Commodus, who ruled the Roman Empire from A.D. 180 to 192, was a well-known fan of gladiatorial combat. In fact, he loved to fight in the arena himself as a secutor, much to the scandal of Roman noble families.
"Members of Roman Senatus disapproved of him for such an inconvenient behavior," Canfora said. "On the contrary, the plebs—the-low class people—showed appreciation for the emperor's peculiar interest and loved to see him fighting."
Because of his title, opponents always submitted to Commodus. But he was still proud of his physical strength and fancied himself as the reincarnation of Hercules. (Related: "Sacred Cave of Rome's Founders Discovered, Archaeologists Say" [January 26, 2007].)
The bloodthirsty emperor, however, wasn't the one who commissioned the unusual mosaic.
"Commodus was born in 161 A.D.," Frontoni, the archaeologist, said. "The picture covers the floor of a bathhouse built around 130 A.D., and we think the mosaic is the same age of the building, so it was there before Commodus' birth.
"At the time, the Quintilii family owned the villa. They were friends of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Commodus' father.
"I imagine that Commodus as a child used to visit Quintilii's residence and to admire the mosaic of Montanus. He probably knew and fancied the fighter."
Later, in 182, Commodus acquired the villa after having the Quintilii executed on a trumped-up charge of treason.
Ironically, the emperor died in 192—strangled in his bath by his personal trainer and gladiatorial sparring partner, Narcissus, who had been hired for the assassination by a group of senators.
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