Marcus Aurelius Thinks Aloud
It is currently 172 and I am in Carnuntum as we pursue our major campaigns on our Northern borders. Rome’s experience in Parthian in 165 allowed us to capture Media. Their aggression was successfully eliminated and our territory was increased.
In the midst of success, Rome would pay terrible price: Avidius Cassius becomes a hero, but brought plague to the provinces. This plague spreads throughout the eastern provinces and then to the west when the legions would return home. My country is now devastated from war and illness…many districts have lost all inhabitants. So many lives have perished, that I have ordained that rich and poor alike will be buried at public expense.
Although Rome has experienced a Parthian victory…it is bittersweet for us as we immediately had to turn our attention to our Northern Borders and Eastern provinces. Since 166, Germanic tribes have become a permanent fixture in our lives and have consumed our military efforts. After numerous losses and battles, we finally had an overwhelming victory with the “Thundering Legion”….with this we have finally defeated the Quadii. This ended the first Marcomanic war. I made peace with the Quadii in order to get 60,000 of our men back. I also convinced many of the barbarians to fight for Rome as mercenaries, although, I do worry about their loyalty. Regardless, we need men.
I find myself torn by the ever-present conflict between my imperial duties and my stoic beliefs. There are rumors that my eastern provinces disagree with my stoic philosophical nature. While on the front, it is my practice at the end of each day to retire and write in my journal to reason through our next course of action. Many who observe this cannot fathom stoicism, therefore, make false assumptions about my military leadership. It seems few people understand the importance of reason and rationality. Accordingly, there are rumors that Cassius is undermining my authority in the East. Advisors warn me that his popularity may be a threat to my authority. Upon reflection, I answer back “no prince ever kills his successor.” It worries me that these Eastern provinces seem to be feeling so isolated and therefore independent from the rest of the Empire.
Additionally, all of these imperial concerns are clouded by my personal struggles. Although my duty is to the state, my heart is with my family. It seems that there are a multitude of burdens that keep me awake at night feeding my exhaustions. At the loss of by dear co-emperor Lucius in 169 of the plague…I am forced to contemplate Rome’s best interest alone. His death not only impacted me and the state, but my family as well.
Lucius left my daughter, Lucilla, a pregnant widow at age 19. I now feel pressure to marry her to Claudius, who is 30 plus years her senior. I fear that I am not respecting Lucilla’s mourning period, however I must put Rome’s interest above all else.
My wife is also with child and continues to support me on the Roman front so I am also worried about her well being. Also, because of Faustina’s influence on the empire, there has been speculation that my one true love is unfaithful, but there no evidence therefore this is merely slander. My heart is also heavy, at the loss of two of my sons who passed away as of late. Nothing in life can match the loss of a child.
My passion is to fight, but I feel my body surrendering. I must remind myself that pain is not forever in the midst of my near constant migraines and ulcers. Exhaustion never ends…were it not for my obligation to Rome-I fear I might not be able to get out of bed.
Rest it seems will never come, as it seems Rome’s struggle is as much domestic as it is abroad. The more we expand, the more I must delegate. With the Empire as large as it is already, it is critical that my governors are those I can trust with justice. With as many governors and advisors as I am forced to employ, it is difficult for us all to communicate and be on the same page. I know some of these governors care more for their people than that of the empire…however, I see the bigger picture.
The impact of the plague has put an additional strain on our infrastructure. With so many provinces having been decimated by the plague, I worry who will maintain our roads and tend to our aqueducts? Moreover, my hands are tied with the funeral policy now that I have decreed that all funerals will be paid for by the empire. How can I do all these things without the people and resources that are necessary to meet the current, urgent needs of the empire! The bottom line is that the empire continues to grow as we are forced to expand in the north. At the same time, we have fewer people to do the necessary work and less money to pay for it.
If all that were not enough strain on our economy, food shortages have become a constant threat. Even after selling off my own imperial jewels in 169 to prevent increasing taxes on my people…this only put a dent in the vast monetary needs of Rome. Inflation and recession have simultaneously occurred. The senate and populace of Rome need sustenance and I feel helpless as their leader to make these provisions due to our economic crisis.
In the midst of all this, we must address the constant threat of the German front as they will not stop encroaching upon the heart of the Roman Empire. Bit by bit, they gnaw away at what Rome has worked so hard to achieve for so long. We now teeter on the edge of a dark abyss. I must rescue our empire and get us back on solid ground.
Rome is the foundation of the world and we cannot continue to grow if our foundation is not firm. Therefore, the decision I must make weighs heavily upon my soul and I must trust in the council of my advisors. “As Marcus I have Rome, and as a human being I have the universe. But I am first and foremost, a dutiful Roman. Please let my decisions and actions aim solely at the common good.”
Background (Background annotations highlighted in blue)
Carnuntum: Refer to your map. The Roman army is stationed on the northern border, below the Quadi Germanic tribes.
Parthian: Far eastern border. Recall the PowerPoint when the Romans defeated the Parthians (which his present day Middle East.
Avidius Cassius: Refer to your PowerPoint for details. Cassius puts down the revolt and burns the capital city to the ground. Many say Cassius is the true hero and Marcus Aurelius is a “philosopher woman”.
