gods, protect your fellows. Life is short; and our earthly existence yields but a single harvest, a holy disposition and acts that serve the common good. (6, 30)

This commitment to doing his duty, simply and modestly, even when he was the most powerful person in the Roman Empire, could at least partially explain the attraction Marcus has had on readers in high-ranking positions and on those who longed for politicians like that. Thus, even if our judgments about Plato's theory of philosopher-kings, Stoicism, and the absolute power of Roman emperors may have changed over time and are in any case matters of continuing debate, the idea that political leaders should fulfill some moral requirements and should have at least an ethically decent character is still very appealing. Consider the following quote as stark contrast: In 1948 Stalin was proofreading his Short Biography. In his own handwriting he added the following sentence:

Although he did his duty as leader of the party and the people with perfect virtuosity, . . . Stalin never allowed this perfection to be outshone by any kind of vanity or haughtiness or self-laudation. (Stalin (1947), 46; translation mine)

Instead of misusing his wide-ranging powers, Marcus had a philosophically based and serious interest in his character, his duty, and the world. If we compare Marcus with Stalin, and other examples of political degeneration or if we compare him with much better examples of leadership, many people can still appreciate Marcus' attitude. But, leaving aside these speculations about why Marcus Aurelius is still a popular figure today, let us turn to the picture of Marcus offered by recent scholarship.

2. Scholarship on Marcus Aurelius

The first and most important fact about academic literature on Marcus Aurelius is that there is no single body of research on Marcus. In the modern period, the academic world has become highly specialized and this applies to work on Marcus Aurelius.

Sometimes it is claimed that scholarship on ancient history has evolved, bringing a shift of focus from the great actions of major rulers to social structures and cultures. It is also sometimes stated that scholarship on ancient philosophy has shifted from focusing on certain central texts by major philosophers to exploring new topics and periods and neglected texts. If these generalizations are true, how to they bear on Marcus Aurelius and scholarship on him?

The first development has not affected the study of Marcus Aurelius. He might not be as important and influential as Julius Caesar or Augustus, but Marcus Aurelius still belongs to the group of so-called ‘great men of history’ who have fascinated people during their lifetime and have been remembered, or even achieved iconic status, afterwards. Correspondingly, academic interest in Marcus the emperor has been and remains lively. This also holds true for the various disciplines concerned with Marcus. There has been and still is ongoing research regarding coins, architecture, art, and epigraphy as well as the political, cultural, or judicial aspects of Marcus' reign. Our knowledge of Marcus the emperor has deepened, partly due to new archaeological discoveries (for instance in Turkey or Austria), but also due to the ongoing and improved study of sources such as the Historia Augusta and the work of Cassius Dio.

As regards the second general trend noted earlier, the broadening of focus in the study of ancient philosophy, the position is more complex and uneven as regards work on Marcus' Meditations. Since the earliest editions and translations, the Meditations have been widely read, if not being exactly popular. But there has not been corresponding scholarly interest, at least until very recently.

The older research was primarily interested in the form of the Mediations (e.g. Hirzel (1895)) and at same time often ignored or devaluated the content; it thus mirrored Seneca's complaint that ‘what was philosophy has become philology (quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est)’ (Epistula 108, 23). The Meditations were taken to be ‘traditional in content, but original in form’ (Zuntz (1946)).

Even nowadays scholarship is often divided between philological and philosophical studies, each addressing their respective topics, and, until very recently, philological research was the overly dominant branch. And both types of studies do not only provide analysis and accounts; they were also driven by evaluations. Judgments have been made about Marcus' capacities as an author, since some have admired the effect his self-addressed words can have on the reader, but more often his work has been regarded as dull, unimportant, badly written. A group of scholars did not rate Marcus the philosopher very highly for the contents of the book were explained in terms of the many bodily or psychological diseases its author is alleged to have had (see the summary in van Ackeren (2006) 54). And sometimes it has simply been denied that Marcus can be regarded as a philosopher, because the content and style of his Meditations are not what one expects from academic philosophy (for instance, Rist (1983)).

But there has been other, new, and stimulating research treating Marcus as a serious and interesting philosopher. After an important commentary by Farquharson (1944) and the brilliant study by Rutherford (1989), the works by P. Hadot (1998, original French 1992) have put Marcus Aurelius the philosopher on the agenda. In the modern context too, we have witnessed a renaissance of practical philosophy, in particular practical ethics. In turn the older interest in the ancient forms of life (see Rabbow (1954) and I. Hadot (1969)) was revived and turned in new directions (e.g. by Foucault (2005)). For these or independent reasons, Hellenistic philosophy and the Roman Stoics have been rehabilitated. Given these developments, it seems quite natural that scholars have finally engaged more fully with the philosophy of the Meditations. There also has been a growing interest in specific aspects of Marcus' philosophy, e.g. his anthropology and his notion of the relation of physics and ethics (e.g. Annas (2004); Gill (2007a and b)).

Nonetheless we still lack a unified scholarly account of Marcus Aurelius. And we do lack it in many respects. There is no unified description and analysis of his philosophy that pays attention to all aspects and no unified account of the relation of form and content of the Meditations (see the attempt in van Ackeren (2011)). There is no overall analysis of how his philosophy relates to other aspects and disciplines. This volume is the first to try to combine all this.

