THE MODEL PAGAN
MARCUS AURELIUS was a worthy successor of the good
Antoninus. He was one of the best and most remarkable
men that ever lived. He traced his descent from the
second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, and he himself has
said: "To the gods I am indebted for having good
grandfathers, good parents, a good sister, good
teachers, good associates, good kinsmen and friends,—nearly
The new emperor had been most carefully brought up and
educated, and never did good teachers have so good a
pupil. He was not a Christian, but a pagan who
practiced all the virtues which the Christians taught.
He belonged to a school of philosophers called the
Stoics, who said that people ought to bear nobly all
the ills of this life, and to seek to be good rather
He delighted in reading and hearing of the lives of
 great and noble men, and specially admired Epictetus the philosopher. This man, although only a lame slave,
was one of the finest characters that ever lived; and
the great emperor profited much by the teachings
received from him. Marcus Aurelius thus learned to be
simple, true, temperate, and good; and through the
influence of Epictetus he became a model of pagan
During the course of his life, this emperor wrote down
many of the beautiful thoughts which occurred to him,
and many maxims for the education of his son. These
writings have been preserved in a book called
"Meditations of Marcus Aurelius," and are said to be
the finest ever written, after the Bible.
Marcus Aurelius, although so fond of peace, did not
enjoy much of it during his reign, for there was
constant trouble with the barbarians in Germany and
Britain. As soon as these disturbances began, the
Parthians in the East revolted also; and Verus, whom
Marcus Aurelius had made associate ruler of Rome, was
sent out to fight them.
This Verus, unfortunately, was as bad as Aurelius was
good. While he was in Rome he behaved very well, but
when far away from his virtuous colleague, he began to
live a very wicked life. Had not his generals fought
bravely for him, the Parthians would never have been
conquered; for he spent most of his time in idleness,
or in eating and drinking to excess.
When Verus returned home, he claimed and received the
honors of a triumph, although they belonged in reality
to his generals. The joy of the Romans at his return,
however, was soon changed to mourning, because the
 troops brought back from the East a horrible disease,
which caused the death of hosts of people.
The Romans were almost wild with terror, owing to this
disease and to the floods and famines which took place
at about the same time; but Marcus Aurelius showed
great courage, and went among them trying to relieve
their sufferings, and exhorting them to be patient.
Hoping to put an end to such scourges, the people made
great offerings to the gods; and when these failed to
bring any relief, the pagan priests accused the
Christians of causing all their woes. On the strength
of such accusations, the Christians were again
persecuted; and the only fault which can be found with
Marcus Aurelius is that he allowed them to be tortured
during his reign.
Many historians, however, say that the blame of the
persecution does not really rest upon Aurelius, who
knew nothing about the new religion, but upon the
senators, who made him believe that the Christians were
very wicked, and that they should be put down at any
Verus having died, Marcus Aurelius now became sole
ruler. Meanwhile, a great rebellion had broken out
among the barbarians in the north, and the emperor
himself took command of the army that marched against
them. We are told that once during this campaign the
Roman legions were in great danger. Had it not been
for a sudden thunderstorm, accompanied by much hail,
which fell upon the enemy, the emperor and his troops
would surely have perished.
This timely thunderstorm has been considered a miracle.
The pagan Romans said that it was worked by their gods,
whom they had called upon in their distress; but the
 Christians believed that it was owing to the prayers of
some of their brothers who were in the imperial army.
However this may be, Aurelius put a stop to the
persecutions of the Christians on his return to Rome.
He died not long after, at Vienna, during another
campaign, leaving the empire to Commodus, his young
son, and imploring the senators to give the new emperor
The victories and life of Marcus Aurelius were
commemorated by a column, still standing in Rome, where
the miracle related above is also represented. A
better monument, however, is the book he wrote, which
has been translated into English, so that everybody can
read it; and best of all is the record of his life,
which had been wholly devoted to doing good.