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Roman Emperor - Commodus

Updated on December 9, 2016
Commodus as Hercules Photo by Jastrow (2006)
Commodus as Hercules Photo by Jastrow (2006)

"...and when Commodus had once tasted human blood, he became incapable of pity or remorse."

Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1, Page 36 (Encyclopaedia Brittanica Inc., 1952)

AD 161 - 192

Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus, known also as Marcus Antoninus, was born at Lanuvium on 31 August 161 AD. The son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, whom he succeeded in 180.

Commodus, at only 18, was still on the Danube when his father died on 17th March 180 AD.

None of the four previous emperors had been survived by a son. Despite this, or because of it, the army and other high ranked officials of the empire, preferred a hereditary succession, rather than risk a civil war that came with a doubtful succession.

With the dictatorship he also inherited a protracted and costly war and the aftermath of a devastating plague.

He was a tyrant, spending lavishly on gladiatorial combats, confiscating the property of the wealthy, and indulged in fierce persecution of the Senate.

Toward the end of his reign his eccentricities turned to insanity. In AD 190, Commodus took advantage of the fire that had burned part of Rome. He rebuilt the city and turning up at the Senate dressed as Hercules he renamed Rome "the colony of Commodus" (Colonia Commodiana). He also changed the months of the year after himself, and renamed the senate to Commodian Fortunate Senate.

He spent much of his time with gladiators and in the arena of the Colosseum. Commodus proposed to assume the consulship on 1st January 193 AD armed as a gladiator. The procession was to start at the gladiators' barracks. The offense to public decency was enormous.

In 191 he came under the influence of his concubine, Marcia, and the praetorian prefect, Laetus. There had been many attempts against his life, and when his mistress Marcia and his advisers, who had discovered themselves on the emperor's death list, they had him strangled by an athlete, Narcissus during the night of 31 December 192, and a grateful senate proclaimed Pertinax emperor before the imperial guards woke at dawn.


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    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Always a lot of drama with these Roman emperors!