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Avidius Cassius

This webpage reproduces part of the
Historia Augusta

published in the Loeb Classical Library,
1921

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!


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Pertinax

(Vol. I) Historia Augusta

p265 The Life of Commodus

1 1   [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] The ancestry of Commodus Antoninus has been sufficiently discussed in the life of Marcus Antoninus.1 2 As for Commodus himself, he was born, with his twin brother Antoninus, at Lanuvium — where his mother's father was born, it is said2 — on the day before the Kalends of September, while his father and uncle were consuls. 3 Faustina, when pregnant with Commodus and his brother, dreamed that she gave birth to serpents, one of which, however, was fiercer than the other. 4 But after she had given birth to Commodus and Antoninus, the latter, for whom the astrologers had cast a horoscope as favourable as that of Commodus, lived to be only four years old. 5 After the death of Antoninus, Marcus tried to educate Commodus by his own teaching and by that of the greatest and the best of men. 6 In Greek literature he had Onesicrates as his teacher, in Latin, Antistius Capella; his instructor in rhetoric was Ateius Sanctus.

7 However, teachers in all these studies profited him not in the least — such is the power, either of natural character, or of the tutors maintained in a palace. For even from his earliest years he was base and dishonourable, and cruel and lewd, defiled of mouth, moreover, p267and debauched.3 8 Even then he was an adept in certain arts which are not becoming in an emperor, for he could mould goblets and dance and sing and whistle, and he could play the buffoon and the gladiator to perfection. 9 In the twelfth year of his life, at Centumcellae,4 he gave a forecast of his cruelty. For when it happened that his bath was drawn too cool, he ordered the bathkeeper to be cast into the furnace; whereupon the slave who had been ordered to do this burned a sheep-skin in the furnace, in order to make him believe by the stench of the vapour that the punishment had been carried out.

10 While yet a child he was given the name of Caesar,5 along with his brother Verus,6 and in his fourteenth year he was enrolled in the college of priests.7 2Legamen ad paginam Latinam When he assumed the toga,8 he was elected one of the leaders of the equestrian youths,9 the trossuli, and even while still clad in the youth's praetexta he gave largess10 and presided in the Hall of Trajan.11 2 He assumed the toga on the Nones of July — the day on which Romulus vanished from the earth — at the time when Cassius revolted from Marcus. 3 After he had been commended to the favour of the soldiers he set out with his father for Syria12 and Egypt, and with him he returned to Rome.13 4 Afterward he was p269granted exemption from the law of the appointed year and made consul,14 and on the fifth day before the Kalends of December, in the consulship of Pollio and Aper, he was acclaimed Imperator together with his father,15 and celebrated a triumph with him.16 5 For this, too, the senate had decreed. Then he set out with his father for the German war.17

6 The more honourable of those appointed to supervise his life he could not endure, but the most evil he retained, and, if any were dismissed, he yearned for them even to the point of falling sick. 7 When they were reinstated through his father's indulgence, he always maintained eating-houses and low resorts for them in the imperial palace. He never showed regard for either decency or expense. 8 He diced in his own home. He herded together women of unusual beauty, keeping them like purchased prostitutes in a sort of brothel for the violation of their chastity. He imitated the hucksters that strolled about from market to market. 9 He procured chariot-horses for his own use. He drove chariots in the garb of a professional charioteer,18 lived with gladiators, and conducted himself like a procurer's servant. Indeed, one would have believed him born rather to a life of infamy than to the high place to which Fortune advanced him.

3 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam His father's older attendants he dismissed,19 and any friends20 that were advanced in years he cast aside. p2712 The son of Salvius Julianus, the commander of the troops,21 he tried to lead into debauchery, but in vain, and he thereupon plotted against Julianus.22 3 He degraded the most honourable either by insulting them directly or giving them offices far below their deserts. 4 He was alluded to by actors as a man of depraved life, and he thereupon banished them so promptly that they did not again appear on the stage. 5 He abandoned the war which his father had almost finished and submitted to the enemy's terms,23 and then he returned to Rome.24 6 After he had come back to Rome he led the triumphal procession25 with Saoterus, his partner in depravity,a seated in his chariot, and from time to time he would turn around and kiss him openly, repeating this same performance even in the orchestra. 7 And not only was he wont to drink until dawn and squander the resources of the Roman Empire, but in the evening he would ramble through taverns and brothels.26 8 He sent out to rule the provinces men who were either his companions in crime or were recommended to him by criminals. 9 He became so detested by the senate that he in his turn was moved with cruel passion for the destruction of that great order,27 and from having been despised he became bloodthirsty.

4 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam Finally the actions of Commodus drove Quadratus and Lucilla,28 with the support of Tarrutenius p273Paternus, the prefect of the guard,29 to form a plan for his assassination. 2 The task of slaying him was assigned to Claudius Pompeianus, a kinsman.30 3 But he, as soon as he had an opportunity to fulfil his mission, strode up to Commodus with a drawn sword, and, bursting out with these words, "This dagger the senate sends thee," betrayed the plot like a fool, and failed to accomplish the design, in which many others along with himself were implicated. 4 After this fiasco, first Pompeianus and Quadratus were executed, and then Norbana and Norbanus and Paralius; and the latter's mother and Lucilla were driven into exile.31

5 Thereupon the prefects of the guard, perceiving that the aversion in which Commodus was held was all on account of Saoterus, whose power the Roman people could not endure, courteously escorted this man away from the Palace under pretext of a sacrifice, and then, as he was returning to his villa, had him assassinated by their private agents.32 6 But this deed enraged Commodus more than the plot against himself. 7 Paternus, the instigator of this murder, who was believed to have been an accomplice in the plot to assassinate Commodus and had certainly sought to prevent any far-reaching punishment of that conspiracy, was now, at the instigation of Tigidius,33 dismissed from the command of the praetorian guard by the expedient of conferring on him the honour of the broad stripe.34 8 And a few days thereafter, Commodus accused him of plotting, saying that the daughter of Paternus had been betrothed to the son of Julianus35 with the understanding p275that Julianus would be raised to the throne. On this pretext he executed Paternus and Julianus, and also Vitruvius Secundus, a very dear friend of Paternus, who had charge of the imperial correspondence. 9 Besides this, he exterminated the whole house of the Quintilii,36 because Sextus, the son of Condianus,37 by pretending death, it was said, had made his escape in order to raise a revolt. 10 Vitrasia Faustina, Velius Rufus,38 and Egnatius Capito, a man of consular rank, were all slain. 11 Aemilius Iuncus and Atilius Severus, the consuls,39 were driven into exile. And against many others he vented his rage in various ways.

