Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Lucius Aurelius Commodus

From volume VI of the work.
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COMMODUS, Lucius Aurelius (161-192), emperor of

Rome from 180 to 192, was born at Lanuvium in 161, and was the son of the philosopher-emperor M. Aurelius, and of the younger Faustina. His teachers were carefully selected; but all the pains bestowed on his education did not prevent him from choosing the society and the pursuits of profligate favourites and common gladiators. Blind to his faults, however, his father gave him the title of emperor when not more than fifteen years of age; and at sixteen he shared the imperial power in every department except the chief pontificate. On the death of Aurelius, whom he had accompanied in the war against the Germans, Commodus hastily concluded peace, and hurried back to the pleasures of the capital (180). From the first he gave himself up to unbounded licence; but for some years his vices were all private. In 183, however, he was attacked, at the instigation of his sister Lucilla, by an assassin, who declared that he struck in the name of the senate; and the nobility paid the penalty by the murder of any of that rank who afterwards aroused the slightest suspicion in the mind of the emperor. At the same time the vulgar vanity of Commodus manifested itself in a manner that exposed him to the scorn of the meanest citizen. No longer content with showing his strength and dexterity to a little group of favourites in the palace, he presented himself as a spectacle in the arena, and, carefully protected from serious danger, displayed his skill by shooting hundreds of wild animals, and by meeting in fight hundreds of gladiators. He called himself the Roman Hercules, and commanded that he should be worshipped as such. Plots against his life naturally began to spring up. That of his favourite Perennis was discovered in time. The next danger was from the people, who were infuriated by the dearth of corn. The mob repelled the prætorian guard, but the execution of the hated minister, Oleander, quieted the tumult. The attempt also of the daring highwayman Maternus to seize the empire was betrayed; but at last Eclectus the emperor's chamberlain, Lætus the prefect of the prætorians, and his mistress Marcia, finding their names on the list of those doomed to death, united to destroy him. He was poisoned, and then strangled by a wrestler named Narcissus, on the 31st December 192, in the thirty-second year of his age. It was said that he had intended to disgrace the office of consul by taking the auspices at the commencement of a new year of office, not in the consular robe but in the garb of a secutpr, and surrounded not by the senate but by a band of gladiators. His guards alone, accustomed to his lavish bounty, regretted his death; and Pertinax, being chosen by the conspirators, was allowed quietly to

succeed him.