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The Roman Empire

Category:  Ancients
Owner:  Kohaku
Last Modified:  6/8/2019
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Set Description
The Roman Empire - the very words invoke architectural grandeur, indulgent excesses, and military conquest. Rooted in both Hellenistic and divine worlds, ancient Rome grew into a powerful Republic before transitioning into the greatest Empire the world had ever seen. Indeed, the Roman Empire at its zenith comprised two and half million square miles - including much of Europe, Africa and Asia - and one in every five residents on planet Earth. The Roman Empire, like its Republican predecessor, lasted a half millennium whereupon it begat yet another, Byzantine Empire lasting nearly another millennium. Considering the geographical extent and longevity of their culture, it is no wonder the ancient Romans profoundly influenced our modern world.

This grand history - the glory and ignominy - provides the backdrop for this NGC Ancients Custom Set. The chronology spans from the late Republic to the early Byzantine Empire. Like the Roman Empire herself, this collection is highly diverse, comprising numerous denominations (from nummus to denarius to solidus), mints (from Ambianum to Rome to Antioch), and attributions (from Emperors and Empresses to allies, usurpers, and enemies). Some personages warrant multiple coins for various reigns or other facets of numismatic interest. Rarity ranges from common to unique. The commentary accompanying each coin provides historical context based on owner's research and personal interests.

Gallery mode is recommended for perusing the collection. A synopsis of each Chapter (i.e., Gallery Page comprising fifteen coins) is provided below.

1. Prelude. The saga begins with coins from mid 2nd to 1st century BC exemplifying the late Roman Republic including the rise and fall of Julius Caesar, the waning of Hellenistic influence, and other contemporary tribes of the ancient world.

2. Genesis. Following civil war with Mark Antony, Cleopatra, and other of Rome's elite, Octavian becomes Augustus and the Republic transitions into an Empire dominating the Mediterranean basin including client kingdoms such as Judaea, Nabataea, and Mauretania.

3. Succession. Julio-Claudian dynasts feud amongst themselves, maintaining Rome sternly down the path of Empire amidst growing religiopolitcal upheavals.

4. Decadence. Rome's influence continues to expand under the leadership of notoriously self-indulgent, intemperate Emperors such as Caligula, Claudius, and Nero.

5. Perseverance. The Empire weathers a civil war culminating in the rise of Emperor Vespasian and his Flavian dynasty.

6. Golden Age I. A series of effective Emperors - Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian - chosen by merit, rather than birthright, propel Rome to new heights.

7. Golden Age II. Rome's prosperity continues under the leadership of Antonine dynasts who reigned until late 2nd century AD.

8. Crisis I. The Empire heads into turnoil, marked by the tumultuous Year of Five Emperors (193 AD) and the subsequent rise of the Severan-Emesan Dynasty.

9. Crisis II. The Crisis of the Third Century intensifies as numerous Augusti fall by the hands of their own disaffected troops; a new record of six Emperors in one year (238 AD) is established.

10. Crisis III. The combination of invasions, economic depression, civil wars, and plague ravages the Roman Empire - although the body count of Emperors and Usurpers affords fascinating opportunities for the ancient coin collector.

11. Crisis IV. Rome confronts even more challenges as usurpers take uprising to a new level, creating their own breakaway realms such as the Gallic Empire.

12. Resurgence. The Empire stages a comeback highlighted by Emperor Aurelian's reforms and reclamation of separatist territories including the Palmyrene Empire.

13. Tetrarchy. Augustus Diocletian launches a new power-sharing structure to improve imperial efficiency and quell rebellions such as the pesky Romano-Britannic Empire.

14. Transformation. The Tetrarchy disintegrates, and imperial supremacy is reached by Constantine, who adopts Christianity and dedicates a new capital at Byzantium (thereafter renamed Constantinople) in 330 AD.

15. Dissonance. Constantinian dynasts feud amongst themselves, and the Empire increasingly deals with regional (west vs. east) and religious (paganism vs. monotheism and Arian vs. Orthodox Christianity) rivalries.

16. Bifurcation. By late 4th century AD, a polarized realm forms separate Western and Eastern Roman Empires, as Valentinian-Theodosian dynasts defend against an intensified barbarian barrage.

17. Dissolution. By late 5th century AD, Germanic tribes absorb Italy as the last Western Roman Emperors fade into the shadows; Rome's legacy passes to the Eastern Empire centered in Byzantium.

18. Epilogue. After the deposition of the last claimant to the Western throne, various successor states (e.g., Ostrogoths, Vandals, and Lombards) vie with Constantinople for dominion over Italy.

