Who was the ‘gladiatorial emperor’?

Commodus referred to himself as the ‘Roman Hercules’

The son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Commodus is remembered today both for his assassination and his passion for gladiatorial combat. Records show Commodus was rarely out of the gladiatorial arena and was famed for his love of butchering wild beasts. This included a one-day killing spree of 100 lions, a giraffe, three elephants and even an ostrich, which he dispatched himself.

He also fought other gladiators, to which he never lost for two reasons. The first is that any proper gladiator who fought him would always cede victory to the emperor before any killing blow was made, and the second was due to his love of fighting cripples and the ill. This latter taste saw citizens of Rome who were missing limbs taken to the arena, tied together and then killed by Commodus who pretended they were ‘giants’.

For each gladiatorial appearance, Commodus charged the city of Rome 1 million sesterces, a figure that strained the economy tremendously. Historians argue it was due to his frequent forays into the arena that he was assassinated so quickly, with the Roman people – and specifically the Senate – finding his activities distasteful and without honour.