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The Emperor Commodus (Hardback)

God and Gladiator

Ancient History

By John S McHugh
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 293
ISBN: 9781473827554
Published: 24th August 2015

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Commodus is synonymous with debauchery and megalomania, best remembered for fighting as a gladiator. Ridiculed and maligned by historians since his own time, modern popular culture knows him as the patricidal villain in Ridley Scott's Gladiator. Much of his infamy is clearly based on fact, but is this the full story?
John McHugh reviews the ancient evidence to present the first full-length biography of Commodus in English. His twelve-year reign is set in its historical context, showing that the 'kingdom of gold' he supposedly inherited was actually an empire devastated by plague and war. Openly autocratic, Commodus compromised the privileges and vested interests of the senatorial clique, who therefore plotted to murder him. Surviving repeated conspiracies only convinced Commodus that he was under divine protection, increasingly identifying himself as Hercules reincarnate. This and his antics in the arena allowed his senatorial enemies to present Commodus as a mad tyrant to justify his murder, which they finally succeeded in arranging by having him strangled by a wrestler.

McHugh's book is well and readably written, and illustrated with a good selection of coins, portrait busts, and other relevant evidence. He does succeed in casting Commodus in a new light, hi self-deification and grandiose gladiatorial posturing to been as part of a deliberate policy to create a new kind of Imperial image and not just narcissism or megalomania.

Slingshot, March/April 2016 - Duncan Head
 John S McHugh
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