The definition of further Chapters is pending. As currently defined, this set is 90% complete (244/270 slots); some coins may be pending grading and/or owner's comments.

From the start of this collection, I grow ever more fascinated with ancient Rome, and hope you will, as well.

Additional Reading: D L Vagi, Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, in two volumes, 1999.

Set Goals
Discover the Roman Empire through numismatics.

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View Coin Founding of Rome: Romulus and Remus ANCIENT - ROMAN REPUBLIC (4th CENT BC - 1st CENT BC) ROMAN REPUBLIC S.Pomp. Fostlus, c.137 BC AR Denarius she-wolf, twins; fig tree obv Roma. rv shepherd w/ NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 According to ancient mythology, the Trojan prince Paris presided as judge over which goddess was fairest: Hera, Athena, or Aphrodite. To aid the decision process, each deity paraded nude before him – inviting centuries of artistic interpretation – and offered the choice of an enticing bribe: world domination (Hera), military prowess (Athena), or the world’s most beautiful woman (Aphrodite). Paris chose the latter, missing his chance to defy fate and declare a draw. However, as always there was a catch. The most beautiful woman, namely Helen, was married to the King of Sparta. No matter, Aphrodite helped Paris to win Helen and whisk her away to Troy, earning the wrath of the Spartans and their fellow Greeks (who roused a thousand ship fleet in response), not to mention Hera and Athena. The ensuing Trojan War, the subject of Homer’s 8th century BC epic, The Iliad, involved the intrepid machinations of many mortals and deities, and, ultimately, the city’s destruction.

Though his city burned about him, the heroic Aeneas managed to escape, as told by Virgil in The Aeneid, written during Augustus’ time. This highly popular work served as important propaganda for the new Emperor who, through his adoptive father Julius Caesar, claimed descent from the hero who eventually settled Italy, leading to Rome’s founding. Along the way, Aeneas dealt with storms and mythical monsters. Among his many stopovers was Carthage, wherein he left the love-struck Queen Dido despairing to the point she committed suicide. Following these adventures, Aeneas finally arrived at the shores of Italy.

Fourteen generations later, the mythos finally turns to the subject of the twin sons born of Ilia, the niece of usurper Amulius, and daughter of the deposed and imprisoned rightful ruler, King Numitor. To secure his dynasty (or so he thought), Amulius ordered that Ilia join the Vestal Virgins, vowing chastity upon fear of death by live burial. Even so, Ilia succumbed to Mars’ seduction, and the fate of the resulting infants fell into Amulius’ hands. The latter reasoned that killing the pair by his hand might incur the god's wrath. Instead, he planned an overly elaborate and exotic death by natural elements, placing the twins in a basket set afloat in the river Tiber. As it turned out, the situation was easily escapable. Owing to divine guidance, the basket landed safely downstream entangled by a fig tree’s roots. A she-wolf turned up to suckle the twins, which, along with a woodpecker’s beak-feeding, kept the pair alive. Later, the shepherd Faustulus arrived and adopted the boys, naming them Romulus and Remus.

When the brothers came of age, they settled the score against Amulius, restoring their grandfather’s rule. Not satisfied with this success, Romulus and Remus decided to found their own realm on the hilly lands they washed ashore as infants. Romulus started building atop Palantine Hill. Remus preferred Aventine Hill, and mocked his brother’s progress. In a fit of rage, Romulus killed his brother, and then finished building the city, naming it after himself. Afterwards, Romulus expanded his city (there were several more hills to occupy), and added an organization of advisory elders and an elite guard, precursors to the Senate and the Praetorian Guard, respectively. Eventually, Romulus’ reign came to an end when he mysteriously disappeared, probably the casualty of a disaffected Senate.

The various themes woven within the fable of Romulus and Remus – the rise and fall of a usurper, exacting revenge (even decades afterwards), and even murdering one’s own kin – comprise different facets of the Roman psyche. A myriad of alternate, related mythologies exist, most comprising similar elements and suggesting Rome’s founding in mid 8th century BC.

The spirit of Rome was also personified, or rather deified, as Roma. Over time, Roma’s priesthood grew. Only males served such a role, reflecting Rome’s virility. Eventually, Roma evolved to embody the entire Roman state.

