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Unpopular Ancient Roman Emperor – Commodus – Part I
Posted In: Ancient Civilizations  8/30/12
By: Yona Williams

If you have ever seen the movie 'Gladiator' with Russell Crowe, then you are probably already familiar with the ancient leader named Commodus (played by Joaquin Phoenix) – son of Marcus Aurelius – one of the best rulers of Rome. The real life Commodus certainly gave producers a lot to work with because he was just as unpopular during ancient times as he was in the movie.

Following in the footsteps of a great leader must have placed a lot of pressure on Commodus, who failed miserably in measuring up to his father. He goes down in history as being one of the most disliked emperors of Rome. Ruling for 12 years, Rome dealt with the brute from 180 to 192.

In the movie, the gladiatorial games play a significant role in the plot. The real Commodus loved the games, and would often enter them himself – fighting right beside the gladiators, who were all criminals or slaves. The entire empire was not pleased with these actions, and the senate was especially unhappy with his antics.

Commodus was also known for his ruthlessness towards others. For sport, he once ordered the collection of all of the city's crippled, hunchbacks, and people that were undesirable in society. They were then tossed into the arena and forced to use meat cleavers to hack one another to death.

Animals did not fare any better in the eyes of Commodus. He enjoyed killing animals and was known to kill 100 lions in one day. The spectators were not pleased with this spectacle.  When he entered the arena, he took pleasure in slaughtering creatures, including killing three elephants with by his own hands.  One time, he beheaded an ostrich and held the head towards the senators that were in attendance. While laughing, he motioned as if they were next to receive the same fate.  Spectators frowned upon Commodus when he speared a giraffe to death, as they did not see this creature as something to be feared.

Just like in the movie, the senators aimed to get rid of Commodus and conspired to have him killed. They successfully poisoned the emperor, but he was able to throw up the contents. Commodus was finally murdered by the hands of his favorite wrestler (a gladiator named Narcissus), who strangled the tyrant while he was taking a bath.

The Role of a Mistress in Commodus' Death

One of Commodus' mistresses, a woman named Marcia Aurelia Ceionia Demetrias (better known as Marcia), played an important role in the downfall of the emperor. Marcia was the daughter of Marcia Aurelius Sabinianus – a freedwoman of the co-emperor Lucius Verus. She was a favorite of Commodus, but before she started lying in the bed of the ruler, she was the lover of one of his cousins, Senator Marcus Ummidius Quadratus Annianus.


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