Lucius Aurelius Commodus

Lucius Aurelius Commodus as Gladiator

Born: 31. August 161 AD in Lanuvium
Caesar: 12. October 166 to Mid 177 AD
Augustus: Mid 177 to 17. March 180 AD
Emperor: 17. March 180 to 31. December 192 AD
Died: 31. December 192 AD in Rom (violent death)

Father: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (born 121 AD, 161 to 180 AD Roman Emperor)
Mother: Annia Galeria Faustina (born 130 AD, died 176 AD)
Sister: Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla (born 148/149 AD, executed 181/182 AD)
Wife: Bruttia Crispina (born 164 AD, married 178 AD, executed 183/193 AD)

Commodus had at least 13 siblings, though few of them survived their parents Faustina and Marcus Aurelius.

Favorites of Commodus
Praefect Paternus and Camerarius Saoterus 180–182 AD
Praefect Perennis 182–185 AD
Praefect and Camerarius Cleander 185–189 AD
Praefect Laetus and Camerarius Eclectus 189–192 AD

166 AD: Lucius Aurelius Commodus Caesar Augusti Filius (as Caesar)
177 AD: Imperator Caesar Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus (as Co-Emperor)
180 AD: Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus (as Emperor)
191 AD: Imperator Caesar Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus Pius Felix (as Emperor)

Additional titulatures
Caesar: 12. October 166 AD (at the request of Lucius Verus)
Germanicus: 15. October 172 AD (which his father had fought for)
Sarmaticus: Spring 175 AD (just like his father)
Augustus: Middle 177 AD (after return to Rome and triumphal procession)
Pius: 07. January 183 AD (simultaneously with the renewal of the imperator title)
Britannicus: 184 AD (Britain; war and victory of Ulpius Marcellus)
Felix: 185 AD (fall of the Perennis; Commodus happily escaped a great danger)

Official titulatures
TR P I: 27. November 176 AD
TR P II: from 10. December 176 AD
TR P III: from 10. December 177 AD
TR P IV: from 10. December 178 AD
TR P V: from 10. December 179 AD
TR P VI: from 10. December 180 AD
TR P VII: from 10. December 181 AD
TR P VIII: from 10. December 182 AD
TR P IX: from 10. December 183 AD
TR P X: from 10. December 184 AD
TR P XI: from 10. December 185 AD
TR P XII: from 10. December 186 AD
TR P XIII: from 10. December 187 AD
TR P XIV: from 10. December 188 AD
TR P XV: from 10. December 189 AD
TR P XVI: from 10. December 190 AD
TR P XVII: from 10. December 191 AD
TR P XVIII: from 10. December 192 AD

COS I: from 1. January 177 AD (with M. Plautius Quintillus)
COS II: from 1. January 179 AD (with P. Martius Verus)
COS III: from 1. January 181 AD (ascending the throne; with L. Antistius Burrus)
COS IV: from 1. January 183 AD (the fall of the Paternus; with C. Aufidius Victorinus)
COS V: from 1. January 186 AD (the fall of the Perennis; with M. Acilius Glabrio)
COS VI: from 1. January 190 AD (the fall of the Cleander; with M. Petronius Sura Septimianus)
COS VII: from 1. January 192 AD (changing his name; with P. Helvius Pertinax)

IMP I: 27. November 176 AD (return to Rome and triumphal procession)
IMP II: 177 AD (renewed Marcoman war)
IMP III: 179 AD (victory of Tarruntenus Paternus)
IMP IV: 180 AD (peace with the Marcomanni and Quades)
IMP V: 182 AD (probably victory over the Dacians neighboring the province)
IMP VI: 183 AD (together with Pius, reason unknown)
IMP VII: 184 AD (victory of Ulpius Marcellus in the Britannic war)
IMP VIII: 186 AD (bellum desertorum, victory of Pescennius Niger)

P P: Middle 177 AD

P M: 17. March 180 AD (on coins only from 183 AD)

Commodus (born 31 August 161 AD in Lanuvium; died 31 December 192 AD in Rome) was Roman Emperor from 180 to 192 AD. His full name changed several times; he was born Lucius Aurelius Commodus, from the time of his elevation to co-emperor in 177 AD he was called Imperator Caesar Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus, on assuming sole rule in March 180 AD he took the name Antoninus, and in October of the same year he also adopted the prenomen of his late father Marcus Aurelius. He was now called Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus. In the course of his reign he adopted a series of victory and epithets. As early as 172 AD he was given the victory name Germanicus, in 175 AD he adopted the victory title Sarmaticus together with his father, in 177 AD he became Pater Patriae and finally in 184 AD Britannicus. In 183 AD the epithet Pius appears in the title for the first time and in 185 AD the epithet Felix. In the course of 191 AD, he discarded the parts of his father’s name. Now his name was Imperator Caesar Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus Pius Felix.

