Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus
Date: 186 AD
Reference: RIC III Commodus 130d
OCRE Online: http://numismatics.org/ocre/id/ric.3.com.130d
Provenance: Numidas Numismatik Vienna, Austria (Catawiki Auction 68867989)
Special: Possibly signs of damnatio memoriae on the obverse
Obverse: Head of Commodus, laureate, right
Inscription: M COMM ANT P FEL AVG BRIT
Translation: Marcus Commodus Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus Britannicus
Translation: Marcus Commodus Antoninus, the pious, the fortunate, Augustus, conqueror of the Britons
Reverse: Commodus standing, left on platform, three soldiers standing, right holding legionary eagles
Inscription: FID EXERC P M TR P XI IMP VII COS V P P
Translation: Fides Exercitus. Pontifex Maximus, Tribunicia Potestate Undecima, Imperator, Septimum, Consul Quintum, Pater Patriae
Translation: Loyalty of the army. High priest, holder of tribunician power for the eleventh time, Imperator for the seventh time, consul for the fifth time, father of the nation
Comment: Fides was the Roman personification of trust, loyalty and oath. She was also venerated under the name Fides Publica Populi Romani (roughly „general trustworthiness of the Roman people“). According to tradition, Rome’s second king Numa Pompilius established annual festivals in honour of Fides, and instituted that the higher priests (the three flamines maiores) were brought to the temple in a covered vaulted chariot drawn by two horses. There they were to conduct Fides‘ services with their heads covered and their right hands wrapped up to their fingers, thus showing absolute devotion to Fides and symbolising trust. There is historical evidence of the erection of a temple on the Capitol during the 1st Punic War. Its temple in Rome, consecrated in 254 BC by the consul Aulus Atilius Caiatinus, was located on the Capitol near the temple of Jupiter. Here the Roman Senate signed and kept treaties with other states, entrusting them to Fides‘ protection. As a rule, a standing woman is depicted, usually with ears of corn and a basket of fruit or a cornucopia and bowl. She thus embodies the „Fides publica“ – the promise of trust and loyalty between the emperor and the Roman people. In the later – and increasingly uncertain – imperial period, more and more issues of the „Fides militum“ and the „Fides exercitus“ were added, mostly with military attributes such as spear, sceptre, standard or aquila. These coins fervently invoke the loyalty of the legions and soldiers to their emperor. This “Fides Exercitus” denarius type can be dated to the year 186 AD. Although the eleventh Tribunicia Potestate of Commodus already began on 10 December 185 AD, he did not take up the fifth consulate until 01 January 186 AD – and therefore marks the earliest possible issue of this denarius. On the reverse legend we still see the seventh imperatorial title (IMP VII) from 184 AD – thus the coming eighth imperatorial title (IMP VIII, bellum desertorum under the leadership of Pescennius Niger), which he receives in the course of 186 AD, marks the end of the issue. The minting period can therefore be set between January and the middle / end of the year 186 AD.
In 184 AD barbarians crossed the border wall in Britain and cut down a Roman detachment (Dio LXXII 8. Comm. 6, 2. 8, 4. 13, 5. Dessau 1327). Commodus sent Ulpius Marcellus against them, who had already administered Britain in the time of Emperor Marcus (CIL VII 504). The latter succeeded in defeating the Britannians, but nevertheless there seems to have been a revolt among the three legions on the spot towards the end of 184 AD. Commodus’ favorite Perennis is said to have made himself unpopular with the Britannian legions by appointing knight army commanders instead of senatorial ones (Comm. 6, 2). The disaffected troops even wanted to elect a counter-emperor (Comm. 8, 4), perhaps a Priscus (Dio vol. V p. 208 Dind.). In any case, the insurgents sent a large deputation of 1500 men to Rome to effect the overthrow of Perennis (Dio LXXII 9, 2-4). Apparently, the deputation – unhindered by anyone – got as far as just outside Rome, where Commodus is said to have met them. When asked about their motives, the mutinous soldiers are said to have replied to Commodus “they were here because Perennis had plotted against him and was planning to make his son emperor”. Commodus believed them, especially since another of Commodus’ minions – Cleander – further encouraged him in this belief. Thereupon Commodus, fearing the deputation of the Britannic army, abandoned his all-powerful prefect to the soldiers, who killed him with his wife, sister and two sons (Dio LXXII 9, 4. 13, 1. Comm. 6, 2). The fact that Commodus not only abandoned Perennis to the mob, but also the family of his prefect, and that he subsequently appointed two “Praefecti praetorio” instead of a single one as before, shows that Commodus certainly believed in a real conspiracy. To these historical events of the years 184 and 185 AD appear on aurei and denarii (RIC 110) for the first time on the backs of the coins an emperor standing on a pedestal in front of three soldiers, each holding a legionary eagle. The three soldiers probably symbolize the three mutinous legions stationed in Britain.
