A well-struck and impressive coin from the reign of Hadrian.
Obverse: HADRIANVS AVGVSTVS; Bust of the Emperor Crowned in a Laurel Wreath.
Reverse: COS III; Herakles Seated on a Cuirass Holding a Distaff with a Shield and Helmet Resting at His Side.
Herakles, or Hercules, was the demigod son of Zeus and Alcmene, and the half brother of Perseus. He was also an Olympic champion and is legendarily associated with twelve labours or tasks (such as slaying the hydra, cleaning the Augean stables etc). His equally impressive sexual prowess with men and women earned him a great following as a cult figure in ancient Greece, a tradition that continued in the Roman Empire. Several emperors chose to link Herakles with themselves, notably Commodus and Maximian. Coinage operates as a propagandist device in all cultures, and particularly during the Roman Empire when the borders were uncertain and internal strife threatened to destabilise the economy. In this sense, Hadrian’s conservative and comparatively peaceful rule was a boon, as it allowed the empire to settle itself. Rome would, in future centuries, suffer greatly from the depredations and neglect by extremely decadent rulers.
Publius Aelius Hadrianus, better known as Hadrian, was born in Spain in 76 AD and died in 138 AD. He ruled the Roman Empire from 117 to 138, during which time the Empire reached its apotheosis. Being the third of the so called Five Good Emperors, his rule was characterised by comparatively humanitarianism and conservatism. Following a political career of some distinction - he served as prefect, legate, consul, tribune and senator - it was his expedition to Parthia with Trajan led to his greatest success; Trajan became seriously ill and died on the way back to Rome, naming Hadrian as successor. Hadrian purged the senate of opposition upon his return to Rome, and set about a somewhat conservative reign that involved strengthening the empire's boundaries and the surrender of indefensible areas (i.e. Mesopotamia). He was known more for rule by threat and strength than active military conquest.
Personally, he was well educated and fond of the great Greek writers and philosophers, and was even appointed Archon in Athens. He was a great patron of the arts, including landscaping and architecture: under his reign the Pantheon was rebuilt, as well as many libraries, aqueducts, libraries and theatres. He was also a keen poet, an Epicurean philosopher and a huntsman, commissioning various reliefs showing him killing bears, lions etc. He is also notable for introducing the socially-acceptable beard - all other emperors before him had been clean shaven. The great love of his life was a boy named Antinous, which may explain the lack of natural heirs to Hadrian's lineage. Antinous drowned in the Nile aged about 19; the mourning Hadrian had him deified.
This is a striking and attractive ancient coin.