Friday, 22 April 2011

Gladiator Emperor - Commodus 161 AD to 192 AD

Gladiator Emperor Commodus
Commodus was a Roman Emperor born in the year of 161 AD. Obviously, scholars and students of Roman history would know of this Emperor and today, most everyday people know of him as the Gladiator Emperor from the Ridley Scott movie Gladiator. He was played by actor Joaquin Phoenix. Of course the movie was fictitious and the character of Maximus played by Russell Crowe is fictional too.

However, Commodus existed and his father Marcus Arelius was true. In reality - from 177 AD he co-ruled with his father Emperor Marcus Arelius. Much of Marcus’ reign was marred by continuous conflict with enemies along the Roman Empire’s boundaries. Towards the end of his life he was at war with the Danube tribes in the Germanic parts of Europe. When he died in 180 AD; the title of Emperor passed to his 19 year old son Commodus.

Imagine a 19 year old teenager inheriting the most powerful pinnacle of power in the world. This young Emperor would rule Rome for 12 years until being violently murdered by a gladiator on New Year’s Eve 31st December 192 AD at the age of just 31.

He was not murdered in the gladiatorial arena – although he had fought in the games against gladiators during his time. This was not viewed well by the upper classes of Rome and it was not considered proper when the head strong Emperor insisted upon such things.

At the start of his reign he accused two brothers (friends from his childhood days) of plotting against him. The two brothers were ex-army men who had done Rome good service. They had a fine Villa that Commodus wanted for his own. He had them killed under false allegations and moved into their splendid ground, building an arena and training himself in the art of gladiatorial skills with the help of a retired gladiator called Narcissus.

Commodus had a passion for the games and wanted to go into the arena and stand before the mob – hear them roar and feel the adrenalin rush. He made sure that his opponents were at a disadvantage. They would be inferior, have blunt swords and carry injuries so that he would have all the advantage.

He thrilled the rank and file Roman audience, which was the mob, but in reality the ruling classes were not impressed. He was constantly eliminating senators that voiced disapproval of his rule and even had his sister Lucilla, her daughter and his cousin’s wife killed after being banished to the island of Capri. They had all been involved in a bungled plot to assassinate him.

Commodus had clashed with the ruling senate early in his reign and usurped dictatorial power for himself. He remained popular with his soldiers and the mob that enjoyed his lavish games, but the ruling classes were increasingly concerned as one by one they were being eliminated with no ability to thwart the head strong Emperor. On occasion he played a prank upon visitors to his household by mixing human excrement in the food he gave to them. This, he thought funny and he enjoyed watching them gag and expected them to laugh the matter off as good natured fun. 

Then his mistress was believed to have discovered a list of people to be disposed of. She was horrified to find her name upon it. She, along with all other names of high officials on the list would be eliminated in the new year of 193 AD. The terrified mistress made sure that these people were informed of the forth coming proclamation. The concerned parties quickly arranged an assassination plot to strike first.

On New Year’s Eve of 180 AD, his gladiatorial instructor Narcissus was recruited by the high ranking officials to do the deed. This must have been hurried because a poison attempt seemed to have gone wrong. Commodus was recovering from a bout of vomiting and it is believed the poison his mistress had deviously fed him was coming out of his body. Narcissus improvised and crept into the bathroom where Commodus was soothing his aching body. The old gladiator got into the pool and drowned the Emperor, thus ending a rule of 12 years.

Some historians believe this point was the beginning of the end for the Roman Empire because the Praetorian Guard would auction the Emperor’s seat of power to the highest bidder - an auction that would continue with future Emperors. The rot had set in.

Other Roman themes on Retro Brit:

Queen Boadicea Rebellion AD61
http://thelastdaysofthunderchild.blogspot.com/2011/04/boadicea-boudicca-british-warrior-queen.html

Livia Drusilla - wife of Augustus first Roman Emperor
http://thelastdaysofthunderchild.blogspot.com/2011/01/livia-drusilla-58-bc-29-ad-sinister-and.html

British chieftain fights Julius Caesar's attack on Britain
http://thelastdaysofthunderchild.blogspot.com/2011/09/cassivellanuss-fighting-julius-caesar.html


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