Three Key Lessons of Entrepreneurship from Marcus Aurelius

Rome wasn’t anymore the unchallenged empire, which under the Pax Augusta (Augustan Peace), had enjoyed a relatively quiet period that lasted for almost two hundred years. The fortified frontiers of the Roman Empire, the so-called Limes, were slowly collapsing under the pressure of the bordering barbarian populations.

In the second century BC the Pannonian Limes, also known as Danubian Limes, although protected by the Danube River, where under threats from some Germanic populations. The most feared were the Quadi and Marcomanni.

Those same Germanic tribes had been defeated almost two centuries before, by the Roman troops led by the general Nero Claudius Drusus. In some way, the same populations had managed to survive and become stronger throughout the centuries. We are in the year 162 AD, Marcus Aurelius, together with his brother Lucius Verus had to defend Rome from the barbarian attacks; at the same time, if Rome wanted to safeguard its empire, it had to show its strength.

It wasn’t an easy time, both inside and outside the borders of the Empire. The initial military campaigns were successful and kept the German populations away from the frontiers of the empire. Yet, the attacks by Marcomanni didn’t stop there. Additionally, a few years later, in 169 AD the co-emperor Verus died, living Marcus Aurelius as the only emperor to lead the Roman Empire; in the most extreme situation, Rome had faced in the last centuries.

In those years of wars, Marcus Aurelius didn’t give up and made it through the hard times. The only thing that kept him motivated throughout those years were the meditations; a set of diaries, that helped him reconcile the stoic soul, with that of a man who had to carry the weight of millions of people on his shoulders.

Marcus Aurelius was a philosopher, but most of all a man of action. Why is Marcus Aurelius a great example for contemporary entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurs Are the New Emperors

Ever since the launch of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, wars have become a taboo. Humanity has learned a hard lesson that due to those new weapons, wars cannot be fought anymore, at the global level. But humans are biologically the same that they were less than a century before.

We tend to fight against each other; it is a biological need to show that we are right; this desire for conflict has driven explorations, conquest, and many individual sacrifices. Wars are not fought anymore on the military field but on the economic playground.

The lives of billions of individuals nowadays depend on new empires: Corporations. Each day, billions of workers wake up, recruited by huge conglomerates to fight the “profit war.” Companies organize fierce fights against each other to keep their employees motivated.

Apple’s employees’, under the command of their former general, Steve Jobs, where he called to fight against the rival, Microsoft, by the motto, “let’s kill the tasteless giant!” in this fierce battle, new kingdoms, like “Google Empire” form and dominate the world.

In this scenario of bloody economic struggle and conflicts the new Emperors, the so-called Entrepreneurs have to keep their primary goal in mind, “Bringing humanity forward.” While decades ago, “The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu was the main manual for the intelligent manager and entrepreneur; the world is now taking a new turn.

The new “Emperors,” seem to have grasped the necessity to create real value, besides sheer profits. In this state, contemporary tycoons resemble more enlightened emperors, like Marcus Aurelius, rather than Hitlerian tyrants.

Therefore, Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations” has become the new source of inspiration for wannabe entrepreneurs. The “Aurelian Mindset” is based on a few basic but powerful principles. I am going to cite the three foundational ones.

Learn from Others

Of my grandfather Verus I have learned to be gentle and meek and to refrain from all anger and passion…” The verse I, Book I, Meditations.

In his first book, Marcus Aurelius goes on to list all the things he learned from all the people he encountered throughout his life. Not only he does not carry anger against anyone, but also he recollects all the lessons learned from others. Entrepreneurs, often learn this lesson the hard way, through many failures.

Any great entrepreneur will tell you how important is to learn as quickly as possible from the people around you. Entrepreneurs, like scientists, have discovered the “principle of ignorance,” for which, “the more you think you know about a subject, the less you know.” In other words, the great entrepreneur has to push his understanding of a subject to the point of reaching “ignorance.”

Only at that point, innovations happen. People like, Tesla, Musk, and Bezos pushed their understanding of a particular field to the limit. Progress, therefore, isn’t based anymore on the past.

It Is Not About Fame

 “…Our life is a warfare, and a mere pilgrimage. Fame afterlife is no better than oblivion…” Verse XV, Book II, Meditations.

 For a successful entrepreneur, fame comes as a side effect. The “Aurelian Entrepreneur” knows that fame itself is worth nothing. On the other hand, this is a tool that the successful entrepreneur can use to deliver the message of his/her mission.

Entrepreneurs, like Leila Janah and Blake Mycoskie, know that and use their popularity to deliver the message about the mission of their organizations. Creating a valuable enterprise is not about fame, vanity or personal enrichment. Instead, it is about social impact.

Internal Antenna 

Our life is what our thoughts make it,” Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.

Modern society has become increasingly noisy. News and rumors are generated at each blink of an eye. With one finger-tap we can reach the other side of the world; we can listen to a podcaster in California while driving our car in a small town in South Africa; we can monitor the trend of our stocks, while sipping an excellent Martini, on Red Beach, in the beautiful Santorini.

While this may seem an advantage at. First, entrepreneurs have to know how to manage the chaotically modern world for their benefit. Entrepreneurs usually have a long-term vision that often sees decades forward, compared to the nearsighted masses.

Therefore, the “Aurelian Entrepreneur” has to know when and how to listen to other people’s opinions. In other words, they are internally oriented. Their antennae are focused inwardly. Only seldom they turn outward when the moment is right to listen and see what happens in the external environment.


In conclusions, Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations” has become a powerful tool for the modern entrepreneur that has to manage adversity, in an increasingly complex environment. The economic playground has become a continuous struggle for the conquest of the world; the progress of humanity depends on enlightened entrepreneurs, now more than ever!

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Gennaro Cuofano

Creator of | Head of Business Development at | International MBA

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