Monday, April 02, 2012

The Day the Roman Empire was Auctioned - March 28, 193 A.D.

Following the death of Marcus Aurelius, his natural son Commodus was elevated to emperor, and the Roman people shared a hope that the Golden Age would continue. As the first natural son of a sitting emperor since Domitian, Commodus would end up proving the theory that prudent adoption beats genetics.
This is the way Dio described what happened, "Our history now descends from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust, as affairs for the Romans of that day."
From the very beginning Commodus cut an odd figure in his behavior; timid and weak in disposition while becoming a slave to his attendants. These traits caused him to delegate the management of the empire to a series of lieutenants. What followed logically, then, were conspiracies, and shortly after, attempts on his life. In 182 A.D. an assassin employed by Commodus' sister Lucilla tried to stab him with a dagger and failed. The experience unnerved Commodus and turned him into a paranoid personality. He refused to appear in public and communications with him could only occur through intermediaries. Chiefs of staff rose and fell from power one after the other – most notably Perennis and then Cleander – as their behavior offended the people. Following the death of the latter, Commodus became an unhinged megalomaniac, demanding the Senate deify him and renaming Rome to Colonia Commodiana.