Originally born as Marcus Annius Verus in Rome in the year 121 A.D.
, he took on the name of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus upon his adoption by the Emperor Titus Aurelius Antoninus
. He ascended to the throne in 161 and ruled until his death in 180.
The reign of Marcus Aurelius was a peaceful one in Rome marked with justice and moderation. However, the frontiers of the empire where troubled by constant warfare, fighting against barbarian hordes that were slowly weakening Roman Army.
Marcus was educated by the orator Fronto, but later turned aside from the study of rhetoric to the study of Stoic philosophy. Historians consider him to be the last distinguished Stoic philosopher.
The Meditations were originally written in Greek. While they don't forge any new ground in stoic philosophy, they do provide excellent examples of Stoic morality and practicality. These writings show that he lived his public and private life with the highest degree of virtue. Marcus and Titus are noted as the only two Roman emperors who ruled with an eye to the welfare of their subjects.
During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, Rome had disease, and great military losses. This caused the Romans to panic and demand the sacrifice of the Christians who were perceived to have angered the gods. It appears that Marcus also shared this panic and remains the only stain on his record - the sanctioning of persecution. Some regard this incident (depicted in the movie Gladiator) of one of the pagan moralists to have been symbolic of the efforts to stem the advance of Christianity.