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Richard I › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 08 May 2018
Arms of Richard I (Sodacan)

Richard I, or Richard the Lionheart ( ur de Lion ), was King of England from 1189 to 1199 CE. Known for his courage and successes in warfare, the king was so busy with the Third Crusade (1189–1192 CE) and then the defence of English-held territory in France that he would only spend five months of his reign in England. A legend in his own lifetime, Richard the Lionheart has become one of the greatest figures in European history and his arms of three lions are still used by the English royal family today.

EARLY LIFE & SUCCESSION

Richard was born on 8 September 1157 CE in Beaumont Palace, Oxford, as the third son of King Henry II of England (r. 1154-1189 CE) and Eleanor of Aquitaine, former consort of Louis VII, King of France. Richard's education involved a good dose of chivalric literature thanks to his mother's interest in the subject. Poetry was another favourite pastime and the king composed his own poems in both French and Occitan (a French dialect commonly used in romances). The young prince was said to have been a tall, handsome fellow with reddish-blonde hair and was already noted for his courage.
It was a period of troubled and complex relations between England and France, and Richard, whose family had been the principal cause, would be involved in two rebellions against his father. The first bid to topple the king came in 1173 CE when Richard, his brothers Henry and Geoffrey, the Count of Brittany engaged the support of Louis VII of France. Aged just 15, Richard was knighted by Louis and dispatched on a campaign to invade eastern Normandy, then under the English crown. The rebels failed to oust Henry II but Richard was pardoned after he swore allegiance to his father.

RICHARD'S TAKING OF THE ONCE-THOUGHT IMPREGNABLE CASTLE OF TAILLEBOURG WAS AN ESPECIALLY SPLENDID FEATHER IN HIS PRINCE'S CORONET.

The prince held the titles of the Duke of Aquitaine and Count of Poitou (both in France and arranged by his mother) and he cemented his growing reputation as a gifted field commander and besieger of castles by quashing a revolt by the barons of Aquitaine. His taking of the once-thought impregnable castle of Taillebourg was an especially splendid feather in his prince's coronet. Less splendid were the tales of his ruthless treatment of prisoners and forced prostitution of captured noblewomen.Still, despite his successes, Richard wanted more.
Richard again challenged his father in 1188-9 CE when he and his brother John formed an alliance with Philip II, the new King of France (r. 1180-1223 CE). The rebellion was again supported by Eleanor and the war included the legendary episode in which the famous knight William Marshal fought Richard, had the prince at his mercy but chose to kill his horse instead.Notwithstanding their rivalry, or perhaps in gratitude for his chivalry, Richard later gave William Chepstow Castle, as had been promised him by Henry II.
Henry II & Richard I

Henry II & Richard I

Losing control of both Maine and Touraine, Henry eventually agreed to peace terms which recognised Richard as his sole heir.When the king died shortly after, Richard was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on 3 September 1189 CE. Also part of his kingdom were those lands in France still belonging to his family the Angevins (aka Plantagenets): Normandy, Maine and Aquitaine.

THIRD CRUSADE

The Third Crusade (1189-1192 CE) was called by Pope Gregory VIII following the capture of Jerusalem in 1187 CE by Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria (r. 1174-1193 CE). No fewer than three monarchs took up the call: Frederick I Barbarossa (King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor, r. 1152-1190 CE), Philip II of France and Richard himself. With these being the three most powerful men in western Europe, the campaign promised to be a more favourable one than the Second Crusade of 1147-49 CE. Unfortunately for Christendom, though, the Crusaders only managed to get within sight of Jerusalem and no attempt was made to attack the holy city. Indeed, the whole project was beset with problems, none bigger than Barbarossa drowning in a river before they even got to the Holy Land. The Holy Roman Emperor's death resulted in most of his army trudging back home in grief which left only the English and French knights, who were not particularly fond allies at the best of times.
Still, despite the bad start, there were some military highlights to write home about. Richard, who took the sea route to the Middle East, first captured Messina on Sicily in 1190 CE and then Cyprus in May 1191 CE. In the latter campaign the island's self-proclaimed ruler Isaac Komnenos (r. 1184-1191 CE), who had broken away from the Byzantine Empire, was captured and the Crusaders would then govern until the Venetians took over in 1571 CE. However, these detours were not really helping the overall aim of recapturing Jerusalem, even if Cyprus proved to be a useful supply base.
The Crusaders did eventually arrive in the Holy Lands and managed to bring a successful conclusion to the siege of Acra (aka Acre) on the coast of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, on 12 July 1191 CE. Begun by the French nobleman Guy of Lusignan, who attacked from the sea, the protracted siege finally worked when sappers, offered cash incentives by the English king, undermined the fortification walls of the city on the land side. The 'Lionheart', as Richard was now known thanks to his courage and audacity in warfare, had achieved in five weeks what Guy had failed to do in 20. According to legend, the king was ill at the time, struck down by scurvy, although he had retainers carry him on a stretcher so that he could fire at the enemy battlements with his crossbow. Richard then rather blemished his 'good king' reputation when he ordered 2,500 prisoners to be executed. Guy of Lusignan, meanwhile, was made the new king of Cyprus which had been sold by Richard to the Knights Templar.
Richard the Lionheart

