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Prayers for a Renewed Golden Age

252, Lot: 325. Estimate $5000.
Sold for $3000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Commodus. AD 177-192. Æ Medallion (39mm, 43.60 g, 11h). Rome mint. Struck early AD 178. L AVREL COMMODVS AVG GERM SARM TR P III, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right / [IMP II] COS P P, VOTA PVBLICA in exergue, Commodus, togate, sacrificing out of patera over altar to left; to left, victimarius preparing to sacrifice bull, citizen, tibicen playing tibia, and child; four citizens to right, behind Commodus; hexastyle temple in background. Gnecchi 166 (same dies as illustration); MIR 18, 1076/11-37; Banti 502. VF, dark red-brown patina, areas of roughness, wreath gilded and cuirass silvered. The patina is over the silvering so the silvering is contemporary; the gilding is later.

Because of the high infant mortality within the family, no clear successors to Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus existed. The arrival of Lucius Aurelius Commodus Antoninus and his twin, Titus Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus in AD 161 was viewed as a particularly fortuitous event. The early death of Titus left only his brother Lucius to survive to adulthood. Lucius Verus and his wife Lucilla, one of the two surviving daughters of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina Junior, had their own misfortunes, as all their children died shortly after birth. Thus, by the time Verus himself died in AD 169, the only viable successor remained Aurelius’ son Commodus, who had been granted the title of Caesar in AD 166.

Between his appointment as Caesar and his subsequent appointment as Augustus in AD 177, Commodus accompanied his father on campaign in order to familiarize himself with the necessities of governance and military command. This was a critical time for Marcus Aurelius, whose sole rule at this time was beset both by revolt in Egypt under Avidius Cassius and a long, protracted war with the Marcomanni and Quadi. Commodus’ assumption of his first consulship in January AD 177 and appointment as Augustus in mid-year must have come as welcome relief. In the summer of AD 178, Commodus married Bruttia Crispina to whom he had been betrothed for some time and for which event Marcus Aurelius had made a public sacrifice. These were heady days for the dynasty in that misfortune had been averted and it seemed that the Antonine legacy of calm peaceful rule was to continue. This, however, was not to be as Marcus Aurelius spent the remainder of his reign on campaign in Germania, dying on the frontier in AD 180. The hope inspired in the early days of Commodus’ reign grew dark as apparent megalomania set in, resulting in Commodus’ belief in himself as Hercules reincarnate, a belief that led to his assasination on the last day of December AD 192.