Imperator Caesar Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus Augustus
Reign: Marcus Aurelius
Mint: Tripolis ad Maeandrum, Lydia
Date: 177/180 AD
Nominal: Bronze Medallion
Reference: RPC IV.2 17452 (this coin)
RPC Online: https://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/coins/4/17452
Rare: Specimens 1 (0 in the core collections)
Provenance: Savoca Numismatik Munich, Germany (Auction 133, Lot 193)
Provenance: Comptoir des Monnaies Anciennes Lille, France
Special: Only known example, RPC Online Plate coin
Obverse: Bare-headed bust of Commodus (youthful) wearing cuirass and paludamentum, right, seen from centre
Inscription: ΑΥΤ ΚΑΙϹ Λ ΑΥΡ ΚοΜΟΔΟϹ
Translation: Autokrator Kaisaros Lucios Aurelios Komodos
Translation: Imperator Caesar Lucius Aurelius Commodus
Reverse: Dionysus (youthful) standing, facing, head, right, placing hand on top of his head, being supported by Satyr; to left, panther jumping, left
Translation: City and People of Tripolis (ad Maeandrum)
Comment: Tripolis on the Meander (Latin: Tripolis ad Maeandrum, named ca. 30 BC – AD 640) – also Apollonia (named ca. 330 BC – 30 BC), Antoniopolis (named ca. 330 BC – AD 300) and Neapolis – was an ancient city on the borders of Phrygia, Caria and Lydia, on the northern bank of the upper course of the Maeander, and on the road leading from Sardes by Philadelphia to Laodicea ad Lycum. It was situated 20 km to the northwest of Hierapolis. The earliest mention of Tripolis is by Pliny the Elder, who treats it as a Lydian town. Ptolemy and Stephanus of Byzantium describe it as a Carian town. Hierocles likewise calls it a Lydian town. Although the founding of the city of Tripoli is dated to the Hellenistic period, archaeological finds prove that the area was already inhabited from 4000 BC. It was conquered or settled by Hittites, Phrygians, Greeks, Romans, Seljuks and Mongols. Located at the crossroads of the ancient regions of Phrygia, Caria and Lydia, the city was initially founded under the name Apollonia on Lydian territory. The name of the city changed over time; as people from all three regions settled in the city, it was renamed Tripolis (Tri-polis; three-city settlements) in the 1st century BC. This name remained until the city was abandoned in the 7th century AD. Tripoli reached its heyday and the height of its power in Roman times, especially in the period after the 2nd century AD. During this time, new public buildings were erected, including the city gates, streets, the baths, the stadium, as well as the theatre and the Bouleuterion. In 494 AD, the city was partially destroyed. This event began the gradual depopulation of the city, which culminated in the Sassanid raids in the sixth and seventh centuries. The inhabitants retreated to the city of Direbol, only 8 km north of Tripoli. Situated on a ridge, this place was better defended. The coinage from Tripolis ad Maeandrum seems to have come to an end under Marcus Aurelius (with issues of Commodus as Caesar) – and was not resumed until the time of Caracalla or Severus Alexander. There are many coinages under Commodus from other cities in the Lydia region – but not from Tripolis ad Maeandrum.
Pliny the Elder gives a concise and equally vague description of the region of Lydia: the centre of the heartland was Mount Tmolos, where the capital Sardis was located, Lake Gygia (today: Marmara Gölü) and the surrounding fertile plain along the Hermos (today: Gediz). Lydia bordered Caria to the south, Phrygia to the east, Mysia to the north and extended beyond Ionia to the west. If one disregards the western border with Ionia, the description is considered correct. In concrete terms, there were no clear border lines, but border zones. In the late phase of Hellenism, the Roman Empire showed some activity in the Lydian area: after the victory over Antiochos III, negotiations were held with the Seleucids in Sardis, as they were later with the Galatians. With the victory over the Seleucids, Asia Minor remained quiet for a long time. When the Attalid dynasty ended with the death of Attalus III in 133 BC, the ruler bequeathed his empire – and with it the former Lydian territory – to the Romans. The Romans granted independence to Sardis and other Lydian cities. Despite the fact that the Lydian cities remained relatively untouched by the Vespers of Ephesus (88 BC) and the 1st Mithridatic War (89 to 84 BC), the area became part of the province of Asia as part of Sulla’s reorganisation of Asia Minor (84 BC). In the course of the Diocletianic provincial reform in 297 AD, a province of Lydia was again created, which, however, only consisted of the barely expanded Hermos Valley, the heart of Lydian culture.
The Lydian religion is polytheistic, although it is not always clear, especially from the Late Lydian period onwards, how far one can speak of Lydian religion, because on the one hand there was considerable syncretism with Greek gods, many Greek gods were adopted and on the other hand, since the later period, many testimonies go back to the rapidly asserting Hellenistic culture. The central goddess was Kybele or Kuvava, who is closely linked to the Phrygian Kybele or Matar. She is usually depicted as a female figure with lion companions. Artemis also received great veneration, for example from Kroisos. The worship of male gods has left fewer remains. Bacchus or Dionysos is the Lydian Baki-, cited and implied in Lydian texts, which in nature and number suggest that Baki-’s cult existed in the Lydian era, although the date of the texts is Classical and Hellenistic. Satyrs, the followers of Dionysos, are depicted at Sardis in the sixth century BC on the marble naiskos of Cybele (No. 34, Figs. 1, 2) and make an active cult highly probable. Moreover, Lydia is mentioned as the place of birth in Euripides’ play “The Bacchae”, there are Roman coins that point to this idea.