Commodus was born to Faustina the Younger and her cousin and husband, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, together with a twin brother who died at an early age. When he was born, his father had been emperor for a few months, so it was a purple birth – in Rome this had previously only happened with Britannicus, who, however, did not come to rule. Contrary to what later sources sometimes suggest, Marcus Aurelius seems never to have considered not appointing Commodus as heir to power. On 17 March 180 AD his father died in a military camp on the Danube. Commodus was thus sole ruler. He prepared his father’s funeral and quickly made peace with the Germanic tribes. Whether he thus deviated from his father’s plans, who according to some sources had planned to establish a new province, is unclear and probably rather unlikely. Commodus was obviously popular with the Roman people at first, especially since he was generous and provided enough bread and games (panem et circenses).

In 181 AD or 182 AD – the exact date is not historically certain – the so-called Lucilla Conspiracy against the Emperor took place, but failed because the assassination attempt was unsuccessful. Since the circle of those involved (including Lucilla, the emperor’s sister) was small, the consequences seem to have been limited. However, the subsequent execution of some aristocrats probably led to tensions with the Senate. From then on, the powerful praetorian prefect Tigidius Perennis, who had been a confidant of Marcus Aurelius, de facto ran the affairs of state until he was accused of high treason and killed by soldiers in AD 185. His de facto successor was the freedman Marcus Aurelius Cleander, who in turn was killed in 190 AD. Towards the end, the emperor’s government was increasingly marked by mistrust and judicial murders, especially after another assassination attempt on his life. What is certain is that the emperor fell out with the senate quite early on, demonstratively relying solely on the army and the plebs urbana, thus calling into question the system of the principate, which was based on the fiction that the senate was still the centre of the empire. This earned the emperor the hatred of many aristocrats.

It is above all the last years of Commodus’ reign, in which he pursued exalted politics and self-dramatisation, that have shaped his image in the eyes of posterity. According to Herodian and the Historia Augusta, Commodus himself appeared publicly as a gladiator, which has often been adopted by modern authors. The eyewitness Cassius Dio, however, one of the most reliable sources, reports that the emperor did appear as a charioteer and also took part in animal races. However, Commodus only fought as a gladiator in private and without an audience. If a month had already been renamed in honour of Commodus, in 192 AD he renamed all the months of the year after his various honorific names (with Commodus for April, the other months also received new names after Commodus, such as Lucius, Aelius, etc.), the Roman legions and other military units received the epithet Commodianae, and the city of Rome was renamed “colonia aeterna felix Commodiana”.

In December 192 AD, for reasons that are not clear, a conspiracy formed against the emperor in his immediate circle. On the last day of the year, during a conspiracy at his court, led by Eclectus and involving his concubine Marcia, he was strangled with a rope in his bath by an athlete named Narcissus. Not long after his murder, Commodus was regarded by the senatorial elite as the third monster after Caligula and Nero on the Roman imperial throne. Commodus was subjected to the damnatio memoriae, he was denied deification and the renaming of all twelve months after his own name, which he had initiated, was revoked.

Bruttia Crispina, wife of Commodus

Born: ca. 164 AD
Married: first half-year 178 AD
Died: ca. after 187 AD, at the latest 193 AD (probably on Capri)

Father: Gaius Bruttius Praesens (Konsul 153 AD and 180 AD)
Mother: Valeria Marcia Hostilia Crispina Moecia Cornelia
Brother: Lucius Bruttius Quintius Crispinus (Konsul 187 AD)
Husband: Lucius Aurelius Commodus (married summer 178 AD, before 03 August)

Little is known about the life of Bruttia Crispina. Emperor Marcus Aurelius married Crispina to his son Commodus before the departure of the newly erupted Marcoman War, sooner than originally intended, in the summer of AD 178. Probably in June / July, but certainly before 03 August (departure of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus for the second Germanic or Sarmatian campaign). Crspina also received the title of Augusta at her wedding.

Her bad relationship with Lucilla, her husband’s sister, is said to have led to later tensions at the Roman imperial court. In the year 182/183 AD a pregnancy may have occurred. Crispina was said to have led a dissolute lifestyle. Later, she was banished by her husband to Capri for adultery and probably executed there. Both the year of banishment and the year of death are uncertain. It is not likely, however, that her banishment and death occurred before the consulship year (187 AD) of her brother L. Bruttius Quintius Crispinus, whom the emperor would not have honoured with the consulship.

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