Commodus

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Commodus
Augustus
Commodus Musei Capitolini MC1120.jpg
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Reign177 – 31 December 192
Predecessor Marcus Aurelius
Successor Pertinax
Co-emperorMarcus Aurelius (177 – 17 March 180)
Born31 August 161
Lanuvium, near Rome
Died(192-12-31)31 December 192 (aged 31)
Rome
Burial
Rome
Wife
Full name
Lucius Aurelius Commodus
(from birth to 166);
Regnal name
Caesar Lucius Aurelius Commodus (166 to 176);
Imperator Caesar Lucius Aurelius Commodus Augustus (177 to 180);
Imperator Caesar Lucius Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus (180);
Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus (180 to 191);
Imperator Caesar Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus (191 to death)
Dynasty Nerva–Antonine
FatherMarcus Aurelius
Mother Faustina
Roman imperial dynasties
Nerva–Antonine dynasty (AD 96–192)
Chronology
Nerva 96 98
Trajan 98 117
Hadrian 117 138
Antoninus Pius 138 161
Lucius Verus 161 169
Marcus Aurelius 161 180
Commodus 177 192
Family
Succession
Preceded by
Flavian dynasty
Followed by
Year of the Five Emperors

Commodus ( /ˈkɒmədəs/ ; [1] 31 August 161 – 31 December 192), born Lucius Aurelius Commodus [2] and died Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus, was Roman emperor with his father Marcus Aurelius from 177 to his father's death in 180, and solely until 192.

Roman emperor ruler of the Roman Empire

The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period. The emperors used a variety of different titles throughout history. Often when a given Roman is described as becoming "emperor" in English, it reflects his taking of the title Augustus or Caesar. Another title often used was imperator, originally a military honorific. Early Emperors also used the title princeps. Emperors frequently amassed republican titles, notably princeps senatus, consul and pontifex maximus.

Marcus Aurelius Roman Emperor and philosopher

Marcus Aurelius, called the Philosopher, was a Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher. Marcus was the last of the rulers traditionally known as the Five Good Emperors. He is also seen as the last emperor of the Pax Romana, an age of relative peace and stability for the Roman Empire. His personal philosophical writings, now commonly known as Meditations, are a significant source of the modern understanding of ancient Stoic philosophy. They have been praised by fellow writers, philosophers, and monarchs – as well as by poets and politicians – centuries after his death.

Contents

During his father's reign, he accompanied Marcus Aurelius during the Marcomannic Wars in 172 and on a tour of the Eastern provinces in 176. He was made the youngest consul in Roman history in 177 and later that year elevated to co-emperor with his father. His accession was the first time a son had succeeded his biological father since Titus succeeded Vespasian in 79. He was also the first emperor to have both a father and grandfather (who had adopted his father) as the two preceding emperors. Commodus was the first (and until 337, the only) emperor "born in the purple", meaning during his father's reign.

Marcomannic Wars series of military conflicts from about 166 to 180 AD

The Marcomannic Wars were a series of wars lasting over a dozen years from about 166 until 180 AD. These wars pitted the Roman Empire against, principally, the Germanic Marcomanni and Quadi and the Sarmatian Iazyges; there were related conflicts with several other barbarian peoples along both sides of the whole length of the Roman Empire's northeastern European border, the river Danube. The struggle against the Germans and Sarmatians occupied the major part of the reign of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, and it was during his campaigns against them that he started writing his philosophical work Meditations, whose book 1 bears the note "Among the Quadi at the Granua".

Titus Emperor of Ancient Rome

Titus was Roman emperor from 79 to 81. A member of the Flavian dynasty, Titus succeeded his father Vespasian upon his death, thus becoming the first Roman emperor to come to the throne after his own biological father.

Vespasian Emperor of Ancient Rome, founder of the Flavian dynasty

Vespasian was Roman emperor from 69–79, the fourth, and last, in the Year of the Four Emperors. He founded the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Empire for 27 years.

During his solo reign, the Empire enjoyed a period of reduced military conflict compared with the reign of Marcus Aurelius, but intrigues and conspiracies abounded, leading Commodus to an increasingly dictatorial style of leadership that culminated in a God-like personality cult. His assassination in 192 marked the end of the Nerva–Antonine dynasty. He was succeeded by Pertinax, the first emperor in the tumultuous Year of the Five Emperors.

