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Commodus the God-Emperor and the Army

  • M. P. Speidel (a1)

In A.D. 192, the last year of his reign, Commodus threw restraint to the winds and had the senate declare him a god. He assumed such titles as Conqueror of the World, Roman Hercules, and All-Surpasser and named the twelve months of the year after himself. Founding Rome anew, he gave it the name Colonia Commodiana and ordered the legions likewise to be called Commodianae. Before the year was out, on 31 December, he was murdered, his memory cursed.

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1 Beaujeu J., La Religion romaine à l'apogée de l'empire (1955); Grosso F., La lotta politico al tempo di Commodo (1964); Birley A., The African Emperor, Septimius Severus (2nd edn, 1988). I wish to thank G. Alföldy, A. Birley, H. Nesselhauf, and J. Cooke for their great help with this paper.

2 For points of view, see W. Weber, ‘The Antonines’, CAH XI (1936), 386–92; J. Gagé, ‘Pouvoiret religion III. Psychologie du culte impérial romain’, Diogène (1961), 47–68; Grosso, op. cit. (n. 1), 631–42; Kienast D., review of Grosso in Gnomon 38 (1966), 596606.

3 Latte K., Römische Religionsgeschichte (1960), 326; Picard C.-G., Les trophées remains (1957), 45 ff.; see also Gagé J., Le paganisme impérial à la recherche d'une théologie vers le milieu du IIIe siècle (1972); P. Turcan, ‘Le culte impérial au IIIe siècle’, ANRW XVI, 11 (1978), 996–1084.

4 Baur P. V. C. and Rostovtzeff M. I, The Excavations at Dura-Europos, Preliminary Report of the First Season of Work, Spring 1928 (1929), 20 and 42 ff.; no measurements of the altar are given save for the inscribed front: 62 by 28 cm, with letters 2.5—3 cm P. 20: ‘The two altars had been, at a later time, covered with stucco, and on its removal Rostovtzeff, on April 23, found between them a small limestone incense-burner.’ Pl. II, 2 ibidem, shows Tittianus’ altar, apparently with most of the stucco taken off. Today on Tittianus’ altar only the letters S.. PE can still be seen, scratched into the stucco on the left side of the plinth (Pl. I). For the altar on the right,see ibidem, 45 and 61 f.; the design and the inscription of the left altar (p. 47) remain unpublished.

5 Rostovtzeff's reading, op. cit. (n. 4), 42ft., superseding AE 1928, 86, ran as follows: ‘Pro salute Com(modi) Aug(usti) Pii F(elicis) et Victoria(m) d(omini) n(ostri) imp(eratoris) Pac(---) Nigreinus Tromen(tina) et Ael(ius) Tittianus dec(uriones) coh(ortis) II Ulp(iae) P(aphlagonum) eq(uitatae) Com(modianae) Genio Dura vota s(olverunt) em(eriti) ex v(isu) XV (or XVI) Ka(lendis) Iulis (or Iunis) Prisco et Claro co(n)s(ulibus)’. In the report of the second season 1931, p. 85, n. 1 Rostovtzeff realized that P(aphlagonum) was not to be read on the stone. For another superseded reading, see Grosso, op. cit. (n. 1), 573 f.

6 Picture credit: the Yale University Art Gallery, Dura-Europos Collection. The altar itself was not brought to Yale.

7 Photograph: Baur-Rostovtzeff, op. cit. (n. 4), 42. The signs in the middle of ll. 6 and 7 seem to be word separators. The P of Piis in l. 14 is hard to read since its half-circle is as misshapen as that of the R in Dura in l. 12. In l. 13 one could read vota s(olvit) l(ibenter) m(erito), cu (ravit); in l. 14, with Rostovtzeff, either XV or XVI.

8 Rostovtzeff M. I., The Excavations at Dura-Europos, Preliminary Report of the Fifth Season of Work (1934), 227, no. 561, whence AE 1934, 280.

9 See for example CIL VIII. 21567 (El-Agueneb / Mauretania).

10 Speidel M. P., Die Denkmäler der Kaiserreiter (1993), forthcoming; Le Bohec Y., La troisième légion Auguste (1989), 563 ff.

11 Speidel, op. cit. (n. 10), nos 56 and 59; Bohec, op. cit. (n. 10), 563 ff.; see also Schallmayer E., Der römische Weihebezirk von Osterburken I (1990),825.

12 Speidel M. P., Roman Army Studies II (= Mavors 8) 1992), 370.

13 For Commodus’ victory titles, see Kneissl P., Die Siegestitulatur der römischen Kaiser (1969), 110—25. Kneissl, however, misrepresents the position of Invictus in the inscription AE 1920, 48 = ILAfr. 612 = IAM 11, 363 (Volubilis); likewise Pius, missing in CIL XIV.3449 = Dessau, ILS 400.