Richard the Lionheart

There was also a famous victory for the English king over Saladin's army at Arsuf, in September 1191 CE, but the advantage could not be pursued. Richard marched to within sight of Jerusalem but he knew that even if he could storm the city, his reduced army would most likely not be able to hold it against an inevitable counter-attack. In any case, domestic affairs in France and England necessitated both kings to return home and the whole Crusade project was effectively abandoned.Richard salvaged something for all the effort and negotiated a peace deal with Saladin at Jaffa. A small strip of land around Acre and the future safe treatment of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land was also bargained for. It was not quite what was hoped for at the outset but there could always be a Fourth Crusade at some time in the future. Indeed, Richard noted that in any future campaign against the Arabs it could be advantageous to attack from Egypt, the weak underbelly of the Arab empire. It was precisely this plan which the Fourth Crusaders (1202-1204 CE) adopted even if they again were distracted, this time by the jewel of Byzantium : Constantinople.

RICHARD WAS HELD CAPTIVE BY HENRY VI OF GERMANY UNTIL A MASSIVE RANSOM OF 150,000 MARKS WAS PAID FOR HIS RELEASE.

There were also some take-home technology innovations for the English king. The Byzantines had long used a fearsome weapon known as Greek Fire - a highly flammable liquid shot out of tubes under pressure - which, although a state secret for centuries, was eventually stolen by the Arabs. Richard must have acquired the formula from Arab alchemists he came into contact with on the Crusade for he used it to good effect back in England and on his later campaigns in France.
Before King Richard could return home, though, there would be one final sting of the ill-fated Crusade for on the return journey in 1192 CE Richard was shipwrecked, arrested and taken to Vienna. Passed on to Henry VI, the new Holy Roman Emperor, the English King was held for ransom. Richard would only be released in 1194 CE and one can imagine the frustration for the swashbuckling king of two years of captivity. The ransom was a massive 150,000 marks (which equates to several million dollars today) so that it was largely through new taxes in England and Normandy that the money was raised. Indeed, the sum was so high that even taxation could not raise enough and Richard was forced to provide a number of noblemen hostages to make up for the shortfall.

DOMESTIC POLICIES

While the king was fighting abroad, English politics was left in the capable hands of Hubert Walter, who was Bishop of Salisbury in 1189 CE and was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1193 CE. Walter proved himself an able statesman and events would unravel which required exactly that at the helm of the ship of state. While captive in the Holy Roman EmpireRichard’s younger brother John made an unsuccessful attempt to seize the throne but Walter managed to contain the usurper thanks to the help of another able minister: he who looked after the realm's purse strings in Richard's absence, the chancellor, William Longchamp. The war was principally one of sieges and control of strategically important castles such as at Nottingham and Windsor but in the end, the crown prevailed.
Richard forgave his brother his excessive ambition and even nominated him as his successor. Walter Hubert was also responsible for raising the hefty ransom which had gained his king's release. In 1193 CE Walter was made justiciar and given overall responsibility for government, a position he held until 1199 CE.
Richard Lionheart at Westminster

Richard Lionheart at Westminster

One area the king was wary of was tournaments, those events where knights attacked each other in mock cavalry battles.Richard only permitted their organisation under license - allowing five places to host them - and made knights pay an entrance fee. The latter measure and the imposition of heavy fines for anyone daring to hold an unofficial event were a useful means to fill the state's coffers which were so often emptied by the king's expensive military escapades. Still, Richard also appreciated that tournaments could be a useful training ground for his knights and, soon to be up against the French, whose knights were famed for their horsemanship, he would need as skilled an army as he could muster.

GIVEN RICHARD'S NEED TO FUND HIS ARMIES THROUGHOUT HIS REIGN IT IS PERHAPS NOT SURPRISING THAT HE WAS NOWHERE NEAR THE BIG SPENDER ON ENGLISH CASTLES THAT HIS FATHER HAD BEEN.

