Europe 192: Reign of Commodus
Commodus ended the Second Marcomannic War in 180 and, apart from facing a Caledonian invasion of Britain a few years later, his reign was relatively peaceful. However, there were frequent intrigues, encouraging Commodus to adopt an increasingly autocratic and cultish manner that grew into megalomania. In 192—not long after he renamed Rome as Commodiana—he was assassinated, bringing the Nerva–Antonine dynasty to an end.
17 Mar 180–31 Dec 192 Principate of Commodus▲
In 180 Marcus Aurelius died, leaving the 18-year-old Commodus, his son and co-emperor, as sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Although Commodus’ reign saw a marked decrease in military conflict, there were numerous intrigues and conspiracies, encouraging the emperor to adopt an increasingly dictatorial manner and promote a personality cult. In c.190 Commodus, by now identifying himself with Hercules and actively taking part in gladiatorial games, ritually refounded Rome as Commodiana and likewise renamed the legions, months, and other aspects of Roman life in his honor. Concerned by his behavior, conspirators including his mistress Marcia had him strangled in his bath by his wrestling partner Narcissus.
17 Mar–20 Oct 180 Commodus’ Marcomannic campaign▲
Following Marcus Aurelius’ death in March 180, his son Commodus abandoned his father’s plans to annex Marcomannia to the Roman Empire. In a brief campaign, he defeated the Buri—by this stage the strongest of his enemies in the Danube region—and unnamed tribes that threatened Dacia, compelling them to swear allegiance to Rome. After this victory, the Marcomanni and Quadi agreed to terms, allowing Commodus to celebrate a triumph in Rome in October.
183?–185 Commodus’ Britannic War▲
In the early 180s, in what Cassius Dio described as Commodus’ greatest barbarian war, unidentified Caledonian tribes (possibly led by the Damnonii) broke through Hadrian’s Wall and invaded Roman Britain, killing the governor in battle. Commodus sent former governor Ulpius Marcellus to deal with the invaders, who he defeated in 184–5 and probably chased them into Caledonia itself. Following Marcellus’ departure, the legions in Britain became mutinous and attempted to declare successive governors Priscus and Pertinax emperor, but were rebuffed in both cases.
? ?? 186?–25 Mar 187 War of the Deserters▲
In c.186 a soldier named Maternus deserted from the army in Gaul, persuading many others to join him. Sacking villages and later cities in Gaul and Spain—and recruiting prisoners to their cause—they eventually dispersed when an enraged Commodus ordered an army to be raised against them. Infiltrating Rome, Maternus attempted to assassinate Commodus at the spring festival of Cybele, but was betrayed, seized, and beheaded.
190?–191? Osroes II of Parthia▲
In c.190 Osroes II emerged in Ecbatana, Media, as a rival to Parthian shah Vologases IV. Known to history only from coinage, his rebellion had ended by 191, when Vologases V became shah.
192? Colonia Commodiana▲
In the early 190s Commodus, by now openly megalomaniacal and calling himself “Pacifier of the Whole Earth” and “the Roman Hercules”, ordered Rome to be renamed as Colonia Commodiana and the legions Commodian. He also had all twelve months named after him and his self-applied titles: Amazonius, Invictus, Felix, Pius, Lucius, Aelius, Aurelius, Commodus, Augustus, Herculeus, Romanus, Exsuperatorius. These changes were of course revoked upon his death.