Roman Empire, Commodus - A Bimetallic Commemorative Medallion

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Medallions were struck relatively often during this period, produced by the mint of Rome toward the end of the year, their purpose being not for financial circulation but for distribution as commemorative gifts to foreign dignitaries or other persons of merit. Their bimetallic composition was for primarily aesthetic reasons, and a means by which Rome (and the mint workers) could show off a technical accomplishment.

Commodus is often credited by the ancient sources with the near destruction of the Roman Empire, through a combination of disinterest in the governance of Rome and an all-consuming belief that he was of god-like status. With his accession, says the contemporary historian Cassius Dio, 'our history now descends from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust, as affairs did for the Romans of that day' (LXXII.36.4).

By the latter years of his reign when this medallion was struck, Commodus believed Hercules was his divine patron, and he worshipped him so intensely that eventually he came to believe himself an incarnation of the mythological hero, reinforcing the image he was cultivating of himself as a demigod who, as the son of Jupiter, was the representative of the supreme god of the Roman pantheon. The growing megalomania of the emperor permeated all areas of Roman life, as is witnessed in the material record by the innumerable statues erected around the empire that had been set up portraying him in the guise of Hercules, and his coinage.

Commodus Æ Bimetallic Medallion. Rome, AD 189. M COMMODVS ANTONINVS PIVS FELIX AVG BRIT, laureate draped and cuirassed bust right / MINER VICT P M TR P XIIII IMP VIII, Minerva, helmeted, wearing chiton and himation, standing left, holding spear in left hand and Victory on right; oval shield at feet to left, trophy of arms with shields at base to right; COS V P P in exergue. Gnecchi II, p. 57, 48; MIR p. 18, 1132 (issue 59/60). 70.01g, 41mm, 6h.

Very Fine. Extremely Rare.

Ex Numismatik Lanz 145, 5 January 2009, lot 127;
Ex Egger XXXIX, 15 January 1912, lot 1057;
Deaccessioned from the collection of Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria.