Ancient Roman philosophy

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Ancient Roman philosophy was heavily influenced by the ancient Greeks and the schools of Hellenistic philosophy; however, unique developments in philosophical schools of thought occurred during the Roman period as well. Interest in philosophy was first excited at Rome in 155 BCE. by an Athenian embassy consisting of the Academic Skeptic Carneades, the Stoic Diogenes of Babylon], and the Peripatetic Critolaus.[1]

During this time Athens declined as an intellectual center of thought while new sites such as Alexandria and Rome hosted a variety of philosophical discussion.[2]

Both leading schools of law of the Roman period, the Sabinian and the Proculean Schools, drew their ethical views from readings on the Stoics and Epicureans respectively,[3] allowing for the competition between thought to manifest in a new field in Rome's jurisprudence. Meanwhile, it was during the Roman period that Plato and Aristotle's academies concluded their practices. Although, it was also during this period that a common tradition of the western philosophical literature was born in commenting on the works of Aristotle.[2]


Roman philosophy includes not only philosophy written in Latin, but also philosophy written in Greek by Roman citizens. Important early Latin-language writers include Lucretius, Cicero, and Seneca the younger. Greek, however, was the more popular language for writing about philosophy, so much so that the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius chose to write his Meditations in Greek. Later, with the spread of Christianity inside the Roman Empire, came the Christian philosophy of Saint Augustine of Hippo. One of the last philosophical writers of antiquity was Boethius, whose writings are the chief source of information as to Greek philosophy during the first centuries of the Middle Ages.[4]

While philosophers are usually categorized according to school, some philosophers of the Roman period held eclectic beliefs, taking teachings from more than one school. The Sabinian and Proculean schools of law, the two largest schools of legal thought in the Roman period, derived their understanding of ethics heavily from Stoicism and Epicureanism respectively, again providing a current for philosophical thought to influence life in the Roman period.


While philosophy was often admired by jurists and aristocrats, of the emperors the affinity that Hadrian held for philosophy stands out, a feature that was likely amplified by his philhellenism. Hadrian was recorded to have attended lectures by Epictetus and Favorinus on his tours of Greece, and invested heavily in attempting to revive Athens as a cultural center in the ancient world through methods of central planning on his part.[5] Hadrian held philosophy in high regard, something unusual for Roman emperors, who were often indifferent, if not oppositional to it as a practice. These sentiments however, were also shared by Nero and Julian the Apostate, and Aurelius himself, as he is considered today to be a philosopher.

During the autocratic rule of the Flavian Dynasty, A group of philosophers vocally and politically protested against the actions of the emperor, particularly under Domitian and Vespasian. This resulted in Vespasian reacting via banishing all philosophers from Rome, save for Musonious Rufus, although he was later also banished from Rome.[6] This event later became known as the Stoic Opposition, as a majority of the protesting philosophers were of the Stoic school of thought. Stoics regarded the opposition under the emperors highly later in the Roman period, however the term of Stoic Opposition was not coined until the 19th century due to the writings of Gaston Boissier.[7]

Philosophers by School[edit]

Academic Skeptic




Roman Epicurean philosopher, Lucretius



Roman emperor and Neoplatonic philosopher, Julian






Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius


  1. ^ "Roman Philosophy | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy".
  2. ^ a b Annas, Julia. (2000). Voices of Ancient Philosophy : an Introductory Reader. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-512694-5. OCLC 870243656.
  3. ^ Lorenzen, Ernest G. (1925). "Specification in the Civil Law". The Yale Law Journal. 35 (1): 29–47. doi:10.2307/789534. ISSN 0044-0094. JSTOR 789534.
  4. ^ "Roman Philosophy | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy".
  5. ^ Lane Fox, Robin, 1946- (2006). The classical world : an epic history from Homer to Hadrian. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-02496-3. OCLC 70149306.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Flavian Rome : culture, image, text. Boyle, A. J. (Anthony James),, Dominik, William J. Leiden. 2003. ISBN 90-04-11188-3. OCLC 51061501.CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ J. P. Sullivan (October 1986). "Literature and Politics in the Age of Nero. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1985". The American Historical Review. doi:10.1086/ahr/91.4.893. ISSN 1937-5239.