Marcus Aurelius’ Ambition, Philosophy, and Legacy
I wrote this paper for my Research and Writing class by Doctor Todd Nelson. It’s pretty lengthy, because I spent almost 3 to 4 months on it. Originally, I wanted to learn more about Marcus Aurelius and the Romans’ life— this paper is my attempt to polish and ponder on about those subjects. During the writing process, Dr. Nelson helped me revise the paper and provide me with an additional perspective. Therefore, I included some of his comments within this article. I hope you enjoy this blob of words.
When Marcus Aurelius became an emperor in 161 CE, the Roman empire was at its maximum territorial extent. In the past, the position of a Caesar drove men like Nero and Caligula to the point of insanity. It is fair to say that, in the eyes of the Romans, being a Caesar¹ was like being a god. Unfortunately for rulers, maintaining one’s godlike status is not easy when it requires that person to be both ruthless and humble. Augustus Caesar certainly understood the importance of “acting out” these two elements when he famously reflected on his deathbed, “If I have played my part well, clap your hands and dismiss me with applause from the stage” (Markel). In hindsight, Augustus became an emperor and kept the position for forty years because he had the humility that Julius Caesar lacked, and the ruthlessness that Mark Antony never had.
Unlike many of his predecessors, Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was a reserved man. Through The Meditation, we know that Marcus Aurelius desired to overcome his frail and pessimistic nature and become a better person (Africa, 99). Looking back, we do not see Marcus Aurelius as a typically good leader by today’s standards. He did not inspire the way Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. did. He was not a competent general or administrator like Julius Caesar or Augustus Caesar. Yet somehow, he ruled with integrity through a deadly plague and countless wars. Despite his achievements, Marcus Aurelius still receives criticism because of events such as: the persecutions against the growing population of Christians during his reign; the failure to groom a successor; and his ambition to invade the Germanic tribes. This paper examines these events and concludes with a more positive view of Marcus Aurelius as a honorable leader. Through this process of examination, we will see that while Marcus Aurelius was a virtuous leader who aspired to maintain the traditional Caesar office. His effort was ultimately in vain due to an overly bureaucratic and fragile administrative system that did not prepare for “black swan”³ events.⁴
In order to demonstrate this claim, we will examine both Marcus Aurelius, the philosophical ruler, and Rome’s bureaucratic political system. Starting with the Germanic campaign, we will analyze Marcus Aurelius’ visions and ambitions as a ruler. After that, the paper will discuss the root of this ambition by inspecting Rome’s love affair with Stoic² philosophy. We will show that educated Romans quickly picked up Christianity because of its similarities to Stoicism — the predominant school of thought in Roman society (Amos). This will bring us to the nature of Marcus Aurelius and his predecessors’ persecution against Christians. The fifth section will demonstrate how Marcus Aurelius did not protect his Christian subjects because of Rome’s problematic political system — a system that supported corruption and jealousy. Finally, we will hypothesize on how to improve this system.
There is one important clarification to make before we move into the analysis. While Rome deified Marcus Aurelius, and history looks at him as an important stoic philosopher (Stertz 433), Marcus Aurelius looked at himself as a mere human being with desires, duties, and struggles. Therefore, it would only be fair to judge him and his actions based upon realistic standards. After all, this paper has no intention of condemning or praising Marcus Aurelius; its purpose is to draw lessons from this philosopher-leader.
In the year 2000 historical drama movie Gladiator, the general audience is introduced to a dying Marcus Aurelius who lives on borrowed time. An old and frail Marcus regrets the bloody struggles he had with the Germanic barbarians. Strategically, Rome was stretching itself thin by the year 165 after a pyrrhic victory over Parthia (Birley 148). Nevertheless, wars with the Germanic tribes were inevitable as they started to attack Roman territories. Furthermore, it is important to note that Roman emperors had the tradition to expand the empire’s territory since the days of Augustus Caesar. Therefore, it is reasonable to see why Marcus Aurelius dutifully followed this tradition and fulfilled the legacies of his successors. Even so, was there any other purpose in doing so? From the entries in The Meditation, this paper claims that the aim was to civilize the barbaric people.
