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Commodus - The Gladiator Emperor

Emperor Commodus

Among the many Emperors of Rome, few were as infamously intertwined with the gladiatorial games as Emperor Commodus. From AD 180 to 192, Commodus stands out for his imperial lineage as the son of the philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius and his eccentric and often despotic behaviour.


His lavish expenditure on games and his personal participation as a gladiator shocked and fascinated Rome, marking his reign as one of the most scandalous periods in the history of the Roman Empire.

Commodus - The Gladiator Emperor pictured in the Colosseum with animals including a lion.
Commodus - The Gladiator Emperor - But He Didn't Take Too Many Risks!

Background and Rise to Power

Born in AD 161, Commodus was appointed co-emperor by his father Marcus Aurelius in AD 177, marking him as the first Roman Emperor born in the purple. This indicates his status as a ruler conceived during his father's reign. Unlike his father, who is remembered as a model of stoic virtue and wise governance, Commodus quickly diverged from the philosophic and administrative rigour expected of an Emperor.

Commodus and the Gladiatorial Games

Commodus was deeply enamoured with the gladiatorial games, seeing himself as a spectator and a participant. His obsession led him to fight in the arena, an act that was both a public spectacle and a profound breach of Roman imperial dignity. He believed himself to be the reincarnation of Hercules, often dressing like the god and fighting wild animals and gladiators in the arena to prove his divine strength and invincibility.

Expenditure on the Games

Commodus spent enormous sums of money on the games, far exceeding his predecessors in the events' frequency and lavishness. Under his rule, the games were held more often and with greater extravagance, featuring exotic animals from across the empire and elaborate public spectacles. He is reported to have killed hundreds of animals in a single day and fought as a gladiator in dozens of matches, often against opponents who were either disabled or armed insufficiently, ensuring his victory.

Impact and Infamy

The Emperor's participation in the games was not merely a personal indulgence but a political tool. By appearing as a gladiator, he aimed to align himself with the gods and Hercules himself, reinforcing his image as an invincible hero and leader. However, this behaviour alienated the Senate and many in the Roman elite, who saw it as undignified and tyrannical.


Commodus’ lavish spending drained the imperial treasury, requiring him to debase the Roman currency and levy heavy taxes on the aristocracy, increasing his unpopularity. Commodus’s reign was marked by growing instability, culminating in his assassination on December 31, AD 192, an act orchestrated by his inner circle, tired of his erratic and destructive antics.

Legacy – The Beginning of the End

picture depicting the rise and fall of rome
The Rise and Fall of Rome - Did Commodus Start the Rot?

Commodus's legacy is a blend of fascination and horror. His reign is often seen as the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire, a period when the golden age of the Antonines ended, and the seeds of later crises were sown. For readers, Commodus's story is a compelling portrait of how personal obsessions and the intoxicating allure of power can alter the course of history, providing a dramatic and cautionary tale about the excesses of imperial Rome. Gladiator 2.0 - Behind the Battles -2000 Facts, Fights and Tales of Triumph in the Colosseum

150 New AI Generated Images from Ancient Texts and Murals Found in Roman Buildings and Paintings

Immerse yourself in the thrilling world of 'Gladiator 2.0,' where ancient history and gripping narrative converge. This book offers a deep dive into the lives of Roman gladiators, exploring their training, battles, and the vast array of weaponry specific to different fighter types.

Beyond the arena, the book sheds light on the complex social dynamics of Rome, including the intricate roles of women and the surprising personal relationships of the gladiators themselves. With over 2000 fascinating facts and 150 full-color illustrations, 'Gladiator 2.0' provides a vivid reimagining of gladiatorial life, making it a must-read for history enthusiasts and fans of Roman culture.

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