Marcus Aurelius, well-known for his Meditations, in the second century AD, was a Stoic philosopher and also emperor of the Roman empire.

Plato, in his Republic, advised that the ideal rulers of his ideal city-state (polis) which he named Kalliopolis, would be philosopher-kings.

Was he the first pilosopher-king of Rome?

Did his career, and his rule bear out Platos recommendation?

  • Wasn't the "kings" of the Republic specifically a plurality? I.e. a single ruler couldn't be a philosopher-king, at least not as Plato envisioned. – christo183 Oct 23 '18 at 11:05

Of course, this depends on who counts as a "philosopher."

In the title of the question, OP asks generally if he was the first philosopher king. I can think of two good possible non-Roman alternatives. Based on Plutarch's writing about him, Alexander the Great was a philosopher, since he loved learning and reading. Solomon also would fit many definitions of a philosopher. His desire and attainment of wisdom were both considerable. Many of the proverbs in the Biblical Book of Proverbs are attributed to him.

As to Roman philosopher-kings, I found these possible (debatable) earlier examples:

  • Claudius was certainly a scholar. It is plausible that he wrote on philosophy, given that he seems to have had a broad set of interests.
  • Domition, according to Brian Jones's "The Emperor Domitian" wrote about law and administration (the law, and parts of administration, falling under political philosophy).
  • Antoninus Pius didn't produce any written works that I could find, but was known for his legal reforms that came about due to his concerns for equality. Marcus Aurelius also calls Antoninus Pius out in Meditations I.16 for his Stoic philosophy.

All other emperors prior to Marcus Aurelius (and most after!) were either much more practical administrators than "philosophers" or military men handed power after a coup.


In the Indian tradition, King Janaka is considered one of the earliest philosopher kings. He is mentioned in the Astavakra Samhita. It is considered by most to be a product of the same age as the Bhagavad Gita. It is considered by many to be one of the best treatises of the Advaita Vedanta. Some controversy as to date, but well before Marcus Aurelius.

  • 1
    Emperor Ashoka is probably one to consider too. – Mozibur Ullah May 21 '14 at 19:52

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