14. The Emperor Commodus had his own sister Lucilla killed when he found out she was behind a plot to assassinate him
Sibling rivalries were only too common among the political elite of Ancient Rome. And many such rivalries ended in bloodshed. But arguably none was a fierce as that of Commodus and his sister Lucilla. While they were both the children of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher emperor who cautioned reason, they were hot-blooded and driven by ambition. Both brother and sister were determined to be the most powerful person in Rome – and, therefore, in the whole world – and they would stop at nothing to realize their ambitions.
Lucilla was older than Commodus by about 13 years. As a young lady, she married her father’s friend, ally and eventual co-ruler, Lucius Versus. This meant that, in the year 164 AD, she became Empress of Rome. Though she was still in her 20s, she relished the responsibility and the power, often assuming control of domestic affairs while her husband and father were away fighting Rome’s wars. For all this time, Commodus grew jealous and resentful. When he reached his teens, he became determined to assume power for himself. And his chance came in March of 180. Marcus Aurelius died while campaigning in modern-day Austria. Commodus was named his successor, and Lucilla was out of favor – and out of an official title.
Within two years, Lucilla was plotting. Concerned about her brother’s erratic behavior – and rightly so, he was one of Rome’s most deplorable rulers – she planned his assassination. Her co-conspirators struck in 182. However, the would-be assassin failed to finish the job. Commodus uncovered the plot and soon found out his own sister was behind it. At first, he banished Lucilla to the island of Capri. Less than 12 months later, however, he dispatched a loyal centurion to kill her and her daughter. Commodus would go on to rule as Emperor for another 10 years before he was assassinated; this time, Narcissus, his own wrestling partner, succeeded, strangling his friend and master in the bath.