The Final Chapter: How Did Marcus Aurelius Die?

Marcus Aurelius, the 16th emperor of the Roman Empire, left a profound mark on history. Known for his philosophical insights and stoic demeanor, his reign was a beacon of stability during a turbulent era. Many wonder, how did Marcus Aurelius die? This article will explore the final years of his life, his death, and the legacy he left behind. Ancient Rome remembers the good emperor for many things. Let’s see.

His father was Marcus Annius Verus, a distinguished Roman politician living in the 2nd century. He served as a praetor, but most people recognize him as the father to Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus had a sister, Annie Galeria Faustina, and an adoptive brother, Lucius Verus. He ruled together with his brother Lucius Verus.

The Stoic Emperor’s Final Years

Born into a politically influential family, young Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was adopted into the imperial family by Emperor Hadrian, ensuring a smooth transition to power. He was a dedicated student, with a keen interest in Stoicism, a philosophy that emphasized fate, reason, and self-restraint. His stoic principles guided his rule and his personal life, shaping the good emperor he would become.

The Northern Frontier

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius spent a significant portion of his reign on the frontlines. The Roman Empire under his rule faced constant threats from Germanic tribes attempting to invade from the north. This conflict began in 167 AD when two German tribes, the Obii and the Langobardi, forced their way into Pannonia. These wars would occupy Marcus Aurelius for the rest of his reign, marking a distinct contrast to his peaceful and philosophical disposition.

Nowadays, Roman history remember the good emperor for his war with the German tribes.

The Battlefront

In the late summer of 178 AD, Marcus Aurelius returned to the northern border, where he led successful campaigns against powerful tribes including the Jazyges, Quadi, and Marcomanni. His military victories brought the Romans closer to achieving their goal of expanding the empire’s territories.

The Emperor’s Health

However, in March of 180 AD, the emperor’s health took a turn for the worse. His deteriorating health forced him to summon his son and successor, Commodus, to the frontlines. Marcus Aurelius hoped to inspire his son to continue the war and fulfill the mission he could no longer undertake.

How Did Marcus Aurelius Die?

Marcus Aurelius died on March 17, 180 AD, at Sirmium in the province of Pannonia. Despite various theories, the exact cause of his death remains a mystery. Some suggest he may have contracted the plague, which was ravaging the empire during this period.

The Emperor’s Final Words

According to the senator and historian Cassius Dio, the emperor’s last words were directed at a military tribune who asked for the watchword: “Look to the rising sun; for I am already setting.” These words reflected the stoic acceptance of his imminent death, a testament to his philosophical outlook.

Post-Mortem Honors

In the wake of his death, Marcus Aurelius was honored with various tributes, including a golden statue erected in the senate house and deification by the senate. This event is depicted on a coin from the era, adding to the pantheon of Roman gods.

The Succession

After Marcus Aurelius’ death, his son Commodus ascended the throne. Unfortunately, his father’s ambitious plans to expand the northern borders of the empire were abandoned. Commodus, more inclined towards easy living, made peace with the barbarians and returned to Rome shortly after his father’s death.

The Philosopher Emperor’s Legacy

Despite the circumstances surrounding his death, Emperor Marcus Aurelius is best remembered for his philosophical wisdom and rational rule. His thoughts, compiled in a work titled “The Meditations,” provide a rich insight into his stoic beliefs. The work is filled with his notes on life, offering timeless wisdom on virtue, duty, and the human condition.


So, how did Marcus Aurelius die? While the exact cause remains uncertain due to low amount of writings in Ancient history, his death marked the end of a reign characterized by philosophical wisdom, military success, and stoic philosophy. His legacy continues to inspire, making him one of the most revered figures in Roman history.

Many call him the Philosopher King to this day. His reign in the Roman republic was a peaceful one, despite the wars with the Germanic tribes.



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