Commodus was admitted among their adepts and participated in their secret ceremonies, and the discovery of numerous votive inscriptions, either for the welfare of this prince or bearing the date of his reign, gives us some inkling of the impetus which this imperial conversion imparted to the Mithraic propaganda. After the last of the Antonines had thus broken with the ancient prejudice, the protection of his successors appears to have been definitively assured to the new religion.
—Franz Cumont (1902) Mithra and the imperial power of Rome
Commodus was born on 31 August 161 in Lanuvium, near Rome. He was co-emperor with his father Marcus Aurelius from 176 until the latter's death in 180, and alone until 192.
He accompanied his father in the Marcomannic Wars in 172, and on a tour of the eastern provinces in 176. He became the youngest consul in Roman history in 177, with only 15 years old.
During his solitary reign, from 180, the Roman Empire benefited from a reduction in military conflicts compared to the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Intrigues and conspiracies abounded, leading Commodus to adopt an increasingly dictatorial style of leadership, culminating in the creation of a divine cult of personality, with its gladiatorial spectacle in the Colosseum.
Throughout his reign, Commodus entrusted the management of affairs to his palace chamberlain and the praetorian prefects Saoterus, Perennis and Cleander.
The assassination of Commodus in 192, by a wrestler in the bath, marked the end of the Nerva-Antonine dynasty.
Lampridius, in Historia Augusta
, implies that Commodus may have been initiated into the mysteries of Mithras with the following statement:
Sacra Mithriaca homicidio vero polluit, cum illic aliquid ad speciem timoris vel dici vel fingi soleat.
He profaned the rites of Mithras with an actual murder, although the usual thing was simply to say or feign something that would produce an impression of terror.
The marble Aion from the lost Mithraeum Fagan, Ostia, now presides the entrance to the Vatican Library.
C. Valeri/us Heracles pat(er) / et C(aii) Valerii / Vitalis et Nico/mes sacerdo/tes s(ua) p(e)c(unia) p(o)s(ue)r(unt). / D(e)d(icatum) idi(bus) aug(ustis) im(peratore) / Com(odo) / VI et / Septi/miano / co(n)s(ulibus)
Gaius Valerius Heracles, father, and Gaius Valerius Vitalis and Gaius Valerius Nicome(de)s, priests, laid at their own expense. (Statue) dedicated on the ides of August, under the consulates of Emperor Commodus for the sixth time and Septimianus
This altar bears an inscription to the health of the emperor Commodus by a certain Marcus Aurelius, his father and two other fellows.
Soli Invicto / Mithrae / pro salute Commod(i) / Antonini Aug(usti) domin(i) n(ostri) / M(arcus) Aurel(ius) Stertinius / Carpus una cum Carpo / proc(uratore) k(astrensi) patre et Her/mioneo et Balbino / fratribus / v(otum) s(olvit) f(eliciter)
To the Unconquerable Sun, Mithras, for the health of our lord Commodus Antoninus Augustus, Marcus Aurelius Stertinius Carpus, together with his father Carpus the procurator castrensis, and his brothers Hermioneus and Balbinus, happily fulfilled the vow
The bronze bears the dedication of a restoration of a Mithraeum carried out in 183.
D(eo) i(nvicto) M(ithrae) pro salute imp(eratoris) [[Commodi]] Auglustil pii / qui templum vii conlapsum impendio suo restituerunt / et mortalitat8is) causa convener(unt) / Marullo
et Aeliano coln/s(ulibus) VI k(alendas) lulias.
[There follows, in four columns, a list of 98 names, all masculine, with the first 34 in the same hand.]
Tiberius Claudius Quintilianus ob dedicationem templi tabulam / aeream donum dedit et camaram picturis exornavit.
To the invincible god Mithras, for the well-being of the emperor Commodus Augustus pius, those who restored at their own expense the temple that had collapsed, and who had gathered with mortality as their reason, during the consulship of Marullus and Aelianus, on the 6th day before the kalends of July. […] Tiberius Claudius Quintilianus, on the occasion of the dedication of the temple, offered this bronze plaque as a gift, and decorated the chamber with paintings.