Marcus Aurelius was killed by his son

Another Caesar-mad emperor: Commodus - ascent and inglorious end #

From Ernst Zentner

Be careful not to become a tyrannical emperor! Don't take such a paint job because it happens so easily. ... Strive for you to remain the man that philosophy wanted you to be. (Mark Aurel, self-contemplation)

Much has been written and poetry about Marcus Aurelius. He officiated as a "philosopher on the imperial throne". Ruled in Vindobona (Vienna) from 160 until his death in 180. It was the time of the First Marcomannic War. In addition, the plague was rampant in Italy and the emperor happened to decide to wage war far away. Around 176 his son Commodus became co-regent. Until now, an adoptive empire was common. History books even say "choosing the best". At this time Rome had its greatest geographical expansion. Let's imagine that. An empire that stretched from Central Europe through Asia Minor to Africa. But the imperial borders to the north, especially where the Germanic and Sarmatic ones. Tribes lived, had to be secured and, if possible, pushed on.
Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus returned to Rome, where they celebrated a common triumph on December 23, 176 ("de Germanis", "de Sarmatis").
With the appearance of Commodus in the top leadership of Rome, the adoptive system was also discarded in favor of the dynasty principle in succession.
Between 178 and 180 the Second Marcomann War took place. The main opponent of Rome sat in the areas where Moravia, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania are today. The main command of the Roman military was in Carnuntum (Petronell-Carnuntum / Bad Deutsch-Altenburg, Vindobona (Vienna) and Sirmium (Balkan Peninsula, Southeast Europe). In order to underline the existence of the Roman imperial border with Germania, the Romans built their legionary camp Castra Regina (179, Regensburg, Bavaria). This was done on the orders of Marcus Aurelius. The 3rd Italian Legion with 6,000 soldiers was stationed there.
On March 17, 180, Marc Aurel died - allegedly of the plague - and his son Commodus became emperor. Commodus arranged the funeral on site - probably Vindobona - as a state act. The military advisers recommended that the young emperor continue the war. The general of his father Marcus Aurelius, Tiberius Claudius Pompeian, resolutely advocated it. Unsuccessful. So far the campaigns have been aggressive wars of aggression. But he didn't take their advice and immediately made peace with the Germanic tribes. They had to stay behind the Danube, transfer prisoners and defectors to Rome and deliver weapons. They were ready to pay tribute to Rome in the form of deliveries of grain. 13,000 warriors are to enter Roman service. The Senate was furious. The plebs showed acceptance. For Commodus, to the annoyance of his generals, the matter was settled. They were horrified that he was re-arming the enemy on the other side of the Danube. From the point of view of the military strategists, the peace agreement with the barbarians came in a rush. There were probably political worlds between the previous emperor Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus. He traveled back to Rome, where he was received triumphantly on October 22nd, 180. But at least during his epoch the Teutons kept calm and peace.
A third marcomannary war took place. This time against the Boers ("expeditio Burica"). Evidenced only by an inscription. Nothing was reported about the course of this. Their real name was Lugier and they settled in the area around Silesia. In 182 the war ended and Commodus was awarded the title "Germanicus Maximus".
These wars were the result of the Teutons, tormented by climatic economic crises, of shaking the borders of Rome.
A fight with the Teutons and Sarmatians was no easy undertaking. On the other side of the Danube lay dense forests and forests. Fighting out a battle of attrition was a really hopeless endeavor for the Roman military, who preferred field battles. Commodus had recognized that and saw the whole thing as pointless. In addition, the Teutons (what they really were?) As barbarians were a collection of loose tribal associations with a respective chief as king. They were torn within themselves. Still. Playing one at a time wasn't a problem. But it was a matter of time when they would come together as a unit and then they would have become a truly serious threat to Rome for the empire of Rome. From that point of view, Commodu's decision had been right.
If I wanted to translate a name like Commodus, it would mean "The Comfortable". Well Commodus was the opposite, he became an inconvenient in the Roman Empire, and that at the top.
Commodus was a difficult character. In all seriousness he really believed he was an incarnation of Hercules and Mithras. Caesarist madness was a downright tradition in Rome, or a strange obligation.