5 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam After this Commodus never appeared in public readily, and would never receive messages unless they had previously passed through the hands of Perennis.40 2 For Perennis, being well acquainted with Commodus' character, discovered the way to make himself powerful, 3 namely, by persuading Commodus to devote himself to pleasure while he, Perennis, assumed all the burdens of the government — an arrangement which Commodus joyfully accepted. 4 Under this agreement, then, Commodus lived, rioting in the Palace amid banquets and in baths along with 300 concubines, gathered together for their beauty and chosen from both matrons and harlots, and with minions, also 300 in number, whom he had collected by force and by purchase indiscriminately from the common people and the nobles p277solely on the basis of bodily beauty. 5 Meanwhile, dressed in the garb of an attendant at the sacrifice, he slaughtered the sacrificial victims. He fought in the arena with foils, but sometimes, with his chamberlains acting as gladiators, with sharpened swords. By this time Perennis had secured all the power for himself. 6 He slew whomsoever he wished to slay, plundered a great number, violated every law, and put all the booty into his own pocket.41 7 Commodus, for his part, killed his sister Lucilla, after banishing her to Capri. 8 After debauching his other sisters, as it is said, he formed an amour with a cousin of his father,42 and even gave the name of his mother to one of his concubines. 9 His wife,43 whom he caught in adultery, he drove from his house, then banished her, and later put her to death. 10 By his orders his concubines were debauched before his own eyes, 11 and he was not free from the disgrace of intimacy with young men, defiling every part of his body in dealings with persons of either sex.

12 At this time Claudius also, whose son had previously come into Commodus' presence with a dagger, was slain,44 ostensibly by bandits, and many other senators were put to death, and also certain women of wealth. 13 And not a few provincials, for the sake of their riches, were charged with crimes by Perennis and then plundered or even slain; 14 some, against whom there was not even the imputation of a fictitious crime, were accused of having been unwilling to name Commodus as their heir.

p279 6 1   Legamen ad paginam Latinam About this time the victories in Sarmatia won by other generals were attributed by Perennis to his own son.45 2 Yet in spite of his great power, suddenly, because in the war in Britain46 he had dismissed certain senators and had put men of the equestrian order in command of the soldiers,47 this same Perennis was declared an enemy to the state, when the matter was reported by the legates in command of the army, and was thereupon delivered up to the soldiers to be torn to pieces.48 3 In his place of power Commodus put Cleander,49 one of his chamberlains.

4 After Perennis and his son were executed, Commodus rescinded a number of measures on the ground that they had been carried out without his authority, pretending that he was merely re-establishing previous conditions. 5 However, he could not maintain this penitence for his misdeeds longer than thirty days, and he actually committed more atrocious crimes through Cleander than he had done through the aforesaid Perennis. 6 Although Perennis was succeeded in general influence by Cleander, his successor in the prefecture was Niger, who held this position as prefect of the guard, it is said, for just six hours. 7 In fact, prefects of the guard were changed hourly and p281daily, Commodus meanwhile committing all kinds of evil deeds, worse even than he had committed before. 8 Marcius Quartus was prefect of the guard for five days. Thereafter, the successors of these men were either retained in office or executed, according to the whim of Cleander. 9 At his nod even freedmen were enrolled in the senate and among the patricians, and now for the first time there were twenty-five consuls in a single year. Appointments to the provinces were uniformly sold; 10 in fact, Cleander sold everything for money.50 He loaded with honours men who were recalled from exile; he rescinded decisions of the courts. 11 Indeed, because of Commodus' utter degeneracy, his power was so great that he brought Burrus,51 the husband of Commodus' sister, who was denouncing and reporting to Commodus all that was being done, under the suspicion of pretending to the throne, and had him put to death; and at the same time he slew many others who defended Burrus. 12 Among these Aebutianus was slain, the prefect of the guard; in his place Cleander himself was made prefect, together with two others whom he himself chose. 13 Then for the first time were there three prefects of the guard, among whom was a freedman, called the "Bearer of the Dagger".52

7 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam However, a full worthy death was at last meted out to Cleander also. For when, through his intrigues, Arrius Antoninus53 was put to death on false charges as a favour to Attalus, whom Arrius had condemned p283during his proconsulship in Asia, Commodus could not endure the hatred of the enraged people and gave Cleander over to the populace for punishment.54 2 At the same time Apolaustus55 and several other freedmen of the court were put to death. Among other outrages Cleander had debauched certain of Commodus' concubines,56 and from them had begotten sons, 3 who, together with their mothers, were put to death after his downfall.

4 As successors to Cleander Commodus appointed Julianus and Regillus, both of whom he afterwards condemned.57 5 After these men had been put to death he slew the two Silani, Servilius58 and Dulius, together with their kin, then Antius Lupus59 and the two Petronii, Mamertinus and Sura,60 and also Mamertinus' son Antoninus, whose mother was his own sister;61 6 after these, six former consuls at one time, Allius Fuscus, Caelius Felix, Lucceius Torquatus, Larcius Eurupianus, Valerius Bassianus and Pactumeius Magnus,62 all with their kin; 7 in Asia Sulpicius Crassus, the proconsul, Julius Proculus, together with their kin, and Claudius Lucanus, a man of consular rank; and in Achaia his father's cousin, Annia Faustina,63 and innumerable others. 8 He had intended to kill fourteen others also, since the revenues of the Roman empire were insufficient to meet his expenditures.

p285 8 1   Legamen ad paginam Latinam Meanwhile, because he had appointed to the consulship a former lover of his mother's,64 the senate mockingly gave Commodus the name Pius;65 and after he had executed Perennis, he was given the name Felix,66 as though, amid the multitudinous executions of many citizens, he were a second Sulla. 2 And this same Commodus, who was called Pius, and who was called Felix, is said to have feigned a plot against his own life, in order that he might have an excuse for putting many to death. 3 Yet as a matter of fact, there were no rebellions save that of Alexander,67 who soon killed himself and his near of kin, and that of Commodus' sister Lucilla.68 4 He was called Britannicus by those who desired to flatter him, whereas the Britons even wished to set up an emperor against him.69 5 He was called also the Roman Hercules,70 on the ground that he had killed wild beasts in the amphitheatre at Lanuvium; and, indeed, it was his custom to kill wild beasts on his own estate. 6 He had, besides, an insane desire that the city of Rome should be renamed Colonia Commodiana.71 This mad idea, it is said, was inspired in p287him while listening to the blandishments of Marcia.72 7 He had also a desire to drive chariots in the Circus, 8 and he went out in public clad in the Dalmatian tunic73 and thus clothed gave the signal for the charioteers to start. 9 And in truth, on the occasion when he laid before the senate his proposal to call Rome Commodiana, not only did the senate gleefully pass this resolution, but also took the name "Commodian" to itself, at the same time giving Commodus the name Hercules, and calling him a god.

