Commodus became sole emperor on the the death of his father, Marcus Aurelius, in 180 CE, at the age of 19. At least nominally he had already been co-emperor for a few years.
For the previous 40 years, the emperors, although in reality absolute monarchs, had behaved as aristocratic yet approachable rulers of impeccable personal morals, in a sort of Victorian fashion, while assuming the role of commander-in-chief when necessary and spending much time on actual administration.
Commodus changed radically the public and private role of the emperor, in ways that were unprecedented and completely baffled contemporaries. They were not a response to circumstances since his "innovations" were almost all reversed after his death. So they must be attributed to his personal psychology alone (no modern historian disputes this - the only discussion is on what was he thinking).
Commodus changed the role of the emperor in the following way, gradually:
- withdrew from active personal involvement on actual governing, relying on appointed favorites, while retaining authority by sacking and/or executing them whenever he felt they might be a threat to his own position
- radically changed the public image of the emperor: he started presenting himself as the living incarnation of Hercules, appearing in Hercules's lion skin in statues and coins, and even personally (all of which was totally unprecedented) and calling himself Hercules, also in coins
- a superb athlete, he started appearing in the Colosseum killing (from a safe position) animals with javelins, arrows, etc, showing off his skills
- Cassius Dio reports: "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. And many would indeed have perished by the sword on the spot, for laughing at him (for it was laughter rather than indignation that overcame us), if I had not chewed some laurel leaves, which I got from my garland, myself, and persuaded the others who were sitting near me to do the same, so that in the steady movement of our jaws we might conceal the fact that we were laughing."
- also according to Dio (and confirmed by inscriptions): "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. Upon himself he bestowed, in addition to a great many other names, that of Hercules. Rome he styled the "Immortal, Fortunate Colony of the Whole Earth"; for he wished it to be regarded as a settlement of his own. In his honour a gold statue was erected of a thousand pounds weight, representing him together with a bull and a cow. Finally, all the months were named after him, so that they were enumerated as follows: Amazonius, Invictus, Felix, Pius,Lucius, Aelius, Aurelius, Commodus, Augustus, Herculeus, Romanus, Exsuperatorius. For he himself assumed these several titles at different times, but "Amazonius" and "Exsuperatorius" he applied constantly to himself, to indicate that in every respect he surpassed absolutely all mankind superlatively; so superlatively mad had the abandoned wretch become. And to the senate he would send messages couched in these terms: "The Emperor Caesar Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus Pius Felix Sarmaticus Germanicus Maximus Britannicus, Pacifier of the Whole Earth, Invincible, the Roman Hercules, Pontifex Maximus, Holder of the Tribunician Authority for the eighteenth time, Imperator for the eighth time, Consul for the seventh time, Father of his Country, to consuls, praetors, tribunes, and the fortunate Commodian senate, Greeting." Vast numbers of statues were erected representing him in the garb of Hercules. And it was voted that his age should be named the "Golden Age," and that this should be recorded in all the records without exception."
- also without precedent: he changed the millennial slogan, SPQR, 'The Senate and the People of Rome', to PSQR, 'The People and the Senate of Rome'
Clearly one of his goals was to constantly remind the Senate, and those serving him, who was boss. He did that not only through actual use of power but also through public humiliation and self-promotion. That puts him firmly in a F quadra.
He also put huge focus in a total revamping of the emperor's image, as the incarnation of Hercules (the personification of F, by the way) not only by his own performances, but also through coins and inscriptions (the social media of the time). That, and actions such as his theatrical intimidation of the Senators, point to E, and E blocked with F.
That puts Commodus squarely in the Beta quadra. His overall theme of totally restructuring the concept of the emperorship is also a Beta theme.
Since his most visible actions were related to E and F, with some T symbolism, besides his active behavior, EIE and SLE are more likely than LSI or IEI. But it was noted that Commodus, although indeed a strong man and superb athlete, was more into staged performances than actual competitive use of F. The Senators who laughed at him - who had seen war themselves - obviously saw his actual personal F as silly, while fearing the F of his position.
All of that points to EIE as Commodus's type, with SLE possible but less likely.
Recommended reading and sources: the main primary sources on Commodus, the histories of Cassius Dio and Herodian, and the "Historia Augusta", can be found online. The recent book by John S. McHugh, "The Emperor Commodus: God and Gladiator", is very useful for its careful compilation of the available evidence, also archaeological. However, he bends over backwards to present Commodus in the best possible light. By contrast, Anthony Birley's "Septimius Severus: the African Emperor" includes a section on Commodus that is more mainstream. As with most other subjects, Wikipedia provides a decent summary as well as a list of useful links.
To learn more about EIE, click here.
If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.