Hercules on Coins

Commodus’ identification with Hercules during his reign was one of his most controversial actions.  Through this identification Commodus essentially deified himself during his own lifetime, which was taboo for an emperor to do during this period.  While on smaller denomination coins, such as the As and the Sestertius, images of Hercules appear on coins earlier in his reign, on the higher denomination coins, such as the Denarius and the Aureus, images and text of Hercules do not appear widely on coins minted in Rome until around 190-191.  This fact is important because wealthy and influential Romans would be more likely to use higher value coins and see these images.  The Senate in particular was angered by Commodus’ association with Hercules, so images and texts of this would offend many of these powerful men.  In the coin below we see a Denarius from the final years of Commodus’ reign.  While the obverse of this coin contains an image of Commodus, the reverse reads “HERVLI ROMANO AVG,” which translates to “to the Roman Hercules.”  This text coupled with an image of a club would have upset many individuals.

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Denarius, Commodus, 191-192

(RIC III Commodus 252)

On the next coin we see another image of Hercules on a Sestertius.  Not only does this coin have an image of Hercules on the reverse, the legend includes “HERC COMMODIANO.”  Commodus did not hesitate to include Hercules on coins minted late in his reign.  Again Commodus is associating himself with Hercules on a coin minted in Rome in 190-191.  The image on the reverse of this coin shows Hercules nude sacrificing with patera in hand over an altar.  Essentially a pious Hercules.  Placing Hercules coins must have had a significant impact on those whose hands it passed through.

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Sestertius, Commodus, 190-191

(RIC III Commodus 581)