(Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus)


The father of Commodus was Marcus Aurelius, one of the best and noblest of the Roman emperors. But Commodus, who ascended to the imperial throne when only 19, was one of the worst. 180 A.D., the year Commodus came to power, is widely regarded as the turning point in Imperial history. It was beginning of a decline that was to last over 200 years, and result in the destruction of the Roman Empire in Western Europe.

The first thing that Commodus did upon the death of his father was to conclude a hasty peace with the Marcomanni and Quadi tribes in Germany that his father had been warring with for many years. He did this so that he could return immediately to Rome, where he quickly gave himself up to pleasures.

After only three years, he had already made many enemies, and assassination plots began to spring up. One of the first attempts on his life was initiated by his sister Lucilla. When Commodus found out about the attempt he executed many of his enemies and became increasingly paranoid and tyrannical. At the same time, his self-indulgence seemed to know no bound. He kept a harem of over 300 women. He spent lavishly on wild animal and gladiatorial exhibitions, and went so far as to compete in the gladiatorial games himself, although always against disadvantaged opponents. This behavior scandalized the populace, who had been privileged to live under the reign of very competent leaders for well over a century, and led to many assassination attempts, all of which served to increase his tyrannical and erratic behavior.

Finally in 190, a major fire broke out in Rome and burned a large segment of the city. Commodus attempted at this point, to rename the entire city after himself in return for providing the funds to rebuild it. He also attempted to rename all the months of the year after himself, and to have himself deified. Finally, in 192 A.D., he was strangled in his sleep by a gladiator named Narcissus, with the cooperation of one of his favorite mistresses.

Fortunately for Rome, during the whole reign of Commodus, the borders of the empire were competently guarded by generals who, for the most part, had risen under Aurelius. But the seeds of incompetence, indulgence, and corruption had been sown. Commodus was succeeded by Pertinax, who lasted only three months before he also was assassinated.

Key events during the life of Commodus:

Became co-ruler with father, Marcus Aurelius.
Became sole ruler on death of Aurelius.
Made peace with Marcomanni and Quadi, German tribes.
Survived an assassination attempt involving his sister Lucilla.
  Put to death opponents and gave himself up to pleasures.
  Fought unarmed opponents in gladiatorial fights.
After a major fire in Rome, he tried to name the city after himself.
Renamed all the months of the calendar after himself.
Was strangled in his sleep by Narcissus, a gladiator.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Another Cruel Emperor  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber

Image Links

The Later Roman Emperors
 in Greatest Nations - Rome

The Death of Commodus
 in Greatest Nations - Rome

Short Biography
Marcus Aurelius Fifth of "Five Good Emperors." Stoic philosopher. Improved condition of poor.
Lucilla Sister of Commodus. Tried to assassinate him in 183.
Perennis Praefect of the Praetorian Guard, conspired against Commodus.
Marcia Mistress of Commodus who plotted to kill him.
Narcissus Wrestler who strangled Commodus in his sleep with the cooperation of his mistress.
Pertinax Assumed throne on death of Commodus, but was himself asssassinated after three months.