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Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was born to a wealthy Patrician family on April 20, 121.  His royal roots stemmed from his association with Emperor Antoninus who was his uncle.  Antoninus adopted Aurelius, providing him with the instruction that he would one day capitalize on as an Emperor himself.  Aurelius further established his connection with Antoninus when he married the Emperor’s daughter and his own cousin, Annia Galeria Faustina in 145 .

Marcus Aurelius

Aurelius became Emperor of Rome in 161 after which he made a significant contribution in leading the Roman army against barbarian tribes and in instituting reforms that would improve his empire’s legal system and responsibility to society.  His generosity was most clearly demonstrated when he sold his personal possessions to assist victims of plague and famine.  At the same time, he was capable of demonstrating a severe character, especially in his treatment of the Christians whom he believed were a threat to the empire .

Aurelius was known for his persuasion to Stoic philosophy and its relationship to politics as well as his firm beliefs on how religion should figure into political, personal and social life.  Although some historians maintain that Aurelius’s rule had no long-term influence on subsequent leadership of the Roman Empire, his significance was demonstrated in the gradual decline of the empire falling his death in 180

Aurelius was not a friend to the Christians whose population had grown significantly prior to his kingship.  In fact, Aurelius played a large role in their persecution.  Watson maintains that Aurelius did not persecute the Christians because he did not share the same religious beliefs but because he did not appreciate how the Christians were systematically attempting to conquer the world with their religious ideology .

According to Clarke, Aurelius adopted the same thought concerning religion that was common in Cicero’s time, which was that “religion appealed to sentiment [and] philosophy to the intellect; religion belonged to the public personality [and] philosophy to the private”.  Unfortunately for the Christians, Aurelius was not particularly keen on seeing Christianity belonging to the public personality.

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