Titles and Names in Inscriptions

Commodus can be easily identified by various titles and names in inscriptions.  These titles and names can reflect different historical events during the lifetime of an emperor, and allow us to understand the importance of public image.  In the case of Commodus, we can use titles to identify certain achievements and public image campaigns.  The Inscription below comes from Rome around the years 177-180 AD.  The dating is important because Marcus Aurelius was in the final years of his rule, which ended with his death in 180.  Also, Commodus served as Consul in 177.  Not only are both emperors in the nominative, but both emperors also hold the title of “Imperator Caesar” and “Augustus,” reinforcing that both rulers were exercising authority from 177-180.  As Commodus’ father and older emperor, Marcus Aurelius’ name appears first, but both emperors maintain the titles of “Germanicus Sarmaticus.”  These titles may refer to the military campaigns both men led against barbarians.  While the rest of the text goes on to discuss a dispute between merchants, the first six lines of just names and titles reveals much about the history of these two men.


Rome, Italy, 177/180

Imp(erator) Caesar M(arcus) Aurelius
Antoninus Aug(ustus)
Germanicus Sarmat(icus) et
Imp(erator) Caesar L(ucius) Aurelius
Commodus Aug(ustus)
Germanicus Sarmat(icus)
hos lapides constituì ìusserunt
propter controversias quae
inter mercatores et mancip̣es
ortae erant uti finem
demonstrarent vectigali
foricularì et ansariì
promercalium secundum
veterem legem semel dum
taxat exigundo.
One of Commodus’ most famous public image campaigns was assuming the identity of Hercules.  This campaign was so wide spread that we can find the title of “Roman Hercules” on inscriptions throughout the empire.  While the online databases holding these inscriptions did not have any pictures of the original inscriptions, the typed text can still be incredibly useful.  The first inscription comes from Italy.  We can see a number of changes in this text from 192 compared to the other inscriptions from roughly 177 and 181, but here we will look specifically at the addition of “Invicto Romano Herculi.”  These three names were added by Commodus in 192, which was also the year he was assassinated.  Over the course of Commodus’ reign as sole emperor from 180-192, he grew increasingly disinterested in government affairs, devoted most of his time to the arena, and eventually considered himself the living Hercules.  As he increasingly thought of himself as Hercules, images appeared of Commodus dressed in Herculean lion garb and added “Roman Hercules” to his name.  This inscription from Italy reinforces this fact, as Commodus’ name now in 192 contains the “unconquerable Roman Hercules.”
Imp(eratori) Caes(ari) L(ucio) Aelio Aurelio Commodo Aug(usto)
Sa[rmatico] Germanico maximo Brit{t}annico,
[p]aca[t]or[i] orbis, Felici Invicto Romano Herculi,
pontifici maximo, tribuniciae potest(atis) X[V]III,
imp(eratori) VIII, co(n)s(uli) VII, patri patriae,
omnium virtutum exsuperant(issimo),
ordo decurionum Commodianor(um) IIIC
C(ai) Papi Capitonis [et L(uci)] Volcei Max(imi).
Next, another inscription containing the title “Roman Hercules” from the modern day country of Morocco.  In a province far from the Italian inscription in the same year, this inscription from Morocco reinforces Commodus’ image as Hercules.  Again, we see “Invicti…Herculis Romani.”  Distance did not hinder Commodus’ public image campaign.  The uniformity in names demonstrates how important names were for Roman emperors and the Roman people.  This uniformity would likely not continue unless names were important to the men mentioned, because, especially in the case of Commodus, imperial names changed consistently during reigns.  These inscriptions help reinforce the importance names and titles for Roman emperors.
Pro salute et incolumitate Imp(eratoris) Caesaris
L(uci) Aeli Aurel(i) Commodi Pii Invicti Fel
cis Herculis Romani imperioque
eius Aur(elius) Necto
reca |(centurio) vex(illariorum) Britt(annicianorum)
Volubili agentium sua pecunia
Invicto posuit et d(e)d(icavit)