9 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam He pretended once that he was going to Africa, so that he could get funds for the journey, then got them and spent them on banquets and gaming instead. 2 He murdered Motilenus, the prefect of the guard, by means of poisoned figs. He allowed statues of himself to be erected with the accoutrements of Hercules;74 and sacrifices were performed to him as to a god. 3 He had planned to execute many more men besides, but his plan was betrayed by a certain young servant, who threw out of his bedroom a tablet on which were written the names of those who were to be killed.

4 He practised the worship of Isis and even went so far as to shave his head and carry a statue of Anubis.75 5 In his passion for cruelty he actually ordered the votaries of Bellona to cut off one of their arms,76 6 and as for the devotees of Isis, he forced them to beat p289their breasts with pine-cones even to the point of death. While he was carrying about the statue of Anubis, he used to smite the heads of the devotees of Isis with the face of the statue. He struck with his club, while clad in a woman's garment or a lion's skin,77 not lions only, but many men as well. Certain men who were lame in their feet and others who could not walk, he dressed up as giants, encasing their legs from the knee down in wrappings and bandages to make them look like serpents,78 and then despatched them with his arrows. He desecrated the rites of Mithra79 with actual murder, although it was customary in them merely to say or pretend something that would produce an impression of terror.

10 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam Even as a child he was gluttonous and lewd.80 While a youth, he disgraced every class of men in his company and was disgraced in turn by them. 2 Whosoever ridiculed him he cast to the wild beasts. And one man, who had merely read the book by Tranquillus81 containing the life of Caligula, he ordered cast to the wild beasts, because Caligula and he had the same birthday.82 3 And if any one, indeed, expressed a desire to die, he had him hurried to death, however really reluctant.

In his humorous moments, too, he was destructive. 4 For example, he put a starling on the head of one p291man who, as he noticed, had a few white hairs, resembling worms, among the black, and caused his head to fester through the continual pecking of the bird's beak — the bird, of course, imagining that it was pursuing worms. 5 One corpulent person he cut open down the middle of his belly, so that his intestines gushed forth. 6 Other men he dubbed one-eyed or one-footed, after he himself had plucked out one of their eyes or cut off one of their feet. 7 In addition to all this, he murdered many others in many places, some because they came of his presence in the costume of barbarians, others because they were noble and handsome. 8 He kept among his minions certain men named after the private parts of both sexes, and on these he liked to bestow kisses. 9 He also had in his company a man with a male member larger than that of most animals, whom he called Onos.83 This man he treated with great affection, and even made him rich and appointed him to the priesthood of the Rural Hercules.84 11Legamen ad paginam Latinam It is claimed that he often mixed human excrement with the most expensive foods, and he did not refrain from tasting them, mocking the rest of the company, as he thought. 2 He displayed two misshapen hunchbacks on a silver platter after smearing them with mustard, and then straightway advanced and enriched them. 3 He pushed into a swimming-pool his praetor prefect Julianus,85 although he was clad in his toga and accompanied by his staff; and he even ordered this same Julianus to dance naked before his concubines, clashing cymbals and making grimaces. 4 The various kinds of cooked vegetables he rarely admitted to his banquets, his purpose being to preserve unbroken the succession of dainties. 5 He used to bathe seven and p293eight times a day, and was in the habit of eating while in the baths. 6 He would enter the temples of the gods defiled with adulteries and human blood. 7 He even aped a surgeon, going so far as to bleed men to death with scalpels.86

8 Certain months were renamed in his honour by his flatterers; for August they substituted Commodus, for September Hercules, for October Invictus, for November Exsuperatorius, and for December Amazonius, after his own surname.87 9 He had been called Amazonius, moreover, because of his passion for his concubine Marcia,88 whom he loved to have portrayed as an Amazon, and for whose sake he even wished to enter the arena of Rome dressed as an Amazon.

10 He engaged in gladiatorial combats,89 and accepted the names usually given to gladiators90 with as much pleasure as if he had been granted triumphal decorations. 11 He regularly took part in the spectacles, and as often as he did so, ordered the fact to be inscribed in the public records.91 12 It is said that he engaged in gladiatorial bouts seven hundred and thirty-five times.92

13 He received the name of Caesar on the fourth day before the Ides of the month usually called October, which he later named Hercules,93 in the consulship of Pudens and Pollio.94 14 He was called Germanicus95 on the Ides of "Hercules" in the consulship of Maximus p295and Orfitus. 12Legamen ad paginam Latinam He was received into all the sacred colleges as a priest on the thirteenth day before the Kalends of "Invictus," in the consulship of Piso and Julianus. 2 He set out for Germany on the fourteenth day before the Kalends of the month which he later named Aelius, 3 and assumed the toga in the same year. 4 Together with his father he was acclaimed Imperator on the fifth day before the Kalends of "Exsuperatorius," in the year when Pollio and Aper served their second consulships, 5 and he celebrated a triumph on the tenth day before the Kalends of January in this same year. 6 He set out on his second expedition on the third day before the Nones of "Commodus" in the consulship of Orfitus and Rufus. 7 He was officially presented by the army and the senate to be maintained in perpetuity in the Palatine mansion,96 henceforth called Commodiana,97 on the eleventh day before the Kalends of "Romanus," in the year that Praesens was consul for the second time. 8 When he laid plans for a third expedition, he was persuaded by the senate and people to give it up. 9 Vows98 were assumed in his behalf on the Nones of "Pius," when Fuscianus was consul for the second time. 10 Besides these facts, it is related in records that he fought 365 gladiatorial combats in his father's reign. 11 Afterwards, by vanquishing or slaying retiarii,99 he won enough gladiatorial crowns to bring the number up to a thousand.100 12 He also killed with his own hand thousands of wild beasts of all kinds, even elephants. And he frequently did these things before the eyes of the Roman people.101

