image: Marcus Aurelius (AD 121 - AD 180), Emperor from AD 161 - AD 180. Wikimedia commons (link).
The movie Gladiator (2000), starring Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix, presents the transition from the rule of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius to the rule of his son Commodus as a crucial turning point in the history of the empire.
In the film, Marcus Aurelius recognizes the pathological twist in his son's character and decides he will not appoint Commodus as his successor, instead desiring to return Rome to a republic, and appointing the virtuous Maximus to act as "protector" during the transition. As fans of the movie know, Commodus was none too pleased with this arrangement and took matters into his own hands, eliminating both his father and eventually Maximus as well, and ascending to the throne to become one of Rome's most megalomaniacal rulers.
While the above plot takes considerable historical license and inserts an entire series of fictional characters and events surrounding the memorable but entirely imaginary general-turned-gladiator, Maximus, the transition between Marcus Aurelius and Commodus was in fact an enormous turning point in world history, and one that is worthy of careful study and consideration.
According to the theory put forward by Flavio Barbiero in his 2010 book, The Secret Society of Moses, the transition from Marcus Aurelius to Commodus was critical in that Commodus was the first emperor who was an initiate into the secret society of Sol Invictus Mithras. As explained in my previous post entitled "Ten reasons to suspect a close connection between ancient Roman Mithraism and ancient Roman Christianity," and articulated at greater length by Flavio Barbiero in an online article entitled "Mithras and Jesus: Two sides of the same coin," there is evidence to support the thesis that the secret society of Sol Invictus Mithras was the primary vehicle through which the priestly families from Judea took over the levers of control of the entire Roman Empire.
Judea and Jerusalem fell to the Roman legions led by Vespasian and his son Titus in AD 70. Vespasian and Titus brought back certain members of the leading priestly families from Judea to Rome -- including the crucially important historical personage of Josephus. Once in Rome, according to the thesis expounded by Flavio Barbiero and backed up by extensive historical evidence (starting with the writings of Josephus himself), these priestly families began a secret campaign to gain control of the levers of power, beginning with the Praetorian Guard and then extending steadily to the centers of commerce, the bureaucracy of the empire, and of course the Roman army itself (especially the officer corps).
In order to accomplish this takeover, these families used the twin vehicles of Mithraism and literalist, hierarchical, ecclesiastical Christianity (which they created, and which slowly took over from and supplanted the earlier gnostic and esoteric forms of Christianity that had existed prior to the campaign of Vespasian and Titus and their destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem).
If that seems difficult to believe, remember that these families were extremely experienced at running a system which we could call a system of reality creation. Previous posts have explored the likelihood that the ancient esoteric wisdom which forms the foundation of all the world's ancient sacred traditions articulated a vision of our universe as one that is shaped at least in part by human consciousness, and taught that through consciousness we can actually create realities. As this previous post articulates, I believe there is evidence that this wisdom was intended for (and anciently used for) benevolent purposes, but it can also be used for purposes of control, domination, and the general suppression of human consciousness in others.
So, if the families that came to Rome after the fall of Jerusalem were experts in "reality creation," were they more disposed to use that knowledge for the more benevolent purposes of enhancing human consciousness and freedom, or for the more oppressive purposes of control and domination?
Well, there is clear evidence which demonstrates that most repositories of the ancient wisdom were destroyed after the arrival of these families in Rome, and in fact after the time that Sol Invictus Mithras began appointing emperors and thus demonstrating that it had gained control of the levers of power of the Roman Empire. Examples of this destruction of the esoteric ancient wisdom include the destruction and suppression of gnostic and esoteric texts within the Roman Empire itself (see discussions here and here and here), as well as the burning or seizing of ancient texts stored at the library of Alexandria. It also includes the shuttering of the sites that carried on the various mystery cults within the borders of the Roman Empire, which (as I explain in The Undying Stars) also appear to have preserved aspects of the ancient knowledge that the new order set about to suppress or eliminate (for a discussion of one of the most important of these ancient mystery cults, see this previous post exploring the Eleusinian Mysteries).
Based on the fact that these suppressions all took place within the Roman Empire after the time that Sol Invictus began appointing emperors, and especially after Constantine made literalist Christianity the official religion of the empire, it is safe to say that those expert practitioners of reality creation who took over the Roman Empire were generally more interested in the "control and domination" side of the art.