Nerva–Antonine dynasty Dynasty of seven Roman Emperors from 96 to 192 CE

The Nerva–Antonine dynasty was a dynasty of seven Roman Emperors who ruled over the Roman Empire from 96 CE to 192 CE. These Emperors are Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Lucius Verus, Marcus Aurelius, and Commodus.

Pertinax 2nd-century Roman emperor

Pertinax was a Roman military leader and Roman Emperor for the first three months of 193. He succeeded Commodus to become the first emperor during the tumultuous Year of the Five Emperors.

The Year of the Five Emperors refers to the year 193 AD, in which the five claimants for the title of Roman Emperor were: Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Pescennius Niger, Clodius Albinus, and Septimius Severus. This year started a period of civil war when multiple rulers vied for the chance to become Caesar.

Early life and rise to power (161–180)

Early life

A bust of Commodus as a youth (Roman-Germanic Museum, Cologne). Bust of Commodus 180-192 AD.JPG
A bust of Commodus as a youth (Roman-Germanic Museum, Cologne).

Commodus was born on 31 August AD 161 in Lanuvium, near Rome. [3] He was the son of the reigning emperor, Marcus Aurelius, and Aurelius's first cousin, Faustina the Younger, the youngest daughter of Emperor Antoninus Pius, who had died only a few months before. Commodus had an elder twin brother, Titus Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus, who died in 165. On 12 October 166, Commodus was made Caesar together with his younger brother, Marcus Annius Verus. [4] [5] The latter died in 169 having failed to recover from an operation, which left Commodus as Marcus Aurelius's sole surviving son. [5]

Lanuvium human settlement in Italy

Lanuvium is an ancient city of Latium, some 32 kilometres (20 mi) southeast of Rome, a little southwest of the Via Appia.

Ancient Rome History of Rome from the 8th-century BC to the 5th-century

In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman civilization from the founding of the Italian city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, encompassing the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic and Roman Empire until the fall of the western empire. The civilization began as an Italic settlement in the Italian Peninsula, conventionally founded in 753 BC, that grew into the city of Rome and which subsequently gave its name to the empire over which it ruled and to the widespread civilisation the empire developed. The Roman Empire expanded to become one of the largest empires in the ancient world, though still ruled from the city, with an estimated 50 to 90 million inhabitants ) and covering 5.0 million square kilometres at its height in AD 117.

Faustina the Younger Roman empress

Annia Galeria Faustina Minor, Faustina Minor or Faustina the Younger was a daughter of Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius and Roman Empress Faustina the Elder. She was a Roman Empress and wife to her maternal cousin Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. She was held in high esteem by soldiers and her own husband and was given divine honours after her death.

Bust of Marcus Aurelius in the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul, Turkey Marcus Aurelius bust Istanbul Archaeological Museum - inv. 5129 T.jpg
Bust of Marcus Aurelius in the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul, Turkey

He was looked after by his father's physician, Galen, [6] [7] who treated many of Commodus' common illnesses. Commodus received extensive tutoring by a multitude of teachers with a focus on intellectual education. [8] Among his teachers, Onesicrates, Antistius Capella, Titus Aius Sanctus, and Pitholaus are mentioned. [8] [9]

Galen Roman physician, surgeon and philosopher

Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus, often Anglicized as Galen and better known as Galen of Pergamon, was a Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher in the Roman Empire. Arguably the most accomplished of all medical researchers of antiquity, Galen influenced the development of various scientific disciplines, including anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, and neurology, as well as philosophy and logic.

Commodus is known to have been at Carnuntum, the headquarters of Marcus Aurelius during the Marcomannic Wars, in 172. It was presumably there that, on 15 October 172, he was given the victory title Germanicus , in the presence of the army. The title suggests that Commodus was present at his father's victory over the Marcomanni. On 20 January 175, Commodus entered the College of Pontiffs, the starting point of a career in public life.

Carnuntum Human settlement in Austria

Carnuntum was a Roman legionary fortress and headquarters of the Pannonian fleet from 50 AD. After the 1st century, it was capital of the Pannonia Superior province. It also became a large city of 50,000 inhabitants.

A victory title is an honorific title adopted by a successful military commander to commemorate his defeat of an enemy nation. The practice was first used by Ancient Rome and is still most commonly associated with the Romans, but it was also adopted as a practice by many later empires, especially the French, British and Russian Empires.

Germanicus is a cognomen used by the Julio-Claudian family, given to all of Nero Claudius Drusus' male descendants due to his victory in Germania. As a Roman victory title, it was also given to other Romans due to their glory in Germania.

