Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was born Marcus Annius Verus in C.E. 121 on the 26th April while Hadrian was emperor. His parents died when he was young and young Marcus was adopted by his grandfather. His grandfather saw to it that Marcus Aurelius got an excellent education.
At the age of seventeen, Marcus Annius was adopted by his uncle, the new emperor, Aurelius Antoninus Pius, who had been adopted by the emperor Hadrian on the condition that he [Pius] adopt Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus.
Marcus and Aurelius Antoninus' daughter Faustina were married and would go on to have five children. However, only the tyrannical Commodus, who would succeed Marcus Aurelius survived past childhood.
In C.E. 161, Antoninus died and Marcus Aurelius became Emperor. He made Lucius Verus joint emperor and for the first time two emperors ruled Rome concurrently. Their rule was affected by the wars and plagues that affected the Empire. From 162 to 165, they fought the Pathians under Vologeses III and it was while returning from this engagement that the legions brought a plague back to Rome.
From 167-168, Rome was at war with the Marcomanni and upon Verus' death in 169, which left Aurelius sole ruler, the hostilities resumed. It was while fighting this war that he, stationed on the Danube with his troops and living a meloncholy existence, wrote his famous book The Meditations.This book embodies the ideals of the Stoic philosophy.
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus died at the age of 58 on the 17th of March, 180 of an infectious disease. His last words were: Weep not for me, think rather of the pestilence and the deaths of so many others.
Marcus Aurelius was a fair and just ruler. He showed mercy to his vanquished foes, fought corruption and slavery and decreed that gladiators fight blunted weapons. When the empire was at war and hard-pressed for funds, instead of raising taxes he sold his own possessions.
Some claim that his greatest fault was that he refused to delcare Stoicism as the official religion of the empire. However, unlike Christians, Marcus Aurelius realized the importance of free will and choice and that imposing a religion, or idea, on a person would more likely cause that person to oppose the idea than accept it.
Unfortunately, his only surviving son, Commodus, succeeded Marcus Aurelius as emperor. Commodus' reign was an evil and corrupt rule which was in direct contrast to the enlightened and graceful rule of Marcus Aurelius.