Seninor Thesis: Request for Advisement

Topic Area: The civic and political role of the philosophy of Stoicism in Roman antiquity.

Question: An overview of how Stoicism contributed to a stable realm under the reign of Marcus Aurelius in particular; a comparison between the reign of the Antonines and the despotic emperors to follow during the Crisis of the Third Century – how they specifically addressed realm duress, invasions and the guardianship of the people; how the gradual rejection of Stoic-inspired administration by latter-day emperors may have contributed to the decline of the Empire.

Qualifications: CLA-154 SAS03 Sources of Great West. Ideas (4.0), CLA-112 SAS01 Classical Literature (4.0), CLA-122 SAS01 Glory  Greece/Grandeur Rome (4.0), PHI-123 SAS01 The Art of Thinking (4.0), FL41 ELEM LATIN (At SCCC), Stoic Registry active member, previous member of the Stoic Registry Council,  10+ years of casual reading in the classics

Sources: Primary Stoic philosopher writings (especially the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and the Enchiridion and Discourses of Epictetus), considerations of Gibbon, Pirenne, Vegetius, Hadot, Devine, Bury, Richta etc.

The reign of Marcus Aurelius stands out in history as one of the few times in which one of Plato’s philosopher kings may have truthfully donned the Tyrian purple. This essay will dissect the reign of Marcus in order to make the argument that the philosophy of Stoicism was an essential element in establishing realm stability and socio-political flourishing. It will be illustrated that as the military emperors to follow Marcus during the Crisis of the Third Century lacked Stoic virtue, they were unable or unwilling to maintain the same devotion to state that previously Stoic-minded statesmen had offered. Essentially this thesis will both expand upon and criticize Gibbon, arguing that a different type of moral decay contributed to the decline of the Empire. While this latter argument has fallen upon such a measure of criticism in recent years as to nearly become debunked, being replaced by more favorable economic theories, this thesis will attempt to restore some credence to it by illustrating the impact that Stoicism had on Roman leadership, arguing that it became the espirt de core of the senator-class by the dawn of the common era, while also holding a profound influence for two centuries before. The implications of the abandonment of the Stoic ethic in leadership will be overviewed in order to argue for the philosophy’s significance in establishing benevolent, prudent and just government. Ultimately this thesis will contrast the exemplary reign of Marcus Aurelius, who identified himself as a Stoic, with the reigns of men who were not identified as being Stoics who followed him, military men who attempted to seize the power of the throne through ambition and greed rather than in the spirit of Stoic justice, and thus contributed to the manorialism, strife and duress which by the fifth century had become fatal for the Empire.

This research question and topic has been authorized by:


Doctor James Blakeley