It is only interesting that all emperors who were critical of the Senate or who acted close to the people were described by intellectual authors, who were certainly for a high-ranking and demanding audience, as rulers with negative excesses. Contradictions are often reflected in their works. Biographical descriptions, especially from antiquity, should therefore be interpreted with caution!
Commodus ruled as emperor for twelve years.
When he returned to Rome he wanted to live out his power to the full. That was only possible with peace. He had experienced painful wars with his father. The Senate had to acknowledge that it preferred full power. Each citizen of Rome received 725 denarii. That corresponded to 1,450 sesterces. At that time he was 19 years old.
He had little to do in politics and so he went hunting for predators. He was soon able to use the sword and bow in such a way that he decided to appear in public. He exchanged the imperial palace for the gladiator school. At last he appeared in the arena. Worked as a charioteer and fought against animals and people. It goes without saying that his followers made sure that he could win each time. But he didn't need that. He was able to kill a hippopotamus or an elephant. A skilled archer, he killed a hundred tigers with a hundred arrows, if that's true. As if he had nothing else to do. He asked for his deeds to be recorded in the Acta Diurna - that was a news bulletin (newspaper) - and demanded the wages as a gladiator. He took that for granted.
What is true of his actions remains in the dark of history. Commodus drank and played. He wasted large sums of money on state funds. He is said to have owned a harem of 300 women and even 300 boys. Sometimes he preferred to appear in women's clothes. If it's true. His cruelty is said to have been exorbitant. He is said to have forced men and women to self-mutilation and death. He is said to have killed numerous people with his Hercules club. At the request of his beloved Marcia - she is said to have been a Christian - he had some Christians pardoned. They should have worked as unfree in the mines of Sardinia. Actually an indication that he wasn't such a brutal despot after all. But in the written records there were no positive mentions of his actions as an emperor. Just as a reminder: a slave suffered fatal crimes. Often the cruel crucifixion.
As the sole ruler, he was also shaped by the fear of possible murder. An assassin injured him with the sword: "The Senate is sending you this!" Commodus escaped assassination: his own aunt Lucilla led a conspiracy against him. He uncovered her and had her executed. On mere suspicion, he also had everyone involved eliminated. In the management shift there was not a single one who was still significant under Marcus Aurelius. For political reasons, the method of denouncing reappeared after a century. A reign of terror swept over Rome once again. And that in a time when Rome was an economic and state power, in whose peripheral provinces there was finally resistance. A gradual decline of the empire began.
Commodus, although he acted and ruled mildly at first, was afraid of assassinations from then on. And fear exposed shallows. In the course of the Lucilla conspiracies, Commodus had the chief of the Praetorians, Paternus, executed and installed Tigidius Perennis as his successor. Commodus left the administration entirely to Perennis, who in turn introduced his own rule of terror. Commodus indulged in his favorite pastime, sexual debauchery. Perennis killed every adversary. The troubled emperor suspected that his prefect was trying to seize the imperial throne. He turned Perennis over to the Senate, which in turn reacted cruelly.
A former slave - Cleander - became Perenni's successor (185). He put its brutality in the shade. He took bribes for office appointments and was able to overturn any laborious court decision. This made it possible to condemn dissatisfied senators or knights to death on the pretext of treason or serious criticism of the state. One day a crowd besieged the Villa Commodus and demanded the death of Marcus Aurelius Cleander. He is said to have been responsible for the spread of the plague, the famine and inadequate grain imports. The emperor gave in, the main thing was that the unrest stopped. That was around 189 or 190. It wasn't a problem for Commodus. He also suspected that Cleander would pose a threat to his office. During this time, Commodus had approached the Senate again and reduced the benefits for the people.
As it happened, Commodus acted more in the style of imperial maintenance of power.
A new Praetorian leader named Quintus Aemilius Laetus (born in Thaenae, Africa; Tunisia) appeared. Three years later he believed he could destroy Commodus. But Laetus discovered by chance a proscription list (actually a black list) [1] in which the names Laetus and his friends as well as followers and Marcia were entered. Now it was time for all of them to act quickly. They were concerned with their own lives.


