The History Of Stoicism: The Philosophy That Saved The Roman Empire

History of stoicism

The history of stoicism runs deep. Stoicism is one of the best moral philosophical schools known today. This is a large claim, but one that withstands the test of time. The origins of this philosophy are in Greece, starting with Zeno of Citium, about 3 centuries B.C. 

Stoicism was about putting virtues before pleasure, whereas Epicureanism encouraged a hedonic lifestyle. Stoics believed that if you love and do what is right, pleasure will ensue. On the other hand, epicurists believed that we should make the most out of pleasure because it is transitory..

The Zeno Era:

Zeno got most of the ideas of Stoicism from Cynicism, a small philosophical school that had virtue and simplicity as its main principles. We can say Zeno took Cynicism to another level.

The name Stoicism comes from STOA – portico in Greek. Today, when we talk about philosophy, people imagine old, long, and arduously written books. And these books are imagined to be written in Libraries. However, real philosophy happened on the streets of Greece back then. Most of the teachings (like the ones from Socrates and Epictetus) were part of discourses and conversations they had in special places, such as the Stoa.

Zeno used to believe that Ethics, Cosmology and Logos (logic) needed to work together. However, stoic philosophy dominates the area of ethics more than the rest. After Zeno, Chrysippus took over, and he not only led the school for some time, but he played a crucial role when it came to its growth and development

About two centuries later, Stoicism started to expand towards Rome. It’s important to understand what Rome was going through at the time, as it was transitioning from Republic to Empire. At the time, the Republic’s strength was starting to decay. 

There was no place for virtue, rather the structure was ripe for conspiracy, corruption, and bribery.  Truth was no longer a strong pillar from which society grew. Love, care, respect, and family were tenants that seemed outdated.

Therefore, Stoicism rose as a reactionary philosophy, to combat moral decay. It called people to reflect upon their values, virtues and principles. 

The Roman Era

As Stoicism arrived in Rome it was soon internalized by Cicero and Cato. In fact, Cato is considered the face of stoicism for his austere sense of Morality. After that, the most well known stoics today began to appear: Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. 

The first philosopher is Epictetus, who was a slave in Rome. After earning his freedom he started spreading the stoic philosophy. He never wrote a line, but one of his followers Arrian turned his speeches into very awesome discourse books. 

The second is Seneca, who was a well born roman and advisor to the emperor Nero. He was also pivotal when it came to developing the philosophy. His letters were compiled into books and have great teachings.

One of the most important followers of Epictetus, was the emperor Marcus Aurelius. He followed stoicism to the letter and wrote a journal during his campaign in Germania. His journal was also transformed into a book which we know by the name of Meditations, probably the most well-known stoic book.

Today, Stoicism becomes relevant once again. As you examine the world around you, you may come to the realization that the west is experiencing the same decadent period that Rome went through. 

Thankfully, Stoic philosophy carries the antidote to such decadence. An antidote that will help you navigate the uncertainty.