M. P. Speidel, in Commodus the God-Emperor and the Army, (on the Tittianus Altar in Dura-Europos), The Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 83 (1993), pp. 109-114, illustrated. (JSTOR, limited access), writes:
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 3rd December, he was murdered, his memory cursed.
While Commodus was declared Caesar on 27 November 176 and reckoned his rule from that day, he became sole ruler only on 17 March 180, when Marcus Aurelius died. He therefore established 17 March as a second anniversary day of his reign to be celebrated. After Commodus' death, 17 March was abolished as a holiday and, unlike his birthday, not revived when Septimius Severus restored Commodus' good name.
De Imperatoribus Romanis says, âCommodus began to dress like the god Hercules, wearing lion skins and carrying a club.[] Thus he appropriated the Antonines' traditional identification with Hercules, but even more aggressively. Commodus' complete identification with Hercules can be seen as an attempt to solidify his claim as new founder of Rome, which he now called the Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana. This was legitimized by his direct link to Hercules, son of Father Jupiter.[] He probably took the title of Hercules officially some time before mid-September 192.[]â
While our current read, The Legatus Mystery, is set in 187, and Commodus is defined anchronistically as an unspecified divinity, it is worthwhile looking at Commodus-Hercules in view of this 1923 article Commodus-Hercules in Britain, by Michael Rostovtseff; Harold Mattingly (Appendix), The Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 13 (1923), pp. 91-109, illustrated. (JSTOR, limited access)
Rostovtseff looks at archaeological artifacts in Britain and writes:
These British finds prove that the cult of Commodus as identified with Hercules was more widespread than has been imagined. They show that this identification was furthered and promoted both by the devotion of Commodus and by the zeal of the provincials, especially the inhabitants of Britain. It is probable that this zeal was exploited by the Emperor in the measures adopted for the re-establishment of peace between himself and his army, a peace, be it remarked, all important to the Emperor in his bitter struggle with the Senate. The identification of Commodus with Hercules in the provinces was certainly not due to any predilection of the provincials. To substitute for their chief god any god of the Graeco-ÂRoman pantheon was more a matter of politics than of creed or worship. If they accepted Hercules, it was because of the special devotion of Commodus to that god.
Later on he says:
It remains to account for this special devotion to Hercules on the part of Commodus. Ancient writers attribute it to his inclination to the profession of a gladiator, an explanation accepted by most modern historians. According to this view, Hercules was for Commodus the great hero of sport, the great killer of men and animals, the patron of gladiators. To me the contrary seems more probable: Commodus became a gladiator because he wanted to imitate and to equal the god of his choice, not vice-versa. His devotion to Hercules may be traced back earlier; it was founded indeed on a firmly Âestablished tradition. A brief survey of the evolution of the Hercules cult may not be out of place, for [since Preller's article appeared,] new and important evidence has come to light.
He also comments that Hercules played am important role in the religion of the Roman emperors, especially Caligula, Nero, and Domitian. That Commodus
âwas not satisfied with being the protegÃ© of Hercules, nor with the prospect of apotheosis after death; he desired while still alive to be Hercules himself â a god, the incarnation, the epiphany of Hercules on earth. Thus he allowed himself to be designated Hercules Romanus, to use the emblems of Hercules, and to appear as the god himself in inscriptions and on coins. The objects found in Britain, described above, fit in admirably with all that is known of this characteristic of Commodus, and have thus an importance more than local.
Commodus failed, as his predecessors had failed, and it may well be that his passion and his ambition to become a god in his lifetime contributed to his fall.â
The image on top of the blog comes from Imperial Portraits of Commodus and shows Commodus as Hercules, from the Esquiline Hill, Capitoline Museum, Rome, among others, with kind permission by Bill Storage. âThe Herculean scene depicted is the taking of apples from Hesperides, thereby acquiring virtue and immortalityâ.
[L AEL] AVREL COMM [AVG P FEL], Head of Commodus, wearing lion skin as Hercules, right | HERCVL / ROMAN / AVG V , Legend in three lines across the club of Hercules, all within wreath.