Excerpt from Roman History (229 AD) 

Dublin Core


Excerpt from Roman History (229 AD) 


Epitome of Book LXXIII

1. This man [Commodus] was not naturally wicked, but, on the contrary, as guileless as any man that ever lived. His great simplicity, however, together with his cowardice, made him the slave of his companions, and it was through them that he at first, out of ignorance, missed the better life and then was led on into lustful and cruel habits, which soon became second nature. And this, I think, Marcus clearly perceived beforehand. Commodus was nineteen years old when his father died, leaving him many guardians, among whom were numbered the best men of the senate. But their suggestions and counsels Commodus rejected, and after making a truce with the barbarians he rushed to Rome; for he hated all exertion and craved the comfortable life of the city.

15. Now the death of these victims passed unheeded for Commodus was a greater curse to the Romans than any pestilence or any crime. Among other reasons was this, that whatever honours they had been wont to vote to his father out of affection they were now compelled out of fear and by direct command to assign also to the son. He actually ordered that Rome itself should be called Commodiana, the legions Commodian, and the day on which these measures were voted Commodiana.

21. This fear was shared by all, by us senators as well as by the rest. And here is another thing that he did to us senators which gave us every reason to look for our death. Having killed an ostrich and cut off his head, he came up to where we were sitting, holding the head in his left hand and in his right hand raising aloft his bloody sword; and though he spoke not a word, yet he wagged his head with a grin, indicating that he would treat us in the same way.

Epitome of Book LXXIV

1. Pertinax was an excellent and upright man, but he ruled only a very short time, and was then put out of the way by the soldiers

8. Since, now, neither the soldiers were allowed to plunder any longer nor the imperial freedmen to indulge in lewdness, they both hated him bitterly. The freedmen, for their part, attempted no revolt, being unarmed; but the Pretorian troops and Laetus formed a plot against him.

11…Then ensued a most disgraceful business and one unworthy of Rome. For, just as if it had been in some market or auction-room, both the City and its entire empire were auctioned off. The sellers were the ones who had slain their emperor, and the would‑be buyers were Sulpicianus and Julianus, who vied to outbid each other, one from the inside, the other from the outside.


Cassius Dio (155-235 AD) is probably the most important source on the reign of Commodus (r. 177-192 AD). Dio was himself an eyewitness to much of what he recorded, as he was a Senator during the time Commodus was Emperor. Several plot points from the film are taken out of Dio’s history, such as the auctioning of the Empire that takes place at the end of the movie. Cassius Dio’s history is helpful both for more fully understanding the context of Roman late antiquity and for pointing out some of the creative liberties that the film takes with historical narratives about this period. 

Dio’s description of Commodus’ character and motives provide greater insight into the Emperor’s foreign and domestic policies. The movie shows Commodus as independent, militarily aggressive, and spiteful. Dio’s narrative “corrects” this by showing how the emperor was dominated by his inner circle, without patience for war, and not being hateful towards his father’s memory. 

Cassius Dio also is the source for many of the megalomaniacal actions taken by Commodus in the movie, such as renaming the city of Rome to Colonia Commodiana. His writings emphasize how radical and destabilizing such changes were to the Roman Empire. One important thing that Dio describes, which the movie fails to accurately portray, is Commodus’ forceful control of the Senate. The movie shows the Senate easily bending to Commodus’ will and to corruption, but actually Dio describes the killing of Senators and threats aimed at the senatorial class. The killing of senators and the packing of the senate with the emperor’s cronies were devastating to the stability and legitimacy of the Senate, and this loss of tradition was something never recovered for the rest of Roman history (Kemezis, 388).

Cassius Dio is also an important source for the aftermath of Commodus’ assassination. The general Pertinax (who has only an “Easter egg” appearance in the beginning of the film), in fact, became Emperor and attempted to restore order after the death of Commodus. This coup undertaken by Pertinax highlights that there were forces attempting to recover from the damage caused by Commodus, and that after his death there was not an uninterrupted decline. Dio’s description of the auctioning of the empire after the praetorian guard assassinated Pertinax highlights the chaos of the Year of the Five Emperors, while the film highlights corruption without showing the loss of order.


Lucius Cassius Dio (c. 155-235)


Dio, Lucius Cassius. "Roman History by Cassius Dio." Cassius Dio: Roman History. December 10, 2016. Accessed March 20, 2018. 

Kemezis, Adam. "Commemoration of the Antonine Aristocracy in Cassius Dio and the Historia Augusta." The Classical Quarterly 62, no. 1 (2012): 387-414.




Early-Mid Third Century


Grant Ellis


Harvard University Press




Primary Source Text


Lucius Cassius Dio (c. 155-235), “Excerpt from Roman History (229 AD) ,” Medieval Hollywood, accessed June 16, 2024, https://medievalhollywood.ace.fordham.edu/items/show/98.

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