In April 175, Avidius Cassius, Governor of Syria, declared himself Emperor following rumours that Marcus Aurelius had died. Having been accepted as Emperor by Syria, Judea and Egypt, Cassius carried on his rebellion even after it had become obvious that Marcus was still alive. During the preparations for the campaign against Cassius, Commodus assumed his toga virilis on the Danubian front on 7 July 175, thus formally entering adulthood. Cassius, however, was killed by one of his centurions before the campaign against him could begin.

Commodus subsequently accompanied his father on a lengthy trip to the Eastern provinces, during which he visited Antioch. The Emperor and his son then traveled to Athens, where they were initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries. They then returned to Rome in the autumn of 176.

Joint rule with father (177)

Head of Bruttia Crispina L'Image et le Pouvoir - Tete de Crispine 01.jpg
Head of Bruttia Crispina

Marcus Aurelius was the first emperor since Vespasian to have a legitimate biological son and, though he himself was the fifth in the line of the so-called Five Good Emperors, each of whom had adopted his successor, it seems to have been his firm intention that Commodus should be his heir. On 27 November 176, Marcus Aurelius granted Commodus the rank of Imperator and, in the middle of 177, the title Augustus , giving his son the same status as his own and formally sharing power.

On 23 December of the same year, the two Augusti celebrated a joint triumph, and Commodus was given tribunician power. On 1 January 177, Commodus became consul for the first time, which made him, aged 15, the youngest consul in Roman history up to that time. He subsequently married Bruttia Crispina before accompanying his father to the Danubian front once more in 178. Marcus Aurelius died there on 17 March 180, leaving the 18-year-old Commodus sole emperor.

Solo reign (180–192)

Upon his ascension, Commodus devalued the Roman currency. He reduced the weight of the denarius from 96 per Roman pound to 105 per Roman pound (3.85 grams to 3.35 grams). He also reduced the silver purity from 79 percent to 76 percent – the silver weight dropping from 2.57 grams to 2.34 grams. In 186 he further reduced the purity and silver weight to 74 percent and 2.22 grams respectively, being 108 to the Roman pound. [10] His reduction of the denarius during his rule was the largest since the empire's first devaluation during Nero's reign.

Whereas the reign of Marcus Aurelius had been marked by almost continuous warfare, Commodus' rule was comparatively peaceful in the military sense, but was also characterised by political strife and the increasingly arbitrary and capricious behaviour of the emperor himself. In the view of Dio Cassius, a contemporary observer of the period, his accession marked the descent "from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust". [11]

Despite his notoriety, and considering the importance of his reign, Commodus' years in power are not well chronicled. The principal surviving literary sources are Herodian, Dio Cassius (a contemporary and sometimes first-hand observer, but for this reign, only transmitted in fragments and abbreviations), and the Historia Augusta (untrustworthy for its character as a work of literature rather than history, with elements of fiction embedded within its biographies; in the case of Commodus, it may well be embroidering upon what the author found in reasonably good contemporary sources).

A denarius featuring Commodus. Inscription: TR. P. VIII, IMP. VI, COS. IIII, P. P. - S. C. Commodus denier verso ag1.jpg
A denarius featuring Commodus. Inscription: TR. P. VIII, IMP. VI, COS. IIII, P. P. - S. C.

Commodus remained with the Danube armies for only a short time before negotiating a peace treaty with the Danubian tribes. He then returned to Rome and celebrated a triumph for the conclusion of the wars on 22 October 180. Unlike the preceding Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, he seems to have had little interest in the business of administration and tended throughout his reign to leave the practical running of the state to a succession of favourites, beginning with Saoterus, a freedman from Nicomedia who had become his chamberlain.

Dissatisfaction with this state of affairs would lead to a series of conspiracies and attempted coups, which in turn eventually provoked Commodus to take charge of affairs, which he did in an increasingly dictatorial manner. Nevertheless, though the senatorial order came to hate and fear him, the evidence suggests that he remained popular with the army and the common people for much of his reign, not least because of his lavish shows of largesse (recorded on his coinage) and because he staged and took part in spectacular gladiatorial combats.

One of the ways he paid for his donatives (imperial handouts) and mass entertainments was to tax the senatorial order, and on many inscriptions, the traditional order of the two nominal powers of the state, the Senate and People ( Senatus Populusque Romanus ) is provocatively reversed (Populus Senatusque...).

