Commodus. A.D. 177-192. Æ medallion (41 mm, 60.60 g). Roma, ca. A.D. 191. M COMMODVS ANTONI-NVS PIVS FELIX AVG BRIT, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right / HERC COMMODIANO P M TR P XVI IMP VIII ,Hercules, in the guise of Commodus, standing left, holding cornucopiae and sacrificing out of patera over lighted altar, at the side of which rests his club; to left, a tree from which hang the lion’s skin and the quiver; in exergue, COS VI P P. Gnecchi p. 53, 21, pl. 79, 5. M. Tocci, Medagliere del Museo Vaticano p. 64, 33, pl. 47, 33. Toynbee, p. 75 note 12, p. 90 note 149, p. 208. Boston, Roman Medallions 41; Cohen 176. Very rare and an extremely interesting reverse composition. A pleasant brown-green patina and some minor areas of corrosion, otherwise about extremely fine.
Ex NAC 27 (12 May 2004), 426. Realized CHF 13,000 on an estimate of CHF 12,000.
NAC: This massive bronze medallion was struck in 191, a year that witnessed Commodus' increasing megalomania, and his fear of plots, against which he sought divine help. Chief among his patrons was Hercules, whom Commodus worshipped so intensely that he soon believed himself to be an incarnation of the mythological hero. Though Toynbee describes the figure on the reverse simply as Hercules, it is better described as Commodus in the guise of Hercules, especially when we compare this scene to a subsequent issue that shows Commodus-Hercules tilling the soil of Rome, which he re-founded as Colonia Commodiana. This reverse, inscribed HERC COMMODIANO, shows Commodus sacrificing at an altar, with a club, lion's skin and quiver nearby. He holds an unusual object for his Herculian guise: a cornucopiae, indicating his role as a patron of agriculture. Commodus had taken a personal interest in improving grain deliveries to the capital. In 186 he celebrated his new (and outrageously expensive) African grain fleet by depicting a commercial vessel on aurei and sestertii. Again, in 192, he makes reference to this topic by showing himself, as Hercules-Commodus, with his foot on a prow. Months before this medallion was struck the capital was hit with a grain shortage and a plague that at their peak caused 2,000 deaths a day. Commodus' prefect Cleander was so despised that the grain commissioner Dionysius engineered the grain shortage to cause his downfall. It was risky, but it worked, and in 190 Cleander fell victim to an angry mob. With these dramatic events fresh in mind, the cornucopia must symbolize the resolution of the grain shortage, and the sacrifice scene must allude to the cessation of the plague. The politician Commodus would have had a strong stake in both, and the fact that he chose to show himself in the guise of Hercules may be seen as further evidence of his increasingly open association with the hero.