The central role of asceticism in Roman religious and philosophical life has often been obscured by scholars of western civilization who assume that asceticism is primarily a Christian phenomenon in the West.
Long before the emergence of Christian asceticism, however, many Roman philosophers of a wide variety proposed sophisticated systems of ascetical formation. The ascetical agenda of the Cynics is well attested both in ancient and modern literature. But there were other systems as well.
Musonius Rufus and Epictetus, his student, both present diatribes ‘concerning asceticism’ in which they lay out their own system of asceticism. James Francis’s study of the Roman ascetics of the second century shows the pervasive interest in matters ascetical among a wide variety of Romans, including the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.
The later Roman philosophical ascetics Plotinus, Porphyry, and Iamblichus build on this long tradition of Roman ascetical theory and further develop systems of asceticism by blending Stoic and Cynic interests in Neo-Platonic philosophical categories.
These all attest to the emergence and development of Roman ascetical systems long before the more thoroughly researched Late Antique Christian systems.