Story of the Romans - Helene Guerber

Another Cruel Emperor

Marcus Aurelius, as you have seen, was a model of every virtue, and fully deserved the title of the greatest of Roman emperors; but his son Commodus was one of the most vicious men that ever lived. In spite of his father's example, and of the careful training he had received, Commodus had already shown cruel traits in his childhood.

When he was only thirteen years of age, a slave once failed to heat his bath properly. In a rage because of this oversight, Commodus ordered that the man should be flung into the fire. Such was the passion he displayed that the people around him did not dare to disobey him openly. But, instead of the slave, a sheepskin was thrown into the flames; and Commodus, smelling the bad odor which arose from the furnace, went away satisfied, thinking that the slave was dead.

Commodus did not improve as he grew older, so you will not be surprised to hear that he paid no heed to his father's dying requests. Instead of listening to the senators' advice, he drove away from court all his father's friends, and surrounded himself with a number of flatterers. They applauded everything he did, and told him morning, noon, and night that he was the handsomest, wittiest, and wisest man that had ever been seen. At the end of three years they had managed to turn his head completely, and to help him undo much of the good his father had done.

Of course so cruel and bad a man as Commodus had many enemies, and could not expect to live long. Once, as he was coming from the games, a man sprang upon him with dagger raised, and cried: "The senate sends you this."

By a quick movement, Commodus dodged the blow, and the would-be murderer was seized by the guards. The man was then tortured to make him reveal the names of his accomplices; and among them was the emperor's own sister.

This attempt made Commodus both angry and suspicious. All those suspected of having taken part in the conspiracy were either exiled or slain, and it is said that the emperor never trusted any one again, and became a perfect monster of cruelty and vice.

Commodus was passionately fond of all kinds of gladiatorial shows, in which he liked to take part himself, as he was very vain. But he was as cowardly as vain; so he always used the best of weapons, while his opponents were armed with leaden swords which could do him no harm.

The emperor also delighted in fighting against wild beasts, from a very safe place, where they could not possibly come to him. When he had killed them all, he boastfully called himself the Roman Hercules, and insisted that his people should worship him.

Another pastime, of which Commodus is said to have been very fond, was playing barber to his servants. But, as he would accidentally cut off their ears, lips, or noses, his slaves were not eager for the honor of being thus served by their master.

Although the barbarians grew ever bolder, and finally made open war on the legions, Commodus did not go forth to fight them. Instead, he sent his generals to the front, while he remained in Rome, where he thought of nothing but his pleasures, and of killing as many people as possible.

Like Domitian, he had a tablet on which he daily wrote the names of his next victims. This tablet once fell into the hands of his wife, Marcia, who discovered her own name among those of several senators and officers who were to be slain.

Marcia showed the list to two of these proposed victims, and they resolved to murder the wicked emperor in order to save their own lives. They therefore began by poisoning his food; and, when they saw that the drug did not act quickly enough, they hired a slave to murder him.

Commodus was not quite thirty-two when he thus died, and his reign had lasted only twelve years. Instead of mourning for him as they had for his good father, all his subjects openly rejoiced; and throughout the empire people sighed with relief when they knew that he was dead.


Front Matter

The First Settlers
Escape from the Burning City
The Clever Trick
The Boards Are Eaten
The Wolf and the Twins
Romulus Builds Rome
The Maidens Carried Off
Union of Sabines and Romans
Death of Romulus
Strange Signs of the Romans
The Quarrel with Alba
The Horatii and Curiatii
Tarquin and the Eagle
The Roman Youths
The King Outwitted
The Murder of Tarquin
The Ungrateful Children
The Mysterious Books
Tarquin's Poppies
The Oracle of Delphi
The Death of Lucretia
The Stern Father
A Roman Triumph
A Roman Triumph (Cont.)
Defense of the Bridge
The Burnt Hand
The Twin Gods
The Wrongs of the Poor
Fable of the Stomach
The Story of Coriolanus
The Farmer Hero
The New Laws
Death of Virginia
Plans of a Traitor
A School-Teacher Punished
Invasion of the Gauls
The Sacred Geese
Two Heroes of Rome
Disaster at Caudine Forks
Pyrrhus and His Elephants
The Elephants Routed
Ancient Ships
Regulus and the Snake
Hannibal Crosses the Alps
The Romans Defeated
The Inventor Archimedes
The Roman Conquests
Destruction of Carthage
Roman Amusements
The Jewels of Cornelia
Death of Tiberius Gracchus
Caius Gracchus
Jugurtha, King of Numidia
The Barbarians
The Social War
The Flight of Marius
The Proscription Lists
Sertorius and His Doe
Revolt of the Slaves
Pompey's Conquests
Conspiracy of Catiline
Caesar's Conquests
Crossing of the Rubicon
Battle of Pharsalia
The Death of Caesar
The Second Triumvirate
The Vision of Brutus
Antony and Cleopatra
The Poisonous Snake
The Augustan Age
Death of Augustus
Varus Avenged
Death of Germanicus
Tiberius Smothered
The Wild Caligula
Wicked Wives of Claudius
Nero's First Crimes
Christians Persecuted
Nero's Cruelty
Two Short Reigns
The Siege of Jerusalem
The Buried Cities
The Terrible Banquet
The Emperor's Tablets
The Good Trajan
Trajan's Column
The Great Wall
Hadrian's Death
Antoninus Pius
The Model Pagan
Another Cruel Emperor
An Unnatural Son
The Senate of Women
The Gigantic Emperor
Invasion of the Goths
Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra
A Prophecy Fulfulled
First Christian Emperor
Roman Empire Divided
An Emperor's Penance
Sieges of Rome
End of the Western Empire