Romans in the Decadence of the Empire, Thomas Couture
With the death of Marcus Aurelius in AD 180, rule of the empire
passed to his 20 year old son Lucius Aurelius Commodus. Much like the
reign of Gaius Caesar (Caligula) a century and a half earlier, the
accession of Commodus was initially met with general approval.
Continuing the parallel, initial acceptance was eventually met with
dismay and hostility as the young emperor engaged in various forms of
debauchery and ego-maniacal behavior.
The concept of imperial decline beginning with the reign of Commodus
is largely adapted from Edward Gibbon’s rather arbitrary work, “The
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” and may have been a bit premature
considering that the western empire endured for another three centuries.
However, Gibbon’s assessment is astute in pointing out several
elements that clearly identify a change from previous eras.
accession of Commodus as the son of Marcus Aurelius marked the
re-establishment of dynasty that was originally developed under the
again would Rome benefit from rulers who had the foresight to understand
the stability provided by selective succession and rather allowed
personal and dynastic ambitions to play its role in the empire’s
eventual collapse. Over the course of the next 50 years following
Commodus, the empire would have no less than 26 different rulers and
usurpers, in comparison to 18 confirmed Princeps over the empire’s first