The worst Emperor? Responsible for the decline?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Mike Margolis, Sep 25, 2022.

  1. Mike Margolis

    Mike Margolis Well-Known Member

    I rarely buy coins anymore but I do enjoy my collection and being a teacher I do give some away when I know it may be a great teaching moment. but I do browse and once in a while one strikes me. Usually I have also only bought the "good" guys and girls but this well worn sestertius where all the names and inscriptions are gone- just the image has appeal for me anyway. It just screams of sings "I am an ancient Roman sestertius!" commodus1.jpg
    COMMODUS AE sestertius. Struck at Rome, 186 AD. M COMMODVS ANT P FELIX AVG BRIT, laureate head right. Reverse - SAEC FEL P M TR P XI IMP VII COS V P P S C, Victoria standing right, foot on a helmet, inscribing VO DE (for VOTA DECENNALES) on a shield set upon a palm. RCV 5800, RIC 472, rated Rare. 28mm, 22.0g.
    Post your worst Roman Empereor if you dare.
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  3. expat

    expat Remember you are unique, just like everyone else Supporter

    Alongside numerous others

    A damnatio memoriae was undertaken against Carinus after his death, removing his name and image from as many works of literature and art as possible while also destroying statues of him.
    Johndakerftw, sand, Bing and 2 others like this.
  4. Mike Margolis

    Mike Margolis Well-Known Member

    Very cool indeed. I had an elementary student who was obsessed with the bad guys in history. Caligula was the ultimate deal for him in that category. I gave him a Caracalla bronze I had. It just was not "evil" enough for him! He was not pleased. HaHa...
  5. Mike Margolis

    Mike Margolis Well-Known Member

    The fact that Commodus was not only insane but he was the very son of perhaps one who is known as one of the best Caesars a philospopher and intellectual also, Marcus Aurelius. Definetly a teaching about leadership power, parenting and maybe inbreeding? if I remember some of the history correctly in this tragedy in Roman history.
    expat and AdamL like this.
  6. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    Commodus was emperor from the age of 16 to his death at the age of 31. He has been vilified by ancient historians or biographers. Sure, he was not popular among intellectuals who wrote books, and this opinion was endorsed by a late 18th c. historian, Gibbon. Is it enough for us, people of the 21st c., to label him the "worst emperor"?

    What can be used against him?
    He was never adopted for his personal merit, he was the biological son of his predecessor Marcus Aurelius.
    Unlike his dad ( a "good emperor"), he never wrote a book of philosophy.
    He did not launch any all-out war against the Western Barbarians or the Parthian Empire.
    He had his wife Crispina banished to Capri and assassinated. Not a gentleman.
    He loved to perform in the Colosseum and his appearances were rather popular among the mob.
    He died w/o having named a successor, and his death caused a mess.

    He was probably too young to be sole emperor : Trajan had been Augustus at the age of 46, Hadrian at 41, Antoninus Pius at 52, Marcus Aurelius at 40... Commodus was associated with his father at 16, sole emperor at 19, and when he died he was only 31, an age for being Tribune, a lower magistrate...

    Perhaps the only emperor who has to be blamed for all the trouble caused by his son was Marcus Aurelius?
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  7. expat

    expat Remember you are unique, just like everyone else Supporter

    It was part of an era dominated by egos and power protection, coupled with extreme paranoia. Lucky to have any good emperors
    Mike Margolis likes this.
  8. serdogthehound

    serdogthehound Well-Known Member

    Let's not forget the move "Gladiator" which is a lot of what my generation knows of Imperial Rome
  9. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    Theodosius I deserves some blame on this front as well, Honorius and Arcadius were both worthless as leaders. Honorius was only 11 at the time, so it might not have been apparent. But Arcadius was 17, and by all accounts, it was pretty obvious to everybody that he was and would always be a spineless idiot.
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  10. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    What happened in 193, after Commodus' unexpected death, can show us what was the opinion in Rome about Commodus.

    The constitutional system worked perfectly. The Senate immediately elected as his successor the senior in highest rank : P. Helvius Pertinax. Herodian and Cassius Dio write that the news of Commodus' death was cheered by the people, but mostly by the wealthier and their clients. Commodus was declared a public enemy and his memory was condemned by the Senate. On the opposite, the military (the praetorians) were less enthusiastic...

    Pertinax was soon assassinated in a military coup by the Praetorians, who elected the infamous Didius Julianus, just because he was the highest bidder when the praetorians auctioned the empire. When they marched to the Palatine, they had re-established Commodus portraits on their standards. Didius Julianus was soon toppled in another military coup, this time by Septimius Severus' legions.

    Septimius Severus first claimed he was there to avenge Pertinax, even adding Pertinax to his own name, but some time after he officially rehabilitated Commodus' memory, claimed he was Commodus' "brother". He had Commodus divinized by the Senate. There are official inscriptions from Rome and Numidia dedicated "Divo Commodo fratri" : "to the Divine Commodus, brother (of the emperor)". Commodus was still "divine" in the mid-3rd c. and Trajan Decius minted "Divo Commodo" antoniniani: obviously, in the official narrative, Commodus was considered one of the 11 good emperors. The list was : Augustus, Vespasian, Titus, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, Septimius Severus and Severus Alexander.

    In literature Cassius Dio (a Roman senator who wrote c. 230), Herodian (close to the senatorial class, he wrote c. 240) and the Historia Augusta (a late 4th c. pagan) are unanimous to condemn Commodus and make him a bad, even very bad emperor. One thing is clear: though Commodus was officially Divus, Cassius Dio and Herodian were not afraid to severely criticize him. We can be sure he was hated by the senatorial class.

    On the other hand, it is obvious that Commodus would never have exposed himself in the amphitheatre if he was not 100% sure his appearances and performances would be greeted by a cheering crowd. And this is what happened every time. In Rome you don't cheat with the people assembled in the Circus or the Colosseum, they can freely boo you if they feel like (it happened to Didius Julianus, and there was nothing to do to silence the People). Among the modest ordinary citizens, Commodus was popular. He was also popular among the military. He was so popular than Septimius Severus felt it necessary to rehabilitate his memory and divinize him in order to strengthen his regime.
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  11. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    I'd agree that our current perspectives on Commodus are probably skewed toward the negative and overly dramatized. However, the popularity of a leader among the people doesn't really mean much when it comes to their actual leadership abilities.

    Often times, the popularity of a person among the public is simply a testament to the public's stupidity, uninformedness, or susceptibility to propaganda. Modern US political machines are literally built upon these principles (they assume that we are stupid).

    If Commodus was popular with the people because he was legitimately concerned about their welfare and utilized state funds to efficiently achieve meaningful ends... then that would be one thing. If he was popular because he satisfied the public's blood lust by stabbing a bunch of lions to death..... then that would be another.
  12. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    Not only in US... but that was the point of my answer, demagogy. Commodus was an emperor and, as an emperor, undoubtedly has to judge, take decisions and sign orders on a daily basis. From 177 to 185 he relied on his praetorian prefect Perennis - a member of the Equestrian Order - who had an antisenatorial agenda. In the same time, being a young and athletic man in his twenties, he wanted to stage himself as a kind of rock-star. No doubt these exhibitions contributed much to his popularity among the lower classes, who didn't give a damn about all the millionaire oligarchs he had arrested and sometimes eliminated. Being a showman often helps in politics.
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