Commodus received a careful education by several teachers with a focus on intellectual education. Among his teachers were Onesicrates, Antistius Capella, Titus Aius Sanctus, and Pitholaus.
At the age of fifteen Commodus was associated by his father, Marcus Aurelius, in the government. He was made the youngest consul in Roman history in 177 and later that year elevated to co-emperor with his father. Marcus died on 17 March 180, leaving the 18-year-old Commodus sole emperor.
The first years of Commodus’s reign were uneventful, but in 183 he was attacked by an assassin at the instigation of his sister Lucilla and many members of the senate, which felt deeply insulted by the contemptuous manner in which Commodus treated them. From this time he became tyrannical. Many distinguished Romans were put to death as implicated in the conspiracy, and others were executed for no reason at all.
At the same time Commodus, proud of his bodily strength and dexterity, exhibited himself in the arena, slew wild animals and fought with gladiators, and commanded that he should be worshipped as the Roman Hercules.
Plots against his life naturally began to spring up. That of his favourite Perennis, praefect of the praetorian guard, was discovered in time. The next danger was from the people, who were infuriated by the dearth of corn. The mob repelled the praetorian guard, but the execution of the hated minister Cleander quieted the tumult.
The attempt also of the daring highwayman Maternus to seize the empire was betrayed; but at last Eclectus the emperor's chamberlain, Laetus the praefect of the praetorians, and his mistress Marcia, finding their names on the list of those doomed to death, united to destroy him.
During his reign unimportant wars were successfully carried on by his generals Clodius Albinus, Pescennius Niger. The frontier of Dacia was successfully defended against the Scythians and Sarmatians, and a tract of territory reconquered in north Britain.
He made peace with the Germans and became unpopular because of constant clashes with the senate. His personal ability was unequal to the responsibilities of the empire.
On December 31, 192, his advisers had him strangled by a champion wrestler, following his announcement the day before that he would assume the consulship, dressed as a gladiator.
Commodus was succeeded by the candidate of the praetorian guard, Pertinax. The years of Commodus's reign were instrumental in bringing on the day of the "soldier-emperors" and the chaos of the third century.
Commodus lacked of concern for political matters together with his life of leisure and extreme paranoia. He relied on others to rule in his place and those around him realized that he could be easily manipulated.
Marcus Aurelius, according to most historians, was not only debauched and corrupt but also a megalomaniac, seeing himself as the reincarnation of the Greek god Hercules.
Commodus was a skilled archer, who could shoot the heads off ostriches in full gallop, and kill a panther as it attacked a victim in the arena. He also had a passion for gladiatorial combat, which he took so far as to take to the arena himself, dressed as a secutor.
Physical Characteristics: Commodus was extremely proud of his physical prowess. The historian Herodian, a contemporary, described Commodus as an extremely handsome man. He was left-handed and very proud of the fact.
Quotes from others about the person
Cassius Dio: “This man was not naturally wicked, but, on the contrary, as guileless as any man that ever lived. His great simplicity, however, together with his cowardice, missed the better life and then was led on into lustful and cruel habits, which soon became second nature.”
Commodus married Bruttia Crispina. The marriage did not produce an heir.