The earliest depictions of Dionysus date back to the 7th century BC. On Attic vases in particular, this theme is one of the most frequently dealt with between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. The sight of predators in the vicinity of Dionysus is found above all in the depictions of Gigantomahky on Attic ceramics from 560 BC onwards. The most intense depictions are found within the Hellenistic and Roman periods. From the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD, especially between the 2nd-3rd century AD, the child Dionysus was depicted both with predators (panther, lion, tiger or leopard) and alone. The “Statue of the Child Dionysus”, which was found during the excavations in Tripoli (ad Maeandrum) in 2007, is well known. Dionysus is depicted here in a position facing the panther. Unfortunately, the statue has not been preserved above the waist. Equally well-known is the Eros relief of the child Dionysus discovered by G. Weber in Tripoli in the late 19th century. Further examples can be found on other statues, sarcophagi and mosaics, so that a lively cult and great popularity of Dionysus can be concluded. Around the ancient city of Tripoli are important centres of sculpture such as Tralleis, Aphrodisias, Hierapolis, Philadelphia and Dokimeion. Tripoli is probably a local centre inspired by these cities.
Dionysos (Latinised Dionysus) is the god of wine, joy, grapes, fertility, madness and ecstasy in the Greek world of the gods (compare the Dionysia). He was additionally called Bromios (“noisemaker”), Bacchus (“caller”) or Bakchos by the Greeks and Romans because of the noise his entourage made. Dionysus was often equated with Iakchos and is the youngest of the great Greek gods. In literature and poetry he is often referred to as Lysios and as Lyaeus (“the Worry Breaker”), but also as Anthroporrhaistes (“Man Shatterer”). Dionysus is usually depicted with ivy or vine tendrils and grapes. His attributes are the thyrsos crowned with ivy and vines and the kantharos (drinking vessel for wine). He is also often depicted with panther or tiger skins. He was usually triumphantly accompanied by the Silene and satyrs (such as the Ampelos), who embody the fertility of untamed nature.
In his capacity as god of joy, the theatre was invented in Athens through the Dionysia and the prototype theatre was built, the Dionysus Theatre in Athens. As a solver (Lysios, Lyaios) he unleashed the people, freed them from worries and made walls collapse. Later in Rome, the Dionysia were celebrated as the Bacchanalia, because Dionysus in Latin means Bacchus. The festival was celebrated from the 2nd century BC and took place annually on 16 and 17 March on the hill of Aventine in Rome. In terms of religious psychology, Dionysia and Bacchanalia should be understood as an intoxicating cult of spring and fertility: The overcoming of the season of winter through the renewed growth of vegetation, which could be experienced by everyone, was related to the human joy of being and, not least, sexuality. Bacchanalia could have been excessive through the consumption of alcohol with psychedelic substances such as hallucinogenic mushrooms and even belladonna. In “Bacchae”, Euripides describes the participants as revelers who put on skins and hides and assume animal roles.
The Bacchanalia scandal 186 BC. In the 39th book of his Roman history Ab urbe condita (“From the Founding of the City”), the Roman historian Titus Livius gives a detailed and extremely dramatic account of the events. In addition, there are several mentions of the Bacchanalia scandal in the anecdotal collection of Valerius Maximus, from which, however, we learn nothing beyond what is reported by Livius. In the early 2nd century BC, the bacchanalia escalated into boisterous, licentious orgies. First of all, Livius reported that the spread of the form of the cult of Bacchus, ultimately suppressed by the Senate, started from a Greek priest of lesser rank who had resided for a time in Etruria, then turned to Rome and began to seek followers for his nocturnal rites. At first there were only a few whom he was able to initiate into his mysteries, but soon their number grew considerably, due to the attraction that the enjoyment of wine and sexual permissiveness, which occurred in the course of these Bacchic orgies, exerted on women as well as men. Every conceivable kind of licentiousness was practised there. In 186 BC, after a scandal, they were strictly regulated by the Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, the “Senate Decree on the Bacchanalia”. According to reports by the historians Flavius and Titus Livius, the scandal was uncovered by the consul Spurius Postumius Albinus. A total of 7000 women and men were executed and the bacchanalia became subject to approval.
Commodus is best known for his fondness for the hero Hercules. However, Commodus was also – at least in the early years – celebrated and honored as the new Dionysus, as can be found on many inscriptions. An example from Ephesus, found near the old harbor in the apsidal building near the so-called baptismal font of John. Here the emperor is identified with a god as a “new Dionysos” (AGRW 173 = IEph 293 = PHI 248767 = AGRW ID# 1319 Copenhagen Inventory info: 1620). The translation, according to Harland, is: “The emperor-loving, hair-cloth wearing (or: sack-bearing) initiates (sakēphoroi mystai) of the primal god Dionysos Koreseitos set this up in honor of emperor Caesar M. Aurelius Commodos Antoninus Augustus, new Dionysos, during the priesthood of M. Aurelius Menemachos, the high-priest and president”.