Thundering Legion: The Romans tell the story that at a crucial moment in the battle, a terrible thunderstorm broke, drenching the battle field and scaring the armies with ferocious lightning and thunder. The Romans believe the gods assisted their victory against the Germanic tribes.
write in my journal to reason through: Marcus Aurelius liked to use his writing as a way to reflect on the problems he faced. This enabled him to apply reason (according to his stoic beliefs) to determine the best course of action.
false assumptions: some Roman citizens viewed Marcus Aurelius as a weak military commander because of his stoic habit of writing and reflecting on events. His rational approach to life was viewed as the sign of someone indecisive and perhaps timid.
Cassius is undermining my authority in the East: Refer to your timeline and recall that Cassius was sent to Egypt in 172 to put down a rebellion. Cassius was successful in this effort, but he eventually became a powerful leader in this part of the empire. Marcus Aurelius fears his growing power.
no prince ever kills his successor: Marcus’ advisors were warning him that Cassius may try to revolt against him. However, Marcus’ stoic philosophy guided him to accept fate and endure it (if fate wanted Cassius to succeed, he would). He would work to resist Cassius, but not take emotional or drastic measures to strip him of his power. Marcus always believed that reasonable people could come to an agreement.
independent: the eastern provinces were making fun of the emperor and seeing themselves as separate, not attached to Rome.
Exhaustions: physically Marcus was quite literally weak and exhausted due to: migraines; possibly Tuberculosis; ulcers; and lethargy (drowsiness and constant feeling of being tired)
co-emperor: Antonius Pius appointed Aurelius and Lucius as co-emperors so they shared the responsibility and power of ruling Rome.
169: Lucius dies; wall built in African provinces; Marcus spends the winter on the Northern Frontier; auction of imperial property to finance the war
Lucilla: Father: Marcus Aurelius; Mother: Faustina II ; First husband: Lucius Verus; Daughter: Aurelia Lucilla (married to Claudius Pompeianus Quintianus); Second husband: Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus; Son: Pompeianus
Claudius: primary military advisor of Marcus Aurelius; served alongside Marcus Aurelius in the campaign against the German barbarians since 169; Marcus Aurelius handpicked him as chief military advisor based on his prior experience; 2nd husband of Lucilla
Faustina’s influence: Faustina is the wife of the emperor, so her actions are watched by all that are around her. She can have a major influence on the people she is surrounded by, positively or negatively.
Unfaithful: it was rumored that Faustina may have had relations with other men besides Aurelius. It was hypothesized that because of Aurelius’ stoic beliefs, she was unhappy with her husband’s lack of love for her.
evidence: it was never proven one way or the other if Faustina had relations with men other than Aurelius. In fact, these rumors may have been spread by men jealous of her influence on the emperor. Often these claims were common about powerful women.
body surrendering: Marcus is becoming old and his body is breaking down; He is having health problems and historians are unclear what these might be. He was under a physician’s care and took several remedies for constant cough and stomach problems.
Funeral policy: The policy instituted by Marcus Aurelius, which made the government responsible for the costs of all funerals, rich and poor alike.
Urgent needs: As emperor, Marcus Aurelius had to deal with the threats of the Parthian Empire and Germanic tribes. Armies returning from the eastern front brought back an epidemic that may have been the first outbreak of smallpox in the Empire. Population losses ran in the millions.
Food shortages: There was pestilence and starvation in Rome caused by the plague, and by floods that had destroyed vast quantities of grain.
Imperial jewels in 169: Aurelius saw it as his duty to control the empire's borders, and his armies successfully contained the invasions. Marcus Aurelius auctioned off the crown jewels to pay for this without more increases in taxes.
Definitional (Definitional annotations highlighted in green)
Hero: a person of distinguished courage or ability admired for their brave deeds and noble qualities
Plague: a disease that caused a high death rate
Quadii: Germanic tribe living on the East bank of the Danube river. An ally of the Marcomannic and other tribes challenging Roman authority.
Marcomanic war: A conflict between the Romans and a group of Germanic tribes beginning in A.D. 167. These tribes, led by the Marcomanni, threatened the northeastern border of the Roman empire.
Mercenaries: professional soldiers hired to serve in a foreign army
Delegate: to send or appoint a person to a job or responsibility
Governors: a person charged with direction or control of an institution, society, etc.
Infrastructure: roads, bridges, water systems (aqueducts).
Taxes: a sum of money demanded by a government for its support
Inflation: a persistent, substantial rise in the general level of prices related to an increase in the volume of money and resulting in the loss of value of currency
Recession: period of economic loss
Questions (Question annotations highlighted in RED)
buried at public expense: Why would it be a good idea to have free, mass burials and the government pay for them in a time like this?
conflict between my imperial duties and my stoic beliefs: Recall the PowerPoint presentation that explained stoicism. How might a stoic like Marcus Aurelius be torn between his personal beliefs and his duties as emperor?
pain is not forever: How would Aurelius’ stoic beliefs influence his approach to his failing health?
Exhaustion: How would living on a war zone impact his health? How might this influence his decisions?