Marcus Aurelius was born to Marcus Annius Verus and Domitia Lucilla in 121 AD. Although his parents were wealthy, they were not descendants of the current emperor, Hadrian, or his lineage. However, these were different times in the Roman Empire from when Augustus began it the century previous – these were the times of adoptive lineage.
Aurelius spent his childhood in his family’s estate, with private tutors, and later credited his family for all of his upbringing and good personality traits. Although his father died when he was only three, he credits him with instilling “modesty and manliness” through his teachings and his posthumous reputation. He credits his mother for his “piety, simplicity of diet and avoiding the ways of the rich”. Aurelius also credited his tutors for shaping his view of the world and behaved as a philosopher, going so far as to take the typical dress of the Greek and wore a rough cloak. He would go on to write, in Greek, his Meditations, while on campaign from 170-180. It is still revered today, and uses nature as a source of guidance and instruction to achieve balance and clear thinking during crisis and battle.
During an illness in 136, the emperor Hadrian made the decision to adopt Lucius Ceionius Commodus as his heir, who then changed his name to Lucius Aelius Caesar. But, fate had other plans. The day before Aelius was to address the senate in Rome in January 138, he died of a hemorrhage. Hadrian then asked Aurelius Antoninus to be his successor. After a few days of consideration, he accepted and in February 138 was formally adopted, and in turn adopted Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, the son of Aelius. Marcus Aurelius was surprised at his adoption and moved reluctantly into the home of Hadrian and his name changed officially to Marcus Aelius Aurelius Verus.
Hadrian asked the senate to exempt Marcus Aurelius of the rule barring him of attaining the office of quaestor before his 24th birthday and the senate allowed it. Thus would begin the political career under Aurelius Antoninus in 139, as consul. In the meantime, Hadrian’s health deteriorated and he left for Campania to rest. In July, Aurelius Antoninus left on Hadrian’s request, and was at the emperor’s side when he died on July 10, 138. The transition of power from Hadrian to Antoninus was peaceful and Hadrian was interred at his mausoleum in Rome. For his honorable behaviors to his duties, Antoninus would then be called Pius going forward.
Immediately after Hadrian’s death, Antoninus asked Marcus Aurelius to have his betrothal to Ceionia Fabia annulled and instead marry his daughter, Faustina Junior. Marcus agreed and was made consul again for 140 at the parade during July, 139. He also took the name Caesar at the same time, made head of the equestrian order and joined all of the priestly colleges. Antoninus insisted Marcus move from Hadrian’s palace to Tiberius’s and begin assuming the role of a member of the court. Although Marcus objected, and found the court to be in conflict with his philosophical upbringing, he did well in keeping balance between his duties and his beliefs.
In 145, Marcus was made consul a second time and married Faustina Junior, as had been arranged. The marriage of Marcus and Faustina would prove to be fruitful – they would together have at least 13 children, although most would not live to adulthood. The first born was Domitia Faustina, on November 30, 147. The next day, December 1, Antoninus Pius promoted Marcus Aurelius to the powers of the imperium and tribunicium, cementing his position as the prince and future emperor. 10 days later, he would have his powers renewed with Antoninus.