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Commodus












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COMMODUS (Lucius Aurelius) ANTONINUS, who on his coins is also called MARCUS, was the son of M. Aurelius and of Faustina junior; and was born at Lanuvium, in Latium, 914 (A. D. 161), the year in which his father entered on his third consulate, and succeeded Antoninus in the sovereignty - viz. the day before the calends of September.

 

His mother gave birth at the same time to another son, named Antoninus, and, in reference to the event, Geminus; but that child died at the age of four years.  Capitolinus, however, gives it as his opinion, that Commodus was the son, not of Aurelius, but of some gladiator.  Whichever of the two may be the correct version, it is certain that Aurelius constantly acknowledged him as his own child; and was much attached to him, frequently carrying him in his arms, and shewing him to the soldiers; and not only endeavoured himself to instil virtuous principles into his mind, but also committed his education to the care of men remarkable for their moral and intellectual qualifications; with how little benefit was shewn throughout the whole of his atrocious career.

In 919 (A. D. 166), Commodus received the title of CAESAR, in conjunction with his brother Aunius Verus, at the request of L. Verus, on the occasion of the triumph celebrated by both emperors, over the Parthians.

925 (A. D. 172).  He was styled GERMANICVS.

928 (A. D. 175).  Admitted as a priest into all the sacerdotal colleges, he went the same year from Rome into Germania, by order of his father, who there conferred on him the toga virilis, at the time of the revolt of Avidius Cassius, i.e. the 7th of July.  On that occasion he was also styled PRINCEPS IVVENTVTIS, and before the customary time nominated consul.  Same year, he set out with his father for the East, in order to put an end to the disturbances still resulting from the revolt of Cassius.  The title of SARMATICVS, which Aurelius assumed this year, was also shared by Commodus.

929. (A. D. 176).  Towards the close of this year, he returned with his father from the East, and received, in conjunction with Aurelius, the title of IMPERATOR, on the 27th of November.  The honours of a triumph for victories over the Germani, and Sarmatae, were conferred by a Senatus Consultum upon his father and himself on the 23rd of December.  Shortly afterwards he was associated by Aurelius in the Tribunitia Potestas; on which occasion a congiarium was distributed to the people.

930 (A.D. 177).  In January of this year, he proceeded Consul; about this time he married Crispina.  The same year Aurelius conferred the title of AUGUSTUS and also that of PATER PATRIAE on his unworthy son;  and in consequence of victories gained, associated him with himself as IMPERATOR II.

931 (A. D. 178).  On the 5th of August, he set out with his father for the war in Germania.

932 (A. D. 179).  Commodus was present in the German campaign.  A bloody victory was gained over the Marcomanni, the Hermanduri, and the Sarmatae, in consequence of which Aurelius was styled IMP. X. and Commodus IMP. III.

933 (A. D.  180).  Marcus Aurelius dying on the 17th March, Commodus succeeded to the sole sovereignty.  Leaving the war still unfinished, and concluding a peace with the barbarians, for which, it would appear, he received the victorious title of IMP. IV. he returned to Rome, and celebrated a triumph.

935 (A. D. 182).  Nothing of importance is recorded to have taken place, under his reign, during the preceding year.  But in the latter part of this year, Commodus was declared IMPERATOR V. by acclamation, according to the testimony of coins, although in reward of what victory is not known; for historians record several wars, conducted by his lieutenants, without specifying dates.

936 (A. D. 183).  Serving the consulate (IV.) with Aufidius Victorianus for his colleague, Commodus was styled IMP. VI. at the close of this year, though it is uncertain for what victory.  Tillermont expresses his opinion that it was for one over the Britons.  Commodus escaped a dangerous conspiracy set on foot by his sister Lucilla, whom, as well as his wife, he caused to be put to death.   This year the agnomen of PIVS is added to his titles.

937 (A. D. 184).  The title PONT. MAX. begins.  This year the Caledonians having crossed the wall, an important war was waged, with them by the Roman forces in Britain, under the generalship of Ulpius Marcellus, a man of the highest military renown; in consequence of whose victories, Commodus gained first the title of IMP. VII. and afterwards of BRITannicus.

938 (A. D. 185).  The soldiers demanded that Perennis, the pretorian prefect, should be given up to execution.  Terrified by their threats, Commodus surrendered him to their fury; and they put him to death, with his whole family.  After this, Commodus received the title of FELIX.

939 (A. D. 186).  In his fifth consulate, Commodus was declared IMPERATOR VIII. by acclamation, but for what victory is doubtful.  It is also uncertain what occurrences are to be assigned to the succeeding year.

941 (A. D. 188)  On pretence of an expedition to Africa, he levied a vast sum of money.  And in April VOTA were entered into for his success.  Detained, however, at Rome, by his faithful Senate and People, he applied the cash to feasting and gaming.

