Commodus augustus, 177 – 192. Medallion 186, Æ 54.73 g. M COMMODVS ANTONINV – S PIVS FELIX AVG BRIT Laureate bust l., wearing aegis and holding spear. Rev. P M TR P XI IMP – VII – COS V P P Commodus driving a triumphal quadriga r. C 508. Gnecchi 88 and pl. 84, 1.
Very rare and in exceptional state of preservation, undoubtedly one of the finest medallions
of Commodus in existence. A spectacular heroic portrait perfectly struck in high relief
and a superb reverse composition. An untouched green patina, good extremely fine
Ex NAC sale 23, 2002, 1890.
Judging from the ancient historians, the megalomania for which Commodus is most well known was not fully apparent until the final years of his reign, when he claimed to be a new Romulus, refounding Rome in his own image, and paraded himself as a living manifestation of Hercules. However, it is clear from the obverse portrait of this medallion that the seeds of Commodus’ madness were already sprouting in AD 187. Here the Emperor is presented in the manner of a hero, nude except for an aegis—a symbol of the divine protection of both Jupiter and Minerva—and brandishing a spear. This heroic representation, including the use of a back view has a long history covering vast distances. It first appears on Hellenistic coins of the Bactrian king Eukratides I (171-145 BC) but eventually made its way to Republican Rome where it was used for depictions of Veiovis (Crawford 298 and 354/1) in the late second and early first century BC. Commodus seems to have been the first to employ this portrait type on Roman Imperial coinage. It enjoyed some further popularity under the military emperors of the third century AD for whom it was paramount to appear as a superhuman warrior able to defend the Empire against its many enemies. The reverse type is rather more traditional from a Roman perspective and certainly far less dramatic than the heroic style of the obverse. Here Commodus rides in a triumphal quadriga while holding an eagle-tipped scepter. Unfortunately, it is unclear to what triumph the type refers. The Emperor is not known to have celebrated a triumph in AD 186, the year that the medallion was struck. Perhaps it still refers to the triumph celebrated for the victory of his generals in Britannia at which time Commodus assumed the title of Britannicus Maximus, even though he never set foot in the province himself. This title, abbreviated as BRIT appears in the obverse legend. A reminder of the British triumph might have been relevant in AD 186 since this year saw a revolt of the legions stationed in Britannia. This was only brought to an end through the intervention of the commander P. Helvius Pertinax, the man who would seize the imperial purple after the murder of Commodus in AD 192 and begin the bloody civil war known as the Year of the Five Emperors.
|Price realized||210'000 CHF|
|Starting price||120'000 CHF|