Relationship between marcus aurelius and commodus

Commodus |

relationship between marcus aurelius and commodus

It's a question that interests me because I run a course about the relationship between Marcus Aurelius' life and his Stoic philosophy called. It's interesting that the death of Marcus Aurelius is considered the end of the "Pax Romana" (The Roman Peace) but the reign of Commodus was largely as. Commodus born Lucius Aurelius Commodus and died Lucius Aelius Historia Augusta: Life of Commodus · Book 73 of Cassius Dio's History · Herodian's Roman History Marcus Aurelius · Roman Emperor.

Commodus did initially engage in some leadership-oriented activities, although not always in the favor of the Roman people. He also devalued Roman currency, reducing the weight of the denarius and reducing the purity of silver. He was very vain, and strongly believed himself to be the reincarnation of Hercules — so much so that he ordered statues of himself be dressed like Hercules, and he ordered that people call him Hercules, son of Zeus.

Bust of Commodus as Hercules, hence the lion skin, the club. Public Domain While fighting in the arena, opponents would submit to Commodus, as Emperor, and their lives were spared. However, in private practice fights, Commodus would slay his opponents.

The Romans were outraged when Commodus would order wounded soldiers and amputees into the arena to be slayed.

Why did Marcus Aurelius allow Commodus to succeed him? – How to Think Like a Roman Emperor

Non-military citizens who had lost their feet due to injury or illness would be tied together for Commodus to club to death. In addition to the crippled, Commodus would slay exotic animals, such as lions, ostriches, hippos, elephants, and giraffes.

This horrified the Roman people. Presumably at this time the most likely scenario would have been that when Marcus died, Commodus would serve alongside Lucius Verus as his junior co-emperor. Commodus had already been ruling as Emperor for about three years before Marcus died. Marcus had his son acclaimed Imperator on 27th November AD and later, in the summer of AD, he was granted the title Augustus, making him co-emperor with Marcus.

So whereas Commodus is portrayed as Caesar in the movie Gladiator, waiting to succeed Marcus, who then refuses to let him take the throne, in reality Commodus had already been emperor for about three years before Marcus died.

relationship between marcus aurelius and commodus

To understand Commodus we have to go right back to his great-grandfather, by adoption, the emperor Hadrian. Toward the end of his life his behaviour was becoming erratic. However, the man died suddenly about a year later, forcing Hadrian to come up with another candidate. He then adopted a man called Aurelius Antoninus and appointed him Caesar on condition that Antoninus would in turn adopt a young boy called Marcus Annius Verus and make him his own successor.

relationship between marcus aurelius and commodus

So there was a plan that stretched decades into the future. However, these arrangements could easily be overturned by events. The man Hadrian had originally appointed Caesar had a young son, also called Lucius. The Senate were terrified of the possibility of civil war caused by rival factions fighting over claims to the throne. When Hadrian died he was hated by the Senate for spying on and executing his enemies at Rome. It was probably considered necessary to unite the empire and prevent instability caused by the mess Hadrian had left by creating two rival dynasties with a claim on the throne.

The one thing Marcus lacked was any military experience. When the two emperors were acclaimed, indeed, it was Lucius who was sent to deliver a speech to the soldiers, and not long after, when the Parthian War broke out, Marcus sent Lucius to Syria to oversee the campaign. Lucius was nine years younger than Marcus and much fitter and healthier than him. He may also have been a bad emperor but it seems that Marcus felt it was necessary, for some reason, to appoint him.

He reputedly spent his time partying far away from the action and let his generals do all the work for him. However, Lucius returned to Rome and celebrated his victory. Unfortunately, the Roman legions returning to their garrisons across Europe brought back a disease, probably a strain of smallpox, which became known as the Antonine Plague.

The Antonine Plague is an important character in this story because the histories tell us that by taking the lives of so many people it disrupted society in many ways. Those to whom family fortunes were bequeathed died prematurely. Experienced senators, military officers, and government officials died prematurely and had to be replaced — there was a high turnover of staff in important positions.

We can see this affected the imperial succession also. The Marcomannic Wars Shortly after Lucius returned, a huge coalition army of barbarian tribes from the north, led by King Ballomar of the Marcomanni, invaded the northern provinces of the Roman Empire.