Conspiracies of 182

Commodus with attributes of Helios, Apollo and Jupiter, late 2nd century AD, sardonyx cameo relief, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Commodus, Hermitage Museum.JPG
Commodus with attributes of Helios, Apollo and Jupiter, late 2nd century AD, sardonyx cameo relief, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

At the outset of his reign, Commodus, aged 18, inherited many of his father's senior advisers, notably Tiberius Claudius Pompeianus (the second husband of Commodus' eldest sister Lucilla), his father-in-law Gaius Bruttius Praesens, Titus Fundanius Vitrasius Pollio, and Aufidius Victorinus, who was Prefect of the City of Rome. He also had four surviving sisters, all of them with husbands who were potential rivals. Lucilla was over ten years his senior and held the rank of Augusta as the widow of her first husband, Lucius Verus.

The first crisis of the reign came in 182, when Lucilla engineered a conspiracy against her brother. Her motive is alleged to have been envy of the Empress Crispina. Her husband, Pompeianus, was not involved, but two men alleged to have been her lovers, Marcus Ummidius Quadratus Annianus (the consul of 167, who was also her first cousin) and Appius Claudius Quintianus, attempted to murder Commodus as he entered a theater. They bungled the job and were seized by the emperor's bodyguard.

Quadratus and Quintianus were executed. Lucilla was exiled to Capri and later killed. Pompeianus retired from public life. One of the two praetorian prefects, Tarrutenius Paternus, had actually been involved in the conspiracy but his involvement was not discovered until later on, and in the aftermath, he and his colleague, Sextus Tigidius Perennis, were able to arrange for the murder of Saoterus, the hated chamberlain.

Commodus took the loss of Saoterus badly, and Perennis now seized the chance to advance himself by implicating Paternus in a second conspiracy, one apparently led by Publius Salvius Julianus, who was the son of the jurist Salvius Julianus and was betrothed to Paternus' daughter. Salvius and Paternus were executed along with a number of other prominent consulars and senators. Didius Julianus, the future emperor and a relative of Salvius Julianus, was dismissed from the governorship of Germania Inferior.

Cleander

Perennis took over the reins of government and Commodus found a new chamberlain and favourite in Cleander, a Phrygian freedman who had married one of the emperor's mistresses, Demostratia. Cleander was in fact the person who had murdered Saoterus. After those attempts on his life, Commodus spent much of his time outside Rome, mostly on the family estates at Lanuvium. Being physically strong, his chief interest was in sport: taking part in horse racing, chariot racing, and combats with beasts and men, mostly in private but also on occasion in public.

Dacia and Britain

A bust of Commodus (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). According to Herodian he was well proportioned and attractive, with naturally blond and curly hair. . Commodus, Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna - 20100226.jpg
A bust of Commodus (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). According to Herodian he was well proportioned and attractive, with naturally blond and curly hair. .

Commodus was inaugurated in 183 as consul with Aufidius Victorinus for a colleague and assumed the title Pius. War broke out in Dacia: few details are available, but it appears two future contenders for the throne, Clodius Albinus and Pescennius Niger, both distinguished themselves in the campaign. Also, in Britain in 184, the governor Ulpius Marcellus re-advanced the Roman frontier northward to the Antonine Wall, but the legionaries revolted against his harsh discipline and acclaimed another legate, Priscus, as emperor. [14]

Priscus refused to accept their acclamations, and Perennis had all the legionary legates in Britain cashiered. On 15 October 184 at the Capitoline Games, a Cynic philosopher publicly denounced Perennis before Commodus. His tale wasn't believed and he was immediately put to death. According to Dio Cassius, Perennis, though ruthless and ambitious, was not personally corrupt and generally administered the state well. [14]

However, the following year, a detachment of soldiers from Britain (they had been drafted to Italy to suppress brigands) also denounced Perennis to the emperor as plotting to make his own son emperor (they had been enabled to do so by Cleander, who was seeking to dispose of his rival), and Commodus gave them permission to execute him as well as his wife and sons. The fall of Perennis brought a new spate of executions: Aufidius Victorinus committed suicide. Ulpius Marcellus was replaced as governor of Britain by Pertinax; brought to Rome and tried for treason, Marcellus narrowly escaped death.