With Marcus Aurelius, there is more to be found than philosophy, politics, and possible connections between these two areas. There have been specialized studies of topics which go beyond these spheres. Usually, students and scholars alike approach their chosen topic from an angle which is specific to their discipline. This can be an effective method, for Marcus as for other topics, and the results speak for themselves. But closer scrutiny shows that Marcus Aurelius is special for another reason. He seems to be a unique figure because there are an extraordinary number of disciplines which bear on Marcus Aurelius: history, numismatics, epigraphy, sociology, archaeology, philosophy, history of law, art history, social studies, philology, political studies, theology, and religious studies. A situation of this kind, even with fewer disciplines involved, usually leads to conferences and studies under headings such as ‘interdisciplinarity’, ‘multi-disciplinarity’, or ‘trans-disciplinarity’. Such terms imply the existence of quite distinct disciplines (an assumption which is not always valid). In the case of Marcus Aurelius it is obvious that research combining several academic disciplines is highly desirable. It is also clear that Marcus Aurelius has often been neglected from this standpoint (Barnes and Griffin (1997)) and attempts to form a synthesis are rare (Klein (1979) and van Ackeren, Boschung, and Opsomer (2012)). That is the rationale for the project of this Companion.

3. This Volume and Its Aims

As there is no previous collection that tries to give an overview of every essential facet of contemporary studies on Marcus Aurelius, this volume tries to fill that gap. Since it is a compendium, the volume has interdisciplinary ambitions, but it also aims to show the specialist work being done in different areas. Thus, some chapters necessarily overlap with others as regards the material or texts they refer to; but they are written from different angles, dealing with different questions which are sometimes specific to a certain academic discipline.

The first section of the book offers a study of the core source material for the history of Marcus' life and reign, including the reports by Cassius Dio and the Historia Augusta, archaeological evidence, Marcus' own writings, such as the Meditations (including an account of its transmission) and the correspondence with Fronto, as well as the epigraphic record.

The second section seeks to locate Marcus' life within his own time and place with special emphasis on the political situation and Marcus' cultural and intellectual background.

The third section has as its main focus Marcus the emperor, discussing his legislation, jurisdiction, and administration, as well as the wars and revolts that had a considerable impact on his reign. Two chapters take up questions of special interest in connection with Marcus, on the relationship between politics and philosophy in his reign and on religion, especially Christianity. The final chapter of this section aims to give an overview of the state of the Roman Empire after Marcus' death.

Discussions of the various types of material representation of Marcus Aurelius constitute the fourth section. The column of Marcus Aurelius, the equestrian statue, coins, statues, and busts are discussed in separate chapters.

The fifth section is devoted to the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. This will discuss the form and structure of Marcus' text, its style and character as a kind of autobiography; the question is also raised whether the work has an oral dimension. As Marcus was a Stoic philosopher, three chapters will consider Marcus' place within the Stoic tradition and explore his views on the main branches of Stoic philosophy, that is, physics, logic, and ethics. Key features of his thought, namely social ethics and politics as well as questions concerning the idea of self in the Meditations are treated in further chapters.

The sixth and final section is devoted to the reception of Marcus Aurelius, considering to what extent he was seen as a good emperor in late antiquity and in medieval times and studying how the first translations and commentaries have contributed to the popular image of Marcus. The last two chapters examine his reception in early modern philosophy, especially in Neostoicism, and Marcus' role in contemporary philosophy.

Further reading

Primary sources

Gill, Ch., ed. (forthcoming, 2013), Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 1–6. Translated with introduction and commentary. Oxford.

Haines, C.R., trans. (1920), The Correspondence of Marcus Cornelius Fronto. 2 vols. London.


Primary sources

Farquharson, A.S.L., ed. and trans. (1944, repr. 1968), Markos Antimgninou Autokratoros: Ta Eis Heauton. The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Antoninus. Vol. I–II. Oxford.

Secondary sources

Ackeren, M. van (2006), ‘“Sage zu dir selbst” – Zur Dialogizität bei Marc Aurel’, in M. Meyer, ed., Die Geschichte des Dialoges. Darmstadt. 54–67.

Ackeren, M. van (2011), Die Philosophie Marc Aurels, Vol. I: Textform – Stilmerkmale – Selbstdialog. Berlin. Vol. II: Themen – Begriffe – Argumente. Berlin.

Ackeren, M. van, D. Boschung, and J. Opsomer, eds. (2012), Meditations and Representations. Marcus Aurelius in Interdisciplinary Light. Wiesbaden.

Annas, J. (2004), ‘Marcus Aurelius. Ethics and Its Background’, Rhizai 2: 103–19.

Barnes, J. and M.T. Griffin (1997), Philosophia Togata. Oxford.

Foucault, M. (2005), The Hermeneutics of the Subject. New York.

Gill, Ch. (2007a), ‘Marcus Aurelius’, in R.W. Sharples and R. Sorabji, eds., Greek and Roman Philosophy 100 BC – 200 AD. Vol. II. London. 175–89.

Gill, Ch. (2007b), ‘Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations: How Stoic and How Platonic?', in M. Bonazzi and Ch. Helmig, eds., Platonic Stoicism – Stoic Platonism. The Dialogue between Platonism and Stoicism in Antiquity. Leuven. 189–208.

Hadot, I. (1969), Seneca und die griechisch-römische Tradition der Seelenleitung. Berlin.

Hadot, P. (1998), The Inner Citadel: The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Cambridge, MA.

Hirzel, R. (1895), Der Dialog. Ein literarhistorischer Versuch. Leipzig.

Klein, R., ed. (1979), Marc Aurel. Darmstadt.

Rabbow, P. (1954), Seelenführung. Methode der Exerzitien in der Antike. Munich.

Rist, J.M. (1983), ‘Are You a Stoic? The Case of Marcus Aurelius’, in B.F. Meyer and E.P. Sanders, eds., Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, Vol. III: Self-Definition in the Greco-Roman World. Philadelphia. 23–45.

Rutherford, R.B. (1989), The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. A Study. Oxford.

Stalin, J.W. (1947), Kurze Lebensbeschreibung. Moscow.

Zuntz, G. (1946), ‘Notes on Antoninus’, Classical Quarterly 40: 47–55.


The Main Sources