In entry 1 of Book 2 of the Meditation, Marcus states that, “the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly… because they can’t tell the good from evil.” He went on, “[I] have recognized that the wrongdoer has related to my own… [through] the same mind, and possessing a share of divine.” Finally, he concluded, “to obstruct each other is unnatural… to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.” In his mind, Marcus Aurelius accepted a responsibility toward the people he felt negatively toward. As the result, we can see that Marcus Aurelius’ ambition was to enlighten the world. Furthermore, he reminded himself in entry 9, “how I relate to the world, what proportion of it I make up… that you are part of nature, and no one can prevent you from speaking and acting in harmony with it, always.” This entry shows Marcus had the same ambition as Augustus Caesar, to act out his part in the play of humanity. One may argue that these entries are not convincing, that they are too vague to determine the specific meanings behind them, but we need to consider that The Meditations was written late in his life during his struggle in the midst of war.
Who were these people that Marcus felt so deeply about? It must be the Germanic Suebians. There is a conflicting footnote between Book I and II that states, “on the river Gran, among the Quadi.” While historians usually claim that this footnote belonged to Book I, it would more likely belong at the beginning of Book II of The Meditation. Why? Because Book I was designed as a series of thank-you notes to the people around Marcus Aurelius; not his thoughts and feelings. A hellish image, Book II showed a troubled Marcus Aurelius haunted by his visions of sins and death. An unsettled man, Marcus Aurelius determined to “concentrate every minute like a Roman” for a fight against what he described as, “the degrading of human soul.”
Beyond the moral layer, the Germanic war was very much political.⁵ Unlike the definitive wars about which historians write, Marcus Aurelius was fighting an invisible and desperate enemy. They were raiding bands who rarely confronted the Romans directly. Instead, they infiltrated the Roman land and launched raids against their enemies. Effectively, the Germanic troops employed guerrilla warfare. Adding this to the rise of Christianity in the South, a deadly plague earlier in Marcus Aurelius’ career, and internal conflicts, the Germanic wars were important for the empire’s stability. Perhaps, Marcus Aurelius took his aggression too far.
Indeed, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” While Marcus had all the right reasons to conduct wars against his enemy, his intentions ultimately ended in vain because he used the good intentions to justify the system of evil that is war.²⁰ Additionally, wars are expensive, both financially and morally, because while Marcus Aurelius remained good and pure in his own bubbles, what about the other nameless legionnaires ravaged by the savagery of war? What about the Germanic tribes starved for food? Of course, these emotional events are forever lost to history. However, this account of the war sheds some light onto the Germanic tribes’ desperation, “among the dead barbarians were found even the bodies of women wearing armour.” That was the enemy Marcus Aurelius faced, the desperate hordes of Barbarians who were poor and ill-equipped who fought for the basic desire to survive. The question now is what kept Marcus in the fight against these hungry people? This question, this writer will leave open,⁶ but what he is critical about is the centralization of government that puts too much responsibility on one person, and have no regard for the unpredictable events of a large government. Ultimately, these events stacked together and ignited the tumultuous events during the Year of Five Emperors.
Once again, we refer back to Marcus Aurelius’ final hour in Gladiator, which showed how he regretted his misrepresentation of Rome and his failures to spread its ideology. Then, Maximus, the protagonist of the movie, assures Marcus that Rome is a torch within a dark and barbaric world, a torch to guide mankind toward progress and civilization. However, all torches require fuel, and Stoicism was the oil.