Cleander's zenith and fall (185–190)

Remnants of a Roman bust of a youth with a blond beard, perhaps depicting emperor Commodus, National Archaeological Museum, Athens 1699 - Archaeological Museum, Athens - A youth, possibly Commodus - Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto, Nov 11 2009.jpg
Remnants of a Roman bust of a youth with a blond beard, perhaps depicting emperor Commodus, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Cleander proceeded to concentrate power in his own hands and to enrich himself by becoming responsible for all public offices: he sold and bestowed entry to the Senate, army commands, governorships and, increasingly, even the suffect consulships to the highest bidder. Unrest around the empire increased, with large numbers of army deserters causing trouble in Gaul and Germany. Pescennius Niger mopped up the deserters in Gaul in a military campaign, and a revolt in Brittany was put down by two legions brought over from Britain.

In 187, one of the leaders of the deserters, Maternus, came from Gaul intending to assassinate Commodus at the Festival of the Great Goddess in March, but he was betrayed and executed. In the same year, Pertinax unmasked a conspiracy by two enemies of Cleander – Antistius Burrus (one of Commodus' brothers-in-law) and Arrius Antoninus. As a result, Commodus appeared even more rarely in public, preferring to live on his estates.

Early in 188, Cleander disposed of the current praetorian prefect, Atilius Aebutianus, and himself took over supreme command of the Praetorian Guard at the new rank of a pugione ("dagger-bearer"), with two praetorian prefects subordinate to him. Now at the zenith of his power, Cleander continued to sell public offices as his private business. The climax came in the year 190, which had 25 suffect consuls – a record in the 1,000-year history of the Roman consulship—all appointed by Cleander (they included the future Emperor Septimius Severus).

In the spring of 190, Rome was afflicted by a food shortage, for which the praefectus annonae Papirius Dionysius, the official actually in charge of the grain supply, contrived to lay the blame on Cleander. At the end of June, a mob demonstrated against Cleander during a horse race in the Circus Maximus: he sent the Praetorian Guard to put down the disturbances, but Pertinax, who was now City Prefect of Rome, dispatched the Vigiles Urbani to oppose them. Cleander fled to Commodus, who was at Laurentum in the house of the Quinctilii, for protection, but the mob followed him calling for his head.

At the urging of his mistress Marcia, Commodus had Cleander beheaded and his son killed. Other victims at this time were the praetorian prefect Julius Julianus, Commodus' cousin Annia Fundania Faustina, and his brother-in-law Mamertinus. Papirius Dionysius was executed, too.

The emperor now changed his name to Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus. At 29, he took over more of the reins of power, though he continued to rule through a cabal consisting of Marcia, his new chamberlain Eclectus, and the new praetorian prefect Quintus Aemilius Laetus.

Megalomania (190–192)

A denarius of Commodus. Inscription: L. L. COMMODVS ANTONINVS AVG. Denarius of Commodus (YORYM 2000 4292) obverse.jpg
A denarius of Commodus. Inscription: L. L. COMMODVS ANTONINVS AVG.

In opposition to the Senate, in his pronouncements and iconography, Commodus had always stressed his unique status as a source of god-like power, liberality, and physical prowess. Innumerable statues around the empire were set up portraying him in the guise of Hercules, reinforcing the image of him as a demigod, a physical giant, a protector, and a warrior who fought against men and beasts (see "Commodus and Hercules" and "Commodus the Gladiator" below). Moreover, as Hercules, he could claim to be the son of Jupiter, the supreme god of the Roman pantheon. These tendencies now increased to megalomaniacal proportions. Far from celebrating his descent from Marcus Aurelius, the actual source of his power, he stressed his own personal uniqueness as the bringer of a new order, seeking to re-cast the empire in his own image.

During 191, the city of Rome was extensively damaged by a fire that raged for several days, during which many public buildings including the Temple of Pax, the Temple of Vesta, and parts of the imperial palace were destroyed.

Perhaps seeing this as an opportunity, early in 192 Commodus, declaring himself the new Romulus, ritually re-founded Rome, renaming the city Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana. All the months of the year were renamed to correspond exactly with his (now twelve) names: Lucius, Aelius, Aurelius, Commodus, Augustus, Herculeus, Romanus, Exsuperatorius, Amazonius, Invictus, Felix, and Pius. The legions were renamed Commodianae, the fleet which imported grain from Africa was termed Alexandria Commodiana Togata, the Senate was entitled the Commodian Fortunate Senate, his palace and the Roman people themselves were all given the name Commodianus, and the day on which these reforms were decreed was to be called Dies Commodianus. [15]

