Sunday, 12 June 2005

The Dreadful Commodus


Commodus was the only surviving son of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. As emperor, he proved to be everything his father was not, maiking many enemies amongst the people and especially the senate.
He was born in Lanuvium in A.D. 161 and there were rumours going around at the time, that he was in fact the product of his mother's passionate affair with a gladiator. As a child Commodus was fairly good natured, but as an adult he was anything but, which was good enough reason for many to suspect that Marcus Aurelius was not his real father. Despite all that, Marcus Aurelius raised Commodus as a future emperor, and in A.D.177, when the boy was only 16, he made him joint ruler, which shows he had lots of faith in him. When his father died in A.D. 180, near the Danube, Commodus became emperor. He was not interested in pursuing his father's plans of expansionism and not being particularly inclined towards the military lifestyel, he returned to Rome swiftly, leaving the campaign against the German tribes in the hands of his generals.
His reign was characterised by mismanagement and corruption. He was indifferent to matters of government, despised the Senate and frequently soled public offices in order to make money. He allowed German tribes to live within the confines of the Empire, under the condition that they were peaceful, and therefore was seen as a traitor by the Senate, who planned to assassinate him. In A.D. 182, Commodus's half sister Lucilla and several Senators were executed, after their plan to assassinate him failed. At this point, Commodus became more paranoic than he had ever been. He shut himself up in secluded country villas and immersed himself in a world of debauchery. He allegedly had a harem consisting of 300 girls and 300 boys and amused himself accordingly.
For nearly ten years, Commodus kept himself secluded. Then, in A.D. 190, he started to appear in public once again, making most of his appearances in the arena, as a gladiator. He became obsessed with the myth of Hercules and practised zealously at home. He even mastered the art of fighting with the left hand as well as the right. Dio Cassius wrote: "Commodus managed to kill a man now and then and in making close passes with others, as if trying to clip off a bit of their hair, he sliced off noses of some, the ears of others and sundry features of still others." He apparently took great delight out of inflicting pain on others. On one occasion, Dio tells us: "...he got together all the men in the city who had lost their feet as the result of disease or some accident, and then, after fastening about their knees some likenesses of serpents bodies, and giving them sponges to throw instead of stones, killed them with blows of a club, pretending that they were giants."
He insisted on being paid for fighting in the arena and his fees were extremely high, up to a million sesterces.

To ensure the support of senior officials he basicaly abducted their children, saying he was 'taking care of them'. Of course, this made more enemies for him. He was a megalomaniac and after a serious fire in A.D. 191 damaged much of the city, he decided to rebuild Rome and call it Colonia Commodiana (Colony of Commodus). Everyone hated him by now and even his closest courtiers were plotting to kill him. On 31st December A.D. 192, his favourite concubine, Marcia, gave him some poison, which he vomited up. Having failed to kill him thus, a gladiator was brought in to strangle him in his bath.


HCaldwell said...

Today, we commemorate his name whenever we sit on the toilet.
How appropriate.

Alterior said...

Hahaha!!! That's the best thing I've heard all day!! :-))))) Hahahahahahah!!!!!!

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Alterior said...

I have an email link now; it's in my profile. :-)

Ahistoricality said...

And, of course, has been immortalized by Hollywood in Gladiator, which gets his character pretty much right, with a lot of fudging on chronology and details.