13 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam But, though vigorous enough for such exploits, he was otherwise weak and diseased; indeed, p297he had such a conspicuous growth on his groin that the people of Rome could see the swelling through his silken robes. 2 Many verses were written alluding to this deformity; and Marius Maximus prides himself on preserving these in his biography of Commodus. 3 Such was his prowess in the slaying of wild beasts, that he once transfixed an elephant with a pole, pierced a gazelle's horn with a spear, and on a thousand occasions dispatched a mighty beast with a single blow. 4 Such was his complete indifference to propriety, that time and again he sat in the theatre or amphitheatre dressed in a woman's garments and drank quite publicly.

5 The Moors102 and the Dacians103 were conquered during his reign, and peace was established in the Pannonias,104 but all by his legates, since such was the manner of his life. The provincials in Britain,105 Dacia, and Germany106 attempted to cast off his yoke, 6 but all these attempts were put down by his generals. 7 Commodus himself was so lazy and careless in signing documents that he answered many petitions with the same formula, while in very many letters he merely wrote the word "Farewell". 8 All official business was carried on by others, who, it is said, even used condemnations to swell their purses. 14Legamen ad paginam Latinam And because he was so careless, moreover, a great famine arose in p299Rome, not because there was any real shortage of crops, but merely because those who then ruled the state were plundering the food supply.107 2 As for those who plundered on every hand, Commodus afterwards put them to death and confiscated their property; 3 but for the time he pretended that a golden age had come,108 "Commodian" by name, and ordered a general reduction of prices, the result of which was an even greater scarcity.

4 In his reign many a man secured punishment for another or immunity for himself by bribery. 5 Indeed, in return for money Commodus would grant a change of punishment, the right of burial, the alleviation of wrongs, and the substitution of another for one condemned to be put to death. 6 He sold provinces and administrative posts, part of the proceeds accruing to those through whom he made the sale and part to Commodus himself. 7 To some he sold even the lives of their enemies. Under him the imperial freedmen sold even the results of law-suits. 8 He did not long put up with Paternus and Perennis as prefects;109 indeed, not one of the prefects whom he himself had appointed remained in office as long as three years.110 Most of them he killed, some with poison, some with the sword. 15Legamen ad paginam Latinam Prefects of the city he changed with equal readiness. He executed his chamberlains with no compunctions whatever, even though all that he had done had been at their bidding. 2 One of these chamberlains, however, Eclectus by name,111 forestalled him when he saw how ready Commodus was to put the chamberlains to death, and took part in a conspiracy to kill him.112

3 At gladiatorial shows he would come to watch and stay to fight, covering his bare shoulders with a purple p301cloth. 4 And it was his custom, moreover, to order the insertion in the city-gazette113 of everything he did that was base or foul or cruel, or typical of a gladiator114 or a procurer — at least, the writings of Marius Maximus so testify. 5 He entitled the Roman people the "People of Commodus,"115 since he had very often fought as a gladiator in their presence.116 6 And although the people regularly applauded him in his frequent combats as though he were a god, he became convinced that he was being laughed at, and gave orders that the Roman people should be slain in the Amphitheatre by the marines who spread the awnings. 7 He gave an order, also, for the burning of the city,117 as though it were his private colony, and this order would have been executed had not Laetus,118 the prefect of the guard, deterred him. 8 Among other triumphal titles, he was also given the name "Captain of the Secutores"119 six hundred and twenty times.

16 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam The prodigies that occurred in his reign, both those which concerned the state and those which affected Commodus personally, were as follows. A comet appeared. 2 Footprints of the gods were seen in the Forum departing from it. Before the war of the deserters120 the heavens were ablaze. On the Kalends p303of January a swift coming mist and darkness arose in the Circus; and before dawn there had already been fire-birds121 and ill-boding portents. 3 Commodus himself moved his residence from the Palace to the Vectilian Villa122 on the Caelian hill, saying that he could not sleep in the Palace. 4 The twin gates of the temple of Janus123 opened of their own accord, and a marble image of Anubis124 was seen to move. 5 In the Minucian Portico125 a bronze statue of Hercules sweated for several days. An owl, moreover, was caught above his bed-chamber both at Lanuvium and at Rome. 6 He was himself responsible for no inconsiderable an omen relating to himself; for after he had plunged his hand into the wound of a slain gladiator he wiped it on his own head, and again, contrary to custom, he ordered the spectators to attend his gladiatorial shows clad not in togas but in cloaks, a practice usual at funerals,126 while he himself presided in the vestments of a mourner. 7 Twice, moreover, his helmet was borne through the Gate of Libitina.127

8 He gave largess to the people, 725 denarii to each man.128 Toward all others he was close-fisted to a degree, since the expense of his luxurious living had drained the treasury. 9 He held many races in the Circus,129 but rather as the result of a whim than as p305an act of religion, and also in order to enrich the leaders of the factions.130

17 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam Because of these things — but all too late — Quintus Aemilius Laetus, prefect of the guard, and Marcia, his concubine, were roused to action and entered into a conspiracy against his life. 2 First they gave him poison; and when this proved ineffective they had him strangled by the athlete with whom he was accustomed to exercise.131

3 Physically he was very well proportioned. His expression was dull, as is usual in drunkards, and his speech uncultivated. His hair was always dyed and made lustrous by the use of gold dust, and he used to singe his hair and beard because he was afraid of barbers.

