Commodus (Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus; 31 August 161 – 31 December 192), was Roman Emperor from 180 to 192. He also ruled as co-emperor with his father Marcus Aurelius from 177 until his father’s death in 180.
Commodus had always laid stress on his unique status as a source of god-like power, liberality and physical prowess. Innumerable statues around the empire were set up portraying him in the guise of Hercules, reinforcing the image of him as a demigod, a physical giant, a protector and a battler against beasts and men.
The emperor also had a passion for gladiatorial combat, which he took so far as to take to the arena himself, dressed as a gladiator. The Romans found Commodus’ naked gladiatorial combats to be scandalous and disgraceful. In the arena, Commodus always won since his opponents always submitted to the emperor. Thus, these public fights would not end in a death. Privately, it was his custom to slay his practice opponents. For each appearance in the arena, he charged the city of Rome a million sesterces, straining the Roman economy.
Commodus raised the ire of many military officials in Rome for his Hercules persona in the arena. Often, wounded soldiers and amputees would be placed in the arena for Commodus to slay with a sword. Commodus’ eccentric behaviour would not stop there. Citizens of Rome missing their feet through accident or illness were taken to the arena, where they were tethered together for Commodus to club to death while pretending they were giants. These acts may have contributed to his assassination.
Commodus was also known for fighting exotic animals in the arena, often to the horror of the Roman people. According to Gibbon, Commodus once killed 100 lions in a single day. Later, he decapitated a running ostrich with a specially designed dart and afterwards carried the bleeding head of the dead bird and his sword over to the section where the Senators sat and gesticulated as though they were next. On another occasion, Commodus killed three elephants on the floor of the arena by himself. Finally, Commodus killed a giraffe which was considered to be a strange and helpless beast. In November 192, Commodus held Plebian Games in which he shot hundreds of animals with arrows and javelins every morning, and fought as a gladiator every afternoon, naturally winning all the bouts.
GLADIATOR: Portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’ (2000). The story follows Russell Crowe as loyal Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius, who is betrayed when Commodus, murders his father and seizes the throne. Reduced to slavery, Maximus rises through the ranks of the gladiatorial arena to avenge the murder of his family and his Emperor. Phoenix portrayed Commodus as a vain, power hungry and socippathic young man who is jealous of and despises Maximus because his father Marcus Aurelius favors the General over him. Marcus Aurelius died of plague at Vindobona and was not murdered by his son Commodus. The character of Maximus is fictional, although in some respects he resembles the historical figures of Narcissus (the character’s name in the first draft of the screenplay and the real killer of Commodus), Spartacus (who led a significant slave revolt), Cincinnatus (a farmer who became dictator, saved Rome from invasion, then resigned his 6-month appointment after fifteen days), and Marcus Nonius Macrinus (a trusted general and friend of Marcus Aurelius). Although Commodus engaged in show combat in the Colosseum, he was strangled by the wrestler Narcissus in his bath, not killed in the arena, and reigned for several years, unlike the brief period shown in the film.