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Commodus (Gladiator)

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The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor. Striking story! But now, the people want to know how the story ends. Only a famous death will do. And what could be more glorious than to challenge the Emperor himself in the great arena?
~ Commodus plans about Maximus.
All I've ever wanted was to live up to you, Caesar. Father.
~ Commodus to his father, Marcus Aurelius.
They tell me your son squealed like a girl when they nailed him to the cross. And your wife moaned like a whore when they ravaged her again and again... and again.
~ Commodus taunting Maximus about killing his family.

Marcus Aurelius Commodus, aka Emperor Commodus or simply Commodus is the primary antagonist of the 2000 Oscar winner historic action film Gladiator.

The only male son of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor. He lived in the shadow of his father, hoping one day to become the Emperor, but all his dreams were crushed after knowing that his own father would choose Maximus instead of him.

Commodus was a psychotic and unpredictable man who abused his power, lusted after his own sister and thought of himself as a god. Commodus always threatened to kill those who he thought of as a threat to himself or didn't give into his whims.

He was portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix and is loosely based on a real Roman emperor of the same name. The real life Commodus was also mentally unstable, dressing up as Hercules and fighting in the coliseum himself.

Character Biography

Maximus, weary of battle, decides to retire at his Spanish farm estate at the Emperor's behest, but the Emperor tells him that his son and heir to the throne, Commodus, is unfit to rule and thus appoints him as regent to help save Rome from corruption. Before he makes his decision, Commodus is confronted by his father who tells him that he will not be emperor. Burdened by grief, believing he was never valued by his father, Commodus kills him.

After mourning Marcus Aurelius' death, the new Emperor asks Maximus for his loyalty, but the general suspects foul play and refuses. Soon after, Maximus is arrested and is to be executed at dawn. Maximus manages to escape and makes the long journey to his farm on horseback, but arrives too late to find it burnt and his family dead, under orders of Commodus.

Meanwhile Commodus returns to Rome to a cheering crowd and is met by his senator, during a procession by the senate Commodus threatens to kill one of the senators for daring to question his judgement. Commodus orders 150 days of gladiatorial combat in honor of his late father which is where Maximus receives his first taste of gladiatorial combat in the Colosseum is depicted as a reenactment of the Battle of Zama. With his team portrayed as Carthaginian infantry, they defy all expectations and are able to defeat "Scipio's legionaries" who are supposed to obliterate them. A surprised and delighted Commodus comes into the arena to personally congratulate them. Maximus braces himself to kill the Emperor, but at the last moment decides against it because of the presence of Commodus' young nephew Lucius Verus. He then reveals himself to the startled Commodus and vows to have his vengeance. As the Praetorian Guard prepares to kill him, the crowd chants "Live!" repeatedly, earning their favor and showing their support. Commodus relents and madly leaves.

Next, Maximus is pitted against the formidable Tigris of Gaul, an undefeated gladiator. After a fierce and lengthy duel, Maximus is able to gain the upper hand, but spares his opponent's life despite the crowd's urging that he kill him. Angered by this action, Commodus berates him, even taunting him with harrowing details of his family's death. Undaunted, Maximus turns around and walks away. This act of defiance, along with his victory over Tigris, makes him more popular than the Emperor himself.

Commodus' sister Lucilla and the chief senator Gracchus secure a meeting with Maximus, and he obtains their promise to help him escape Rome, rejoin his soldiers, topple Commodus by force, and hand power over back to the Senate. Suspicious, Commodus learns of this plot from Lucilla by threatening young Lucius, then dispatches his men to arrest and/or kill the conspirators. Gracchus is quickly apprehended, while a contingent of Praetorians is sent to Maximus' quarters. Maximus reaches the rendezvous point but falls into a trap; Cicero is killed and Maximus is captured.

Commodus, desperate and jealous of Maximus' growing popularity, challenges him to a duel in the Colosseum. Before the fight, and unknown to the crowd, he fatally stabs him on the side to put him at a disadvantage. During the fight, however, Maximus manages to evade Commodus' blows and disarm him. Commodus asks the Praetorians to give him a sword, but his request is denied. He produces a hidden stiletto, but Maximus instinctively turns the blade back into his throat, killing him.

After being killed, all the Praetorian Guard, the crowd and even his own sister, Lucilla, cared little about the mad emperor's fate. His corpse was abandoned in the Arena.


His most deep ambition was Aurelius approval as a father, but he had a obnoxious (yet fair) outlook about his son. Commodus was not only power hungry, but also mentally unstable. He rarely controlled himself even in public. The worst traits about his personality was his sadism and his psychotic outbreaks which shows during the film, and his worst shortcoming was his lack of approval. Commodus used the Arena spectacle saying the only thing Rome needed is a little bit of entertainment, that of course was a delusion and his ultimate goal was being acclaimed by the crowd of Rome. His continuous irresponsible uses of the Capital's extravagance showed to the senate why his father would never choose Commodus as a emperor.


Commodus kills his father

Maximus was the the son that Marcus Aurelius really wished he had, he despised him the most, due to his jealousy towards him. He constantly tried to ruin the image of Maximus, putting himself in danger and sacrificing other people's life as a cost. But during the film, Commodus began to show his true reason about destroying Maximus' image; He really saw why Marcus Aurelius preferred Maximus over him; Maximus was loyal, brave, rational and strong while Commodus was a coward and unstable.

As for his relationships, the only people he ever loved were his father and his sister, Lucilla. But after all the love for his sister began to turn into an insane dominance, lust and a incestuous relationship, after that and knowing that her brother was the responsible for Marcus' death, Lucilla saw her brother as the monster he truly was.


  • The real Commodus never died in the Arena. Instead he was killed by strangulation and poisoning.
  • The actor of Joffrey Baratheon, Jack Gleeson, mentioned that Commodus and Hexxus were the two villains that impacted him the most as a child.


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