4 The people and senate demanded that his body be dragged with the hook and cast into the Tiber;132 later, however, at the bidding of Pertinax, it was borne to the Mausoleum of Hadrian.133

5 No public works of his are in existence, except the bath which Cleander built in his name.134 6 But he inscribed his name on the works of others; this the senate erased.135 7 Indeed, he did not even finish the public works of his father. He did organize an African fleet, which would have been useful, in case the grain-supply from Alexandria were delayed.136 8 He jestingly named Carthage Alexandria Commodiana Togata, after entitling the African fleet Commodiana Herculea.137 9 He made certain additions p307to the Colossus by way of ornamentation, all of which were later taken off, 10 and he also removed its head, which was a likeness of Nero, and replaced it by a likeness of himself, writing on the pedestal an inscription in his usual style, not omitting the titles Gladiatorius and Effeminatus.138 11 And yet Severus, a stern emperor and a man whose character was well in keeping with his name, moved by hatred for the senate — or so it seems — exalted this creature to a place among the gods139 and granted him also a flamen, the "Herculaneus Commodianus," whom Commodus while still alive had planned to have for himself.

12 Three sisters140 survived him. Severus instituted the observance of his birthday.

18 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam Loud were the acclamations of the senate after the death of Commodus. 2 And that the senate's opinion of him may be known, I have quoted from Marius Maximus the acclamations themselves,141 and the content of the senate's decree:

3 "From him who was a foe of his fatherland let his honours be taken away; let the honours of the murderer be taken away; let the murderer be dragged in the dust. The foe of his fatherland, the murderer, the gladiator, in the charnel-house let him be mangled. 4 He is foe to the gods, slayer of the senate, foe to the gods, murderer of the senate, foe of the gods, foe of the gods, foe of the senate. 5 Cast the gladiator into the charnel-house. He who slew the senate, let him be dragged with the hook; he who slew the guiltless, let p309him be dragged with the hook — a foe, a murderer, verily, verily. 6 He who spared not his own blood, let him be dragged with the hook; 7 he who would have slain you,142 let him be dragged with the hook. You were in terror along with us, you were endangered along with us. That we may be safe, O Jupiter Best and Greatest, save for us Pertinax.143 8 Long life to the guardian care of the praetorians! Long life to the praetorian cohorts! Long life to the armies of Rome! Long life to the loyalty of the senate!

9 Let the murderer beº dragged in the dust. 10 We beseech you, O Sire, let the murderer be dragged in the dust. This we beseech you, let the murderer be dragged in the dust. Hearken, Caesar: to the lions with the informers! Hearken Caesar: to the lions with Speratus!144 11 Long life to the victory of the Roman people! Long life to the soldiers' guardian care! Long life to the guardian care of the praetorians! Long life to the praetorian cohorts!

12 On all sides are statues of the foe, on all side are statues of the murderer, on all sides are statues of the gladiator. The statues of the murderer and gladiator, let them be cast down. 13 The slayer of citizens, let him be dragged in the dust. The murderer of citizens, let him be dragged in the dust. Let the statues of the gladiator be overthrown. 14 While you are safe, we too are safe and untroubled, verily, verily, if in very truth, then with honour, if in very truth, then with freedom.

15 Now at last we are secure; let informers tremble. That we may be secure, let the informers tremble. That we may be safe, cast informers out of the senate, the club for informers! While you are safe, to the lions with informers! 16 While you are ruler, the club for informers!

p311 19 1   Legamen ad paginam Latinam Let the memory of the murderer and the gladiator be utterly wiped away. Let the statues of the murderer and the gladiator be overthrown. Let the memory of the foul gladiator be utterly wiped away. Cast the gladiator into the charnel-house. 2 Hearken, Caesar: let the slayer be dragged with the hook. In the manner of our fathers let the slayer of the senate be dragged with the hook. More savage than Domitian, more foul than Nero. As he did unto others, let it be done unto him. Let the remembrance of the guiltless be preserved. Restore the honours of the guiltless, we beseech you. Let the body of the murderer be dragged with the hook, 3 let the body of the gladiator be dragged with the hook, let the body of the gladiator be cast into the charnel-house. Call for our vote, call for our vote: with one accord we reply, let him be dragged with the hook. 4 He who slew all men, let him be dragged with the hook. He who slew young and old, let him be dragged with the hook. He who slew man and woman, let him be dragged with the hook. He who spared not his own blood, let him be dragged with the hook. 5 He who plundered temples, let him be dragged with the hook. He who set aside the testaments of the dead, let him be dragged with the hook. He who plundered the living, let him be dragged with the hook. We have been slaves to slaves. 6 He who demanded a price for the life of a man, let him be dragged with the hook. He who demanded a price for a life and kept not his promise, let him be dragged with the hook. He who sold the senate, let him be dragged with the hook. He who took from sons their patrimony, let him be dragged with the hook.

7 Spies and informers, cast them out of the senate. p313Suborners of slaves, cast them out of the senate. You, too, were in terror along with us; you know all, you know both the good and the evil. 8 You know all that we were forced to purchase; all we have feared for your sake. Happy are we, now that you are the emperor in truth. Put it to the vote concerning the murderer, put it to the vote, put the question. We ask your presence. 9 The guiltless are yet unburied; let the body of the murderer be dragged in the dust. The murderer dug up the buried; let the body of the murderer be dragged in the dust."

20 1 Legamen ad paginam Latinam The body of Commodus was buried during the night, after Livius Laurensis,145 the steward of the imperial estate,146 had surrendered it at the bidding of Pertinax147 to Fabius Cilo,148 the consul elect. 2 At this the senate cried out: 3 "With whose authority have they buried him? The buried murderer, let him be dug up, let him be dragged in the dust." Cincius Severus149 said: "Wrongfully has he been buried. And I speak as pontifex, so speaks the college of the pontifices. 4 And now, having recounted what is joyful, I shall proceed to what is needful: I give it as my opinion that the statues should be overthrown which this man, who lived but for the destruction of his fellow-citizens and for his own shame, forced us to decree in his honour; 5 wherever they are, they should be cast down. His name, moreover, should be erased from all public and private records,150 and the months151 should be once more called by the names whereby they were called when this scourge first fell upon the state."


The Editor's Notes:

1 Marc. i.1‑4.

2 Cf. Pius i.8.

3 Dio, on the other hand, describes him as not naturally vicious, but weak and easily influenced; see LXXII.1.1.

4 On the coast of Etruria, near the southern end; it is the modern Cività Vecchia.

5 Cf. c. xi.13; Marc. xii.8 and note.

6 M. Annius Verus, who died in 169; see Marc. xxi.3.

7 Cf. c. xii.1; Marc. xvi.1 and note. His election to the college of pontifices is commemorated on a coin; see Cohen III2 p311, no. 599.