Roman love for Stoicism began with a fateful diplomatic mission by the Stoic philosopher Crates of Mallus around 160 BCE. During the visit, Crates broke his leg after falling into an open sewer (Suetonius, 2). Through his stay, Crates challenged Romans to use grammar with precision and to think critically. Similar to building a fire, Rome’s passion toward Stoicism required time to mature beyond an initial impression. Fortunately, fate favored the blossoming of Stoicism in Rome when it introduced the stoic philosopher Panaetius, a student of Crates, to a powerful Scipio Africanus Minor⁷ (Cicero, i.3). Already an influential family for their contributions in the Punic wars against Carthage, the Scipios’ support drove Panaetius’ teachings on duties and endurance of hardship to a new height among Rome’s upper class.
By the time of Marcus Aurelius, Stoic discipline was already entrenched deeply within Roman society.⁸ Notable texts from this period include Cicero’s De Officiis, Seneca the Younger’s de Beneficiis, Panaetius’ Duty. Therefore, it was only natural for emperor Antoninus Pius, then heir to Hadrian, to pick Marcus Aurelius, a passionate student of Stoic philosophy, to become his successor (Birley, 50).⁹ Understanding how important Stoicism was to Antoninus, Marcus Aurelius dedicated his life to continue Rome’s history of aggressive territorial expansionism as a means of spreading the light of Rome to the barbaric Germanic tribes. That’s where we find Marcus Aurelius writing down his thoughts in The Meditations and a regretful Marcus Aurelius in the Gladiator. Yet, if Marcus Aurelius was so virtuous and devoted, what did he have to regret? What crime did he commit that there are historians who condemn him as a hypocrite and a tyrant? It is because Christians were being persecuted during his reign.
Christians’ Relationship to Rome
Before we examine the accusations against Marcus Aurelius, we look at the relationship between Christianity and the predominant Stoic teachings. To understand this relationship, we must go back even further than Crates of Mallus, Panaetius, and Cicero. We must go back to the origin of Stoicism, to Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoic philosophy. Deemed as “the little Phoenician,¹⁰” legend has it that Zeno of Citium stumbled into a philosophy school after his ship wrecked near Athens. For the next ten years, the little Phoenician spent his time in various philosophy schools gathering his thoughts. About the year 300 BCE, Zeno started to teach his doctrines in one of the Athenians’ public porches (Smiley).¹¹
Despite the popular belief that ancient Greek religion was polytheistic, evidences suggest that Zeno’s popularity took root in the fact that he was a monotheist, which was a new way of thinking in Athens at the time (Smiley). Similar to Hindu cosmicism, philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates discussed the concept of God, the Logos,¹² that shows itself to the world in many different faces in order to explain Greek mythology. Relating this back to the Bible, the first chapter of Genesis recorded that an all-powerful God created the universe in seven days which illustrates that God was here before everything. Unlike Christians, the Stoics believed that God is the universe. They also believe that the universe has always been here and will always be here. Which means that everything that exists is God, and God is within us in the form Logos. What is the Logos one might ask? Similar to the idea of a holy spirit in the Bible, the Logos represents mankind’s rationality, logic and opinion (Gregory Hays, 26). More than that, stoic philosophers also preached about the brotherhood of mankind and the importance of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice that go hand in hand with a genuine love for humanity. John the Elder explicitly mentions Logos, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) For many scholars, The Word here represents Jesus, but it goes deeper than that. By comparing Jesus to Logos, John was acknowledging Jesus as the physical manifestation of wisdom, humility, and rationality that is so often mentioned in Stoic philosophy. In doing so, one of the most important Christian figures appropriated to Stoic wisdom and related it to his teacher. Therefore, a Stoic society, such as the Athenians philosophers in the Bible¹³ or educated Roman citizens, tended to look at Christianity as a new perspective on a familiar idea. However, if these two groups of people were so similar in their beliefs, what caused generations of Roman emperors to continuously persecute their Christian subjects?
Persecution Against Christians
At this point, it is clear that persecution against Christians was not religious, and that it was based purely upon political reasons. In a sense, it was easy for Romans to transit from Stoicism to Christianity because of their similar ideas. Furthermore, being a Christian was deemed as enlightened and educated. Even the word pagan (which originally meant country folks in Latin) was often used by Christians to describe the empire’s large, unruly, and polytheistic population.