This time both Marcus and Lucius took command of the military response and left Rome together to drive the barbarian horde out of Italy and liberate the northern province of Pannonia. War in the north would occupy Marcus for most of the rest of his reign and it would also cost the lives of many Romans, including men in senior positions.

The city of Rome itself was thrown into total panic by the news that a barbarian army had penetrated Italy, because they feared Rome would be sacked. Ballomar had seized the opportunity when Rome was weak.

Beleaguered troops were still on their way back to their garrisons in the north from the Parthian War far to the east. The legions had also been devastated by the plague, which thrived in the conditions found in army camps.

This was undoubtedly done in response to the panic at Rome. It was clearly assumed that both Marcus and Lucius might die suddenly and that it was better to have a successor in place than leave Rome in chaos. The death rate among children due to the plague would have been particularly high.

relationship between marcus aurelius and commodus

People often comment online that the Roman emperors typically adopted their successors and Marcus should have done likewise. The precedent for this was set when Julius Caesar adopted Octavian who went on to become Augustus, the first Roman emperor. For example, Hadrian adopted Antoninus and Antoninus adopted Marcus because they had no sons available to succeed them. The Roman people actually believed very strongly in natural succession, just like most barbarian peoples did.

An emperor who had a natural heir, like Marcus, and chose to bypass him to adopt an heir, would risk creating a rival dynasty and dividing the empire. There would be two Caesars but only one position open, in that case, for a co-emperor.

Commodus – the Outrageous Emperor who Fought as a Gladiator

So presumably it was envisaged that Commodus would serve as junior co-emperor to Lucius Verus and later, after the death of Lucius, Marcus Annius Verus would join his brother and rule alongside him. Rome would have potentially been ruled by an emperor who had a natural heir but had already appointed two sons of his deceased brother as his heirs. In any case, I would suggest that the Senate urged Marcus and Lucius to appoint these children Caesars before leaving for war because they felt it was necessary for the stability of the empire.

Death of Lucius and Marcus Annius Verus Shortly after these wars began on the northern front, two deaths shook the empire and upset these plans.

relationship between marcus aurelius and commodus

The young Caesar Marcus Annius Verus died during an operation on a tumour. Marcus lost about seven children altogether, including several sons. He was getting old now and Commodus, still a child, was his only surviving son. There were, as always, rumours that Marcus had him assassinated but most scholars dismiss this as typical court gossip. Around this time, Marcus also lost his main Stoic mentor, Junius Rusticus, who was back at Rome serving as urban prefect.

So he must have felt increasingly isolated. I believe there are signs in The Meditations and in the histories that Marcus was greatly affected by the loss of his children and struggled to cope emotionally by leaning more heavily on his Stoic training.

relationship between marcus aurelius and commodus

And I think we can see hints that Marcus was affected by this climate and also concerned about the possible loss of his only surviving son, especially now that Lucius was gone. The children of Roman nobles were usually raised by nurses who were slaves and possibly their mothers took some part in their care but often they had little contact with their fathers until they became older.

He describes his children as his little chicks in a nest. These displays of familial affection seem perhaps a little out of character for a Roman of this period. With no military experience whatsoever, after the death of Lucius Verus, Marcus was suddenly and unexpectedly left in command of the largest army ever massed on a northern frontier, numbering an estimatedmen, including legions, auxiliary units, naval units on the Danube, etc.

Pertinax and Pompeianus The plague and war took the lives of many men whose positions had to be filled, so it created the opportunity to promote new men.

Marcus caused some controversy by promoting individuals of humble stock, based on merit. Later, he would succeed Commodus and,this son of a former slave would, albeit briefly, become emperor. Marcus betrothed Pompeianus to his daughter, Lucilla, the widow of Lucius Verus. She was one of the most powerful women in Rome, being titled Augusta, empress, from her marriage to Lucius, and also a daughter of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

It was rumoured that Marcus asked Pompeianus to become Caesar, presumably as an interim ruler while Commodus matured and gained experience.

However, for some mysterious reason he refused. Marcus invited him to become Caesar, Pertinax asked him to accede to the throne after Commodus was assassinated and Julianus who succeeded Pertinax asked him to become joint emperor with him.