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The Emperor Commodus (Hardback)

God and Gladiator

Ancient History Military

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

About John S McHugh

JOHN S MCHUGH has a BA and MA in Ancient History. His love of the ancient world has led him to travel to many classical sites. Before his recent (early) retirement he was Assistant Headmaster at a secondary school in Bolton. He is the co-author of a text book on Bolton’s connections with the slave trade and assisted Bolton Museum with a project to record the oral history of the local populace with the aim of promoting understanding between people of different generations or ethnic and social backgrounds. He is the author of The Emperor Commodus: God and GladiatorEmperor Alexander Severus: Rome's Age of Insurrection, AD 222-235; and Sejanus, Regent of Rome, which were also published by Pen & Sword Books.

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The greatest danger to Roman emperors was the threat of deadly conspiracies arising among the Senate, the imperial court or even their own families All the emperors that reigned from Augustus to the end of the first century AD faced such efforts to overthrow or assassinate them. John McHugh uncovers these conspiracies, narrating them and seeking to explain them. The underlying cause in many cases was the decline in influence, patronage and status granted by emperors to the Senatorial class, leading some to seek power for themselves or a more generous candidate. Attempted assassinations or coups…

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