Friday, February 02, 2018

The Gladiator Emperor

Lucius Aurelius Commodus was unique among all Roman emperors in many ways. He was the first Roman emperor to succeed his father. He was emperor of Rome with his father for three years from 177-180 AD and then on his own for another twelve years till 192 AD.
His period is considered to be a period of peace for Rome after many years. His father spent most of his reign fighting the Germanic tribes on the north-eastern borders of the Roman empire. However, after the death of his father, Commodus ended the war and returned to Rome.
He never wanted to be an emperor. As a young man, he was indulged in wine and whores. However, his mother Faustina was so determined that he succeed his father to the throne of Rome. She pushed him to the war front to be trained by his father and then to the throne in Rome. It was all against his will. Moreover, he never believed in his ability to rule the empire. For a while he withdrew from the daily affairs of running Rome delegating most of his powers to his trusted friends.
There was so much blood on his hands. He exiled and later killed his eldest sister. She was envious of him and even had plotted to kill him--a murder plot he survived. He exiled his wife who failed to bear him a son after so many years of married life. He then lived with his concubine who also became his trusted advisor. His concubine was already married to his slave!
Though there was no war on the borders, his reign was inernal turmoil for Rome. There was a grain shortage created by his advisor Cleandor who plotted to discredit the emperor. That led to a widespread famine, and as the result of famine, a plague that claimed the lives of thousands of ordinary citizens of Rome followed. When Cleandor's plot was revealed, Commodus stabbed him to death right in the Senate, as the members watched.
Bad luck followed Commodus everywhere. After the famine and plague, fire broke out and consumed most of Rome. The fire, caused by lightning, reduced to ashes temples, administrative buildings and homes of ordinary people. People interpreted it as the wrath of gods against the reign of Commodus.
The popularity of Commodus plunged into lower levels. Riots broke out in the streets of Rome. The Senate turned out to be hostile to the emperor. Commodus had to do something to stay in power. So, devised a clever plan to regain his popularity.
He announced 14 days of games in the arena. Gladiator games were common in Rome. It was one way of turning the attention of people from their problems. But this one was more exciting. The gladiators are slaves or prisoners who were forced to risk their lives to entertain the free citizens of Rome. However, in this 14 days game, for the first time in Roman history, a free man is going to enter the arena. That is emperor Commodus himself. Though the Senate disapproved the decision of their emperor to put his life at risk, Commodus was determined. It was his last-ditch attempt to regain his popularity among the people and authority over the Senate.
So, he started training to become a gladiator under the top-most gladiator of the time. After many days of intense training, as the games were only a few days away Commodus realized one thing: He was not fit for the fight! But he is now at a point of no return. He can't back off as a coward, that will do more damage than good.
The first day of the games arrived. As his wife and the members of the Senate watched holding their breath, Commodus entered the arena. Within a few minutes, he struck his sword into the chest of the first gladiator who confronted him. The arena reverberated with the cheers of the people, 'Commodus, Commodus!' On day two too Commodus won; another famous gladiator succumbed to Commodus. Commodus' popularity soared to new heights! The Senate who underestimated his abilities hanged their heads in shame.
Then before the 14 days game was over, came the shocking revelation. Commodus was fixing the matches. He had given secret orders that every gladiator appointed to challenge him to be given a blunt sword! However, skilled a gladiator be, he cannot do anything with a sword that is just a piece of iron and nothing more.
His own trainer came to know it. So, one night before the games were over, he entered Commodus' chamber and stuck his sword into his emperor's chest. He thus took revenge for the death of his comrades who died at the hands of an emperor who tried to gain cheap popularity through deception.
Emperors worthless to rule but who love to cling on to power, surround us. In politics, in religion and all spheres of our existence they abound. They put the very lives that they are supposed to protect at risk. When emperors turn gladiators, stay cautioned. They may appear to do miracles! Their miracles ar deceitful. They will keep their swords sharp and make sure your swords are blunt. These emperors do not know how to fight against sharp swords.

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