There, that²¹ was the first reason to persecute Christians. They challenged a large and unruly population’s belief in the emperor.They challenged the connection the people felt to their ruler. Certainly, it was comforting for a common man to know that his ruler was a walking deity. Indeed, to comfort a common man was Augustus’ intention when he deified Julius Caesar in 42 BCE. To put the danger of Christianity in a modern context, imagine how concerned you would be if you are a Christian and people started to claim that Jesus was not the son of God — if you are a Muslim, that Muhammad was not a prophet and that his actions were purely political — and if you are a Jew, that Moses did not receive the Ten Commandments from God. Surely, the polytheistic Romans felt the same uneasy feelings when they heard similar claims about the all-powerful Caesar. From that position, small conflicts started to appear. From Caesar’s perspective, when the people demanded action for their beloved emperor’s interest, it was impossible to say “yes” to heresy, and “no” to persecution. What did Marcus Aurelius do in that situation? The short answer is that he did nothing.
The Sword of Damocles is often used to show the fragility of power. According to the story, Damocles, a servant, approached his king, Dionysius, and praised him for his wealth and richness. In turn, Dionysius offered his power to Damocles under the condition that there would be a sword held by a single hair above Damocles’ throne. Understanding the danger that comes along with power and wealth, Damocles begged Dionysus to take away his richness and power. What was the sword above Marcus’ head? For generations, the position of Caesar had always been the most fragile and volatile because it held too much power. Marcus Aurelius understood this well,¹⁴ and he knew that Christians, despite all of their disobedience, were not a real threat. Instead, it was the ambitious men in the Senate who could use Marcus’ disinterest in exterminating Christians as a launching pad to power.¹⁵
Not only that, we must take Marcus Aurelius’ own morality into account. As a man, he believed:
The human soul degrades itself… when it allows its actions and impulse to be without a purpose… even the smallest thing ought to be directed toward a goal. But the goal of a rational being is to follow the rule and law of the most ancient of communities and states. (Aurelius, 126)
Notice the two parts in this entry. In the first, he acknowledged the importance of controlling one’s emotion¹⁶ and preventing senseless aggression against others because it causes pointless pain and suffering. Secondly, he saluted the importance of law and order. As far as we trace back in any code of law, the idea of murder has always been outlawed. Therefore, as a rational being, Marcus Aurelius was deeply opposed to taking innocent life, , and condemning religious followers, especially when their ideals were so close to his.
One might still ask “Why did the persecutions continue to happen even if they were against Marcus Aurelius’ wishes? Or why he was willing to wage war against the Germanic barbarians?”
First, despite all of its power, a Roman emperor did not have much influence over the day-to-day business within provinces. Look at the province of Syria Palaestina, where lots of Christians were being prosecuted, as an example.
Geographically, this province spreads from Galatia all the way to Egypt. That covers modern day: Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey! Furthermore, this is one province within the Roman empire. Therefore, for an imperial decree to spread, given the technology back then, it would take months before it reached all branches of government (Keresztes). As we consider Marcus Aurelius’ political reasons, his own morality, the geographic distance, and the close relationship between philosophy and religion, it is clear that claims against Marcus Aurelius are unreasonable and that they lack understanding.
To answer the second question, we must consider how slow the bureaucratic machine works. The lag in information goes both ways in this situation. If it took months for a decree to reach a province, then by the time it reached Marcus Aurelius, the information was already outdated and any reaction afterward would not be effective. Furthermore, let’s take the emotional side into consideration. Stalin famously said, “the death of one is a tragedy, [and] the death of millions is a statistic.” Yes, a number is just a number; it is completely different from having to harm another person. Therefore, it was easy for Marcus Aurelius to be ignorant of his mistakes by shielding himself with numbers and illogical rationalism when emotions make more sense.²²
The Right Thing
Let’s look at the claim above from another perspective. As much as leaders try to avoid them, mistakes always happen because no one and no administration is perfect, and we should not expect perfection. Therefore, nobody should blame a ruler for mistakes. Instead, what people should do is expose rulers to mistakes. As painful as they are, mistakes are always beneficial because they show what areas a government needs to improve upon. Therefore, a government that accepts fundamental mistakes and builds for the unpredictable events is an ideal system for the good of all its citizens.¹⁷ In the end, this author will hypothesize what government will be like, but first let’s consider what it is not.
