The Ancient Library
 

Scanned text contains errors.

COMMODUS.

end. He had a mistress named Marcia, to whom lie was deeply attached, and whom he especially loved to behold equipped as an Amazon. Hence the epithet Amazonius was frequently assumed by himself: the name Amazonius, as we have already seen, was attached to the first month, and he dis­played his own person in the amphitheatre arrayed in the Amazonian garb. The first of January, 193, was to have been signalized by a spectacle which would have thrown into the shade the in­sults previously heaped upon the senate and the people, for Commodus had determined to put to death the two consuls-elect, Q. Sosius Falco and C. Julius Erucius Clarus, and to come forth himself as consul at the opening of the year, not marching in robes of state from the palace to the capitoi at the head of the senate, but in the uniform of a secutor, followed by a band of gladiators issuing from their training-school. This project he com­municated to Marcia, who earnestly implored him to abandon a design so fraught with disgrace and danger, and her remonstrances were warmly seconded by Laetus and Eclectus, the one praefect of the praetorians, the other imperial chamberlain. These counsellors were dismissed with wrath from the presence of the prince, who retired to indulge in his wonted siesta, having previously inscribed on his tablets a long catalogue of persons who were to be put to death that night, the names of Marcia, Laetus, and Eclectus appearing at the head of the list. This document was found by a favourite child, who entered the apartment while Commodus was asleep, and was carried by him in sport to Marcia, who at once perceived its import. She immediately communicated the discovery to -Laetus and Eclectus. The danger was imminent, and, un­less promptly met, inevitable. Their plans were quickly matured and quickly executed. That evening poison was administered, and its operation proving so slow as to excite apprehensions of its efficacy, Narcissus, a celebrated athlete, was intro­duced, and by him Commodus was strangled on the night of December the 31st, A. d. 192, in the thirty-second year of his age and the thirteenth of his reign. When the news of his death, at first cautiously attributed to apoplex}r, was spread abroad, the intelligence diffused universal joy among all ranks except the guards, who had been permitted to revel in indolence and luxury and could scarcely expect again to find a master so indulgent and liberal. When his successor, Per­tinax [pertinax], repaired next morning be­fore daylight to the senate, that venerable body, while greeting their new sovereign, poured forth a string of curses upon the dead tyrant in a sort of strange chaunt, the words of which have been pre­served by Lampridius, declared him a public enemy, and, being unable to vent their rage upon the living man, begged that his body might be dragged, like that of a criminal, through the streets with a hook, and cast into the Tiber,—a request with which Pertinax, to his credit, refused to comply, and the corpse was decently interred in the mauso­leum of Hadrian.

We seldom meet in history with a character which inspires such pure and unmixed detestation as that of Commodus. While his vices and crimes were inexpressibly revolting, they were rendered if possible more loathsome by his contemptible meanness and weakness. The most grinding op­pression was combined with the most childish

819

COMMODUS.

vanity, the most savage cruelty with the most dastardly cowardice. He hated, persecuted, and massacred the senate and the nobles, and at the same time eagerly drank in their most disgusting flatteries. He slew thousands and tens of thou­sands of wild beasts, but his arrows were shot and his darts were hurled from behind a screen of net­work which protected his person from the pos­sibility of risk. He butchered hundreds of his fellow-men in gladiatorial combats; but while he was clad in the impenetrable armour and wielded the heavy blade of a secutor, his antagonists had no defences except weapons of lead or tin; and when as, Hercules, he crushed with his club the unhappy creatures dressed up to resemble the monstrous progeny of Earth, the rocks which they hurled at their assailant were formed of sponge. After examining the ample records preserved of his career, we shall be unable to find a trace of one generous action or one kindly feeling, to discern a single ray of human sympathy to relieve the por­tentous blackness of his guilt. Dion, indeed, re­presents him as naturally of a weak and extremely simple temper ; as one who easily received impres­sions, and whose crimes were to be attributed rather to the artful advice of evil counsellors acting upon a timid and yielding disposition, than to any-inherent depravity ; and imagines that he erred at first from ignorance of what was right, and gliding by degrees into a habit of doing evil, became gradually familiar with deeds of shame and wicked­ness. But had this been the case, the lessons so carefully inculcated in early life would never have been so rapidly and for ever obliterated. We feel more inclined to give credit to the assertion of Lampridius, who declares that from his earliest boyhood he displayed evident proofs of dark pas­sions and a corrupt heart, a propensity to indulge freely in every low and dissolute pleasure, and utter indifference to human suffering and life.

COIN OF COMMODUS,

3 Q2

It is almost needless to remark, that Commodus paid no attention to foreign policy nor to the go­vernment and regulation of the provinces, except in so far as they might be made to minister to his profusion and profligacy. The integrity of the empire was however maintained, and the barbarians repulsed from the Dacian frontier by the skill and valour of Clodius Albinus and Pescennius Niger, the same who after the death of Pertinax contested the throne with Septimius Severus. A still more serious disturbance arose in Britain ; for the north­ern tribes having forced a passage across the wall of Antonine, defeated the Roman troops who op­posed their progress, slew their leader, and laid waste the more peaceful districts far and wide. But Ulpius Marcellus having assumed the chief command, the Caledonians were speedily driven back, the war was successfully terminated about a. d. 184, Commodus was saluted Jmperator for the seventh time, and added Britannicus to his other titles.

Pages
About | First

818

819

820
letter/word  
volume
page #  
Search this site
Google


ancientlibrary.com
WWW
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of Isidore-of-Seville.com.