Emperor Commodus

Early Life

Born 31 August 161AD to the reigning emperor Marcus Aurelius. He was the tenth of fourteen children, but the only son to live to adulthood. He therefore became the heir to his father.

In his early life he was cared for by his father’s doctor Galen, in order to keep him fit and healthy. He was also given an extensive education with many tutors.

As a child he travelled with his father on many of his military crusades. He accompanied his father during the Marcomannic wars in 172AD and to the Eastern Provinces in 175AD.They then returned to Rome in the autumn of 176AD.

On 27 November 176AD Commodus was granted by his father the rank of Imperator, and then in 177AD he gave him the title Augustus. Both him and his father then declared joint rule. On 23 December of the same year they held a joint triumph.

On 1 January 177AD Commodus, aged 15 became Consul for the first time, and then in the summer of 178AD aged 16, he married Bruttia Crispina. This was an arranged marriage; not believed to be a happy one and it did not produce any children. Commodus was to banish his wife to the island of Capri in 188AD and he later had her executed.

In 178AD he also accompanied his father to the Danubian front where Marcus Aurelius died on 17 March 180AD.

Emperor – 180AD – 192AD

Commodus became emperor following his father’s death. Much of Marcus Aurelius’ reign had been tarnished by warfare, but Commodus’ reign was much quieter, military speaking, but caused great political problems and he did not have a good relationship with the senate.

Observer at the time Dio Cassius remarked about Commodus’ rule ‘From a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust’. Many historians believe Commodus’ reign to be ‘The decline of the Roman Empire’.

Much of Commodus’ reign is undocumented, however he is believed to have been easily influenced by others and left much of the government duties to others.

His reign is known for his odd and paranoid behaviour. He believed himself to be a reincarnation of Hercules, and he ordered the people to call him Hercules. He also had statues of himself dressed as Hercules built in Rome.

While others were governing Rome, Commodus was engaging in gladiatorial combat. He was fighting people and animals in the arena. Many of the people were crippled and could not defend themselves.

Over time there were many attempts against Commodus’ life, even by his own family.

His sister Lucilla arranged two men to murder Commodus in 182AD, but they failed and were executed by the emperor’s bodyguard. Lucilla was also later killed.

While others continued to administer in Rome, Commodus travelled widely partaking in private combats and chariot races. He rarely appeared in public due to the attempts on his life and his own paranoia.

In 192AD Commodus held the Plebian Games. This was for his own gratification in showing the people his skill and strength. He would use arrows and javelins to kill hundreds of animals each morning and then in the afternoons he would fight as a gladiator. Nobody dare try and beat him, so he was successful in all his fights.

On 31 December 192AD a further attempt on his life would take place, and his food was poisoned, but he survived this by vomiting up the poison.

Determined to kill him, his conspirators sent his wrestling partner Narcissus to strangle him while in his bath, and in this they succeeded.

On his death the senate declared him ‘a public enemy’

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