Started as a designated regiment of guardsmen, the Praetorian Cohorts were always the best and most seasoned fighters within an army. As the republic fell, these cohorts grew in number and influence. Through the years, these men were the emperors’ double-edged sword, they corrupted politics by causing fear and crushing open resistance. Without Praetorian Guards, there would have been no emperor. In his book The Praetorian Guard, Boris Rankov, a Roman historian, noted: “Through their history the Guard were all too aware that they can make or destroy emperors as they wished. Yet, when they did so it was almost always for their selfish and immediate reasons rather than out of any wider political conviction or need (Rankov, 3).”
Indeed, the Praetorian Guard was the only force capable of keeping an emperor in check, and what did they demand from their rulers? Status, wealth, and comfort while the masses suffered. Sadly, the materialistic desires were never enough, and it certainly built paranoia within Caesars. When Marcus Aurelius came into power, he dedicated these men to his Eastern and Germanic campaign as an elite fighting force, thus using them effectively. Unfortunately, tradition dictated Roman armies and kept these forces influential in politics. Commodus, Marcus Aurelius’ own son, never understood the Praetorian’s corruptive influence. Through his reign, Commodus was often swayed by the praetorian prefect, the commanding officer, Perennis. Later on, another praetorian prefect by the name of Laetus, assassinated him, thus staining Marcus’ legacy and jump starting the Year of Five Emperors (Rankov, 15–16).
The point here is that the instalment of the Praetorian Guard created a pattern for emperors to follow: build influence in these guardsmen; pay them well; and use them for your own personal ambitions. In doing so, the path to the throne became centralized within this one army. As the result, political power became a rigged sport for the highest bidder. In turn, the rulers became obsessed with being the highest payer (Orwell). Ultimately, this paranoia stalled the advancement of the empire by promoting infighting, political corruption, and egotistical individuals. Unfortunately, being paranoid was only the first part of it, the next section will deal with a much bigger problem of human nature.
Through the age of emperors, most dynasties did not last more than a few decades. In fact, the Nerva-Antonine, Marcus Aurelius’ dynasty, lasted more than any other Principate dynasties simply because Marcus’ predecessor prioritized talents over bloodline. Let’s return to that condensed and classic scene in The Gladiator one last time, and this time it will be about Marcus Aurelius’ heir. As his final moments approached, the fictional Marcus offered his throne to the protagonist, Maximus, in order to carry on his work. Unfortunately, Commodus killed off his father and became a Caesar. In real life, the events were less dramatic but it still had plenty of action.
First, recalling the usurper Avidius Cassius mentioned in footnote 13. After hearing the false news about Marcus Aurelius’ death in 175 CE, Avidius levied his armies and declared himself the new emperor. As evidence had it, Marcus Aurelius was definitely sick in this time period. This is him attempting to control his pain in The Meditation:
“Chronic pain is always endurable… pain is neither unbearable or unending, as long as you keep in mind its limits and don’t magnify them in your imagination… stop perceiving the pain you imagine and you will remain completely unaffected.”
These quotes, and many more, represent Marcus Aurelius suffering in sickness.
Therefore, the question of succession was becoming more urgent as time went on. Avidius Cassius’ rebellion was, in fact, encouraged by Faustina, Aurelius’ wife, because she wanted a protector for Commodus’ inherence of the throne as he was only 13 years old in 175 CE (Birley 185). Personally, Marcus Aurelius wanted Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus, his son-in law and a close advisor, to become Caesar after him, but Pompeianus refused. After Commodus’ death, the conspirator of the assassination, Pertinax, once again offered the throne to Pompeianus, and, once again, he refused. Pertinax then later got assassinated by another usurper by the name of Julianus, who later offered to be Pompeianus’ co-emperor. Predictably, Pompeianus refused.
