Commodus

An Emperor at the Crossroads

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The emperor Commodus (AD 180-192) has commonly been portrayed as an insane madman, whose reign marked the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire. Indeed, the main point of criticism on his father, Marcus Aurelius, is that he appointed his son as his successor. Especially Commodus’ behaviour as a gladiator, and the way he represented himself with divine attributes (especially those of Hercules), are often used as evidence for the emperor’s presumed madness. However, this ‘political biography’ will apply modern interpretations of the spectacles in the arena, and of the imperial cult, to Commodus' reign. It will focus on the dissemination and reception of imperial images, and suggest that there was a method in Commodus’ madness.

Biographical Note

Olivier Hekster is professor at the Institute for Historical, Literary and Cultural Studies of the Radboud University Nijmegen.

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