Emperor Commodus . Roman Sestertius Ancient Coin . NGC Read my description of this awesome coin .. NGC Graded
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Emperor Commodus .. Ancient Roman Sestertius .. NGC
Commodus was a Roman Emperor who ruled from 177 to 192. He was the evil Emperor in the blockbuster movie "Gladiator" portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix. He is often considered to have been one of the worst Roman Emperors, in the mold of Nero and Caligula. He was convinced he was the reincarnation of the god Hercules, the legendary slayer of mythical beasts. Commodus would often enter the arena to fight wild animals and was actually very good at it. He also fought in gladiatorial combats against human foes. Commodus was one of the most depraved, insane, megalomaniacal (and fascinating) of all the Roman Emperors.
Commodus was the son of Marcus Aurelius, who was the last of "the Five Good Emperors" that ruled the Roman Empire during a prolonged period of prosperity and growth. Marcus Aurelius was the fifth consecutive Emperor who had been adopted by the previous Emperor to be heir to the throne. It was a system that worked very well because it enabled the Emperor to select the best man for the job based on merit. But Marcus Aurelius was the first emperor since Vespasian (a hundred years earlier) to have a biological son of his own, and it was his firm intention that Commodus should be his heir. In the year 176, Marcus Aurelius granted Commodus the power of the tribunes and the rank of Imperator and in 177 the title Augustus as well, giving his son the same status as his own and formally sharing power. In December of the same year, the two Augusti celebrated a joint triumph, and Commodus was given tribunician power. Also in 177 Commodus became consul for the first time, which made him, aged 15, the youngest consul in Roman history up to that time.
Commodus spent most of his early life accompanying his father on his military campaigns against the Quadi and Marcomanni barbarian tribes along the Danubian frontier. In the year 180 Marcus Aurelius died of the plague and Commodus became the most powerful man in the world at the very young age of 19. His accession as emperor was the first time a son had succeeded his father since Titus succeeded Vespasian in 79. Commodus was actually the first Roman Emperor "born to the purple" -- i.e., born during his father's reign.
Soon after his father's death, Commodus made preparations for Marcus' funeral, made peace with the barbarian tribes, and returned to Rome in order to enjoy peace after nearly two decades of war. Commodus, and much of the Roman army behind him, entered the capital in a triumphal procession, receiving a hero's welcome. Indeed, the youthful Commodus must have appeared in the parade as an icon of new, happier days to come. His arrival sparked the highest hopes in the Roman people, who believed he would rule as his father had ruled -- wisely and benevolently.
The coins issued in his first year all display the triumphant general, a warrior in action who brought the spoils of victory to the citizens of Rome. There is a great deal of evidence to support the fact that Commodus was popular among many of the people, at least for a majority of his reign. He seems to have been quite generous. Coin types from around 183 onward often contain the legend, Munificentia Augusta, indicating that generosity was indeed a part of his imperial program.
The powerful god Hercules, slayer of wild beasts, was the inspiration for Commodus' deranged vision of himself as protector of the Empire. Commodus began to dress like Hercules, wearing lion skins and carrying a club. Commodus was extremely proud of his physical prowess. He was generally acknowledged to be extremely handsome. He ordered many statues to be made showing him dressed as Hercules with a lion's hide and a club. He thought of himself as the reincarnation of Hercules, frequently emulating the legendary hero's feats by appearing in the arena to fight a variety of wild animals. He was left-handed, and very proud of the fact. Cassius Dio and the writers of the Augustan History say that Commodus was an extremely skilled archer, who could shoot the heads off ostriches in full gallop, and kill a panther as it attacked a human victim in the arena.
The emperor also had a passion for gladiatorial combat, which he took so far as to fight in the arena himself, dressed as a gladiator. The Romans found Commodus' naked gladiatorial combats to be scandalous and disgraceful. In the arena, Commodus always won and many of his opponents actually submitted to the emperor. Thus these public fights would often not end in a death. However it was his custom to slay his practice opponents, which he enjoyed. For each appearance in the arena, he charged the city of Rome a million sesterces, straining the Roman economy.
Often, wounded soldiers and amputees would be placed in the arena for Commodus to slay with a sword. Commodus' eccentric behaviour would not stop there. Citizens of Rome missing their feet through accident or illness were taken to the arena, where they were tethered together for Commodus to club to death while pretending they were giants. Commodus was also known for fighting exotic animals in the arena, often to the horror of the Roman people. Commodus once killed 100 lions in a single day. On another occasion, Commodus killed three elephants on the floor of the arena by himself. Finally, Commodus killed a giraffe which was considered to be a strange and helpless beast. Later, he decapitated a running ostrich with a specially designed dart and afterwards carried the bleeding head of the dead bird and his sword over to the section where the Senators sat and gesticulated as though they were next. These acts may have contributed to his assassination.