8 Cf. c. xii.3; Marc. xxii.12 and note.

9 See note to Marc. vi.3. The title princeps iuventutis appears on his coins of this period (Cohen III2 p311 f., nos. 601‑618), and in an inscription from Africa (CIL VIII.11928). Trossuli was an old name given to the Roman (p267)cavalry. It was supposed to have been derived from Trossulum, a town captured by the cavalry, but even in the second century B.C., its meaning was no longer understood; see Pliny, Nat. Hist. XXXIII.2.35 f.º

10 Commemorated on coins; see Cohen III2 p266 f., nos. 291‑294.

11 See note to Hadr. vii.6.

12 In July, 175. See Marc. xxv.1.

13 See Marc. xxvii.3. Commodus' return to Rome was celebrated by an issue of coins with the legend Adventus Caes(aris); see Cohen III2 p228, nos. 1‑2.

14 Cf. Marc. xxii.12 and note.

15 On the occasion of Marcus' triumph; see c. xii.4; Marc. xvi.2 and note.

16 See c. xii.5 and note to Marc. xvii.3.

17 See c. xii.6 and Marc. xxvii.9.

18 But not in public, except on moonless nights; see Dio, LXXII.17.1.

19 e.g. Tarrutenius Paternus, now prefect of the guard (see c. iv.1), and C. Aufidius Victorinus, governor of Germania Superior under Marcus. He retained his father's friends for a "few years" (Herodian, I.8.1), i.e. until about 183.

20 See note to Hel. xi.2.

21 P. Salvius Julianus, consul in 175. He was apparently in command of troops on the Rhine.

22 See c. iv.8.

23 According to Herodian (I.6) he gave up the war against the advice of Marcus' friends and advisers, especially his own brother-in‑law, Pompeianus. He did, however, force the Quadi, Marcomanni, and Buri to accept terms of peace which were not discreditable to Rome (Dio, LXXII.2‑3) and was acclaimed Imperator for the fourth time.

24 For the official expression of reception see c. xii.7. His return is commemorated by coins of 180 with the legends Adventus Aug(usti) and Fort(una) Re(dux); see Cohen III2 p228, no. 3, and p248, no. 165.

25 Called in an inscription triumphus felicissimus Germanicus secundus; see CIL XIV.2922 = Dessau, Ins. Sel. 1420.

26 Cf. Ver. iv.6.

27 Especially after the conspiracy of Quadratus and Lucilla, according to Herodian,  I.8.7.

28 On this conspiracy, formed probably toward the end of 182, see Dio, LXXII.4.4‑5, and Herodian, I.8.3‑6. Quadratus was probably the grandson of Marcus' sister; see Marc. vii.4. Lucilla was Commodus' elder sister, the wife of Lucius Verus, and after his death, of Claudius Pompeianus; see Marc. xx.6.

29 According to Dio, LXXII.5.2, Paternus had no share in the conspiracy.

30 Apparently Claudius Pompeianus Quintianus, the son of Lucilla's husband, Claudius Pompeianus, by a former marriage. Herodian speaks of him as a youth at this time.

31 Lucilla was exiled to Capri, where she was put to death; see c. v.7.

32 See note to Hadr. xi.4.

33 Tigidius Perennis, appointed co-prefect with Paternus in 182.

34 He was granted the right to wear the broad purple stripe on his tunic, the exclusive privilege of the senatorial (p273)order. For other instances of the elevation of a prefect of the guard into the senatorial order see note to Hadr. viii.7.

Thayer's Note: For much fuller details and sources on the latus clavus, with illustrations, see the article Clavus Latus in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

35 See c. iii.1‑2, and for his execution Dio, LXXII.5.1.

36 The brothers Sex. Quintilius Cordianus and Sex. Quintilius Valerius Maximus. According to Dio, LXXII.5.3‑4, their reputation and wealth caused them to be suspected.

37 More correctly, the son of Quintilius Valerius Maximus and consul in 180. He was included in the sentence pronounced against his father and uncle. On his escape see Dio, LXXII.6.

38 Consul in 178.

39 The year of their consulship is unknown. They were not necessarily consuls in 182.

40 According to Herodian, I.11.5, he spent most of the time in his suburban estate.

41 Dio, on the other hand, declares that his administration was characterized by integrity and restraint; see LXXII.10.1.

42 See note to c. vii.7.

43 Crispina; see note to Marc. xxvii.8.

44 See c. iv.2 and note. The biographer has apparently confused the father with the son, for Claudius Pompeianus was alive in 193; see Pert. iv.10; Did. Jul. viii.3.

45 According to Herodian, I.9, this son of Perennis, in command of the Illyrian troops, formed a conspiracy in the army to overthrow Commodus, and the detection of the plot led to Perennis' fall and death.

46 In 184. According to Dio, LXXII.8, the Britons living north of the boundary-wall invaded the province and annihilated a detachment of Roman soldiers. They were finally defeated by Ulpius Marcellus, and Commodus was acclaimed Imperator for the seventh time and assumed the title Britannicus; see c. viii.4 and coins with the legend Vict(oria) Brit(annica), Cohen III2 p349, no. 945.

47 An innovation which became general in the third century, when senatorial commanders throughout the empire were gradually replaced by equestrian.

48 According to Dio, LXXII.9, it was at the demand of a delegation of 1500 soldiers of the army of Britain, whom Perennis had censured for mutinous conduct (cf. c. viii.4). (p279)The mutiny was finally quelled by Pertinax; see Pert. iii.5‑8.

49 A Phrygian by birth, brought to Rome as a slave; see Herodian, I.12.3. After securing his freedom he rose in the Palace and finally became chamberlain, after bringing about the fall and death of his predecessor, Saoterus; see c. iv.5 and Dio, LXXII.12.2. He also contributed to the fall of Perennis; see Dio, LXXII.9.3. He was not made prefect until 186, but exercised great influence in his capacity as chamberlain (see §§ 6 and 12).

50 So also Dio, LXXII.12.3‑5.

51 L. Antistius Burrus; he seems to have been previously accused on the same charge by Pertinax; see Pert. iii.7.

52 i.e., Cleander himself. The dagger was the symbol of the office of prefect.

53 Together with Burrus he had been accused by Pertinax of aspiring to the throne (see Pert. iii.7), but he seems to have been a highly respected man and official.