Thus, he presented himself as the fountainhead of the Empire, Roman life, and religion. He also had the head of the Colossus of Nero adjacent to the Colosseum replaced with his own portrait, gave it a club, and placed a bronze lion at its feet to make it look like Hercules Romanus, and added an inscription boasting of being "the only left-handed fighter to conquer twelve times one thousand men". [16]

Assassination (192)

Damnatio memoriae of Commodus on an inscription in the Museum of Roman History Osterburken. The abbreviation "CO" has been restored with paint. Romermuseum Osterburken (DerHexer) 2012-09-30 008.jpg
Damnatio memoriae of Commodus on an inscription in the Museum of Roman History Osterburken. The abbreviation "CO" has been restored with paint.

In November 192, Commodus held Plebeian Games, in which he shot hundreds of animals with arrows and javelins every morning, and fought as a gladiator every afternoon, winning all the fights. In December, he announced his intention to inaugurate the year 193 as both consul and gladiator on 1 January.

At this point, the prefect Laetus formed a conspiracy with Eclectus to supplant Commodus with Pertinax, taking Marcia into their confidence. On 31 December, Marcia poisoned Commodus' food but he vomited up the poison, so the conspirators sent his wrestling partner Narcissus to strangle him in his bath. Upon his death, the Senate declared him a public enemy (a de facto damnatio memoriae ) and restored the original name of the city of Rome and its institutions. Statues of Commodus were demolished. His body was buried in the Mausoleum of Hadrian.

Commodus' death marked the end of the Nerva–Antonine dynasty. Commodus was succeeded by Pertinax, whose reign was short-lived; he would become the first claimant to be usurped during the Year of the Five Emperors.

In 195, the emperor Septimius Severus, trying to gain favour with the family of Marcus Aurelius, rehabilitated Commodus' memory and had the Senate deify him. [17]

Character and physical prowess

Character and motivations

Denarius of Commodus. Inscription: AUT. KAIC. KOMMODOC CEB. / GEP. CAP. DHMarkhikes EKsousias D, YPATos B (greek inscription for GER. SAR. Municipal Authority IV, Consul II). Commode piece.jpg
Denarius of Commodus. Inscription: ΑΥΤ. ΚΑΙC. KOMMOΔΟC CEB. / ΓEP. CAP. ΔHMαρχικής EΞουσίας Δ΄, YΠATος B΄ (greek inscription for GER. SAR. Municipal Authority IV, Consul II).
Bust of Commodus from the Capitoline Museum Commodo, 180-192 dc, collez. albani.JPG
Bust of Commodus from the Capitoline Museum

Cassius Dio, a first-hand witness, describes him as "not naturally wicked but, on the contrary, as guileless as any man that ever lived. His great simplicity, however, together with his cowardice, made him the slave of his companions, and it was through them that he at first, out of ignorance, missed the better life and then was led on into lustful and cruel habits, which soon became second nature." [18]

His recorded actions do tend to show a rejection of his father's policies, his father's advisers, and especially his father's austere lifestyle, and an alienation from the surviving members of his family. It seems likely that he was brought up in an atmosphere of Stoic asceticism, which he rejected entirely upon his accession to sole rule.

After repeated attempts on Commodus' life, Roman citizens were often killed for making him angry. One such notable event was the attempted extermination of the house of the Quinctilii. Condianus and Maximus were executed on the pretext that, while they were not implicated in any plots, their wealth and talent would make them unhappy with the current state of affairs. [19]

Changes of name

Bust of Commodus from the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme CommodoDaAlbano-MNRPalMassimo.JPG
Bust of Commodus from the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

On his accession as sole ruler, Commodus added the name Antoninus to his official nomenclature, presumably to honor his grandfather, Antoninus Pius. In October 180 he changed his praenomen from Lucius to Marcus, presumably in honour of his father. He later took the title of Felix in 185. In 191 he restored his praenomen to Lucius and added the family name Aelius, apparently linking himself to Hadrian and Hadrian's adopted son Lucius Aelius Caesar, whose original name was also Commodus.

Later that year he dropped Antoninus and adopted as his full style Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus Herculeus Romanus Exsuperatorius Amazonius Invictus Felix Pius (the order of some of these titles varies in the sources). "Exsuperatorius" (the supreme) was a title given to Jupiter, and "Amazonius" identified him again with Hercules.