After repeated attempts on Commodus' life, Roman citizens were often killed out of jealousy or merely for raising his ire. One such notableevent was the extermination of the house of the Quintili. They were executed with the excuse that, while they weren't implicated in any plots, their wealth and talent would logically make them unhappy with the current state of affairs.
In November 192, Commodus held Plebian Games in which he shot hundreds of animals with arrows and javelins every morning, and fought as a gladiator every afternoon, naturally winning all the bouts. In December he announced his intention to inaugurate the year 193 as both consul and gladiator on 1 January. At this point, the Praetorian Prefect Laetus formed a conspiracy to murder Commodus. On 31 December Commodus' wife Marcia poisoned his food, but he vomited up the poison. The conspirators were forced to send the wrestler Narcissus to strangle him in his bath.
Commodus was succeeded as Emperor by Pertinax, whose reign was short lived, being the first to fall victim to the Year of the Five Emperors.
This coin is a very rare variety seldom seen on the market. The denomination is a brass sestertius and it was minted in the city of Rome itself in the year 186. It is a very large and thick coin weighing 22.62 grams. The obverse features a large depiction of Commodus facing right wearing a laurel wreath, which served the same purpose as a crown. The laurel wreath was only awarded to a successful military commander during his Triumph through the streets of Rome. Commodus chose this depiction for some of his coins to remind the citizens of his victories over the barbarians along the Danube and in Britain. The obverse legend reads M COMMODVS ANT P FELIX AVG BRIT, which abbreviates "Marcus Commodus Antoninus Pius Felix Augustus Britannicus". Marcus Commodus Antoninus was his full name at the time (he changed it often, borrowing names from the preceding emperors). Pius Felix was a title meaning "faithful to the gods and the state." Augustus was an honorific title first bestowed on Octavian by the Senate and thereafter adopted by all subsequent emperors as an indication of their supreme authority. Britannicus refers to Commodus' military victories over the barbarians of Britain.
The reverse of the coin shows Commodus holding a sceptre and standing on a platform while saluting and addressing three soldiers each holding a legionary eagle and shield. The three soldiers are standard-bearers, which were highly esteemed and decorated soldiers given the great honor of carrying the insignia of the legion. The legionary eagle (or aquila) was a silver statue of an eagle attached to a spear and was considered sacred by the soldiers, who would die to protect it. The legend reads P M TR P XI IMP VII COS V P P S C with FID EXERCIT in exergue. The legend deciphers as follows: "P M" means Pontifex Maximus, which was the highest priestly office in the Empire. "TR P XI" means Tribunicia Potestas 11, which signifies that Commodus held the ancient power of the tribunes to veto any law, to call the Senate into session and also gave him personal immunity to the law. Since this power was renewed every year we know this coin was made in the 11th year of his having this power and allows us to date the coin to the year 186. "IMP VII" means Imperator 7, which signifies that Commodus had earned the title of Imperator (victorious general) seven times when the coin was made. "COS V" means Consul 5, which denotes that Commodus had served as Consul five times. Consul was the highest political office during the Roman Republic and was similar to being President except the term was only one year and there were two Consuls serving together. During the period of the Roman Empire the office of Consul was still the highest office (other than Emperor of course) but it didn't carry the same authority as it did during the Republic. "P P" means Pater Patriae, which was an honorific title meaning Father of his Country. "S C" means Senatus Consulto, indicating the coin was made by decree of the Senate. "FID EXERCIT" means fidelity or loyalty of the army, indicating Commodus was in full control of the legions and therefore the Empire.
In ancient times coins were not only money, they were also a powerful form of propaganda. Coins were one of the few ways the Emperor could communicate with all the people in the Empire, not only in Rome but also in the furthest reaches and even beyond the borders. Commodus wanted to make everyone aware of his accomplishments and the extent of his absolute power over the army, the Senate and the citizens. Issuing coins like this proved to the people that he was a divine hero worthy of ruling Rome and its glorious Empire.
The coin has been graded as XF Extra Fine by NGC. The coin has been preserved through the centuries in extraordinary condition. It is very unusual to find a 2000 year old coin with such great properties. The strike is strong and clear. The centering is very good. The design details are as crisp and clean as the day it was minted in an ancient workshop. Truly a magnificent example. The coin was valued in the year 2000 by esteemed expert David R. Sear at $1200 in Extra Fine condition in his multi-volume "Roman Coins and Their Values". Of course the values of ancient coins have nearly doubled since Sear published his valuations in 2000, so you can be sure this coin represents a great value at this price.
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