The biggest references for Aurelius are few, far between and most often undependable. Deciphering the facts from fiction has been a cause for much study and debate for many of the ancient emperors. Although there have been found several manuscripts of his story that are largely reliable. Aurelius was born as M Annius Verus April 26 121 AD where he is located on the Biblical Timeline Chart with World History. He was part of a notable family with Spanish ancestry. His parents were Annius Verus and Domitia Lucilla. Marcus’ grandfather worked as a consulate that year for the second time and on to a third time in 126 AD. This was an extraordinary occurrence that set their family with high honor. His grandfather then worked for Emperor Hadrian as city prefect.
Aurelius was well educated and had a particular interest in rhetoric and philosophy. His interest and drive towards knowledge was so notable that Emperor Hadrian noticed him and referred to him as “Verissimus,” which means, “Most truthful”. He earned many honors from a young age and looked to have been thought of as a possible ruler from Hadrian. The Emperor had originally named L. Ceionius Commodus but he died unexpectedly. Hadrian then adopted a well-known senator named T. Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus who originated from Cisalpine Gual. As part of the charge that was put upon Antoninus as heir, he was to adopt the youthful Verus (later to be called M. Aelius Aurelius Verus) along with Commodus’ son L. Aelius Aurelius Commodus. Their ages were 17 and 8. Aurelius labored next to his new father and learned the systems of the government and public policies.
During 140 AD, Aurelius was named consul (head of the senate) a job that he would have twice more before he died. As time went by he acquired more duties and official abilities thus becoming a reliable resource of help and advice to Emperor Antoninus. Despite all these responsibilities, Aurelius still found time to continue his learning in philosophy and law.
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Following a series of unsuccessful tries to kill himself (all stopped by Antoninus) Hadrian departed for Baiae which was a coastal resort by the Campanian shore. While there Hadrian’s health got worse and he forsook the instructions given him by his doctor, eating and drinking whatever he wanted. He asked for Antoninus who was there when he died July 10 138 AD. Antoninus’ ascension to the throne was smooth and unchallenged. He maintained the previous emperor’s people in office and pacified the senate by acknowledging their part and carrying the orders of death sentenced to men who had been convicted during Hadrian’s reign. After such acts, Antoninus was awarded the honorable title of “Pius”.
Right after Hadrian passed away Antoninus asked Marcus to cancel his betrothal to Ceionia Fabia and marry his daughter Faustina. In turn Faustina’s fiancé Ceionia’s brother would have to be declined as well. Marcus agreed and arrangements were made. They were married in 145 AD and had several children although sadly a few did not survive for very long. The most recognized ones were his daughter Lucilla and his son Commodus.
Antoninus Pius was a ruler of Rome for an extended period of time. During this era relations were mostly peaceful and there was significant growth in the country. Antoninus was not as interested in military campaigns, and never departed Italy as ruler. There were only a scattering of instability on the borders of the country which were maintained quickly and victoriously. As a result neither heir of Antoninus’ acquired a bit of familiarity towards war and negotiations; a shortfall that contributed to serious problems and events in years to come.
As time went by and Antoninus got older, Aurelius would do more and more work for the kingdom. Especially when he was named praetorian prefect, in 160 AD Aurelius and Lucius were appointed shared consuls the next year. March 7 161 AD Antoninus called for the imperial council and handed his authority to his daughter and her husband Aurelius. He died that night which ended the longest reign since Augustus, even overlapping Tiberius by several months.
There was no conflict or opposition to Aurelius’ ascension to the throne. He elected his brother as shared emperor just like Hadrian had designated.
A Troubled Rule
Not at all like the peace and prosperity that was seen at the time of Antoninus’ reign the joint leadership of the siblings were followed with war and illness. In 160 AD, the Parthian’s sought to take over the East. Lucius Verus fronted the battles while Aurelius maintained Rome. They had much-needed help from several generals including Avidius Cassius the future governor of Syria. The soldiers that came back to Rome carried some sort of disease with them that took several years to abate and killed an entire segment of the people. With most historical plagues, it was nearly impossible to conclude which one it was. However, it is probable that the affliction was smallpox. The depth of the impact is still up for debate.
Another difficulty occurred in early 162 AD when the Tiber overflowed it banks and flooded many parts of Rome. Animals drowned and the city was left with very little or no food. The two rulers focused on this with as much attention as they could muster. Other such disastrous events noted that the emperors had helped the Italian people with Roman stores.
As the war with Parthia came to an end Aurelius and Verus came to another confrontation, this time with the German tribes in the later 160s. They had overcome the DanubeRiver and battled against a Roman city. Aurelius and Verus had to come up with the finances before they could face the Germans with a sufficient number of soldiers. When Verus died in 169 AD Aurelius was forced to maintain the country and battles against the Germans by himself.
Aurelius’ agendas were first to drive out his enemies from Italy and place them back into their own land past the Danube. He worked to cut off the tribes one at a time and beat them in order to accomplish this. This was worked well as a single tribe at a time was beaten and reunited to Roman rule. Unfortunately this took a long time and had a hefty toll on finances. This work was disrupted in 175 AD from general Avidius Cassius (governor of Syria) who had announced the kingdom under his rule. It is not known if he either he acted from a report that Auerlius had died or was scheming with the emperor’s wife but Aurelius had to take action quickly.
Before Auerlius could get there the challenger was killed. The emperor took a bit to fix matters and re-establish his reign among his people before traveling back to the North in order to deal with the Germans once more. This time he brought his son Commodus who was only 16 at the time. Their strategies were victorious but in the early 180 AD Auerlius passed away, one year prior to ending the conflict. Commodus succeeded his father and quickly accepted an agreement of peace in order to return to Rome with a desire for a life of simplicity and comfort. Rome never had the ‘upper hand’ ever again with their correspondence towards the Germanic Tribes past the set borders of the country.
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