Gilded bronze «Hercules of the Forum Boarium», with the apple of the Hesperides, Roman 2nd century BCE; found in the Forum Boarium in the 15th century (Capitoline Museums)
Hercules is the Roman name for the mythical Greek demigod Heracles, son of Zeus, the Roman Jupiter, and the mortal Alcmena. Early Roman sources suggest that the imported Greek hero supplanted a mythic Italic shepherd called «Recaranus» or «Garanus», famous for his strength, who dedicated the Ara Maxima that became associated with the earliest Roman cult of Hercules. While adopting much of the Greek Heracles’ iconography and mythology as his own, Hercules adopted a number of myths and characteristics that were distinctly Roman. With the spread of Roman hegemony, Hercules was worshiped locally from Spain through Gaul to the Rhine.
Hercules was the Roman name for the greatest hero of Greek mythology — Heracles. Like most authentic heroes, Heracles had a god as one of his parents, being the son of the supreme deity Zeus and a mortal woman. Zeus’s queen Hera was jealous of Heracles, and when he was still an infant she sent two snakes to kill him in his crib. Heracles was found prattling delighted baby talk, a strangled serpent in each hand.
The Capitoline Museums (Italian Musei Capitolini) are a group of art and archeological museums in Piazza del Campidoglio, on top of the Capitoline Hill in Rome, Italy. The museums are contained in three palazzi surrounding a central trapezoidal piazza in a plan conceived by Michelangelo Buonarroti in 1536 and executed over a period of over 400 years. The history of the museums can be traced to 1471, when Pope Sixtus IV donated a collection of important ancient bronzes to the people of Rome and located them on Capitoline Hill. Since then, the museums’ collection has grown to include a large number of ancient Roman statues, inscriptions, and other artifacts; a collection of medieval and Renaissance art; and collections of jewels, coins, and other items. The museums are owned and operated by the municipality of Rome.
The statue of a mounted rider in the centre of the piazza is of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It is a copy, the original being housed on-site in the Capitoline museum. Many Roman statues were destroyed on the orders of Christian Church authorities in the Middle Ages; this statue was preserved in the erroneous belief that it depicted the Emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman empire.