With this, however, the troubled times do not seem to have come to an end. Remarkable is the number of “Fides Exercitus” issues on medallions, sestertii and denarii (RIC 130, 468) in different variations, which were continued in the following year 186 AD – among them the siberdenary presented here. All of them show the emperor Commodus in military dress; alone on a pedestal; in front of him are either three, four, five or six soldiers with three legionary eagles. Since here again explicitly three legion eagles are depicted, a reference to the three Britannic legions suggests itself again. Since there had also been similar aurei issues, one could possibly also assume possible donatives. However, the minting of sestertii speaks against it. Judging by the poor quality of individual dies, the coins were produced in a certain hurry, which in any case suggests an acute need for a large amount of currency. The mutinous legions in Britain were still not pacified after the fall of Perennis, and the mutiny continued. Commodus had recalled Pertinax (later emperor) from exile after the prefect’s fall and entrusted him with supreme command of the three Britannian legions. When Pertinax arrived on the island the unrest reached another peak. The soldiers were still without the desired new emperor and to this end proclaimed Pertinax as the new emperor. The latter refused and finally put down the uprisings of the legions – nevertheless the unrest among the soldiers had almost cost Pertinax his life. But also in Germania superior there were riots among mutinous soldiers in 186 AD, led by a certain Maternus. Maternus and his band of robbers roamed Gaul and Spain, raiding and plundering major cities. In addition to the unrest, there were attacks by Germanic groups who crossed the Rhine. An inscription from Urbinium speaks of a “nova obsidio” from which the Legio VIII Augusta under the command of the tribune C. Vesvius Vindex was able to free itself. The wax tablet in Rottweil is dated 14 August 186 AD and mentions the liberation of Legio VIII.
Fides Exercitus, if not Fides Exercituum, may be understood here as an appeal to the mutinous Britannic legions. The three legionary eagles can be seen on almost all depictions of this. However, a reference to the events in Upper Germania would also be conceivable. Primary source: „Maria Regina Kaiser-Raiß; Die stadtrömische Münzprägung während der Alleinherrschaft des Commodus“.
Does the denarius on the bust of Commodus presented here show signs of a damnatio memoriae? One thing first – the term damnatio memoriae (condemnation of memory) is a modern neologism. In ancient times, the Romans spoke of “memoria damnata” or “abolitio nominis” and meant the cursing and demonstrative erasure of a person’s memory by posterity. The names of particularly despised and hated persons were erased from all annals, all accessible portraits and inscriptions were destroyed, and in the future it was avoided at all costs to mention the condemned person in public – although the mention of his name was never punishable. Modern research, especially in Rome, usually assesses the meaning of the damnatio memoriae differently today than it did in the past: according to this, the measures were by no means really intended to lead to the person concerned being forgotten, rather the memory of him was deliberately kept alive by cursing his name – it is no coincidence that almost everyone who fell victim to the damnatio in Rome is known by name. Often it can even be shown that the erasure of names and images of those affected remained intentionally imperfect: it should remain recognisable that something had been removed. In this context, one speaks of a “memory of forgetting”.
The Roman Senate had the emperors Caligula, Nero, Domitian, Commodus, Geta, Elagabal and Maximinus Thrax punished in this way (Caligula, according to Cassius Dio, only de facto, since Emperor Claudius prevented a real damnatio of his nephew). The wording of a (presumably fictitious) damnation decree has survived in the Vita Commodi of the Historia Augusta (20, 4-5), and traces of the damnatio against Geta have been preserved on a papyrus (BGU 2056). Although no damnatio was officially imposed on Severus Alexander and Gordian III, there are nevertheless inscriptions and effigies that have been edited accordingly. The effigies of the emperors concerned (statues, busts, herms, coins, etc.) were often destroyed or damaged, but sometimes they were also confiscated and reworked into effigies of other personalities. Whether a dead princeps fell to the damnatio or, on the contrary, was raised among the gods (apotheosis or divinisation) was in fact the decision of the successor, not of the Senate. Thus not only Claudius prevented the damnatio of Caligula, but apparently also Antoninus Pius that of the unpopular Hadrian. Some of the emperors on whose memory the damnatio had been imposed were also rehabilitated by a so-called restitutio memoriae, e.g. Nero under Otho and Vitellius and in particular Commodus under Septimius Severus, who enforced a complete restitutio including apotheosis, since he claimed a fictitious relationship with Commodus. The damnatio procedure was also used against politically unpopular senators in the imperial era. As already mentioned, the aim was probably not to erase the memory – since the names of damned emperors could still be mentioned – but to curse the memory. The damnatio seems never to have been expressly ordered outside Rome. The preserved decree of damnation for Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso shows that the provinces were merely informed of how to proceed in the capital; the decision to imitate this lay formally with the local authorities.
Possibly the silver denarius presented here is also such a case – of cursing the memory of the Emperor Commodus, by “damaging” the portrait, but in such a way that he is still recognisable in himself.