What made a man turn away from one of the most powerful positions in the classical world? What detail was lost to history that we do not know about Pompeianus? This paper will attempt to answer these two questions based upon the information that we know. First, consider the fact that Marcus Aurelius himself reluctantly accepted the responsibility of a ruler. It was only because of his obligation and mentorship to Antoninus Pius that he decided to rule. Secondly, consider Faustina’s perspective of a mother who understood the length people were willing to go to become a Caesar.¹⁸ As the result, Faustina instinctively betrayed her husband’s wishes in order to protect her son. Understanding these two elements, Pompeianus wisely refused to become an emperor, thrice. He did what Marcus Aurelius failed to do; he successfully avoided the temptation of power and the glamourous disillusion of non-existing legacy. Maybe Pompeianus was just a selfish man who ran away from his duties; maybe he was the one who did what Marcus Aurelius could not do in his lifetime. While definitive answers are elusive, what is clear is this: power concentrated in one man at the top is dangerous to that man.
Before we conclude this paper, let’s hypothesize on the government that takes into account humans’ flaws and allows big mistakes to happen. First, the ruling body must be small enough so that citizens have relationships with one another in order to promote empathy. Second of all, the system must be a form of democracy that takes everyone’s opinions into account. Last, we need to address succession. To solve this problem, the author suggests that power should go to the most worthy person through a process of elimination and apprenticeship for the one who wants to rule. The arguments for these rules are simply using human tendencies to bring out the best in everyone. For example, if a leader wants to be competitive, so be it, but he must also be empathetic and humble to his fellow men. Finally,²⁴ this body must be small in order to be flexible with its decision makings.¹⁹
In this attempt to dissect Marcus Aurelius’ career as an emperor, we examined how a centralized and overly bureaucratic government can be dangerous. To sum up its flaws: this system made a virtuous leader oblivious to the financial and moral cost of war; it was not able to integrate a new religious movement into Roman culture; it encouraged fear, corruption, and personal pettiness in its highest office. We can learn some virtues from the Romans such as: their love for discipline; their determination; their affection for duties as exemplified by Marcus Aurelius; and their disassociation from corruptive power represented by men like Pompeianus.
Besides all the hypothetical ideas and beyond all the analysis, the most important and practical message in this paper is the principle of honor — because when people are honorable,²⁵ good things happen. First, despite having to go to war, Marcus Aurelius did his best to be honorable; ultimately, he left behind an epitome of the Stoic ethic. Second, Pompeianus refused to be stained by the dishonorable ambitions around him, and he did not have to die by the sword. On the other hand, wicked men, such as Cassius or Commodus, ended tragically. At the end, honor is what keeps intentions pure and true; it is the one thing that keeps people up when everything crashes down. It is the legacy of Marcus Aurelius. We remember him for having a sense of honor when he became ill. We remember him for acting with honor when his wife betrayed him out of love for their son, Commodus. And we remember him for honoring the duties bestowed on him by Antonius Pius.
- The adopted name for every Roman emperor because it legitimizes the succession line from Julius Caesar to Augustus Caesar.
- Stoicism can be roughly defined as the philosophy of personal discipline, the domestication of human emotion, and gratitude.
- Derived from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan Theory to describe unforeseeable big events
- Black swan events: plagues, unexpected costs of war, rise of a religion, and the jealousy of a mother.
- To say that any war is political is an understatement. Wars have many layers that are unseeable and irrational. Furthermore, wars always manage to become more complicated than we expect them to. Ultimately, wars are systems where good men die and evil thrives.
- Despite his beliefs about the evil and futile nature of war, the author is afraid that his naiveté causes him to misunderstand the situation… — especially when it comes to something so sensitive and complicated, that he has never experienced, such as a war.