Commodus as a 14-year-old (?) Boy. Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne - Photo: Wikimedia Commons - Public domain
Marcus Aurelius. Bust of the philosopher emperor. Father Commodus. Glyptothek Munich - Photo: Bibi Saint-Pol, Wikimedia Commons - Public domain
Empress Faustina the Younger. Mother Commodus. Bust, approx. 161; Louvre Museum, Paris - Photo: Mbzt, Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain
Emperor Commodus as Hercules (lion skin, club). Musei Capitolini, Rome - Photo: Tetraktys, Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain
Emperor Commodus was depicted here as Mithras or Sol invictus. Invincible hero. Fragment of a colossal statue. The portrait fell victim to the damnatio memoriae after 192, location:? - Photo: Rabax63, Wikimedia Commons - Public domain
Emperor Commodus. Damage from the damnatio memoriae? Vatican Museums, Rome - Photo: Rabax63, Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain
Emperor Commodus as a portrait on denarius. A denarius (with little silver content) was worth at most two sesterces. Actually a reference to the emperor's financial problems, which he solved to the annoyance of all subjects anyway - Photo: York Museums Trust Staff, Wikimedia Commons - Public domain
Emperor Commodus as Hercules with a club on a denarius. Caesar madness as propaganda - Photo: Wikimedia Commons - Public domain

Commodus was born on August 31, 161 in Lanuvium (Lanuvio, Lazio region, metropolitan city of Rome) together with a twin brother who died at an early age. As the son of a reigning emperor, Marcus Aurelius, he was considered a purple birth. (Descendant born under a reigning emperor.) His mother Faustina the Younger was also the emperor's cousin. At the age of five he and his younger brother Annius Verus (162-169) were nicknamed Caesar. Which also clarified the question of the succession in the imperial office. Marcus Aurelius had a total of thirteen children with Faustina the Younger. As a 14-year-old Commodus experienced the internal political dispute with a primordial surpator and his failure: 175 the praefectius aegypti, Avidius Cassius received a false report about the death of the emperor Mark Aurel, whereupon Cassius was proclaimed emperor. At that time Egypt was Rome's most important grain supplier. Although Marcus Aurelius was preparing war against Cassius, he wanted to pardon him. Avidius Cassius failed with his rebellion and was murdered three months later by a centurion in July 175.
In the same year Commodus went with his father to the east of the empire and got to know the most important representatives of the Second Sophistic. A philosophical teaching that nobody was really satisfied with, because on the one hand it apparently explained everything correctly and finally turned it into the absurd and transfigured it. In other words: an argument in favor is always followed by an argument against ...

On December 31, 192, Commodus was murdered in the course of a palace conspiracy. He had probably thoroughly upset someone in his court. This conspiracy was led by a certain cubicularius (servant of the Roman emperors) Eclectus with the participation of Marcia Aurelia Ceionia Demetrias, a concubine Commodus. Presumably Commodus was drunk and was strangled in his own bathroom by an athlete named Narcisscus. It was said that Marcia poisoned him and killed his wrestler - Commodus had his own wrestler for fighting games.
The lineage of Antoninus Pius ended here.
The damnatio memoriae was imposed on him. Everything that remembered him was destroyed, damaged or removed. The Senate placed no value on the deification of the murdered emperor.
The only strange thing is that Commodu's government was similar to that of Caligula, Nero ...
And it also became the subject of several feature films. Their content is also entertaining and yet to be questioned.
After his death, this powerful empire called Rome began to decline.
Laetus immediately enforced that the city prefect (something like a mayor) of Rome, Pertinax, was proclaimed the new emperor. The year of the four emperors began with him. It remains unclear whether Pertinax pulled the strings that led to the murder of Commodus. Emperor Pertinax tried to correct Commodus's mistakes, the murdered were duly buried, the captured senators set free, unfortunate laws were reversed and the state finances were put in order. However, three months later, Pertinax was slain during a chaotic uprising by the Praetorian Guard ... Probably a reflection from the era of Commodus.

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[1] Such proscription lists were introduced under Sulla

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