Commodus Musei Capitolini MC1120.jpg
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Reign177 – 31 December 192
PredecessorMarcus Aurelius
Co-emperorMarcus Aurelius (177 – 17 March 180)
Born31 August 161
Lanuvium, near Rome
Died(192-12-31)31 December 192 (aged 31)
Full name
Lucius Aurelius Commodus
(from birth to 166);
Regnal name
Caesar Lucius Aurelius Commodus (166 to 176);
Imperator Caesar Lucius Aurelius Commodus Augustus (177 to 180);
Imperator Caesar Lucius Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus (180);
Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus (180 to 191);
Imperator Caesar Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus (191 to death)
FatherMarcus Aurelius
Roman imperial dynasties
Nerva–Antonine dynasty (AD 96–192)
Nerva 96–98
Trajan 98–117
Hadrian 117–138
Antoninus Pius 138–161
Lucius Verus 161–169
Commodus 177–192
Preceded by
Flavian dynasty
Followed by
Year of the Five Emperors

Commodus (s/;[1] 31 August 161 – 31 December 192), born Lucius Aurelius Commodus[2] and died Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus, was Roman emperor with his father Marcus Aurelius from 177 until his father's death in 180, and solely until 192. His reign is commonly considered to mark the end of the golden period in the history of the Roman Empire known as the Pax Romana.

During his father's reign, he accompanied Marcus Aurelius during the Marcomannic Wars in 172 and on a tour of the Eastern provinces in 176. He was made the youngest consul in Roman history in 177 and later that year elevated to co-emperor with his father. His accession was the first time a son had succeeded his biological father since Titus succeeded Vespasian in 79. He was also the first emperor to have both a father and grandfather (who had adopted his father) as the two preceding emperors. Commodus was the first (and until 337, the only) emperor "born in the purple", meaning during his father's reign.

During his solo reign, the Empire enjoyed a period of reduced military conflict compared with the reign of Marcus Aurelius, but intrigues and conspiracies abounded, leading Commodus to an increasingly dictatorial style of leadership that culminated in a god-like personality cult. His assassination in 192 marked the end of the Nerva–Antonine dynasty. He was succeeded by Pertinax, the first emperor in the tumultuous Year of the Five Emperors.

Early life and rise to power (161–180)

Early life

A bust of Commodus as a youth (Roman-Germanic Museum, Cologne).

Commodus was born on 31 August AD 161 in Lanuvium, near Rome.[3] He was the son of the reigning emperor, Marcus Aurelius, and Aurelius's first cousin, Faustina the Younger, the youngest daughter of Emperor Antoninus Pius, who had died only a few months before. Commodus had an elder twin brother, Titus Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus, who died in 165. On 12 October 166, Commodus was made Caesar together with his younger brother, Marcus Annius Verus.[4][5] The latter died in 169 having failed to recover from an operation, which left Commodus as Marcus Aurelius's sole surviving son.[5]

He was looked after by his father's physician, Galen,[6][7] who treated many of Commodus' common illnesses. Commodus received extensive tutoring by a multitude of teachers with a focus on intellectual education.[8] Among his teachers, Onesicrates, Antistius Capella, Titus Aius Sanctus, and Pitholaus are mentioned.[8][9]

Commodus is known to have been at Carnuntum, the headquarters of Marcus Aurelius during the Marcomannic Wars, in 172. It was presumably there that, on 15 October 172, he was given the victory title Germanicus, in the presence of the army. The title suggests that Commodus was present at his father's victory over the Marcomanni. On 20 January 175, Commodus entered the College of Pontiffs, the starting point of a career in public life.

In April 175, Avidius Cassius, Governor of Syria, declared himself Emperor following rumours that Marcus Aurelius had died. Having been accepted as Emperor by Syria, Judea and Egypt, Cassius carried on his rebellion even after it had become obvious that Marcus was still alive. During the preparations for the campaign against Cassius, Commodus assumed his toga virilis on the Danubian front on 7 July 175, thus formally entering adulthood. Cassius, however, was killed by one of his centurions before the campaign against him could begin.

Commodus subsequently accompanied his father on a lengthy trip to the Eastern provinces, during which he visited Antioch. The Emperor and his son then traveled to Athens, where they were initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries. They then returned to Rome in the autumn of 176.

Joint rule with father (177)

Head of Bruttia Crispina

Marcus Aurelius was the first emperor since Vespasian to have a legitimate biological son and, though he himself was the fifth in the line of the so-called Five Good Emperors, each of whom had adopted his successor, it seems to have been his firm intention that Commodus should be his heir. On 27 November 176, Marcus Aurelius granted Commodus the rank of Imperator and, in the middle of 177, the title Augustus, giving his son the same status as his own and formally sharing power.

On 23 December of the same year, the two Augusti celebrated a joint triumph, and Commodus was given tribunician power. On 1 January 177, Commodus became consul for the first time, which made him, aged 15, the youngest consul in Roman history up to that time. He subsequently married Bruttia Crispina before accompanying his father to the Danubian front once more in 178. Marcus Aurelius died there on 17 March 180, leaving the 18-year-old Commodus sole emperor.

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