By Anne Leader

On 17 March 180, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius died, leaving his son Commodus the sole ruler of the empire they had co-ruled since 177. This succession was the first time a natural-born rather than adopted son had inherited the imperial throne from his father since Titus and Vespasian in 79. Commodus was seen as a capricious and selfish emperor, though he reigned over a period of relative peace, as opposed to his father who had been almost constantly at war. Commodus undertook numerous unpopular initiatives, including devaluing the Roman currency, the largest drop since the infamous reign of Nero. Historian Dio Cassius famously quipped that Commodus took the empire “from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust.“ Commodus is typically seen as a megalomaniac, in part because of his active campaign to erect statues of himself as Hercules throughout the empire. He did erect a column celebrating the military career of his father in Rome. Having alienated the senate, Commodus was assassinated in 192, leaving the imperial government in chaos.

Bust of Commodus as Hercules, 191-2 CE, marble. Rome, Capitoline Museums

Marble bust of Marcus Aurelius discovered at the site of the Roman villa of Chiragan (Martre-Tolosane, Haute-Garonne) c. 170-180 CE. Toulouse, Musée Saint-Raymond, Inv. Ra 61b

Denarius with Commodus

Portrait of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, marble. Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery

Commodus, marble. Ephesus Museum

Column of Marcus Aurelius, stone. Rome.

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