Given Richard's need to fund his armies throughout his reign it is perhaps not surprising that he was nowhere near the big spender on English castles that his father had been. There was a major investment in revamping and extending the Tower of London in 1189-90 CE as indicated in the Pipe Rolls expenditure records but, otherwise, castle-building came to halt as the decade of the 1190s CE wore on. Yet another fund-raising strategy of the perennially cash-strapped king was to open up royal forests to local lords for hunting, with an appropriate fee, of course. Clearly, Richard needed all the money he could get his hands on for the conflicts yet to come.

CAMPAIGNS IN FRANCE & DEATH

From 1194 CE Richard spent much of his time on campaign in France where he defended the Angevin lands against his former Crusader ally, Philip II of France. The English king assembled an army for the purpose by requiring his barons to merely supply the king with only seven knights each instead of the usual vassal fighting force. As an alternative, Richard demanded cash with which he could purchase his own mercenaries. It was an arrangement the barons were only too happy to agree to as it meant they could remain, and defend if necessary, their own castles and lands rather than abandon them to opportunists while far away in France.
Richard might have neglected English fortifications but he invested big in Normandy, notably constructing the Chateau Gaillard by the River Seine from 1197 CE to better defend his territorial claims there. Then disaster struck. Richard was mortally wounded in Aquitaine during his siege of the castle of Châlus in 1199 CE. The king, hit in the neck by a crossbow bolt, died on 6 April after the wound had become gangrenous. Richard was buried alongside his parents at Fontevraud Abbey near Chinon while his effigy at Rouen contains his heart.
Tomb of Richard I

Tomb of Richard I

LEGACY

As he had no heir Richard I was succeeded by his brother John who would reign until 1216 CE. John (aka John Lackland) managed to make himself one of the most unpopular kings in English history and his oppression and military failures brought about a major uprising of barons who obliged the king to sign the Magna Carta in 1215 CE, upon which a constitution was based with the power of the monarch curbed and with the rights of the barons protected.
Richard gained legendary status as one of the great medieval knights and kings even in his own lifetime thanks to his daring deeds and the love and respect of his soldiers but after his death the myths only grew bigger, starting with the Anglo-Norman novel Romance of Richard Cœur de Lion published around 1250 CE. Already having proven himself as courageous, a determined foe of the Saracens and a composer of poetry to boot, Richard was the very model of the chivalrous knight and so his legend grew along those lines. Medieval artworks depicted the king improbably jousting Saladin, he was attributed fine speeches about saving his men or he would not be worthy of his crown, and stories sprang up of him being such a determined foe of the Arabs that he cooked and ate those he captured. Even today, the presence of a dramatic statue of the king outside the Houses of Parliament in London is an indicator of the special place Richard has gained, and continues to hold, in the hearts of Englanders.
Finally, Richard has left a lasting legacy in heraldry. The king's choice of three golden lions (although they may originally have been leopards) on a red background on his shield were an extension of his family's traditional two lions. The three lions, perhaps originally rearing figures ('rampant' in heraldic terms) but subsequently established as strolling forward with their heads turned at the onlooker ('passant guardant') have become not only a part of the English royal coat of arms ever since but also appear today in many other badges, especially sporting ones such as the England national football and cricket teams.

Marcus Aurelius: Plato's Philosopher King › Who Was

Ancient Civilizations

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 09 May 2018

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (r. 161-180 CE), last of the “good emperors” of the Roman Empire, has been hailed as “the noblest of all the men who, by sheer intelligence and force of character, have prized and achieved goodness for its own sake and not for any reward” (Grant, 139). His reign was characterized by a devotion to his people and this, as well as his enduring philosophical work, Meditations, attests to the truth of Grant's praise.
Scholar Michael Grant, however, is hardly the first to express such sentiments. Aurelius was highly respected in his lifetime and is referred to as “the philosopher” by later ancient sources such as Cassius Dio (c. 155-235 CE) and the author (or authors) of the Historia Augusta (4th century CE), a history of Roman emperors. It is clear from both these sources that Aurelius' Meditations was known to them but the authors focus, not only on the written work – which Aurelius never intended for publication – but on how he lived his philosophy throughout his reign.
Bust of Marcus Aurelius

