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Legionnaires dragged women with their children to rape them

Even his subjects considered Mark Aurel (121-180) a philosopher on the Roman imperial throne.

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Legionnaires dragged women with their children to rape them

Even his subjects considered Mark Aurel (121-180) a philosopher on the Roman imperial throne. This is also how he saw himself, as he allowed himself to be portrayed as a typical intellectual with a full beard in his portraits, which were distributed throughout the Reich. "Strive to remain the man that philosophy wanted you to be," he wrote in his diary, which has entered world literature under the title "Introspections". But Marcus Aurelius was enough of a power politician to know what was expected of him in addition to fine words. On December 23, 176 he gave public testimony of this.

On this day the emperor in Rome celebrated his second triumph over foreign enemies. He ended the first war against Marcomanni and Sarmatians, which had devastated large areas on both sides of the Danube for ten years. "Many thousands he (the emperor) had killed and freed Pannonia from slavery," one ancient author summarized the message.

The emperor let them cost a lot. He is said to have summoned 100 lions for the bloody games in the Coliseum - the entertainment program of every triumph. In addition, every legitimate resident of Rome received the equivalent of eight gold pieces. And he forgave those "who owed debts to the imperial or state treasury all the arrears of thirty-six years... and burned all related charters," reported the contemporary historian Cassius Dio. The emperor used the general enthusiasm about this to once again highlight his 15-year-old son Commodus as the designated successor by giving him a place of honor in the triumphal procession and appointing him consul for the following year.

Imperial representation also included a detailed description of the campaigns conducted by Marcus Aurelius on the Danube. Because military successes were still the surest legitimation of imperial rule in Rome. And the Emperor had some catching up to do.

His adoptive father had been Antoninus Pius, third in the line of adoptive emperors under whom the Roman Empire reached its zenith in the 2nd century AD. In 161, Marcus Aurelius and his younger adoptive brother Lucius Verus had succeeded the late Princeps without issue. Although the senior emperor had the last word, in practice a division of labor was established in which the younger one was responsible for military matters and boozy feasts, while the older one was responsible for the guidelines of politics and administration.

What that meant was shown by the campaign against the Parthians, who used the change of rule in Rome to launch a major offensive in Armenia. The supreme command was entrusted to Lucius Verus, who achieved spectacular successes. In 165 the Parthian capital Ctesiphon (on the site of present-day Baghdad) was conquered. However, as the army retreated, it brought with it an unknown plague that became known as the Antonine Plague. The victory of Lucius Verus disturbed the delicate balance between the two emperors, but had no serious consequences because the younger died in 169, possibly from the plague.

Therefore, Mark Aurelius, who had previously been conspicuous for his peacefulness, fell to the task of repelling the "most warlike and numerous of the barbarians living in Europe", as the Greek Pausanias described the warrior groups who, from 166, pushed their kith and kin across the Danube. Some droves made it as far as northern Italy, touching on Rome the trauma of the invasion of the Cimbri and Teutons 270 years earlier.

After initial defeats, seven new legions, including auxiliary troops, were raised, more than 70,000 men. To finance this program, Marcus Aurelius had furniture and art from the imperial palaces auctioned off. Slaves, gladiators and even bandits were also recruited for military service for the first time.

It was not until 170 that the armaments were sufficiently complete for Marcus Aurelius to go on the offensive on the Danube. But the company ended in disaster. Around 20,000 men are said to have died. In return, Germanic units advanced as far as Aquileia. Opitergium (Oderzo) in Veneto and other places went up in flames.

Short-term Roman successes led to peace treaties, but these were quickly followed by "numerous bloody deeds" when the legions had withdrawn. The sacrifices the Romans had to make is documented by the agreement that Mark Aurelius made with the Iazygens in 175. 100,000 Roman citizens and allies are said to have regained their freedom. After all, the emperor was able to conclude this peace. After defeating a usurper in the Orient, he returned to Rome victorious with his son Commodus.

Despite his lavish gifts to his subjects, there were apparently still voices that denied Mark Aurel's military competence. He had granted the murdered usurper Gaius Avidius Cassius an honorable burial and given the philosophical schools in Athens rich endowments. In order to correct the image of a peaceful, i.e. weak, ruler, two monuments were erected in Rome. One was an arch of honour, donated by the senate and the people, the other a pillar surrounded by a frieze of images.

Both monuments present the emperor as a great general. The column, whose date of origin is not entirely clear, even goes so far as to show numerous details of the campaigns. For example, a mass execution is depicted, in which the executioner cuts off the heads of barbarians who pile up at his feet, while the victims wait in a long line for their end.

In other scenes, soldiers drag women away to rape them while their children are still clinging to them. "Mark Aurel had to portray himself particularly cruelly, since he otherwise liked to pretend to be a philosopher", the ancient historian Martin Zimmermann used this pictorial program in his large study on "Violence. The Dark Side of Antiquity”. "This role could actually only be assumed if, on the other hand, one could present oneself as a ruler willing to use violence."

Marcus Aurelius had to, too, because the Marcomanni broke the peace as early as 178 and made a new campaign necessary. Already in poor health, the emperor probably died in 180 in the large camp at Vindebona (Vienna). His successor, Commodus, made peace and ordered the retreat.

Marcus Aurelius ultimately failed with his policy of stabilizing the situation on the Danube front with a kind of war of annihilation. Barbarian incursions became the norm under his successors. But as a political thinker, the last of the adoptive emperors, in the spirit of the Stoic school of philosophy, set an example:

"Mind what is in your power. Don't fret over the unchangeable and unattainable. Stay calm,” his biographer Alexander Demandt (“Mark Aurel. The Emperor and His World”) summarized a guiding principle of his hero. Another is. “Examine everything and decide for yourself. Don't give in to praise and blame, don't give in to the judgment of posterity. But let yourself be taught when reason dictates.” It could serve as a role model for politicians today.

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