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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Emperor Commodus Dies, December 31, 192

Today in 192, Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus was murdered in Rome. Known to the world as the Roman Emperor Commodus, his reign was characterized by narcissism and hedonism, so much so that his own government made attempts to expunge his existence from the historical record.

Commodus was born in August, 161 along with his twin brother, Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus; Aurelius Fulvus died at the age of five. Soon after his fifth birthday, Commodus was made Caesar along with his younger brother Marcus Annius Verus. Marcus Annius died three years later, leaving Commodus as the Emperor's only surviving son.

Commodus received the best education that Roman society could provide. His training tended more towards the intellectual, as was the wish of his father. There is no mention of military training, although that may have also been part of his education. He traveled with this father to the German front, which undoubtedly exposed him to warfare in it's truest form. He is known to have been at his father's military headquarters at Carnuntum in 172, when he was 11.

Commodus went with his father on a tour of the empire's eastern reaches as a result of a rebellion by Avidius Cassius, the governor of Syria. Cassius declared himself emperor and was accepted as such by Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Fortunately for the real emperor and his son, Cassius was killed by his own military before the Roman army arrived to end his rule.

In November, 176 Marcus Aurelius granted his son the rank of Imperator, which made Commodus co-ruler of the Roman Empire. The next year, Commodus became consul, which had been the highest elected office when Rome was a republic. He was 15 and the youngest consul in Roman history. The next year, 178, he married Bruttia Crispina.

Marcus Aurelius died on March 17, 180, leaving Commodus as emperor. Whereas his father had believed in a government of service to the people, Commodus' rule was one of self-service and gratification. He never embraced his father's tendencies towards philosophy; instead, he imagined himself as the reincarnation of Hercules. Statues of him dressed as Hercules began to appear in Rome. He enjoyed combat as a gladiator, something that caused quite a stir among the citizens of Rome. He fought publicly in fights that were not to the death, but it was rumored that he regularly killed his sparring partners while training in private. He charged the city of Rome for each appearance he made in the Coloseum, which put a strain on the local budget.

Commodus' rule dragged on for 12 years. In 192, Rome experienced a fire which destroyed part of the city. Commodus re-established the city, naming it Colonia Commodiana in his own honor. He then renamed the months of the calendar after himself, as well as the Senate and the Army.

These actions, and many more, led those close to Commodus to conclude that he was insane. Quintus Aemilius Laetus, who was the head of the Emperor's Praetorian Guard, conspired with Marcia, Commodus' first cousin and mistress to kill the emperor. The details have been lost to history, but it is known that Marcia admitted Narcissus, a local wrestler, into Commodus' bed chamber. Narcissus then strangled him. The next morning, urban prefect Publius Helvius Pertinax was proclaimed emperor. He held the office for only 86 days.

It didn't take long for the Roman Senate to act on the memory of the fallen emperor. The body passed a damnatio memoriae on him, an act that essentially removed him from the public memory and removed his name from all the public institutions. This dishonor lasted for a little over two years, when the emperor Septimus Severus ordered the Senate to deify Commodus

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