Some Roman Emperors were declared, upon their deaths, to be gods. The pagan pantheon always had room for the spirit of a fondly remembered Emperor. A few of the more tyrannical rulers declared themselves to be gods while still alive. By the late third century AD, the status of all Emperors had changed from the ‘first citizen’ concept of Augustus to ‘god and lord’. Later still, Christian Emperors were considered the earthly representative of God, still ‘dominus’ if no longer ‘deus’. Among the good Emperors who became gods at death was Marcus Aurelius, last of the ‘adoptive’ emperors of the second century AD. Unlike his four predecessors who selected an able man to be the next Emperor, Aurelius named his natural son Commodus to succeed him. Any good accomplished during the reign of Aurelius was negated by this single error. The rule of the worthless son set the stage for the civil wars that ravaged Roman civilization for the next century during which time the armies made and deposed Emperors at will.
Commodus, in full Caesar Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus, original name (until 180 ce) Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus, (born August 31, 161 ce, Lanuvium, Latium [now Lanuvio, Italy]—died December 31, 192), Roman emperor from 177 to 192 (sole emperor after 180). His brutal misrule precipitated civil strife that ended 84 years of stability and prosperity within the empire.
In 177 Lucius was made coruler and heir to his father, the emperor Marcus Aurelius (reigned 161–180). Lucius joined Marcus in his campaign against invading German tribes along the Danube, but after the death of Marcus (March 180) he quickly came to terms with the Germans.
Soon after he became sole ruler, Lucius changed his name to Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus. In 182 Commodus’s sister Lucilla conspired with a group of senators to assassinate him. The plot failed, and Commodus retaliated by executing a number of leading senators. Thereafter his rule became increasingly arbitrary and vicious. In 186 he had his chief minister executed in order to appease the army; three years later he allowed the minister’s successor to be killed by a rioting crowd. Political influence then passed to the emperor’s mistress and two advisers.
Meanwhile, Commodus was lapsing into insanity. He gave Rome a new name, Colonia Commodiana (Colony of Commodus), and imagined that he was the god Hercules, entering the arena to fight as a gladiator or to kill lions with bow and arrow. On December 31, 192, his advisers had him strangled by a champion wrestler, following his announcement the day before that he would assume the consulship, dressed as a gladiator. A grateful Senate proclaimed a new emperor—the city prefect, Publius Helvius Pertinax—but the empire quickly slipped into civil war.
Laureate head of Marcus Aurelius right
M AVREL ANTONINVS AVG
Bust of Commodus, bare-headed, draped, right
COMMODVS CAES AVG FIL GERM
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