1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Commodus, Lucius Aelius Aurelius

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COMMODUS, LUCIUS AELIUS AURELIUS (161–192), also called Marcus Antoninus, emperor of Rome, son of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina, was born at Lanuvium on the 31st of August 161. In spite of a careful education he soon showed a fondness for low society and amusement. At the age of fifteen he was associated by his father in the government. On the death of Aurelius, whom he had accompanied in the war against the Quadi and Marcomanni, he hastily concluded peace and hurried back to Rome (180). The first years of his reign were uneventful, but in 183 he was attacked by an assassin at the instigation of his sister Lucilla and many members of the senate, which felt deeply insulted by the contemptuous manner in which Commodus treated it. From this time he became tyrannical. Many distinguished Romans were put to death as implicated in the conspiracy, and others were executed for no reason at all. The treasury was exhausted by lavish expenditure on gladiatorial and wild beast combats and on the soldiery, and the property of the wealthy was confiscated. At the same time Commodus, proud of his bodily strength and dexterity, exhibited himself in the arena, slew wild animals and fought with gladiators, and commanded that he should be worshipped as the Roman Hercules. Plots against his life naturally began to spring up. That of his favourite Perennis, praefect of the praetorian guard, was discovered in time. The next danger was from the people, who were infuriated by the dearth of corn. The mob repelled the praetorian guard, but the execution of the hated minister Cleander quieted the tumult. The attempt also of the daring highwayman Maternus to seize the empire was betrayed; but at last Eclectus the emperor’s chamberlain, Laetus the praefect of the praetorians, and his mistress Marcia, finding their names on the list of those doomed to death, united to destroy him. He was poisoned, and then strangled by a wrestler named Narcissus, on the 31st of December 192. During his reign unimportant wars were successfully carried on by his generals Clodius Albinus, Pescennius Niger and Ulpius Marcellus. The frontier of Dacia was successfully defended against the Scythians and Sarmatians, and a tract of territory reconquered in north Britain. In 1874 a statue of Commodus was dug up at Rome, in which he is represented as Hercules—a lion’s skin on his head, a club in his right and the apples of the Hesperides in his left hand.

See Aelius Lampridius, Herodian, and fragments in Dio Cassius; H. Schiller, Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit; J. Zürcher, “Commodus” (1868, in Büdinger’s Untersuchungen zur römischen Kaisergeschichte, a criticism of Herodian’s account); Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie, ii. 2464 ff. (von Rohden); Heer, “Der historische Wert des Vita Commodi” (Philologus, Supplementband ix.).