- Not to be confused with Scipio Africanus Major who invaded Carthage and pushed back Hannibal Barca’s invasion of Italy..
- Between the introduction of Stoicism in 130 BC and Marcus Aurelius’ inheritance of the empire in 161 AD, Rome enjoyed a massive territorial extension in which it conquered the entirety of Western Europe. Rome’s legacy is about how influential it was to European civilizations. Nevertheless, the correlation between the introduction of Stoicism to Rome and its effectiveness in territorial expansionism raises the question whether or not Stoic ethics allowed Rome to spread its influence by promoting the principle of duty and discipline within the Roman legions. A modern connection to this claim is the effectiveness of the motto “Do Your Job” by the New England Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick. A counter to this claim can be that Rome employed a system of rewarding its Roman soldiers with land and employing auxiliary troops from its conquered territory. Still, the connection raises an important question of effectiveness in human resource management.
- Another notable example of a Caesar being trained in Stoic philosophy is Augustus Caesar who deeply valued Arius Didymus, a stoic philosopher, as a teacher and an advisor.
- Ironically, Carthage can trace its root back to the Phoenician people. Therefore, it was Zeno who inspired the nemesis of his successors.
- Porches are stoa in Greek, thus the name Stoics.
- The literal translation to English is “The Word” in lots of Bible translations.
- The passages supporting this claim are Act 17: 16–18, in which disciple Paul referenced the statue of The Unknown God in Athens
- It is well known that Marcus Aurelius became an emperor only after Lucius Verus, his co-emperor, received equal power.
- It is hard to talk about what did not happen, like a Christian rebellion under Marcus Aurelius, but one event that certainly represented Marcus Aurelius’ fragile power is Avidius Cassius’ attempt to usurp when he heard that Marcus Aurelius was dying. We will come back to this point and Marcus Aurelius’ heir in a later part.
- As a student of Greek philosophy, Marcus Aurelius must have been familiar with Socrates’ quote, “Anyone can get angry, give, or spend money; but to do this to with the right person, to the right degree, and at the right time, for the right purpose, in the right way, that is not for everyone, nor it is easy.”
- The author gathered this idea through his previous researches on China, with books such as Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler or Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, and reading Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Therefore, it is hard to cite one particular author for it, but Taleb is probably the most impressionable one.
- An anecdote to accompany this claim is Augustus Caesar’s decision to execute Caesarion, Julius Caesar’s biological son, after his Stoic teacher Arius Didymus famously said, “it is not too good to have too many Caesars.”
- Please do not misread this part as another attempt at creating a utopia, or a lecture on how a government should work; it is a suggestion to utilize basic human tendencies — unlike the way communist governments tried to eliminate mankind’s greed and desires for power.
Dr. Nelson’s comment:
20. You mention the evil of war in the previous footnote, and again here. But you never “prove” or offer evidence that all war is evil.
21. Where? What? Is there a paragraph or line missing? This way of constructing the sentence gives it an informal tone. Like using, “aha!” It’s more appropriate to dialogue, narration, or poetry. ;-)
22. Any evidence for this theory? And I’m not exactly sure of what your claiming. Is this it? Marcus didn’t get the news about persecution in Syria-Palestine in time to do anything about it. And even if he had, he wouldn’t have done anything because the numbers were large and impersonal?
23. I admire your attempt here, but only one paragraph on a theory of proper government that accounts for human nature? I’m thinking of men like John Locke, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, and Thomas Jefferson who wrote volumes! Maybe if you focused more narrowly on the question of an “anti-fragile” government… but even then, it would take pages to explain and apply the theory.
24. I think this topic deserves much more space and time, plus examples, and the citing of political science scholars. I’m imagining a sculptor standing at a life size block of stone to carve a leader from it. He takes 3–4 hits on his chisel and walks away.
25. Sounds like a truism; but honor leads to tragedy sometimes also.
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