As Caesar (175–176 or 177)
Commodus was the son of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina II. He was made Caesar on the 12th October 166, his full name being Lucius Aurelius Commodus Caesar. With the exception of some medallions depicting Commodus with his brother Annius Verus as children, the imperial coinage of Commodus began in the year 175 and the Alexandrian in 175/6. Together with his father he received the military titles Germanicus (15 October 172) and Sarmaticus (autumn 175).
As co-emperor (176 or 177–180)
The chronology of the early imperial issues of Commodus as he became co-emperor with Marcus presents a problem, probably because he acquired titles and powers piecemeal. He may have been declared Imperator already on 27 November 176. A joint triumph for the German and Sarmatian Wars was held on 23 December, 176. Whenever Commodus adopted the praenomen IMP, it does appear to have been before he became Augustus, which was certainly before the middle of the year 177. A year later he married Crispina (before August 178).
As sole emperor (180–92)
With his father’s death on 17th March 180, Commodus became sole emperor. Most important for the dating of his coins are the two changes of his imperial praenomen:
- in October 180, only a few months after his succession, he changed his name by incorporating his father’s principal names, becoming: Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus.
- before August 191, he returned to his original praenomen Lucius and added Hadrian’s gentile name Aelius, his full name becoming: Imperator Caesar Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus.
Commodus took the title Pius in 183, and Felix was added in 185. Towards the end of his reign he increasingly performed as a gladiator, and presented himself as Hercules. In 192 he adopted the formal style of Invictus Romanus Hercules, in addition to a range of other names, and he is sometimes called ‘the Roman Hercules’ on coins.
Commodus held a triumph in Rome over the Germans on 22nd October 180, which in fact marked the end of Marcus’ plans for expansion. Before long the northern frontier in Britain was breached and, according to Dio, the British War was the most serious of the reign. Commodus took the title Britannicus in 184, and there is an explicit reference to Britain on Alexandrian coins in 185/6. A ‘Third German Campaign’ was planned in 188, but nothing much came of it.
Commodus was murdered on 31st December 192. His death was not known in Egypt until 6 March 193.