An inscribed altar from Dura-Europos on the Euphrates shows that Commodus' titles and the renaming of the months were disseminated to the furthest reaches of the Empire; moreover, that even auxiliary military units received the title Commodiana, and that Commodus claimed two additional titles: Pacator Orbis (pacifier of the world) and Dominus Noster (Our Lord). The latter eventually would be used as a conventional title by Roman emperors, starting about a century later, but Commodus seems to have been the first to assume it. [20]

Commodus and Hercules

Disdaining the more philosophic inclinations of his father, Commodus was extremely proud of his physical prowess. The historian Herodian, a contemporary, described Commodus as an extremely handsome man. [21] As mentioned above, he ordered many statues to be made showing him dressed as Hercules with a lion's hide and a club. He thought of himself as the reincarnation of Hercules, frequently emulating the legendary hero's feats by appearing in the arena to fight a variety of wild animals. He was left-handed and very proud of the fact. [22] Cassius Dio and the writers of the Augustan History say that Commodus was a skilled archer, who could shoot the heads off ostriches in full gallop, and kill a panther as it attacked a victim in the arena.

Commodus the gladiator

Commodus also had a passion for gladiatorial combat, which he took so far as to take to the arena himself, dressed as a secutor. [23] The Romans found Commodus' gladiatorial combats to be scandalous and disgraceful. [24] It was rumoured that he was actually the son, not of Marcus Aurelius, but of a gladiator whom his mother Faustina had taken as a lover at the coastal resort of Caieta. [25]

In the arena, Commodus always won, since his opponents always submitted to the emperor. Thus, these public fights would not end in death, although wounded soldiers and amputees would be placed in the arena for Commodus to slay with a sword.[ citation needed ] Citizens of Rome missing their feet through accident or illness were taken to the arena, where they were tethered together for Commodus to club to death while pretending they were giants. [26] Privately, it was his custom to slay his practice opponents. [27] [ clarification needed ] For each appearance in the arena, he charged the city of Rome a million sesterces, straining the Roman economy.

Commodus was also known for fighting exotic animals in the arena, often to the horror of the Roman people. According to Cassius Dio, Commodus once killed 100 lions in a single day. [28] Later, he decapitated a running ostrich with a specially designed dart [29] and afterwards carried his sword and the bleeding head of the dead bird over to the section where the Senators sat and motioned as though they were next. [30] Dio notes that the targeted senators actually found this more ridiculous than frightening, and chewed on laurel leaves to conceal their laughter. [31] On another occasion, Commodus killed three elephants on the floor of the arena by himself. [32] Finally, Commodus killed a giraffe, which was considered to be a strange and helpless beast. [33]

