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Philosophical ruler or pragmatic emperor? An analysis of Roman Stoicism's influence on the policies of Marcus Aurelius

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posted on 2022-11-21, 02:04 authored by Auren Tiberius Sol

As emperor, the decisions Marcus Aurelius made affected the lives of millions. Yet few studies have been conducted that look into whether his Stoic philosophy impacted those decisions. As a result of the highly specialised and structured research undertaken by modern academia, incompatibilities arise when amalgamating these interdisciplinary conceptualisations of the individual into a comprehensive whole. This study aimed to investigate these incompatibilities by defining Marcus’ ‘lived experiences’ through the intertwining conceptualisations of his personal characteristics, Stoic philosophy, and socio-political influences. Foucault’s post-structural perspective on the ‘history of thought’ was utilised to achieve this, and in so doing, a set of conditions were defined to identify whether specific decisions falling under the differing foundational pillars of Roman society had a philosophical basis. This thesis has determined that Marcus’s unique form of Stoicism directly impacted a number of his decisions. These conditions were stripped down to their base elements to identify whether its ethical core was morally good, and whether Marcus’ rebelliousness identified in Chapter Two, defined as the expansion of benefits, freedoms, or rights of a particular class or subset of marginalised people, was prevalent throughout the decision. In three of the five case studies conducted, both conditions were met. An analysis of a prior quantitative study also determined that the ratio of legislation Marcus made was predominantly affected by his Stoic beliefs. Future research is recommended to expand upon the limited number of case studies to provide a more comprehensive analysis. 


Table of Contents

Chapter one: introduction -- Chapter two: an analysis of Marcus Aurelius' personal characteristics -- Chapter three: an analysis of Marcus Aurelius' personal philosophy -- Chapter four: an analysis of the philosophical influences in Marcus' legislation -- Chapter five: conclusion -- References


A thesis submitted to the Department of Ancient History Macquarie University in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Research

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


Thesis (MRes), Macquarie University, Department of Ancient History, 2022

Department, Centre or School

Department of History and Archaeology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Peter Keegan


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




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