Marcus Annius Verus was born at Rome on 26 April AD 121.
No emperor since Tiberius had spent such a long time in preparing and waiting to accede to the throne as Marcus Aurelius.
Though Commodus was not to be heir apparent for long. He already died on 1 January AD 138.
As Hadrian died shortly after and Antoninus Pius assumed the throne, Marcus soon shared in the work of the high office. Antoninus sought for Marcus to gain experience for the role he would one day have to play. And with time, both seemed to have shared true sympathy and affection for each other, like father and son. As these bonds grew stronger Marcus Aurelius broke off his engagement to Ceionia Fabia and instead became engaged to Antoninus' daughter Annia Galeria Faustina (Faustina the Younger)in AD 139. An engagement which should lead to marriage in AD 145.
Just as there was no doubt whom of his two adopted sons Antoninus favoured, it was clear that the senate, too, preferred Marcus Aurelius. When in AD 161 Antoninus Pius died, the senate sought to make Marcus sole emperor. It was only due to Marcus Aurelius' insistence, reminding the senators of the wills of both Hadrian and Antoninus, that his adoptive brother Verus was made his imperial colleague.
Had the rule of Antoninus Pius been a period of reasonable calm, the the reign of Marcus Aurelius would be a time of almost continuous fighting, made yet worse by rebellions and plague.
When in AD 161 war broke out with the Parthians and Rome suffered setbacks in Syria, it was emperor Verus who left for the east in order to lead the campaign. And yet, as Verus spent most of his time pursuing his pleasures at Antioch, leadership of the campaign was left in the hands of the Roman generals, and - to some degree - even in the hands of Marcus Aurelius back in Rome.
As if it were not enough trouble that, when Verus returned in AD 166, his troops brought with them a devastating plague which racked the empire, then the northern frontiers should also see successive attacks across the Danube by ever more hostile Germanic tribes.
But already in late AD 169 the very same Germanic tribes which had caused the trouble which had taken Marcus Aurelius and Verus over the Alps launched their yet biggest assault across the Danube. The combined tribes of Quadi and Marcomanni broke through the Roman defences, crossed the mountains into Italy and even laid siege to Aquileia.
Meanwhile further east the tribe of the Costoboci crossed the Danube and drove south into Greece. Marcus Aurelius, his armies enfeebled by the plague gripping his empire, had great trouble re-establishing control. It was only achieved in an arduous, embittered campaign lasting for years. Harsh conditions only yet further strained his forces. One battle took place in the deepest winter on the frozen surface of the river Danube.
Though throughout these gruesome wars Marcus Aurelius still found the time for governmental affairs. He administered government, dictated letters, heard court cases in an exemplary fashion, with a remarkable sense of duty. He is said to have spent up to eleven to twelve days on a difficult court case, at times even dispensing justice at night.
If Marcus Aurelius' reign was to be one of almost constant warfare, then it stands in stark contrast to his being a deeply intellectual man of a peaceful nature. He was an ardent student of Greek 'stoic' philosophy and his rule is perhaps the closest to that of a true philosopher king, the western world ever came to know.
But if Marcus Aurelius was a profound and peaceful intellect, then he bore little sympathy for followers of the Christian faith. To the emperor Christians seemed mere fanatical martyrs, who stubbornly refused to have any part in the greater community which was the Roman empire. If Marcus Aurelius saw in his empire the union of the people of the civilized world, then the Christians were dangerous extremists who sought to undermine this union for the sake of their own religious beliefs. For such people Marcus Aurelius had no time and no sympathy. The Christians were persecuted in Gaul during his reign.
In AD 175 yet another tragedy occurred to an emperor so haunted by bad fortune. As Marcus Aurelius fell ill when was fighting on campaign on the Danube, a false rumour appeared to have emerged which announced he was dead. Marcus Cassius, the governor of Syria who had been appointed to the command of the east of the empire, was hailed emperor by his troops. Cassius was a loyal general to Marcus Aurelius. It is very unlikely that he would have acted, if he had not thought the emperor dead. Though it is likely that the prospect of Marcus' son Commodus taking the throne might have spurned Cassius on to act quickly at hearing of the throne having fallen vacant. It is also believed that Cassius enjoyed the support of the the empress, Faustina the Younger, who was with Marcus' but feared him dying from illness.
In order however to avert any future chance of civil war, should rumours of his death arise again, he now (AD 177) made his son Commodus his co-emperor.
The wars along the Danube however were not at an end. In AD 178 Marcus Aurelius and Commodus left for the north where Commodus would play a prominent role alongside his father in leading the troops.