Lucius Aurelius Commodus was conceived August 31, 161 AD in Lanuvium (about 14 miles from Rome) where he is listed on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History. His parents were Marcus Aurelius and Faustina the Younger. He was the tenth child with 13 other siblings. Commodus was born as a twin to his brother who died when he was just 4 years of age. Commodus’ name was bestowed upon him to honor Marcus Aurelius’ joint ruler and brother by adoption Lucius Verus. Unfortunately, no other son of Marcus besides Commodus lived past their youth. Commodus’ father was the last of the “5 good emperors,” however he didn’t follow in his footsteps.
When he became emperor it was the very first time a biological son had inherited his parent’s throne since Titus inherited the kingdom from his father Vespasian in 79 AD. The Emperors since then had only been able to succeed the throne through prestige and valor. Commodus was watched by his father’s doctor Galen to maintain his health and keep him alive. He also had a thorough education directed from his father. The focus appeared to be towards military skills and the knowledge he would need to govern the kingdom when his time came. At the early age of 5 years old in 166 AD, Commodus was proclaimed Caesar (‘junior emperor’).
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In 177 AD following Cassius’ rebellion, Emperor Aurelius announced Commodus as Augustus and co-emperor. Up until then he was the youngest consul in the history of Rome being around the age of 15. Afterward, he wed Bruttia Crispina; he then traveled with his father to the Danube to protect the country in 178 AD till 180 AD when Marcus passed away.
Even though Marcus Aurelius’ reign was filled with constant war and Commodus’ was relatively calm as far as battles go it was noted by political contention. His actions became increasingly illogical and unpredictable which was the cause for much strife and discontent. This was recorded by many as the start to the weakening of Rome. Commodus had a tendency for weakness and influenced by those around him. He was also known as brutal and extreme conduct. His actions were somewhat tempered when Marcus ruled but even during that time it was said he exhibited actions close to Nero even while he was young.
Commodus didn’t stay in the Danube for very long, just enough time to work out a treaty of peace in order to return to Rome for an easier life. Shortly after his ascension Commodus altered his name to Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus. In 182 AD, his sibling Lucilla plotted along with a gathering of senators to kill him. When it failed the emperor responded in kind and all he found involved were eventually put to death. In 186 AD, he ordered his chief killed to please his army; three years following he let the minister’s heir get killed by a mob.
Uncommon to the past few rulers Commodus didn’t show very much concern in the management and care needed to govern a kingdom. He was content to let more important work go to his chosen associates. At the top of his list was his chamberlain Saoterus; a freedman originating in Nicomedia. He was eventually put to death as well along with many more people trying to scheme for power and attain the government. Discontent in the politics led to a sequence of plots and attempted rebellions that brought Commodus to return to his responsibilities. A task he handled with a growing tyrannical approach.
Despite the Senate’s fear and loathing of him, he looked to have been well liked among the army and the public for most of his rule. Most likely in the event of his extravagant demonstrations of generosity and his dramatic plays as a gladiator. For the people of Rome, it was surprising to see their Emperor appear as a gladiator for at that time only slaves and prostitutes were put in the stadium. They were considered one of the lowest people of the community.
Commodus clearly didn’t have a single thought to what others thought about him or his actions. He would show up to such events playing the part of Hercules the son of Jupiter and wearing a lion’s skin. It was clear that his reasoning was getting worse as he became increasingly narcissistic and acted outrageously. Nothing that faced Commodus in the ring hardly had a chance, all combatants were very poorly armed and the animals pathetically chained to a wall. Unlike the popular gladiator fights which portrayed experience and talent, many had a hard time not laughing as they watched the Emperor act so juvenile.
In the year 191 AD, a major part of Rome was destroyed by a devastating fire that lasted for many days. Public buildings were lost and even parts of the royal palace were burnt. While rebuilding in 192 AD, Commodus saw occasion to announce himself as Romulus and renamed the city after himself Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana. Also altering the names of the month in honor of his rule, he even renamed the legions, the fleet that brought in grain form Africa, the Senate, his palace and the Roman public after him. In effect, he declared himself as the source of the Empire, Roman existence and religion. Quintus Aemilius Laetus was the one to finally initiate the termination of Commodus. The court chamberlain Eclectus and Commodus’ choice concubine Marcia joined this undertaking. After a failed attempt to poison and some careful planning, they had Narcissus his wrestling partner strangle him. He died December 31 192 AD. Septimus Severus and Clodius Albinus (African associates of Laetus) were made governors of Upper Pannonia and Britain. Pescennius Niger (also an ally to Laetus) was set over Syria. The next emperor was Publius Hevlius Pertinax, Rome’s city prefect. The Senate announced Commodus a ‘public enemy’ and righted the names the conceited emperor had altered after himself. His statues were also torn down.
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