Denarius depicting the head of Commodus and the emperor sacrificing over an altar (191 CE)



191 CE




Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 

RIC 262, Cómodo, 44790
Collection: Museu de Prehistòria de València

Name of Ruler: 


Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Laureate head of Commodus looking right


Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Commodus, veiled, togate, standing left, sacrificing over altar with patera in right hand.

Inscription: VOT SOLV PRO SAL P R

Weight (g): 

RIC III, Commodus, no. 262, p. 397.

This denarius, minted in 191 CE, depicts on the obverse the head of Commodus and on the reverse the emperor sacrificing over an altar. The inscription on the obverse refers to the emperor as Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus, Augustus, Pius, Felix. The inscription on the reverse reads vota soluta pro salute populi romani, or "vows of thanks for the health of the Roman people," and thus elucidates the image, the emperor sacrificing to Salus, the goddess of health. According to most scholars, such as Clive Foss (Foss, Roman Historical Coins, p. 156), on this coin Commodus is in fact thanking the goddess of health for the salvation from the plague. Various coins depicting the goddess Salus were minted during this period, sometimes with the inscription Salus generis humani, or the well-being of humankind. Salus was an ancient Roman goddess. During the Middle Republic, the goddess possessed a temple in Rome on the Collis Salutaris. With the spread of Hellenization, Salus was associated with the Greek goddess Hygeia. There was a statue of Salus in the temple of Concordia, implying that Concordia brought safety and well-being to the nation. Salus, a concept which expressed personal safety and well-being, physical health, communal security, and the means of deliverance from danger (Noreña, Imperial Ideals in the Roman West, p. 140), was one of the most important benefits that the good rule of an emperor could grant to the inhabitants of the Roman Empire. This time, however, the depiction of Salus has a very dramatic meaning, as the context is that of the Antonine Plague. The plague, possibly an outburst of smallpox or measles, began in 165 CE; it spread all over the Roman empire and the neighboring areas, and continued to strike till the end of the century. To understand its magnitude and significance, it is enough to state that while under Augustus the population of the Roman empire is evaluated between 45.000.000 and 56.800.000, after the Antonine Plague, the Roman empire’s population diminished till it reached no more than 40.000.000 souls. And the comparison between the numbers should take into account the fact that the population of the Empire continued to grow steadily, all along the first and early second centuries CE. For example, the population of the city of Rome, which numbered 800.000 under Augustus, and 1.000.000 under Trajan, was reduced to no more than 650.000 because of the Antonine plague. More than a third of the population of Rome was just wiped out from the face of the earth. This coin has to be interpreted in that very context and seems to forward the message that the ruler of the oikoumenē did everything he could to stop that devastating plague.

Keywords in the original language: 

Bibliographical references: 

Marc Aurèle

Grimal, PierrebookMarc AurèleParisFayard1991
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