In his book, Flavio Barbiero points out that the use of the two-pronged strategy which included both the public-facing literalist-Christian vehicle and the private, exclusive, and extremely secret society of Sol Invictus Mithras was critical to the success of the takeover. The old Roman families, especially those who controlled the Senate of Rome until the Senate was slowly infiltrated by equestrian-class newcomers, never actually realized that the leaders at the top of Sol Invictus were the ones calling the shots. The representatives of the old Roman families generally saw Christianity as the threat, and tried to attack it instead -- thus the spread of Christianity served as the perfect distraction or decoy to misdirect their attention and enable the secret society of Sol Invictus to move its pieces across the chessboard until it was able to emplace emperors at will.
At first, the leaders of Sol Invictus used emperors who were from the old Roman families but had been initiated into the Sol Invictus cult (not knowing that they were only shown the "lower-level" activities of the secret society, and were not invited to the high-level inner-circle meetings where the real strategy was enacted). However, at some point, Sol Invictus had enough power (backed up by their control of the Praetorian Guard) to appoint descendants of their own priestly families to the office of emperor.
According to Flavio Barbiero's research, the first emperor to be a member of Sol Invictus was none other than Commodus, who took the throne in AD 177, just over one hundred years after the fall of Jerusalem and the arrival of Josephus and the other members of the priestly families in Rome.
The fact that Commodus was closely associated with Sol Invictus is clear from several historical details. For one, he took the name "Invictus," and when he renamed the months of the year after his own several names and appellations (an example of his egomania which caused tremendous resentment among the traditional Roman families), he chose to name one of the months "Invictus." Another piece of evidence can be seen in the coin below (source), which has the image of Commodus on one side and the image of a solar god or figure on the obverse side, with legs crossed and leaning against a pillar:
We have already examined at some length in previous posts the fact that crossed legs is a form of metaphorical solar symbology which is extremely characteristic of the iconography found in Mithraic meeting-places (mithraea). The work of Mithraic scholar David Ulansey clearly establishes that the crossed legs refers specifically to the sun's crossing of the celestial equator, which takes place twice a year at equinox. I have also argued in previous discussions that there is extensive evidence to conclude that the pillar refers to the line running from the winter solstice to the summer solstice (see here, here, and here, for example).
In addition to this, there are other ancient sources which indicate that Commodus was affiliated with Sol Invictus Mithras. Marcus Aurelius, on the other hand, seems to have sensed the rising threat to the ancient traditions and belief systems and to have attempted to stem the tide, thus placing his reign and that of his son on two different sides of the crucial power struggle over the future of the western world.
Flavio Barbiero points out that there is some evidence that Marcus Aurelius actively persecuted Christianity to some degree (185). Other scholars argue that it is not entirely certain to what degree Marcus Aurelius actively encouraged the persecution of Christians that took place under his reign (although it is hard to explain how that could have gone on against his will or without his knowledge). Thus, it is quite possible that Marcus Aurelius, who was himself a Stoic and an important philosopher in his own right, perceived that dangerous forces were at work to supplant the old ways, and incorrectly believed that Christianity was the primary threat and targeted its adherents, not perceiving that Sol Invictus was the more important nerve center that was directing the long-term campaign.
With the passing of Marcus Aurelius and the accession to the throne by Commodus, there was a definitive shift in power. Flavio Barbiero says that "the imperial office from Commodus onward" was "conferred almost exclusively on members of the Sol Invictus organization, independent of the rank they held in the organization and whether or not they belonged to whatever branch of the priestly family" (209).
Marcus Aurelius is often included in the category of the "five good emperors" (along with Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius). In his massive 1,500,000-word magnum opus The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon (1737 - 1794) says of the events that took place after the reign of Antoninus Pius (the end of whose reign he saw as the beginning of the long decline and ultimate fall of the empire), it was "a revolution which will ever be remembered, and is still felt by the nations of the earth" (page 11 of this version).
How right he was, especially on that second point about it being "still felt by the nations of the earth."
Of the reign of Commodus, Flavio Barbiero writes:
On the death of Marcus Aurelius, probably the most zealous and efficient persecutor of Christianity of the emperors who succeeded Nero, the Empire passed to his son Commodus, who was initiated into the Mithraic organization. For more efficient influence over Commodus, he was given a Christian concubine, Marcia, who, for the entire duration of his reign (AD 180 - 192), had the prerogatives and powers of an empress. Commodus has gone down in history as one of the most ferocious and extravagant of the Roman emperors; he sent thousands of people to their deaths for the sheer pleasure of it. Among these people, however, there was not a single Christian, because he put an end to the persecutions of his father and showed favor to Christianity in every way.
Commodus was certainly not of priestly lineage, and his unpredictability made him difficult to maneuver for the Mithraic organization, which eventually decided to eliminate him. [. . .] Marcia was the instrument of his elimination, and was helped by Quintus Aemilius Laetus, prefect of the Praetorian Guard, which, by then, was completely under the control of Sol Invictus. 186-187.
