Commŏdus in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

Commŏdus, L. Aurelius Antonīnus The son and successor of M. Aurelius Antoninus, who ascended the imperial throne A.D. 180. The reign of this prince is a scene of guilt and misery, which the historian is glad to dismiss with brevity. He appears, indeed, to have inherited all the vices of his mother, Faustina; and his father, in selecting him for his successor, allowed the feelings of the parent to triumph over the wisdom of the magistrate. He had accompanied his father on the expedition against the Marcomanni and the Quadi, but no sooner was Aurelius dead than his son became anxious to proceed to Rome, and soon concluded a hasty and disgraceful peace with the barbarians whom his father had been on the point of completely subjugating when he was cut off by disease. Notwithstanding the care which Aurelius had bestowed on his education, Commodus was ignorant to an extreme degree, having neither abilities nor inclination for profiting by the paternal example and instruction. On his return to Rome he speedily showed the bias of his natural disposition, giving himself up to unrestrained indulgence in the grossest vices. That he might do so without impediment, he intrusted all power to Perennis, praefect of the Praetorian Guard, a man of stern and cruel temper, who was at last slain by the soldiers for his severity. A conspiracy against the life of Commodus having failed, it was followed by a long succession of judicial murders to gratify the vengeance of the cowardly and vindictive tyrant. He was next threatened by a new danger: disaffection had spread over the legions; and an attempt of Maternus, a private soldier, who headed a band of deserters and projected the assassination of Commodus during the celebration of the festival of Cybelé, was so ably conceived that it must have been successful but for the treachery of an accomplice. But neither duty nor danger could draw Commodus from the sports of gladiators or the pleasures of debauchery. Cleander, a Phrygian slave, soon succeeded to the place and influence of Perennis, and for three years the Empire groaned beneath his cruelty and rapacity. At length a new insurrection burst forth, which nothing could allay, the praetorian cavalry being defeated in the streets by the populace, until the unworthy favourite was, by the emperor's command, delivered to the insurgents. In the meantime, Commodus was indulging his base tastes and appetites, not only by gross sensuality, but by attempting to rival the gladiators. Being a very skilful archer and of great personal strength, he delighted in killing wild beasts in the amphitheatre, and thus pretending to rival the prowess of Hercules. In the gladiatorial contests, he publicly engaged so often that he was the conqueror in 735 combats. Though luxurious in his dress, frequently resorting to the baths eight times in the day, scattering gold dust in his hair, and, from the fear of admitting the approach of a razor in the hand of another, singeing off his beard, he was especially proud of exhibitions of personal strength, and frequently, in the garb of a priest, butchered victims with his own hands. Among the flatteries of the obsequious Senate none pleased him more than the vote which styled him the "Hercules of Rome," not even that which decreed to him the titles of Pius and Felix, or which offered to abolish the name of the Eternal City and substitute for it the title Colonia Commodiana. After thirteen years of unmitigated oppression, his favourite, Marcia, ultimately became the instrument by which the Roman world was delivered from its odious master. She discovered, from some private notes of Commodus, that herself, Laetus the praetorian praefect, and Eclectus the chamberlain, were on the list devoted to death. A conspiracy was immediately formed, Marcia administered poison to the emperor, and, lest the measure should not prove effectual, the deed was completed by suffocation, in A.D. 192. The life of Commodus has come down to us, written by Lampridius, in the Historia Augusta.

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