Bust of Marcus Aurelius

The Meditations is Aurelius' journal, written between c. 170-180 CE when he was on military campaigns in Germania, and expresses his philosophical, particularly Stoic, view of life. The work is a private reflection on how to live the best life possible – it is not a polished philosophical tract – and repeats a number of themes throughout its twelve books as Aurelius grapples with the same serious questions at different times. Scholar Gregory Hays elaborates:
The questions that the Meditations tries to answer are primarily metaphysical and ethical ones: Why are we here? How should we live our lives? How can we ensure that we do what is right? How can we protect ourselves against the stresses and pressures of daily life? How should we deal with pain and misfortune? How can we live with the knowledge that someday we will no longer exist? (xxiv-xxv)
His Meditations has inspired countless people through the centuries but, in the present day, he is probably best known for his depiction in popular Hollywood films such as Gladiator (2000 CE). While his depiction in Gladiator is somewhat fictionalized, especially concerning his cause of death and his `vision' for Rome, that he should be played so sympathetically in the movie is a testament to his legacy.
Whatever artistic license the film may have taken with the facts of Aurelius' life, the spirit of the man comes through as a close proximation to Plato ’s concept of the Philosopher King articulated in Book V of the Republic. Plato writes:
Unless either philosophers become kings in their countries, or those who are now called kings and rulers come to be sufficiently inspired with a genuine desire for wisdom; unless, that is to say, political power and philosophy meet together…there can be no rest from troubles. (Republic V.473d)
Aurelius himself would never have thought to compare himself favorably with Plato's vision nor with the ideal of a Roman Emperor as embodied by his noble predecessor Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161 CE) who adopted him as successor. He saw himself as a student of philosophy, not as a “philosopher”, and as a man struggling to fulfill his obligations to the people who had faith in him, not as an “emperor”. It is precisely his humble view of himself which makes him the ideal candidate as the Philosopher King. Plato's concept stipulates that is precisely the man who loves wisdom more than power who is best suited to rule.
Antoninus Pius adopted and groomed Aurelius as a Roman emperor but it is clear that the young man would have preferred the life of the philosopher. In his Meditations he returns constantly to the theme of the importance of living a true, honest life in the attempt to find inner peace rather than pay attention to the trappings of power and the kind of responsibilities inherent in ruling an empire.

THE MEDITATIONS ARE THE DIARY OR JOURNAL OF MARCUS AURELIUS, WRITTEN LARGELY DURING HIS CAMPAIGNS IN THE DANUBE REGION IN TWELVE BOOKS.

YOUTH & INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY

Aurelius was born in Spain in 121 CE to an aristocratic Roman family which was politically connected. He was named after his father, Marcus Annius Verus, who had been named for his father and his father's father who were senators. His mother, Domitia Lucilla (c. 155-161 CE) was also a wealthy patrician and well-connected politically. At the age of three, following the death of his father in c. 124 CE, Aurelius was brought up primarily by his grandfathers and nurses.
When he was eleven years old he was introduced to philosophical thought by one of his teachers, Diognetus, and internalized the discipline which would guide him throughout the rest of his life. In his Meditations, Aurelius thanks Diognetus for the lessons he learned and lists them:
Not to waste time on nonsense. Not to be taken in by conjurors and hoodoo artists with their talk about incantations and exorcism and all the rest of it. Not to be obsessed with quail-fighting or other crazes like that. To hear unwelcome truths. To practice philosophy…to write dialogues as a student. To choose the Greek lifestyle – the camp-bed and the cloak. (I.6)
Aurelius' reference to the “camp-bed and the cloak” suggests the Cynic school of philosophy as the first to have a major impact on him. The Cynic School was founded by Antisthenes of Athens (lc 445-365 BCE), a student of Socrates (lc 469/470-399 BCE) and its teachings were later exemplified in the lives of Diogenes of Sinope (lc 404-323 BCE) and Crates of Thebes (lc 360-280 BCE). The Cynic philosophers, as well as Plato, would influence Zeno of Citium (lc 336-265 BCE) who founded the Stoic School of philosophy which would come to have a profound impact on Aurelius' life and thought later on.
Antisthenes