54 In 189, on the occasion of a riot due to a lack of grain, for which the mob held Cleander responsible; see Dio, LXXII.13.

55 See Ver. viii.10.

56 He married one of them, Damostratia, according to Dio, LXXII.12.1.

57 For Julianus' death see Dio, LXXII.14.1. He is probably to be identified with L. Julius Vehilius Gratus Julianus, whose interesting career is recorded in an inscription from Rome; see Dessau, Ins. Sel 1327.

58 Perhaps M. Servilius Silanus, consul in 188.

59 His grave-inscription is preserved; see CIL VI.1343.

60 The brothers M. Petronius Sura Mamertinus and M. Petronius Sura Septimianus were consuls in 182 and 190 respectively.

61 Perhaps Cornificia.

62 Consul in 183.

63 Annia Fundania Faustina, daughter of M. Annius Libo, Marcus' uncle (see Marc. i.3). She is probably the woman referred to in c. v.8.

64 Probably L. Tutilius Pontianus Gentianus, said to have been one of Faustina's lovers (see Marc. xxix.1), and consul suffectus in 183, the year in which the name Pius was bestowed on Commodus.

65 The name is borne by Commodus in the Acts of the Arval Brothers for 7 Jan. 183; see CIL VI.2099, 12. It also appears on the coins of 183, e.g. Cohen III2 p229, no. 13; the real reason for its assumption is not known.

66 This name appears on his coins of 185; e.g. Cohen III2 p233, no. 49. It had been assumed as a cognomen by the Dictator Sulla.

67 Julius Alexander, from Emesa in Syria. According to Dio, LXXII.14.1‑3, his execution was ordered because he had speared a lion while on horseback; he killed those sent to execute him and then made his escape, but was overtaken.

68 See c. iv.1‑4.

69 An allusion to the mutiny in Britain; see note to c. vi.2.

70 See also §9. Romanus Hercules appears among his titles as given by Dio, LXXII.15.5, and also in an inscription of Dec. 192; see CIL XIV.3449 = Dessau, Ins. Sel. 400. He had the lion's skin and club, the attributes of Hercules, carried before him in the streets (Dio, LXXII.17.4), and had himself portrayed as Hercules on coins (Cohen III2 p251 f., nos. 180‑210), and in statues (c.ix.2; Dio, LXXII.15.6), e.g. the famous bust in the Capitoline Museum, Rome.

71 So also Dio, LXXII.15.2. Col(onia) L(ucia) An(toniniana) Com(modiana) appears on coins of 190; see Cohen III2 p233, nos. 39‑40. He also gave the name Commodianus to the senate (§ 9 and Dio, ibid.), the people (c. xv.5), the Palace (c. xii.7), the legions (Dio, ibid.), the city of Carthage, and the African fleet (c. xvii.8).

72 His mistress, who afterwards conspired against him; see c. xvii.1.

73 Called chiridotae Dalmatarum in Pert. viii.2. It was a long-sleeved tunic reaching to the knee. Dio describes it (LXXII.17.2) as made of white silk with gold threads.

74 See note to c. viii.5.

75 An Egyptian deity regarded as the protector of corpses and tombs and represented with the head of a jackal, or, by the Greeks and Romans, with that of a dog. His cult was often combined with that of Isis, and according to Juvenal (p287)(vi.534), the chief priest of Isis was often dressed as Anubis.

76 The cult of Bellona, brought to Rome from Asia Minor in the time of Sulla, was characterised by orgiastic music and dances, in which the votaries, like Mohammedan dervishes, slashed their arms and bodies; for a description see Tibullus, I.6.45 f.

77 i.e. dressed as Hercules; see note to c. viii.5.

78 According to Dio, LXXII.20, he actually attached figures of serpents to their legs. The performance was an imitation of the mythical combats between the gods and the giants, in which the latter are usually represented, e.g. on the great altar from Pergamum, as having serpents for legs.

79 A Persian deity, whose cult was brought to Rome in the time of Pompey, and became very popular about the end of the first century after Christ. In the course of the next two centuries the god, under the name Sol Invictus Mithras, was worshipped throughout the Empire, and his cult was probably the most formidable rival of Christianity.

Thayer's Note: For further details, see this overview of Mithraism by David Fingrut.

80 But see note to c. i.7.

81 i.e. Suetonius; see note to Hadr. xi.3.

82 See c. i.2, and Suetonius, Caligula, viii.1.

83 i.e. ass.

84 Apparently a private cult, carried on in one of the emperor's suburban estates.

85 See c. vii.4.

86 Similar mutilations are recorded by Dio, LXXII.17.2.

87 The complete list of the new names as given to the months is contained in Dio, LXXII.15.3. They are all Commodus' own names and titles. In Dio's enumeration the new names are applied differently from the list as given here, but the dates garden in c. xi‑xii accord with Dio, and comparison with known events shows that his is the correct order.

88 See note to c. viii.6.

89 For a description of the spectacle lasting fourteen days, in which Commodus fought with wild beasts and gladiators, see Dio, LXXII.18‑21.

90 See c. xv.8.

91 Cf. c.xv.4.

92 But see c. xii.11.

93 On these names of the months see note to c. xi.8.

94 For these dates see c. ii.1‑5, and notes.

95 The surname was doubtless assumed by Commodus at the same time that it was taken by Marcus (see note to Marc. xii.9). It appears on a coin of Marcus and Commodus of 172; see Cohen III2 p133, no. 2.

96 The official language describing his enthronement.

97 See note to c. viii.6.

98 Perhaps because of the plague (see Marc. xiii.3) which seems to have broken out again about this time; see Dio, LXXII.14.3; Herodian,  I.12.1‑2.

99 A gladiator provided with a heavy net in which he tried to entangle his opponent; if successful he then killed him with a dagger.

Thayer's Note: For further details and sources as well as an illustration, see this section of the article Gladiatores in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

100 But see c. xi.12.

101 See note to c. xi.10.

102 An inscription from Mauretania, set up between 184 and the death of Commodus, records the construction and repair of redoubts along the border, and is probably to be connected with this outbreak; see Dessau, Ins. Sel. 386. This may also be the revolt alluded to in Pert. iv.2.

103 Probably in 182, when Commodus was acclaimed Imperator for the fifth time (see Cohen III2 p337, nos. 840‑847). A large number of Dacians who had been driven from their homes were granted land in Roman territory; see Dio, LXXII.3.3.