Media portrayals

Nerva–Antonine family tree

Ancestors

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References

  1. "Commodus". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary .
  2. EB (1878).
  3. Historia Augusta - Life of Commodus 1
  4. Historia Augusta 12.8
  5. 1 2 David L. Vagi Coinage and History of the Roman Empire Vol. One: History p.248
  6. Susan P. Mattern The Prince of Medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire p. xx
  7. Cassius Dio Roman History 71.33.1
  8. 1 2 Anthony R Birley Marcus Aurelius: A Biography p.197
  9. Historia Augusta 1.6
  10. "Tulane University "Roman Currency of the Principate"".
  11. Dio Cassius 72.36.4, Loeb edition translated E. Cary
  12. Birley, Anthony R.; Birley, Anthony R. (1 June 2002). Septimius Severus: The African Emperor. Taylor & Francis. ISBN   9780203028599 via Google Books.
  13. Colin Wells (2004) [1984, 1992]. The Roman Empire. Second Edition (sixth reprint edition). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN   0-674-77770-0, p 255.
  14. 1 2 Dio Cassius 73.10.2, Loeb edition translated E. Cary
  15. "Roman Emperors - DIR commodus". www.roman-emperors.org.
  16. Dio Cassius 73.22.3
  17. To “accept kinship with Commodus ... the bluntly pragmatic decision was taken to deify the former emperor, thus legitimizing Severus’ seizure of power.” See Annelise Freisenbruch, Caesars' Wives: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Roman Empire (London and New York: Free Press, 2010), 187.
  18. Dio Cassius 73.1.2, Loeb edition translated E. Cary
  19. Dio Cassius 73.5.3, Loeb edition translated E. Cary
  20. Spiedel, M. P (1993). "Commodus the God-Emperor and the Army". Journal of Roman Studies. 83: 109–114. doi:10.2307/300981. JSTOR   300981.
  21. Grant, Michael. The Roman Emperors (1985)pp 99.
  22. Dio, Cassius. Roman History: Epitome of Book LXXIII pp 111.
  23. Gibbon, Edward. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Vol. 5. Methuen, 1898.
  24. Herodian's Roman History F.L. Muller Edition 1.15.7
  25. Historia Augusta, Life of Marcus Aurelius, XIX. The film The Fall of the Roman Empire makes use of this story: one of the characters is an old gladiator who eventually reveals himself to be Commodus' real father.
  26. Dio Cassius 73.20.3, Loeb edition translated E. Cary
  27. Dio Cassius 73.10.3
  28. Gibbon pg 106 "disgorged at once a hundred lions; a hundred darts"
  29. Gibbon, Edward The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume I Everyman's Library (Knopf) New York. 1910. pg 106 "with arrows whose point was shaped in the form of a crescent"
  30. Lane Fox, Robin The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian Basic Books. 2006 pg 446 "brandishing a sword in one hand and bloodied neck...He gesticulated at the Senate."
  31. Roman History by Cassius Dio penelope.uchicago.edu
  32. Scullard, H. H The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World Thames and Hudson. 1974 pg 252
  33. Gibbon pg 107 "*1 Commodus killed a camelopardalis or giraffe ... the most useless of the quadrupeds".
  34. IMDb Commodus (Character) from Gladiator (2000) Retrieved October 2012
  35. Nichols, Derek (8 February 2014). "History Behind The Game – Ryse: Son of Rome". Venture Beat . Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  36. Agius, Den (19 November 2016). "Box Set Binge: Roman Empire: Reign of Blood, The Path and Deutschland 83". What's on TV . TI Media Limited . Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  37. O'Keefe, Meghan (25 November 2016). "'Roman Empire: Reign Of Blood': Who Was The Real Lucilla?". Decider . NYP Holdings, Inc. Retrieved 20 July 2018.

Sources

Further reading

Commodus
Cadet branch of the Nerva–Antonine dynasty
Born: 31 August 161 Died: 31 December 192
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Marcus Aurelius
Roman Emperor
180–192
Succeeded by
Pertinax
Political offices
Preceded by
Titus Pomponius Proculus Vitrasius Pollio,
and Marcus Flavius Aper  II

as ordinary consuls
Consul of the Roman Empire
177
with Marcus Peducaeus Plautius Quintillus
Succeeded by
Servius Cornelius Scipio Salvidienus Orfitus,
and Domitius Velius Rufus

as ordinary consuls
Preceded by
Servius Cornelius Scipio Salvidienus Orfitus,
and Domitius Velius Rufus

as ordinary consuls
Consul of the Roman Empire
179
with Publius Martius Verus
Succeeded by
Titus Flavius Claudianus,
and Lucius Aemilius Iuncus

as suffect consuls
Preceded by
Lucius Fulvius Rusticus Gaius Bruttius Praesens II,
and Sextus Quintilius Condianus

as ordinary consuls
Consul of the Roman Empire
181
with Lucius Antistius Burrus
Succeeded by
Marcus Petronius Sura Mamertinus,
and Quintus Tineius Rufus

as ordinary consuls
Preceded by
Marcus Petronius Sura Mamertinus,
and Quintus Tineius Rufus

as ordinary consuls
Consul of the Roman Empire
183
with Gaius Aufidius Victorinus
Succeeded by
Lucius Tutilius Pontianus Gentianus,
and ignotus

as suffect consuls
Preceded by
Triarius Maternus Lascivius,
and Tiberius Claudius Marcus Appius Atilius Bradua Regillus Atticus
Consul of the Roman Empire
186
with Manius Acilius Glabrio II
Succeeded by
Lucius Novius Rufus,
and Lucius Annius Ravus

as suffect consuls
Preceded by
Domitius Iulius Silanus,
and Quintus Servilius Silanus

as suffect consuls
Consul of the Roman Empire
190
with Marcus Petronius Sura Septimianus
Succeeded by
Lucius Septimius Severus,
and Apuleius Rufinus

as suffect consuls
Preceded by
Popilius Pedo Apronianus,
and Marcus Valerius Bradua Mauricus

as ordinary consuls
Consul of the Roman Empire
192
with Pertinax
Succeeded by
Quintus Pompeius Sosius Falco,
and Gaius Julius Erucius Clarus Vibianus

as ordinary consuls