Antisthenes

The Cynic School was characterized by the discipline of self-denial which rejected luxuries, social status, and wealth along with unnecessary material objects. By freeing one's self on all non-essentials – including social conventions of polite manners and “proper” behavior – one would be free to pursue simply being one's self.
Aurelius seems to have found this kind of life appealing and pursued it by choosing the “Greek Style”, as he calls it, and sleeping on the ground or the floor of his room instead of his bed and adopting the simple woolen cloak of the philosopher. If he fully embraced Cynicism he would have also renounced any luxurious possessions, contented himself with the simplest food, and rejected basic hygiene as an expression of vanity. His immersion in this lifestyle, however, was curtailed by his mother fairly quickly who felt he should pursue goals more in keeping with the family name and their status in society.
His mother and grandfathers hired tutors to train the boy and no expense was spared. Historian Will Durant remarks, “never was a boy so persistently educated” and continues, “four grammarians, four rhetors, one jurist, and eight philosophers divided his soul among them…he was attached in boyhood to the service of temples and priests” (425). His early education also included the services of the highly-respected orators and rhetoricians Herodes Atticus (lc 101-177 CE) and Marcus Cornelius Fronto (d. late 160's CE) who would both exert significant influence over the boy. Aurelius and Fronto, in fact, would become life-long friends.

ADOPTION & STOICISM

In 138 CE, Antoninus adopted Aurelius and his future co-emperor Lucius Verus (r. 161-169 CE) as successors as stipulated by his predecessor Hadrian (r. 117-138 CE). Aurelius at this time took the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and was betrothed to Antoninus' daughter Faustina. Antoninus then began a careful grooming of the young man as future emperor and this included not only responsibilities at court but further education by tutors.
Aurelius dutifully complied with his adopted father's wishes but found his new life unsatisfying. In his letters to Fronto (still extant) he complains about his boring lessons in law, his secretarial duties, and his life at court. He also expresses these feelings in one of his more famous lines from Meditations :
The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.Color it with a run of thoughts like these: Anywhere you can lead your life, you can lead a good one. Lives are led at court – so then good ones can be. (V.16)
Fronto had tried to dissuade his pupil from philosophical pursuits, feeling they were a waste of time, and directed him to what he saw as more practical disciplines. Aurelius had always been predisposed to philosophy, however, and his preoccupation with introspective thought on the meaning of any given action, and life in general, would continue throughout his life.
Fronto was disappointed, then, when he learned that, included in his former-pupil's education at court, he would be tutored in philosophy; but this news must have been a great relief to Aurelius himself. Antoninus hired two philosophers who would greatly impress Aurelius and whose teachings would inform the rest of the young man's life: Apollonius of Chalcedon (dates unknown) and Quintus Junius Rusticus (c. 100-170 CE), one of the greatest Stoic philosophers of his day.
Epictetus

Epictetus

These tutors instructed him in Stoicism, the philosophical school first articulated by Zeno of Citium but fully expressed in the writings of Epictetus (lc 50-130 CE) in his Discourses and Enchiridion. Stoicism held that there was an eternal binding force to the universe called the logos from which all things came. The logos infused everything, bound it together, and allowed it to dissipate all in its own good time according to nature.
There was nothing in life, therefore, which could be called “bad” because all observable and unobservable events flowed naturally from the logos and judgments on whether an experience was “bad” or “good” were simply transient sense perceptions of the individual. A person could lead a peaceful, harmonious, life if that person focused on the nature of the logos and controlled one's sense-impressions. Epictetus writes:
It is not circumstances themselves that trouble people, but their judgments about those circumstances. For example, death is nothing terrible, for if it were, it would have appeared so to Socrates; but having the opinion the death is terrible, this is what is terrible. Therefore, whenever we are hindered or troubled or distressed, let us never blame others, but ourselves, that is, our own judgments. (Enchiridion I. 5)
In his Meditations, Aurelius thanks Apollonius and Rusticus for their instruction and notes that Rusticus introduced him to the work of Epictetus, lending him his own copy ( Meditations, I.7). The Stoic view became Aurelius' view from this point on and he expresses this in another of the best-known passages from Meditations :
If it is good to you, O Universe, it is good to me. Your harmony is mine. Whatever time you choose is the right time. Not late, not early. What the turn of your seasons brings me falls like ripe fruit. All things are born from you, exist in you, return to you. (IV.23)
In 161 CE, Antoninus died and Aurelius became emperor. The senate preferred to ignore Hadrian's wish that Verus should co-rule with him as they thought him unfit for office. Aurelius, however, reminded them that Antoninus had promised his predecessor to adopt both himself and Verus as successors and refused to take on the mantle of power unless Verus was named co-emperor; the senate had no choice but to comply.

