Ancient Rome was full of picturesque figures. There are countless stories with Julius Caesar, Nero, Caligula, and with Emperor Commodus, who led Rome to ruin.
Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus was born on August 31, 161, in the city today called Lanuvio, Italy, and was the son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius and Empress Faustina the Younger, the daughter of Emperor Antoninus Pius.
As he had no brothers, because his twin died at the age of four, Commodus was educated to become emperor. In fact, when he was only six years old, his father declared him a coemperor.
Commodus was a pampered and narcissistic young man, a real shame to his father. He had no interest in military or government issues and all he did was to satisfy his lusts.
In 180 Marcus Aurelius died, leaving Commodus as emperor of Rome. He quickly took the name of Caesar Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus, and, throughout his reign, from 177 to 192, became increasingly cruel and sadistic.
He presented himself as “reborn Hercules” and, to look more imposing he began to wear a lion’s fur, like his hero. His favorite activity was to play the role of gladiator, dressed only in his lion skin.
Before him, it had not been mentioned yet, that an emperor would be involved in such activities and that gave rise to scandals. Moreover, his chosen adversaries were helpless animals and infirm Roman citizens, often soldiers who had been wounded in wars.
Sometimes, they were bound to each other so that the emperor could kill two of them at once. In addition, Commodus used to subject Rome to enormous expenses whenever he appeared in the arena.
And the slaughters did not stop in the arena. Once, he killed an entire family, Quinctillius, just because they were rich and popular acros the nation. Only one child survived.
At some point, the Senate was informed that the leader’s name would no longer be Commodus. It was to be called “Hercules, the son of Zeus”. He sent a petition for the Senate to declare him a living God.
He changed the name of the months by his name, renamed Rome “Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana” and erected statues that represented him everywhere in the city.
The Roman historian Cassius Dio remarks:
“This man was not evil by nature, but, on the contrary, he was the most innocent of all the people who ever lived. But his great simplicity, together with cowardice, made him deviate from a good life and pushed him to unbridled and cruel habits, which soon became his second nature.”
His closest adviser, Perennis, who had taken over some of hid duties, tried to kill him, but the plot failed and Perennis was executed.
His next adviser, Cleander, was forced to take responsibility when a food crisis erupted and, to please the protesting citizens, Commodus executed him togehther with his children, his wife and his close friends.
Commodus married Bruttia Crispina when she was 16 years old. They had no children and, about ten years after their marriage, she was expelled on Capri Island and then executed for adultery.
Commodus had a harem of over 300 women and a boy, who was named “the boy who loves Commodus”. Her favorite was a woman named Marcia, who gave her advice, but she didn’t escape Commodus’ cruelty either. When Commodus decided to remove the Senate and run alone, she protested, and Commodus ordered her killed. But Marcia and several of Commodus’s advisers had enough. In 193, Marcia brought Commodus a glass of poisoned wine while he was preparing to take a bath. Commodus’s stomach rejected the wine, but while he was bathing, Narcissus, a professional fighter, was brought in to choke him – which happened.
During his life, Commodus put an end to the peaceful balance that Rome had enjoyed for almost 80 years. The currency devalued and the economy collapsed, and the country entered a four-year civil war.
His reign marked the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.