It's funny, but he looks nothing like Joaquin Phoenix, or Christopher Plummer, does he? Any TV series or movie that wants to depict someone from recent history always goes to great lengths to find someone who looks like them. We know from photos and newsreel what they are supposed to look like. When it comes to figures from the more distant past, that seems not to matter, despite there being portraits and busts of the real individuals. Producers and directors just don't seem to bother.
There are many busts of Commodus to be seen, in Rome and elsewhere. Probably the most famous is the depiction of him as Hercules which can be seen, flanked by a pair of Tritons, in the Capitoline Museums in Rome.
Hercules was a popular deity in Rome. Not just because of the strength and fortitude he embodied, but because he was supposed to have actually visited the city and killed a monster that lived in a cave on the Palatine Hill.
The Capitoline statue shows the Emperor Commodus with the attributes of Hercules - the skin of the Nemean lion, the club in his right hand, and the apples of the Hesperides in his left. The base of the statue has a couple of figures of Amazons, though the one on the right has long gone. They hold a pair of cornucopias, and there is a globe with astrological symbols.
Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus was born in 161 AD, the son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He became Emperor himself in 180 AD on his father's death, after acting as co-Emperor since 177 AD. He was the first Emperor since Titus to be the natural son of his predecessor. He was the youngest of twin boys - his brother dying at the age of 4.
He was made a Consul at age 15 - the youngest in history at that point. He became sole ruler when his father died fighting a campaign on the Danube.
He had little interest in the administration of the Empire - leaving that to his favoured officials - but he was popular with the army and the people for his staging of gladiatorial games, in which he did like to take part. He also liked to take part in horse races and chariot competitions.
In 182 AD a conspiracy to assassinate him, was foiled. It had been led by one of his sisters, Lucilla. She was exiled to Capri and later killed.
From this point Commodus began to play more of a part in the ruling of his Empire, but in an increasingly dictatorial style. He also tended to stay away from Rome, preferring his various country estates.
His chief adviser had been murdered during the conspiracy, and he promoted in his place a man named Cleander - not knowing that it was actually Cleander who had been the murderer.
Cleander would eventually over-reach himself and was put to death.
Over time, Commodus grew more and more megalomaniacal. He became obsessed with the cult of Hercules, seeing himself as the re-embodiment of the deity and thus a son of Jupiter, rather than the heir of Marcus Aurelius. He gave himself new names - twelve of them - and these became the new months of the year. Everything, and everyone, would be named after him - Romans now becoming Commodians. Nero's golden statue, which gave its name to the Colosseum, had its head replaced with his own.
In November 192 AD, an assassination attempt by some political rivals failed. The poison he was given he vomited up. Then on 31st December, his wrestling partner Narcissus strangled him in his bath. There then followed the Year of the Five Emperors, his successor - Pertinax - not lasting very long.
Initially his memory was damned by the Senate, but three years later he was deified on the request of the incoming Emperor Septimius Severus, who wanted to placate the surviving members of his family.
The chief source of information about Commodus comes from the writer Dio Cassius, and this has tended to paint him as very much a bad Emperor. Movies such as The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) and Gladiator (2000) have entrenched this view. There were no mass persecutions of Christians under Commodus' rule. Rather, one of his officials actually freed many Christian slaves from the mines on Sardinia, and his mistress Marcia is said to have been a Christian herself.
The inclusion of a pair of statues of Triton in the group refer to Commodus' apotheosis - becoming divine. Triton was a son of Poseidon, and always represented as a Merman, with a human torso, covered in scales and barnacles, and a fish tail. Over time, Tritons became a whole species - aquatic cousins of the Centaurs. Disney fans will know that Triton is the father of Ariel, the Little Mermaid.