THE PHILOSOPHER KING

Verus was younger than Aurelius and far more interested in pursuing pleasure than the duties of an emperor. He threw lavish and expensive parties and gave luxuriant gifts to his guests. Aurelius, on the other hand, continued to live as he always had: simply and without pretension. He took his responsibilities seriously, even if he did not always care for them, and devoted all his energies to making sure his decisions were just. Cassius Dio writes:
The emperor, as often as he had leisure from war, would hold court; he used to allow abundant time to the speakers and entered into the preliminary inquiries and examinations at great length, so as to ensure strict justice by every possible means. In consequence, he would often be trying the same case for as much as eleven or twelve days, even though he sometimes held court at night. For he was industrious and applied himself diligently to all the duties of his office; and he neither said, wrote, nor did anything as if it were a minor matter but sometimes he would consume whole days over the minutest point, not thinking it right that the emperor should do anything hurriedly. For he believed that if he should slight even the smallest detail, this would bring reproach upon all his other actions. (Roman History, Book LXXII.6)
Shortly after coming to power, the province of Syria revolted and the Kingdom of Parthia invaded Armenia, which was under Rome's protection. When Cassius Dio notes how Aurelius performed his duties when “he had leisure from war” he is referencing very little time indeed; but Aurelius was pressed by other matters as well, both public and private.
Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius

Throughout the nineteen years of his reign, Aurelius would be constantly harassed by bloody military campaigns, natural disasters, and domestic sorrows. Of the five sons Faustina bore him, only one, Commodus (r. 177-192 CE) survived to adulthood. Aurelius had only been emperor about a year when the River Tiber flooded in 162 CE, destroying crops and livestock, resulting in widespread famine.
When Verus returned to Rome from his military campaigns against Parthia and the Syrian rebels, his troops brought the plague back with them. Verus, in fact, would die of the plague in 169 CE, leaving Aurelius to rule alone. The new sect of Christianity continually disturbed the peace and Aurelius was forced to engage in persecutions of this religious faction to restore order between c. 162-c. 166 CE.
The tribes of the Marcomanni and Quadi began invading the frontiers in c. 166 CE and Aurelius spent untold hours and resources trying to secure and maintain the boundaries as well as expand Rome's territory into the Danube region as a buffer.Although Plato promises an “end to troubles” once a philosopher becomes king, Aurelius had no end of troubles throughout his reign. Even so, as history and his own writings attest, Aurelius did his best to remain steady in the face of challenges, exhibiting what Hemingway would later call “grace under pressure” – the ability to remain steady and true to one's self no matter the circumstance.

CONCLUSION

The choices Aurelius made during his reign give evidence of a kind, compassionate, disciplined soul who placed a high value on loyalty to one's true self as well as to others. His insistence on honoring promises and upholding tradition, however, sometimes led him into error as seen when he refused to rule unless Hadrian's wishes were honored and Verus ruled with him.Verus proved a vastly inferior emperor to Aurelius in every respect.
His choice of Commodus as his co-ruler and successor in 177 CE, however, was his greatest mistake in that his son never shared his high ideals nor displayed his intelligence. That Commodus would essentially un-do all the good that Aurelius had done, handing over the rule of Rome to incompetents and amusing himself constantly in his seraglio (which allegedly was comprised of 300 girls and 300 boys) shows exactly how poor Aurelius' judgment could be. Aurelius seems to have sensed that his son would never measure up to the potential he saw in him and, when he died in 180 CE, Commodus would prove himself the worst choice possible as successor.
Yet it is this very `human-ness', this kindness and hope for others to share his same vision to become the best version of themselves which makes Aurelius so admirable and the Meditations so enduring. The work stands as a testament to the nobility of its author and endures because of the immense practicality and sense of the vision for life it expresses. There is no room for self-pity or self-excuse in the pages of Meditations ; only the constant exhortation to do one's best under any circumstance and to use one's time wisely, for life is short. He writes:
You must one day realize at last of what cosmos you are a part and from what Governor of the cosmos your existence comes, and that a limit of time has been set aside for you, and if you do not use it to clear away the clouds from your mind it will be gone, and you will be gone, and it will never return again. (Book II.4)
Aurelius understood that, if one wants to change the world, one cannot live the way the rest of the world does. Even at the height of his power, he never betrayed his philosophical vision or his belief in a fundamental meaning to human life. He expresses this ideal in Meditations Book VIII.59: “People exist for the sake of one another; teach them, then, or bear with them.”
In this passage, as in many others, Aurelius pre-figures the much later ideals of the 20th century CE Existentialists who also held that the purpose of one's life is to be the very best human being one can be regardless of the circumstances or the actions of other people. At the same time, of course, he embodies the earlier concept of Plato's Philosopher King: the man who rules, not for himself, but for the greater good of his people.

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