Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Life of Commodus - a Comedy

Marcus Aurelius is known for being a great emperor of Rome. But what about his son?

Commodus à la Hercules
Commodus was born on the 31st of August, AD 161. He was the only son of the family to survive into adulthood. He was given the title of Caesar when he was five. In 177 he received the title of Augustus, making him co-ruler with his father.

When his father passed away in 180, Commodus was now a single ruler. But it wasn't until about 10 years when he started showing signs of megalomania. He believed he was the reincarnation of Hercules. He had a vast amount of statues of himself dressed as Hercules set up around Rome. He even took off the head of the Colossus of Nero, a huge statue of the god Sol, and replaced it with a likeness of his own.

Gladiators may seem heroic and awesome nowadays with all these movies about them, but when the Roman people saw their emperor acting like one, they were shocked. A gladiator was one of the most humiliating things you could be in those days. He was a disgrace to Rome.

To show his god-like strength, he would put on (what he thought were) heroic displays. These feats were just plain hilariously embarrassing for the spectators. Cassius Dio describes one of his exhibits:
And here is another thing that he did to us senators which gave us every reason to look for our death. Having killed an ostrich and cut off his head, he came up to where we were sitting, holding the head in his left hand and in his right hand raising aloft his bloody sword; and though he spoke not a word, yet he wagged his head with a grin, indicating that he would treat us in the same way. And many would indeed have perished by the sword on the spot, for laughing at him (for it was laughter rather than indignation that overcame us), if I had not chewed some laurel leaves, which I got from my garland, myself, and persuaded the others who were sitting near me to do the same, so that in the steady movement of our armies we might conceal the fact that we were laughing.” 
The city of Rome was damaged by a fire in 191. Commodus restored the city. He acted as the new Romulus. He renamed the city to “Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana.” The Senate was named the “Commodian Fortunate Senate.” All of the citizens of Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana were named “Commodianus.” The Emperor's full name was Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus Herculeus Romanus Exsuperatorius Amazonius Invictus Felix Pius, and the names of the twelve months were changed to each of his names.

Traditionally, on the Roman New Year, the emperor would appear before his people at his palace in purple robes. Commodus, instead, wanted to dress as a gladiator, waving to his people in the gladiator barracks. When he told Marcia, his mistress, about his plan, she was quite frank: she told him it was stupid and disgraceful. Commodus was annoyed by this. He told his servant, Eclectus, and a Praetorian prefect, Aemilius Laetus about it. They, too, thought it was idiotic. On a tablet he wrote a proscribed list with their names on it.

A servant boy found this list. He gave it to Marcia. She was angry and wasn't going to put up with this. Eclectus and Aemilius Laetus were gathered with her and they devised a plan. Marcia always gave Commodus a drink after his bath. She could simply and easily poison the drink and it would all be done and over with.

After drinking the poisoned wine he vomited constantly. Their plan had failed. All of the poison was out of him now. A wrestler and personal trainer of Commodus was named Narcissus. The three ordered him to strangle Commodus to death in his sleep. On the 31st of December, 192, one of the silliest and most ridiculous Emperors of Rome was killed.

When he died, his name-changes were reverted. Septimius Severus had him deified in 197.

Commodus will always be remembered as one of the worst Emperors Rome ever saw.


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