Commodus - Roman Emperors

Emperor Commodus

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Commodus, or Lucius Aurelius Commodus, was Roman emperor with his father Marcus Aurelius from 177 to his father’s death in 180, and alone until 192. When he was a ruler along with his father, he accompained Marcus Aurelius during the Marcomannic Wars in 172 and on a tour of the Eastern provinces in 176. Moreover, he was the youngest consul in Roman history in 177. Later, that year he became the co-emperor with his father.

It was the first case when a son succeeded his biological father since Titus and Vespasian in 79 AD

During his solo reign, the ancient Roman Empire experienced a period of reduced military conflict with a dictatorial style of rule. His assassination in 192 marked the end of the Nerva-Antonine dynasty.

Early Life

Lucius Aurelius Commodus was born to the Marcus Aurelius and Faustina the Younger in Lanuvium, a city fourteen miles southeast of Rome in 161. He was the tenth of fourteen children and the only surviving son. Commodus received an upbringing from his father’s physician, Galen, who treated many of his illnesses. Moreover, there were may teachers who participated in education of young Commodus with a focus on intellectual education. Among his teachers were Onesicrates, Antistius Capella, Titus Aius Sanctus, and Pitholaus.

During the Marcomannic Wars in 172, Commodus was at Carnuntum. There he was given the victory title Germanicus, which suggests that he was present at his father’s victory over the Marcomanni. Later, in 175, he started his education in the College of Pontiffs, which became the starting point of a career in public life.

Marcus Aurelius was the first emperor since Vespasian to have a biological son. In 176, he granted Commodus the rank of “Imperator” and later, in 177, the title “Augustus,” which meant the formal sharing of power with his son


As an emperor, Commodus soon became a disappointment to Marcus Aurelius. Despite his education, he did not inherit any of his father’s work. After serving in battle on the northern frontier in 178 and 179, together with Aurelius, Commodus returned to Rome in 180 after his father’s death. During that period of time he was only 18 years old and started to negotiate a peace settlement. Later, Commodus left the reins of power in other hands most of the time, while enjoyed his time full of leisure.

Commodus had lack of concern for political matters and suffered from paranoia

Since the emperor relied on help of others to rule the Empire, there were many conspiracies against his life. He was considered to be easily manipulated. Moreover, one of the conspiracies was made by his older sister Lucilla and several senators in 182. She believed that her husband Lucius Verus had to be the next emperor after Marcus Aurelius. For this plan, Lucilla was exiled and executed after some time. Also, Paternus, the commander of the Praetorian Guard, was executed because of his connection to Saoterus’ assassination and to Lucilla’s plan.

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Tigidius Perennis, who had served as the joint commander of the Praetorian Guard with Paternus, decided to use the opportunity and become closer to Commodus during his time full of difficulties. He wanted to gain a governmental power. After the case with Lucilla, Commodus refused to give any public speeches and started to communicate to people only through the new chamberlain. Thus, public speaking role was transferred to Perennis, who took it seriously. He eliminated any rivals to his authority, but gained many enemies. Perennis became a wealthy man with many governmental responsibilities, so he started to consider himself as the true emperor. However, his main enemy became Cleander, the ex slave and member of the imperial household. In 185, Cleander leaked information to Commodus about the plan of Perennis to get the whole power and make his sons the future emperors. Commodus immediately ordered the execution of Perennis and his sons.

Cleander became a member of the emperor’s chamberlain. However, Commodus decided to return again to his life full of pleasures by leaving the right of rule in hands of Cleander this time, who eventually had the same story as his predecessor.  Cleander destroyed the system, where senatorial seats, governorships and almost everything was for sale. Of course, some part of money went to Commodus. Cleander wouldn’t remain for long time. In 190, people gathered at the Circus Maximus for the riot. They cried for the head of Cleander and marched through the streets to the residence of Commodus at the Villa of Quintilli. Commodus feared for his life and gave people the head of Cleander, which was placed on a pole and marched through the streets of Rome. Only this situation made Commodus understand that he has to rule himself.

New Life

Commodus became another person. He saw himself as a reborn Hercules, who appeared in public wearing a cloak created from the hide of a lion over hishead. This sign was a reference to the Nemean Lion of Hercules’s Twelve Labors.

The Senate declared Commodus a living god

Commodus discarded his family name and issued orders to call him Hercules. He started to wear the lion skin and erected statues of himself in different parts of Rome. Moreover, he renaimed the twelve months and rebuilt Rome after a fire in 191. He changed the name of the city to Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana, where citizens became known as Commodiani. Commodus even participated in gladiatorial contests against the physically handicapped and an array of wild animals from a raised platform.

Interesting Facts

  1. In compare to son, Commodus’ father, Marcus Aurelius, was considered as one of the wisest emperors
  2. It was the first case when a son succeeded his biological father since Titus and Vespasian in 79 AD
  3. Commodus was nearly assassinated at the beginning of his  reign by the plan of his sister, Lucilla
  4. Commodus participated in gladiatorial contests against the physically handicapped and an array of wild animals from a raised platform
  5. He changed the name of the city to Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana, where citizens became known as Commodiani
  6. He suffered from paranoia
  7. Commodus was actually popular among Rome’s citizens during most of his reign because he cut taxes and set lots of games. However, the Senate hated him
  8. After the death of Marcus Aurelius, Commodus gravitated toward tyranny and dictatorship
  9. His main aim was to spend life full of leisure
  10. There were many conspiracies against the emperor and his enemies considered him as easily manipulated


On 1st of January in 193, Commodus decided to celebrate the Rome’s rebirth by fighting in the arena. His mistress Marcia, new chamberlain Electus and new commander of the Praetorian Guard understood that he had gone too far. When they tried to talk to Commodus about his strange plans, he became angry on them and added their names to the long list of people he wanted to execute. 

One day Marcia brought Commodus a glass of wine with poison prior to his bath. However, the poison failed and Commodus’ fitness coach, Narcissus, entered and choked him to death. People wanted to drag his body through the streets of Rome, but Pertinax, who succeeded Commodus, seized the body and placed it in the Hadrian’s Mausoleum.

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Author: Kate Zusmann

For the last 6 years I live in the Eternal City. Traveling, exploring new things, writing blogs, shooting vlogs are my main hobbies, but the thing that I like even more is to share my experience and thoughts with you! Explore Rome with Us :)

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