What was the best time in history to be alive?

Have you ever wondered which era would you want to live in? I do quite often. Our age is arguably the best, but if I could travel back in time I would go back to the 2nd century AD, somewhere within the Roman Empire, during the reign of Antoninus Pius.

Everyone has a favorite emperor, right? Mine is Antoninus Pius, the most benevolent and just of all Roman emperors.

Antoninus Pius. (86-161 A.D., emperor from 138)

There was a time when the emperors of Rome “had no need of praetorian cohorts, or of countless legions to guard them, but were defended by their own good lives, the good-will of their subjects, and the attachment of the senate,” as Niccolò Machiavelli says in his book ‘The Discourses on Livy’. Antoninus Pius was one of those good Roman emperors.

The first 5 emperors of the Nerva–Antonine dynasty, are commonly known as ‘The Five Good Emperors’

  1. Nerva (ruled from 96AD to 98AD)
  2. Trajan (98–117)
  3. Hadrian (117–138)
  4. Antoninus Pius (138–161)
  5. Marcus Aurelius (161–180)

Antoninus was born near Rome to a family that originated from southern Gaul.  He was adopted by emperor Hadrian, he entered Roman civil service, and he became a highly successful provincial governor in Asia. Antoninus succeeded Hadrian in 138 A.D.

The philosopher king

Emperor Antonius Pius consolidated the frontiers of the empire, quelling the rebellions of the Moors in 152 and of the Egyptians in 153, the only revolts in an otherwise peaceful reign. In Britain he ordered the construction of the Antonine Wall on what is now the Central Belt of Scotland. That wall was the northernmost frontier barrier of the Empire, built to defend against the Picts and Scots.

Ditch of the Antonine Wall at Falkirk, Scotland.

Antoninus tried to revive the power and dignity of the Roman Senate, to which he gave back the task of governing Italy. He shunned the busy life of the capital and lived quietly in his villa at Lorium on the outskirts of Rome. An excellent administrator, he left the public treasury unusually rich at his death. All his energies were devoted to the service of the people of the Roman Empire.

  • He prioritized the rebuilding of cities destroyed in wars
  • He improved the legal rights of slaves
  • He curbed the avarice of provincial governors
  • He established numerous charitable institutions
  • He passed laws to help orphans
  • He prohibited the persecution of Christians
  • He acted as protector and promoter of arts and sciences
Golden Aureus portraying Antoninus Pius

Antoninus Pius died at the age of 75 after adopting as his successor another would-be philosopher king: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. The Senate conferred upon him the title of Pius in recognition of his qualities.

The Antonine era was the most prosperous and stable period of the Roman empire. A good time to be alive!

Roman Empire in the 2nd century


I read books. I know stuff.

How wonderfully passionate are the many ways that Socrates and Plato try to convince us that the only safe way that leads us to happiness, is education. Plato dreamed of public libraries, public lectures, education being a basic element of a free city-state.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau says: “If you wish to know what is meant by public education, read Plato’s Republic. Those who merely judge books by their titles take this for a treatise on politics, but it is the finest treatise on education ever written.” [Emile, or On Education (1762)]

No wonder why the great Cicero was seen most times with a book in hand.



*Literal translation is, of course: “If you have a garden in your library, nothing will be lacking.” [Epistulae ad familiares 9.4]





Epictetus (50-120AD)
Epictetus (50-120AD)

“Difficulties are things that show people who they really are!”
A slave born in Hierapolis that was to become a saint-like figure for the Greeks and the Romans. Poor, homeless he struggled with super-human energy and dedication to ease the pain of the sufferings of humanity through his teachings. One of his gratest fans was Marcus Aurelius himself!

Centuries later, the US Navy Admiral James Stockdale was able to retain his sanity during capture in a Viet Cong POW camp by relying on the philosophy of Epictetus…