Note that Laetus appears in the 2000 movie Gladiator, and plays a rather important role throughout the film (he is clearly no fan of Commodus).
The fact that Commodus, a member of Sol Invictus, had as his favorite concubine (who was given the powers and prerogatives of an empress) a woman who was a known Christian should be seen as yet another piece of evidence (in addition to those listed here and the many others listed in the works of Flavio Barbiero) that Christianity and Mithraism were not arch-rival religions the way they are often portrayed in conventional scholarship.
The fact that the Praetorian Guard was perfectly capable of removing emperors by assassination is also demonstrated from the above passage, as it is also demonstrated by the numerous emperors after Commodus who reigned for only a few weeks or months before being assassinated themselves.
The graphic below shows the majority of the emperors from Vespasian to Constantine, with important milestones indicated in highlighted-yellow type. Emperors who reigned for very short periods of time are depicted in smaller images than those who reigned for longer. Dates are indicated in red lettering and all of them are AD. The images are for the most part those found on this Wikipedia page. Not all dates are listed, but enough are listed to give a general idea of the timeline. Years listed are for the year the emperor began to reign:
From the above chart, we can see that (if the analysis of Flavio Barbiero is correct, and I believe that it is) the priestly families worked towards the ability to get an initiate of Sol Invictus into the imperial office from their arrival in Rome around AD 70, and finally succeeded with the accession to the throne by Commodus in AD 177. After his reign (and later assassination), there were two emperors removed in quick succession, followed by several more emperors closely affiliated with Sol Invictus starting with Septimius Severus in AD 193: this indicates that Sol Invictus continued to decide who would become emperor (and whether that emperor would stay the emperor) from Commodus onwards (there was only one big setback to their plans, during the period of the tetrarchy, discussed briefly below).
This excellent web page from ancient coin collector Bill Welch shows Roman coins with clear Sol Invictus imagery beginning most especially with coins minted during the reign of Septimius Severus.
Flavio Barbiero discusses the evidence that one of the primary missions assigned to the emperor Septimius Severus and his immediate successors was the drastic reduction of the power of the old senatorial families of Italic stock, and the gradual infiltration into the Senate of newly-wealthy equestrians (who generally came from the bureaucratic offices of the empire, and from the military)(187 and following).
Also notable among the emperors in the group that begins with Septimius Severus is the emperor Elagabulus, of whom Flavio Barbiero finds evidence suggesting that he may have been the first emperor to be descended from one of the priestly family lines.
Following another internecine period of rapidly-assassinated and replaced emperors, Gordian III emerged to reign from AD 238 - AD 244, followed in AD 244 by Philip I (also known as "Philip the Arab"), the first openly Christian emperor. It should be noted that emperors could be both Christian and members of Sol Invictus all the way up until after the time of Constantine.
Also noteworthy, especially in light of the huge number of emperors who only lasted for a period of weeks or months, is this quotation from Flavio Barbiero: "It is quite likely that the heads of the branches of the priestly family, who monopolized the higher levels of the Mithraic organization, were reluctant to take on the office themselves and preferred to govern through expendable pawns affiliated at the first levels -- and were ready to eliminate them as soon as they deviated from their instructions or disappointed expectations" (197).
Finally, Flavio Barbiero explains that Diocletian almost certainly devised the unwieldy mechanism of the "tetrarchy" in order to protect himself from the threat of rapid assassination by the Sol Invictus powerbrokers who had allowed him to become emperor (something that happened to many emperors who stepped out of line, including many of those who immediately preceded Diocletian). As a result of Diocletian's move, according to Barbiero, the leaders of Sol Invictus decided to make Christianity the official religion of Rome and to move their nerve center from the hidden organization of Mithraism to the more-open organization of the Christian church, which took place during the reign of Constantine (who reigned from AD 313, when he gained undisputed control over the empire after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, until his death in AD 337).
In order to facilitate that control, they also had Constantine move the seat of the imperial office out of Rome and over to the new city of Constantinople.
Clearly, there is historical evidence which strongly supports Barbiero's thesis. If he is correct, the transition of power between Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus, was one of the turning points in human history. It is also clear that Commodus went off in quite a different direction than that of his father -- Marcus Aurelius working as best he saw how to try to stave off the threat that was working to take over the empire from within, while Commodus actually signed up for the program that was maneuvering that takeover.
I wonder if the makers of the film Gladiator (which was a joint British and American production; Flavio Barbiero provides evidence that the British Isles became an early and important stronghold of both the priestly families discussed above and the Sol Invictus Mithras organization) knew all of this when they chose to make a film about that critical transition that took place in AD 177 . . .