942 (A. D. 189).  To this year Tillemont assigns another cowardly abandonment of a public functionary to the vengeance of a mutinous soldiery.  Cleander, the pretorian prefect, like his predecessor Perennis, was given up by his base emperor at the first summons, and with his whole family was slaughtered.

943 (A. D. 190).  In his sixth consulship, M. Petronius Septimianus being his colleague, Commodus named Rome after himself, Colonia Commodiana, adding the prenomina of LUCIA ANTONINIANA.

944 (A. D. 191).  In this, or the following year, the magnificent temple of PAX was destroyed by a terrible conflagration.

945 (A. D. 192).  In his seventh consulate, Helvius Pertinax being his colleague, on the day before the calends of January, in the dead of night, Commodus perished by a violent death, aged 31 years and 4 months.--Eckhel, vii. 102.

For cruelty and profligacy he is to be classed with the worst of the many bad princes who swayed the affairs of Rome;  and by the proficiency he displayed in gladiatorial exercises, he gave a colour to the prevalent rumour of his having owed his birth, not to Marcus Aurelius, but to the criminal intimacy of Faustina with some gladiator.  Alike insensible to the influence of good example, and incapable of profiting from the advantages of education, he, soon after the death of his imperial predecessor, developed the whole wickedness of his disposition.  He ordained himself to be worshipped as Jupiter and as Hercules, whose attributes be assumed.  Abandoning himself to the grossest intemperance, and to the most odious vices, palaces and temples became, under his reign, the scenes of riot, debauchery, and crime.  Pestilence, famine, and incendiary conflagrations, visited the widespread dominions of which he was at once the sovereign and the scourge.

That during his reign, the empire maintained its ascendency, in spite of the disaffection of so many provinces--the Mauritanians, the Dacians, the Pannonians, the Britons, and the Germans--is to be attributed solely to the valour and fidelity of his distinguished generals, Pertinax, Severus, Pescennius Niger, and Albinus.  His own time was passed at Rome in cowardly inaction; if we except the fact of his there directing his arms not merely against brutes, both wild and tame, but also against human beings, provided they were wealthy, or ever so lightly suspected of designs against himself: nay, he declared war even against the months of the year, to which, instead of the old and received appellations, according to the testimony of Dion, his contemporary, he gave the following:--Amazonius, Invictus, Felix, Pius, Lucius, Aelius, Aurelius, Commodus, Augustus, Herculeus, Romanus, Exuperatorius.  At length, having signalized his government by deeds of monstrous folly and of unspeakable infamy, of which many of his coins furnish the proof, and after having escaped from repeated attempts upon his life, this execrable tyrant perished at last by a conspiracy of his favourite concubine Marcia.  This woman, seeing in the hands of a boy, to whom Commodus was much attached, a tablet which he had taken in play from his sleeping master, and on which she discovered her own name in a list of intended victims, on that very evening, which was the last in the year, first attempted to administer poison to Commodus, and when he offered resistance, called in the aid of a gladiator, by whom he was strangled.  Thus Commodus, as he resembled Domitian in his life, met also a similar fate, the cruel designs of both becoming fatal to themselves, by being betrayed unwittingly by a boy.  On the report of his death, the Senate and the People with one voice demanded that his corpse should be dragged thro' the streets with a hook, and thrown into the Tiber.-And here, without acquitting Commodus and other bad emperors, whose just doom for their crimes is in the hands of Eternal Justice--it may with truth be said, that it was the corrupt and pusillanimous conduct of the Senate, coupled with the wretched weakness of parents, and the blandishments of base and selfish flatterers, that mainly contributed to ruin them-by making them bad, and keeping them so.

MINTAGES OF COMMODUS.

The names and titles are infinitely varied on his coins.  Sometimes he takes the prenomen of LUCIUS; sometimes that of MARCUS.  His other names were AELIUS AURELIUS ANTONINUS PIUS FELIX, to which he added BRITannicus.

The legends on the coins of Commodus are thus classed by Mionnet, after arranging them as Eckhel has done, in chronological order, viz.: Those struck from the time that he was created Caesar, to the year of Rome 933 (A. D. 180), bear the names of LVCIVS AVRELIVS COMMODVS.  Those struck from the end of the year 933, to the year 944, bear the names of MARCVS COMMODVS ANTONINVS.  And sometimes MARCVS AVRELIVS COMMODVS ANTONINVS.--From that period to his death, the name AELIVS is added to the others.

It is to be observed, that this prince obtained from his father only, in succession, though at short intervals, all the dignities which constituted the sovereignty.  As to the tribunitian powers of Commodus, both their series and their chronology offer difficulties which have wearied the most learned.

COMMODO. CAES. AVG. FIL. GERM. SARM.-This legend round the young head (without a crown) of Commodus, on a large brass of that emperor, shews him to us as "Caesar, son of Augustus" (meaning Marcus Aurelius), and already distinguishes by the surnames Germanicus and Sarmaticus.

