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27/3 coin of the Roman Republic 230BC with Hercules, Pegasus and Herculean club, and College of Augustales Herculaneum with frescos of myths of Hercules | by Ahala
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27/3 coin of the Roman Republic 230BC with Hercules, Pegasus and Herculean club, and College of Augustales Herculaneum with frescos of myths of Hercules

The College of Augustales in a town such as Herculaneum were appointed by the emperor Augustus. under advice from the town councillors or Decurions, from amongst freedmen i.e. ex-slaves to attend the rites of the Lares associated with the meeting of ways at that town, the municipal equivalent of the household Lares. After the time of Augustus no doubt their focus switched to attending to the rites of the god Augustus thus mirroring the activities of the Imperial priesthood of the Augustales at Rome. Decurions were required to be free-born and thus barred to ex-slaves. Thus Augustales provided an honoured means by which richer freedmen could attend to civic duties, with the associated expenses that always implied whether for entertainments, support for the needy, or town infrastructure improvements. Herculaneum was a small town of some thousands, perhaps its Augustales might have numbered a hundred or so and constituted a middle-class cadre rather above the plebs despite not being free born. Their pictured college building is quite splendidly decorated, and that decoration focusses on the myths of Hercules, from whom the town was named, in the frescos to left and right. Hercules was a mortal demi-god, son of Jupiter and Alcmene, the granddaughter of the legendary Perseus, founder of Mycaenae. Elsewhere on this webpage I describe his tangles with centaur and wife Deianira that led to his ultimate death. The very first silver coin struck at Rome in 269BC, as referred to by Pliny, has as its type Hercules and the Wolf and Twins. The coin shown above is the first struck-bronze bearing Hercules, around 230BC, with his club and Pegasus on the reverse. Sadly in Greek mythology Hercules and Pegasus don't cross paths, but Disney fixed that in the movie Hercules, where Pegasus is created by Zeus out of a cloud and keeps Hercules company at all times. A comparison of plotlines shows Disney pulled its punches, stepping back from Deianira's nastiness and other such soft-soaping. Oddly, in the stakes for children's education the original myths perhaps did a better job of moralising, showing the bad side of life and the consequences of poor-decision making.

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Taken on October 23, 2010