Stoicism in Ancient Rome

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Stoicism made the transition from an intriguing foreign philosophy to a popular practice because it was taken up by several high profile figures. Scipio Africanus, the original esteemed Roman Stoic died in 129 BCE, but about 40 years later a new crop of celebrated Romans took up the Stoic practice. During the fall of the Roman Republic a group of famed orators, generals, and statesmen including Marcus Junius Brutus (85-42 BCE), Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE), Pompey the Great (106-48 BCE), and Cato the Younger (95-46 BCE) all professed themselves Stoics. This group of powerful statesmen and leaders practicing Stoicism disseminated it throughout Rome. Octavian (63 BC- 14 AD) who later became Caesar Augustus had a Stoic tutor and many years later the young emperor Nero also had a Stoic tutor. As Stoicism grew more esteemed and more popular it became the natural choice to hire a Stoic tutor for sons who were destined for politics. Stoicism was especially attractive to political leaders. The Historian Gilbert Murray states “Nearly all the successors of Alexander -- we may say all the principal kings in existence in the generations following Zeno -- professed themselves Stoics.” While not every ruler professed himself a Stoic, for example Julius Caesar was an Epicurean, many were not just students of Stoicism but Stoic disciples like the Greek King Antigonus and the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Stoicism was popularized by the Roman elite of the Late Republic, and it appealed to the elites especially because it provided teachings on how to deal with strife. During the civil war between Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar and the resulting power vacuum after Caesar's assassination, the chaos and violence caused a desire for an...

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