On another large brass coin we see his young head crowned with laurel, and this legend IMP. L. AVREL. COMMODVS GER.SAR.  Here the title Imperator, which (as shewn by TR. P. II.) has just been granted to him, is put before all his names.  When Commodus has been named Augustus, and wished to designate the number, appeared only at the end of, or rather amongst, the other titles: as for example, M. COMMODVS ANT. FELIX AVG. BRIT. P. M. TR. P. XI. IMP. VII. COS. V. P. P.-See Numismatique Romaine.

The Latin coins of this emperor-from his boyhood to his death-are found in every form and metal; all the gold coins and most of the brass medallions, are of fine workmanship, and very rare; the quinarii, and the small brass, are the rarest-and there is an abundance of them that were struck in Greece and the colonies.

The following are amongst the rarest and most remarkable reverses, minted, under this reign:-

GOLD MEDALLIONS.-Rev.-FORT.FEL. Fortune standing. - PACI AETER. Peace seated.-(These are valued by Mionnet at 1000 fr. each).

GOLD.-Rev.-ADVENTVS AVG. Emperor on horseback.-CONC. MIL. Emperor and four soldiers. - DE GERM. (Brought 9 15s. at the Thomas sale).--DE SARMATIS.--FID. EXERC.--HERC. COM. Emperor sacrificing to Hercules. (Thomas, 7).--HERC. ROMANO. AVG. (Thomas, 6 17s. 6d.)--HERC. ROM. COND. Commodus as Hercules, and two oxen. (Mionnet, 150 fr.) LIBERAL(ITAS) V. Emperor and 3 other figures (Thomas, 10 15s.)

Rev.--MIN. AVG. P. M. TR. P. XVI. COS. VI.--Minerva helmeted, with branch in right hand, and spear and shield in left, walking and looking back.--Obv.--M. COMM. ANT. P. FEL. AVG. BRIT. Bust of Commodus, bearded, laureated, and paludated. (Pembroke sale, 7 10s. for British Museum).

NOBILI(TAS) AVG. (Mionnet, 120 fr.)--PRINC. IVVENT.  Commodus and trophy. (Thomas, 5 6s.)--PROVIDENTIAE AVG.  Commodus as Hercules, and Africa.  (Thomas, 10 8s.)--SECVRITAS PVBLICA.  Female seated.  (Thomas, 9).  SERAPIDI CONSERV. AVG.--TR. P. VIIIIJupiter Victor seated. (Thomas, 10 15s.)--VICTORIA  AVG. Victory standing.--VIRT. AETER. Mars walking.--VOT. SVSC. DEC.  Emperor sacrificing.

SILVER.--CONSECRATIO. Eagle and globe. (50 fr.)--LIBERALITAS.  A congiarium of four figures.--MATRI. DEVM. Cybele on a lion.

BRASS MEDALLIONS. --Rev.--APOL. PALATINO.  Apollo and Victory.  (See p. 66).-BRITTANIA. (See p. 136).-FORTVNAE REDVCI. Fortune seated. (Thomas, 8 5s.)--FIDES EXERCIT. An allocution. HERC. COMMODIANO, Hercules sacrificing.--HERC. ROM. CONDITORI.  Hercules at plough.  (Thomas, 5 7s. 6d.)--HERCVLI ROMANO AVG.  Bow, club and quiver.  (Brought at the Thomas sale, 13.)

[The above seven, and three or four more, having on their obverses the bearded head of Commodus, covered with the lion's skin, in imitation of that of Hercules, are valued by Mionnet at from 200 to 120 fr. each.]

IOVI IVVENI.  Commodus and Jupiter.  (200 fr.)-M. AUREL. ANTONINVS and the infant Commodus. (400 fr.) -- MINER. VICT. Minerva Victorix near a trophy.  (Thomas, only 6 12s.)--MONETA--and PIETAS. (150 fr. each).--PRO. IMP. OMNIA. FELICIA. Neptune and Emperor.-TELLVS STABIL. The earth personified. --Obv. Janiform bust of Commodus. (Thomas, 19 5s.)--SALVS. (150 fr.)--VOTA PVBLICA. Emperor and many figures sacrificing.  (150 fr.)

[Many other brass medallions of great value, without legend of reverse].

FIRST BRASS.--Rev.--ANNIVS VERVS.--Obv. COMMODVS. (600 fr.)--APOL. MONETA. (See p. 66).--COL. L. AN. COM. &c.  Priest at plough.  (see p. 234).--DINA DINA (sic.) PIA AVGVSTA. Emperor, Serapis, and Isis.--FAVSTINA AVG. PII FEL. AVG.  Head of Faustina jun. (160 fr.) FELICIA TEMPORA.  Four Seasons.--TEMPORVM FELICITAS.--VOTA. SOLV. PRO. SAL. Emperor and five figures sacrificing.

SECOND BRASS.--VOTA SVSCEPTA. Temple and eight sacrificial figures.


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