As Caesar (139–161)
Originally named Marcus Annius Verus, Marcus was adopted by Antoninus Pius in 138 on the order of Hadrian, and became Marcus Aelius Aurelius Verus Caesar. After Hadrian’s death he was betrothed to Pius’daughter, Faustina II. The earliest portraits of Marcus Aurelius on Roman imperial coins appeared on coin reverses of 139 with the inscription AVRELIVS CAES AVG PII F COS DES: designation for his first consulship may be the occasion for his introduction onto the coinage. He appeared on a reverse at Alexandria in 139/40. At Rome his portrait was used on coin obverses in 140, but at Alexandria not until 144/5. The year 145 may be significant, as it opened with Antoninus and Marcus as consuls, and Marcus and Faustina II were married in the spring.
As Augustus (161–80)
On the death of Antoninus Pius on 7th March 161, Marcus Aurelius became emperor. He assumed his adoptive father’s name Antoninus, and became Imperator Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus. The assumption of the name Antoninus makes it easy to distinguish between his coins as Caesar and those as emperor, even if there are no other indicators that Marcus was Augustus at the time. Marcus at once associated his adoptive brother, Lucius Verus, with himself as co-emperor, and the new situation of having two emperors at once is a key feature of the coinage. Verus died in 169. Following a short-lived ‘rebellion’ by Avidius Cassius in 175, Marcus promoted his son Commodus first as Caesar, and then from 176 or 177 as co-emperor.
During the eastern campaigns under the nominal command of Verus from 162 to 166, Marcus Aurelius adopted, with some delay, Verus’ victory titles Armeniacus (164), Parthicus Maximus (166) and Medicus (166). Marcus and Verus held a joint triumph on 12 October 166.
The First German Campaign lasted from 168 to 175. Marcus and Commodus received the titles Germanicus (15 October 172) and Sarmaticus (autumn 175). The title Germanicus appears on the imperial coinage only in 175. A joint triumph for the German and Sarmatian Wars was held on 23 December, 176. The Second German Campaign began in 178 and was ended only after the death of Marcus on 17 March 180. Marcus remains best known as a philosopher-ruler, the author of the Meditations.