14 CIL XIV. 3449 = Dessau, ILS 400. Dio LXXII. 15.5 (Boissevain). Papyri: Sijpesteijn P. J., ‘Commodus’ titulature in Cassius Dio LXXII. 15.5’, Mnemosyne 41 (1988), 123 f. The unisono of these documents shows the inscription from Volubilis (AE 1920, 48; = ILAfr. 612 = IAM 11. 363) to be he odd one out with its sequence Invicti Felicis Herculi Romani etc. For Romanus Hercules, see also HA, Commodus 8. 5.

15 BMC IV, p. clxvii f.

16 Compare CIL XIV. 3449 = Dessau, ILS 400 where Pius is missing; or AE 1920 = ILAfr. 612 = IAM 11. 363 (Volubilis) where Felix and Romanus are out of sequence and Pacator Orbis is missing.

17 Degrassi A., I fasti consolari dell'impero romano (1952), 53; Grosso, op. cit. (n. 1), 574. Birley A., The Fasti of Roman Britain (1981), 261; Leunissen P. M. M., Konsuln und Konsulare in der Zeit von Commodus bis Severus Alexander (180–235 n. Chr.) (1989), 142.

18 Gilliam J. F., Roman Army Papers (= Mavors 2) (1986), 209 f.

19 Boissevain U. P., Cassii Dionis Cocceiani historiarum Romanarum quae supersunt III (1955), 303 on Dio LXXII. 22. 2.

20 P. Herz, ‘Kaiserfeste der Prinzipatszeit’, ANVRW XVI, 11 (1978), 1135–1200. The fact that the altar, contrary to AE 1928, 86, mentions no Roman knight, shows that its purpose was not to celebrate, as has been claimed (ibid., 1180f.), the natalis annonae on 18 May.

21 Kienast D., Römische Kaisertabelle (1990), 147ff.

22 17 March: Dio LXXI. 33. 4. M. Rachet, ‘Decennalia et vicennalia sous la dynastie des Antonins’, REA 82 (1980), 200–42, esp. 232. Kienast, op. cit. (n. 21).

23 Not restored, as witnessed by the Feriale Duranum col. II, Fink R. O., Roman Military Papyri (1971), 425–7. Historia Augusta, Commodus 17. 12: ‘Ut natalis eius celebraretur, Severus instituit.’

24 No epigraphic evidence for 17 March, so far: Rachet, op. cit. (n. 11), 226; Herz, op. cit. (n. 20), 1176. Predecessors: Fink, op. cit. (n. 23), p. 426.

25 HA, Severus 6 and 8; Birley, op. cit. (n. 1), 92.

26 See above, n. 4.

27 Nesselhauf H., ‘Die Vita Commodi und die Acta Urbis’, in Alföldi A. (ed.), Bonner Historia-Augusta-Colloquium 1974–1965, 3 (1966), 127–38 (which is also the source of the motto above).

28 HA, Commodus 20: ‘menses his nominibus nuncupandos, quibus nuncupantur, cum primum illud malum in re publica incubuit.’

29 Boissevain, op. cit. (n. 15), 297 on Dio LXXII. 15. 3.

30 For inscriptions set up on such days, see Herz, op. cit. (n. 2;), for a delay ibid., 1197.

31 For the discussion see Grosso, op. cit. (n. 1), 374.

32 Compare IRT 292; Speidel, op. cit. (n. 10), nos 22; 30; 55; 56.

33 A small bust of Commodus was found not far from the altar and may have belonged to it (Baur, op. cit. (n. 4), 21 and 48 f. with fig. 3); perhaps it was fastened to the wall above: some altars were dedicated cum sigillo, see Schallmayer, op. cit. (n. 11), nos 645; 646.

34 For the cohort and the command at Dura, see Gilliam, op. cit. (n. 18), 209 ff.

35 Promotion of horse guards to decurions in the provinces: CIL VI. 228 = Dessau, ILS 2187 = Speidel, op. cit. (n. 10), no. 60. Tittianus' name surely is the same as the much more common Titianus; the T was occasionally doubled in the East, see BGU 646, 12 on Pertinax' wife Titiana.

36 Bersanneti G. M., ‘I soprannomi imperiali variabili degli auxilia dell'esercito romano’, Athenaeum N.S. 18 (1940), 105–35, esp 112ff. Fitz J., The Honorific Titles of Roman Military Units in the Third Century (1983), 31 was wrong to consider the reading uncertain. He may be right, though, in dismissing as doubtful a graffito from Dura-Europos said to call a riverboat Commodiana (Rostovtzeff M. I., Brown F. F. and Welles C. B., Dura Rep. VII–VIII (1939), 375–76. no. 930).

37 Dio LXXII. 15. 2. Stratopedon: Mason H. J., Greek Terms for Roman Institutions. A Lexicon and Analysis (1974), 87. See also Speidel M. P., Roman Army Studies I (1984), 277.

38 Grosso, op. cit. (n. 1), 574 suggests the cohort won the title in some action, Fitz, op. cit. (n. 36), 31 disputes this.

