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June 06, 2010


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Granted Commodus was one of the worst emperors ever. But it made for a great episode. Keep up the good work Mike.

Ben Nicholson

I agree Hurcules, sorry Commodus, was a very intresting story. After a amazing podcast so far, Im really looking forward to the next half/3rd/quarter (delete as approiate), because I know nothing about the next part of roman history apart from a small bit on Diocletion and Constantine. So Keep up the brilliant work Mike.

Aaron Cash

I loved this episode and how Mike just told it so perfectly. I would love to see an episode on Gladiators and the other games. Keep doing the great work Mike


especially loved the beginning Maximus Decimus Meridius one of histories most important figures LOL

great work as always


Hey Mike,
I'm currently finishing my sophomore year of high school and I have to say that I love listening to this podcast on my bus rides to and from school. So far I've taken Latin for 2 years and am planning on taking it for another. This podcast has really helped me with the culture part of the course and I've impressed my teacher, who is also a Roman history buff, with the knowledge that I've gained from this podcast. Thanks for the hard work and keep it up. --Parker

Aaron Cash

The Part about Commodus as a Gladiator was a little scary but Mike did a great job on this episode. It was intresting escpacially the assaniaton. How did he get that close right after a botched assassination. It is also intresting that Commodus went so crazy and managed to make it 12 years as emperor. Why was he not stopped early? How did they botch 2 attempts? Commodus just went crazy after 190 AD. I guess that is what happens when you give a 19 year old become emperor. What style of gladitorial did Commodus practice? Why did he not serve in the legions if he loved combat so much? He was crazy enough to begin a gladiator.
Thank You Mike for another Great Episode
Can not wait for the next one


Can anyone recommend a good book about the fall of Rome?

Luise (Tasmania,Australia)

Hi All!
I was surprised that such a terrible emperor lasted as long as he did. On reflection though, there would be modern despots that lasted longer, so that says something about modern society...we're no more clever or braver than the average Roman, if anything, we may be less so. For Chris and others...
While not just about the "fall" of the empire, Robin Lane Fox's "The Classical World" did put the ups and downs into perspective for me. His chapter near the end of the book, "Presenting The Past", is an interesting take on all the other history writers who covered the topic. As for Mike's podcast, it is up there with the best, and he is just getting to the start of the decline phase, so keep listening. This work will be referenced in other major works in the future.

"I strongly predict...that your histories will be immortal...so I want to be included in them." Pliny to Tacitus Letters 7.33


For those interested in historical fiction, you may want to try "Caesar Dies!" by Talbot Mundy (worth reading for the title alone) about the assassination of Commodus. It manages to mix Bulwer-Lytton style writing with pulp-fiction themes, but manages to be fairly accurate in its historical points.


@ Chris


Matthew Cohen

"You stay classy, commodus" !laughing!



Can you give out the names of the books that you used for this podcast? Thsnks

Luise (Tasmania,Australia)

Kevin, it seems that Gibbon's work is mentioned a bit, his "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" might be worth a read. I have purchased a copy on the net, can't wait to get it.

paul from middlesbrough,england

Hi - an apt time to post a link of a recent discovery in York, just down the road (A19), from myself, of possibly the world's best preserve Gladiator Cemetery, discovered only recently...



Mike, you mentioned that Commodus drove the empire into debt, meaning that all reserves in gold were spent and borrowing ensued. My question is who was lending the money after all the gold was gone? Did Commodus give them IOU's??? ;-) If Rome controlled all the sources of wealth, it would perhaps be wealthy individuals from the Empire/Senate, who probably lost their claims after Cleander took their estates thru prescriptions. Thus wiping out the debt figuratively and literally. Is that the case?


I think the reason people like Commodus, Domitian(if you see him as a cruel tyrant) and Nero lasted so long was because their rule was never in doubt or illegitimate. Commodus was part of an imperial succession dynasty going back 90 years. It would be hard for people to accept a usurper, as his muderers would be over him. The same goes for Domitian and Nero. Caligula I think was the craziesst of them all. He and Commodus just seem to have been insane. Nero at least was not all bad, and like Domitian, concerned himself with governance.

The same air of legitimacy continues today in North Korea with Kim Jong Il, and it was the same in Iraq. Inertia is the great friend of tyrants as people never want to change the status quo.


Dear All,

I've enjoyed the videos on YouTube from the lectures on "Roman Architecture" by Professor Diana Kleiner. The coverage is fantastic and exhaustive architecturally, but the history at times seems a bit suspect. She has been on various PBS and History Channel presentations before, so she might be familiar to some of you.

For example, in Lecture 17: Bigger is Better, Professor Kleiner discusses the death of Commodus.

Here is the link, and the relevant statements start at minute 47:40 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhon2e3vfTo).

Specifically, Professor Kleiner states that it was the "famous gladiator" Narcissus killed the Emperor in gladiatorial combat in the arena itself.

Of course, there are various and often contradictory stories of the Emperors from the ancient sources, but it is strange to see such a tremendously skilled Professor make such a definitive statement that contradicts with the podcast. Therefore, I was wondering if Mike could direct us (or, anyone else reading) to the sources that back the story in the podcast (i.e. that the Emperor was strangled in his private bath by his wrestling partner Narcissus). Also, Mike's description makes more sense in that a private assassination fits nicely with the fact that Pertinax's conspiracy to take over required speed, secrecy, and presentation to the army and Senate as a "fait accompli". A public slaughter in the arena does NOT further these ends.

I just wanted to mention it for comment - as it threw me for a bit of an historical loop.

Mike, you are brilliant!

- James

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