104 An inscription of 185 records the construction of redoubts along the Danube; see CIL III.3385 = Dessau, Ins. Sel. 395.

105 See c. vi.2 and note.

106 Probably in 187‑188. It is referred to in an inscription as expeditio felicissima tertia Germanica; see CIL V.2155 = Dessau, Ins. Sel. 1574. According to c. xii.8, Commodus wished to lead the expedition but the "senate and people" would not allow it.

107 See note to c. vii.1.

108 It was enacted by special decree, according to Dio, LXXII.15.6.

109 See c. iv.7‑8 and vi.2.

110 Cf. c. vi.6‑8; vii.4; ix.2. Even Cleander was prefect only from 186 to 189.

111 He had been a freedman and favourite of Lucius Verus; see Ver. ix.6.

112 See c. xvii.1.

113 The Acta Urbis or Acta Diurna was a publication begun by Julius Caesar and continued by his successors, which contained official announcements, and general news that the government desired to convey to the public.

Thayer's Note: For further details, see the article Acta in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

114 Cf. c. xi.11.

115 See c. viii.6 and note.

116 See c. xi.10 and note.

117 In 192 a fire devastated the district east of the Forum and a portion of the Palatine; see Dio, LXXII.24, and Herodian, I.14.2‑6. This seems to be the fire here alluded to, but according to Dio, Commodus was in no way responsible for it. After rebuilding what the fire had destroyed, Commodus assumed the title Conditor; see Cohen III2 p251 f., nos. 181‑184.

118 See c. xvii.1.

119 According to Dio, LXXII.22.3, this was engraved along with his other titles on the Colossus (see c. xvii.10). The term (p301)primus palus is formed on the analogy of primus pilus, the first centurion of a legion. The palus was the wooden pike used by gladiators in practice. A secutor wore a helmet and greaves and was armed with a long shield and a sword.

120 An outbreak in Gaul in 186, headed by a soldier named Maternus, who gathered a band of fellow-soldiers and desperadoes and plundered the country. The Roman troops under Pescennius Niger defeated and scattered them; whereupon, Maternus himself fled to Italy and attempted to assassinate Commodus, but was caught and beheaded; see Herodian, I.10, and Pesc. Nig. iii.4.

121 Regarded in early times as birds of ill-omen; in the first century after Christ, however, there was considerable difference of opinion as to their identification; see Plin., Nat. Hist. x.36.

122 The school for gladiators; it was in the general neighbourhood of the Colosseum. Commodus planned to spend the night of 31 Dec 192 here, before appearing in public on the next day as a secutor; see Dio, LXXII.22.2.

123 It was an ancient custom that these gates should be open when Rome was at war.

124 See note to c. ix.4.

125 The two porticus Minuciae were situated in the low-lying district between the Capitoline Hill and the Tiber, close to the Theatre of Marcellus. They were called respectively Vetus and Frumentaria; in the latter were distributed the tickets which entitled the holders to receive grain from the public granaries.

Thayer's Note: Not absolutely quite so simple as that; for comprehensive details and sources, see the article Porticus Minucia in Platner and Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

126 According to Dio, LXXII.21.3, these cloaks were never worn at the theatre except when an emperor died.

127 The gate of an amphitheatre through which were dragged the bodies of slain gladiators. Libitina was the goddess who presided over funerals.

128 This sum must be greatly exaggerated, unless it is a computation of what each citizen received during the whole of Commodus' reign. According to Dio, LXXII.16.1, he often gave individual largesses of 140 denarii, and his coins show nine occasions when largess was given by him, seven of which date from the time of his reign as sole emperor.

129 On one occasion he exhibited thirty races in two hours; see Dio, LXXII.16.1.

130 See note to Ver. iv.8.

131 The story of the murder is given in greater detail by Dio, LXXII.22.4, and especially by Herodian, I.16‑17. Eclectus was also one of the conspirators; see c. xv.2.

132 It was customary to fasten a hook to the bodies of condemned criminals and thus drag them to the Tiber. The populace had demanded that this should be done to the body of Tiberius (Suetonius, Tiberius, lxv.1).

133 Cf. c. xx.1, and Dio, LXXIII.2.1. For his sepulchral inscription see CIL VI.992 = Dessau, Ins. Sel. 401.

134 The Thermae Commodianae; their exact site is unknown.

Thayer's Note: For comprehensive details and sources, see the article in Platner and Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.

135 Cf. c. xx.5. Many inscriptions found throughout the empire show Commodus' name carefully erased. The same procedure followed the death of Domitian.

136 The fleet was to convey grain to Rome from the province of Africa.

137 See note to c. viii.6.

138 On the Colossus see Hadr. xix.12‑13 and note. This passage is incorrect, since Hadrian had replaced the head of Nero by that of the Sun. According to Dio, LXXII.22.3, Commodus also added the club and lion's skin characteristic of Hercules (see c. viii.5). Dio also gives the inscription (cf. c. xv.8).

139 Commemorated by coins with the legend Consecratio; (p307)see Cohen III2 p234, no. 61; see also p359, nos. 1009‑1010. He also appears as Divus Commodus in inscriptions.

140 Arria Fadilla, Cornificia, and Vibia Aurelia Sabina.

141 Cf. Av. Cass. xiii.1 and note. The outcries are mentioned by Dio, LXXIII.2.2‑4.

142 Evidently addressed to Pertinax.

143 Cf. Pert. v.1.

144 Apparently an informer.

145 Commemorated in an inscription from Rome, CIL VI.2126. He is one of the characters in the Deipnosophistai of Athenaeus.

146 An office probably created by Claudius. The patrimonium comprised the estates regarded as the property of the emperor and transmitted from one emperor to another, even when there was no direct succession. It was distinguished, both from the fiscus, or imperial treasury, and from the res privata, the private property of any individual emperor; the latter (p313)was placed in charge of a special procurator by Severus; see Sev. xii.4.

147 See c. xvii.4.

148 See Carac. iii.2 and note.

149 See Sev. xiii.9.

150 See c. xvii.6.

151 See c. xi.8.


Thayer's Note:

a The Latin subactor is more explicit, referring to a passive sexual partner. In American gay slang, the biographer makes Saoterus a 'bottom', and Commodus the 'top'.


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