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The Life and Rule of Commodus (177-192)

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He is the last representative of the Antonine dynasty, son of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina the Younger. Named after the co-ruler of the father, Lucius Vera Commodus. In 177, proclaimed August and co-regent. After the death of Marcus Aurelius, he inherited power and became the sole emperor.

Life as Emperor

At the time of the death of his father he was in the army. The first event was the successful cessation of the almost complete war with the Marcomans and Quads (Germans). He returned to Rome, where he immediately arranged festive games.

He abandoned expansionist policies in other areas of the empire. He made peace with the Dacians and Sarmatians. During his reign, there was unrest in the provinces (Britain, Germany, Dacia), but they were able to pacify them with the help of the army. He created an African fleet.

The populist events of the early years made Commodus revered by the people, but it soon became clear that his rule put an end to the so-called era of the “five good emperors”. He practically did not engage in public affairs, preferring more to entertainment and debauchery. All the years of his emperorhood were accompanied by the depletion of the treasury and huge thefts.

In the first year against the emperor ripe conspiracy. The organizer was the sister of Commodus Annia Lucilla. They sent a assassin to the emperor, but he earlier gave out his intentions. He went to Commodus with a statement: “This is what the senate sends you” and was immediately captured by the guards. All the conspirators were executed, and Lucilla was exiled to Capri , where she died a few years later.

After this incident, Commodus became fearful of conspiracies and responded with executions to every slightest suspicion. He repressed many prominent senators, and killed his wife, Bruttia Crispinna, when he once accused her of adultery.

Murder and Legacy

Since the emperor lived in an imaginary world, having a very specific idea of ​​reality, the solution of state issues was in the hands of his favorites. For three years, the Praetoria pre-Torydion Perenne held the reins of power. He was particularly unpopular in the British Legions, who eventually demanded that the emperor remove the all-powerful dignitary. Perenne was accused of taking the throne, and by order of Commodus, he, along with his wife and children, were killed by praetorians. After this incident, Commodus made the necessary conclusions, and the commanders of the Praetorians began to change with dizzying rapidity. This post has lost its significance. .

In 190, Cleander’s opponents deliberately caused a shortage of food in the capital, and then set the crowd on a dignitary. Suppressing the unrest, Cleander used the army, then the angry people surrounded the imperial palace and demanded execution. Commodus, without hesitation, fulfilled the requirement, and the unrest ceased.

On January 1, 193, Commodus was about to celebrate his inauguration as a consul and wanted to appear at the ceremony in gladiator clothes. But these plans were not destined to come true. The new prefect pretorium Quint Emilia Let, the mistress of the emperor Marcia and the court administrator of the freedman Eclekt made the decision to get rid of the inadequate emperor. The city prefect Pertinax joined the conspiracy in exchange for a promise to make him emperor. Marzia watered Commodus with poisoned wine. The poison did not produce the expected effect, and then the emperor was strangled by a slave – an athlete Narcissus, with whom the Commodus was engaged in the struggle. This happened just before the feast planned by the emperor, December 31.

The Senate approved this act, immediately declaring Commodus “enemy of the fatherland.” Enraged senators and the crowd demanded to drag his body with a hook and throw it into the Tiber, and wipe the name off all the buildings. But Pertinax did not allow it. The body in secret from all was buried in the tomb of Hadrian. The soon-established Emperor Septimius Severus, in spite of the senate, and in order to receive support from the family of Marcus Aurelius, ranked Commodus among the gods, decided to celebrate his birthday, and threw Narcissus to the lions for food. These actions of Septimius Severus are explained by the desire to consolidate the “legitimacy” of his dynasty – the new emperor declared himself “the son of divine Marcus Aurelius and the brother of the divine Commodus”, and his eldest son Septimius Bassianu Caracalla gave a new name to Marcus Aurelius Antonin – thereby “translating” into the imperial family Anthony.

With the overthrow of Commodus, the period of the Antonine dynasty ended. After his death, there followed a period known as the Year of the Five Emperors.

In Commodus’s harem there were several hundred women and as many boys. According to contemporaries, he tried all the ways of debauchery. He is credited with putting feces in exquisite dishes, wearing women’s clothes and playing a doctor while dissecting living people.

Commodus loved to act as a gladiator, although the performance of free citizens in the gladiatorial arena was considered dishonor. He knew this craft well and owned a sword. At the same time, he was not at all ashamed to put his talents on public display. In the eyes of the people he fought in the arena and killed wild animals.

He demanded his deification and took high-titled roles. It is believed that he was even going to burn the city as his colony. He was a fan of Eastern cults. He carried on his head the image of the god Anubis. Participated in self-destructive religious rituals.

In the last years of his rule, he began to identify himself with Hercules, demanding that the Senate call himself not Commodus, the son of Aurelius, but Hercules, the son of Jupiter. At his request, the month of August was called the Commodus, September – Hercules, October – Invincible, November – Overcoming, December – Amazonian. In 190, renamed Rome to Commodus City. The Senate did not object and satisfied all the most ridiculous requests of the emperor.


Historia Augusta, The Life of Commodus
Aurelius Victor About Caesars

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