Marcus Aurelius Antonius, philosopher-emperor of Rome, summons his empire's governors and princes to German war headquarters for a Pax Romanus. He confides to his daughter, Lucilla, that his adopted son, Livius, will succeed him instead of his more unstable heir, Commodus. Overhearing this, Cleander, a blind prophet loyal to Commodus, presents Marcus with a poisoned apple. After the funeral, Livius, who does not share Lucilla's ambition for himself or Rome, allows Commodus to proclaim himself emperor. Lucilla marries Sohamus of Armenia. While pestilence ravages Rome, Commodus continues his vain, licentious behavior, neglecting all symptoms of unrest while banishing anyone reminding him of his responsibilities: Livius, Lucilla, Timonides the Greek.

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