Ancient Roman Philosophy

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, and the Peripatetic Critolaus.

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.

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, 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.

The Mausoleum of Hadrian, where the children of Marcus and Faustina were buried

The Mausoleum of Hadrian, where the children of Marcus and Faustina were buried


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.

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. 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. 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.

Philosophers by School

Academic Skeptic

  • Cicero (106 – 43 BC)
  • Favorinus (c. 80 – c. 160 AD)


  • Clement of Alexandria (150 – 215 AD)
  • Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 AD)


  • Themistius (317 – 388 AD)


  • Zeno of Sidon (150 – 75 BC)
  • Alcaeus and Philiscus (150 BC)
  • Phaedrus (138 – 70 BC)
  • Gaius Amafinius (125 BC)
  • Titus Pomponius Atticus (110 BC – 33 BC)
  • Philodemus (110 – 50 BC)
  • Titus Albucius (105 BC)
  • Rabirius (100 BC)
  • Patro (70 BC)
  • Siro (50 BC)
  • Catius (50 BC)
  • Lucretius (94 – 55 BC)


  • Alcinous (philosopher) (2nd century AD)


  • Plotinus (205 – 278AD)
  • Porphyry (232 – 304 AD)
  • Julian (331 – 363 AD)
  • Iamblichus (242 – 327 AD)
  • Damascius (462 – 540 AD)
  • Simplicius of Cilicia (490 – 560 AD)
  • Boethius (472 – 524 AD)


  • Quintus Sextius the Elder (40 BC)
  • Sotion (~1st century AD)
  • Nigidius Figulus (98 BC – 45)
  • Secundus the Silent (2nd century AD)
  • Iamblichus (245 AD – 325)


  • Alexander of Aphrodisias (3rd century AD)


  • Theodas of Laodicea (2nd century AD)
  • Menodotus of Nicomedia (2nd century AD)
  • Sextus Empiricus (2nd century AD)


  • Sotion (Pythagorean) (200 – 170 BC)
  • Papirius Fabianus (1st century AD)
  • Crassicius Pasicles (?)
Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic Roman emperor

Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic Roman emperor


  • Publius Rutillius Rufus (158 – 75 BC)
  • Lucius Aelius Stilo Praeconinus (154 – 74 BC)
  • Diodotus the Stoic (130 – 59 BC)
  • Marcus Vigellius (125 BC)
  • Quintus Lucilius Balbus (125 BC)
  • Antipater of Tyre (100 – 45BC)
  • Cato the Younger (95 – 46 BC)
  • Porcia Catonis (70 – 43 BC)
  • Apollonides (46 BC)
  • Quintus Sextius the Elder (40 BC)
  • Seneca the Younger (4 BC – 65 AD)
  • Attalus (25 AD)
  • Papirius Fabianus (30 AD)
  • Musonius Rufus (30 – 100 AD)
  • Epictetus (55 – 135 AD)
  • Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 AD)

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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