39 CIL XIII. 6728, see E. Ritterling, ‘Legio’, RE XII (1924), 1211–1829, esp. col. 1307f., doubted by Fitz, op. cit. (n. 36), 31; CIL VIII. 3163, doubted by LeBohec Y., ‘Les marques sur briques et les surnoms de la IIIème légion Auguste’, Epigraphica 43 (1981), 127–63, esp. 134. See also H. Pavis, ‘Reflexions sur la Classis Africana Commodiana’, Mélanges d'histoire ancienne offerts à William Seston (1974), 397–408. The name Commoda, given to Legion VIII Augusta at an earlier time (see Fitz, op. cit. (n. 36), 30f.) is different. Campbell J. B., The Emperor and the Roman Army 31 B.C. –A.D. 235 (1984), 90, n. 11, wrongly states: ‘inscriptional evidence indicates that the emperor did not systematically name the legions in this way’ — there is no such evidence.

40 For these titles generally, see Fitz, op. cit. (n. 36); for their continuity under Septimius Severus, see Speidel, op. cit. (n. 12), 198–202.

41 HA, Commodus 12.7. See Nesselhauf, op. cit. (n. 27), 136f. Sign of strength: Halfmann H., Itinera principum (= Habes 2) (1986), 49 f.; see Paneg. Lat. 12 (9), 14.

42 Beaujeu, op. cit. (n. 1), 406; Grosso, op. cit. (n. 1), 631 f.

43 Köngen: Haug F. and Sixt G., Die römischen Inschriften und Bildwerke Württembergs (2nd edn, 1914, reprint 1970), 314. Volubilis: above, n. 14. A marble relief from Dura-Europos, showing a naked man with a club in his right hand and a lion reaching up to him, differs from the usual images of Hercules and may indeed be Commodus-Hercules as Nero's refurbished Colossus showed him (Dio LXXII. 22. 3; HA, Commodus 9: ‘accepit statuas in Herculis habitu, eique immolatum est ut deo’): see Baur, op. cit. (n. 4), 75 ff., with pl. IV, 3, doubted by S. B. Downey, The Heracles Sculpture (The Excavations at Dura-Europos, Final Report III, Part I, Fascicle I (1969), no. 28, p. 42, with frontispiece). For a possible Commodus-Hercules from near Birdoswald on Hadrian's Wall, see Phillips E. J. and Coulston J. C., Corpus Signorum Imperii Romani, Great Britain I, 6, Hadrian's Wall West of North Tyne and Carlisle (1988), 77 ff.

44 A date in October 192 is propounded by Grosso, op. cit. (n. 1), 360 ff. Terminus post quem is the diploma from Lyon (CIL XVI. 133) of 16 March 192 since it still uses the old style.

45 PSI IX. 1036, see Sijpesteijn, op. cit. (n. 14), 123 f.

46 Fittschen K. and Zanker P., Katalog der römischen Porträts in den Capitolinischen Museen und den anderen kommunalen Sammlungen der Stadt Rom 1 (1985), 87, with n. 17a. Contra: Grosso, op. cit. (n. 1), 368.

47 Herodian 11.2.5; 11.6.10; HA, Did. Iul. 2.6; Herodian 11.4.1.

48 Unpopular: Rostovtzeff M. I., The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire (2nd edn, 1957), 399, based on Herodian's bias, for which see Alföldy G., ‘Bellum Desertorum’, Bonner Jahrbuch 171 (1971), 367–76. Pay: Alexander M. Speidel, ‘The pay of the auxilia’, JRS 82 (1992), 87106. Commodus paid for the weapons of some soldiers, though: Nuber H. U., ‘Zwei bronzene Besitzermarken aus Frankfurt/M.-Hedernheim’, Chiron 2 (1972), 483507. Rostovtzeff's article ‘CommodusHercules in Britain’, JRS 13 (1923), 91 ff. has been sharply countered by Beaujeu, op. cit. (n. 1), 405.

49 Tacitus, Annals 11. 55: ‘largitione, ambitu infimos manipularium iuvando, cum veteres centuriones, severos tribunos demoveret, locaque eorum clientibus suis vel deterrimo cuique attribueret desidiam in castris licentiam in urbibus vagumque lascivientem per agros militem sineret, eo usque corruptionis, provectus est ut sermone vulgi parens legionum haberetur.’ Listening: HA, Com. 6; Dio LXXII. 9. 2, see P. A. Brunt, ‘The fall of Perennis: Dio-Xiphilinus 72.9.2’, CQ 23 (1973), 172–7; for delegations of soldiers to the emperors, see also Campbell, op. cit. (n. 39), 269. Appointing officers: Speidel, op. cit. (n. 12), 126. Promotions (the new petitor militiae): Devijver H., The Equestrian Officers of the Roman Imperial Army II (= Mavors 9), 316–38.

50 For an earlier view see Campbell, op. cit. (n. 39), 50f., stressing the fellow-soldier theme.

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