Romulus, Remus, and Roma were popular icons among ancient Romans, as evidenced by this denarius, struck around 137 BC in the Roman Republic. The moneyer’s name was Sextus Pompeius Fostlus, who leveraged the opportunity to promote his clan’s claim of descent from Faustulus. The obverse depicts the helmeted head of Roma, to her right the mark of value (X), and to her left the religious symbol of a jug. The reverse depicts all the crucial elements of Rome’s founding myth: the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus; a fig tree, whose roots snagged the twins’ basket ashore; two birds, one vertically perched upon the tree trunk, consistent with a woodpecker’s zygodactyl feet; and the arrival of Faustulus. The entire scene is encircled within the inscription of the moneyer’s name above and ROMA below.

The coin’s design is a marvel of organization and advertising, additional themes consistent with the spirit of ancient Rome.

Coin Details: ROMAN REPUBLIC, Sextus Pompeius Fostlus, 137 BC, AR Denarius (3.90 g, 19 mm), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Helmeted head of Roma right, jug to left, X (value mark) to right; Reverse: She-wolf standing right, head left, suckling Romulus and Remus, fig tree with birds behind, SEX. PO-F OSTLVS, ROMA in exergue, References: Crawford 235/1c; Sydenham 461a; Pompeia 1a.
View Coin Roman Moneyers ANCIENT - ROMAN REPUBLIC (4th CENT BC - 1st CENT BC) ROMAN REPUBLIC T.Ma. Mancius, 111-110 BC AR Denarius Roma/Victory in triga w/A.C.Pulcher, Q.Urbinius NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 This coin was struck in Rome during 111-110 BC. That conclusion is largely based on the initials AP. CL. T.M. QVR, found on the coin's verso in exergue, denoting three men: Appius Claudius Pulcher, T. Manlius Mancinus, and Q. Urbinius. At the time, the trio served as the Republic's moneyers, and, as such, held responsibility not only for this denarius, but all of Rome's contemporaneous coinage.

The ancient Romans defined their moneyers as tresviri auro argento aere flan do feriundo or “the three men for casting and striking of gold, silver and bronze.” The position was usually held for one year early in a Roman noble’s career, although there were exceptions. The moneyers were responsible not only for producing Roman Republican coins, but also for their design.

For this particular denarius, the moneyers chose an obverse design featuring Roma, the female deity who personified the city and state of Rome. On the reverse is winged Victory, the goddess personifying the same (in other words, the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Nike) riding a triga, or three-horse chariot.

The triga was a curious choice for the coin’s design. At the time, the biga and qudriga (i.e., two- and four-horse) were the most common chariot types, particularly at the very popular chariot races. As such, the triga was probably more appropriate for war: a notable example dating from Greek mythology was Achilles’ chariot, drawn by three horses (two of them immortal). Even so, on this coin the triga appears very small and lightweight like a racing chariot, and unlike a war version, which would be much larger and armored. Indeed, Victory appears to be balancing on the axle with very little support or protection, similar to the precarious situation of an actual chariot racer - except without the wings.

Why the moneyers decided on a triga for Victory’s conveyance is unknown. Not only was it uncommon as a racing chariot, it was also rarely depicted on Roman Republican coinage. In fact, this coin is one of only two Roman Republican issues incorporating the triga as a design element.

Coin Details: ROMAN REPUBLIC, Moneyers: Appius Claudius Pulcher, T. Manlius Mancinus, and Q. Urbinius, 111/110 BC, AR Denarius (3.77 g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/4, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Helmeted head of Roma right, quadrangular device to left, Reverse: Victory, holding reins, driving triga right, AP. CL. T.M. QVR in exergue, References: Crawford 299/1a; Sydenham 570; RSC Claudia 2; Sear 176.
View Coin The Roman Republic ANCIENT - ROMAN REPUBLIC (4th CENT BC - 1st CENT BC) ROMAN REPUBLIC L.Censorinus, c.82 BC AR Denarius rv Marsyas at column obv Apollo NGC Ch MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 Historians define the Roman Republic as beginning in 509 BC with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom and ending in 27 BC with the transformation into an Empire. In between, by conquest and diplomacy the state spread from the city of Rome to hegemony over much of the Mediterranean region.

Neither monarchy (as was the preceding Kingdom), nor democracy (as was Athens), nor aristocracy (as was Sparta), the hierarchical Roman Republic blended all three elements in an unwritten constitution that evolved over time. The government was comprised of legislative assemblies that passed laws, a Senate that ran day-to-day affairs, and two elected term-limited consuls, the highest political office. There was a complex system of checks and balances amongst these three branches. Even so, the system was not absolute, and struggles between the aristocracy and the common people fomented a constitutional crisis in late 2nd century BC, which ultimately led to demise of the Republic and rise of the Empire.

This coin was minted in the middle of that crisis. On the obverse is the familiar form of Apollo, and on the verso is Marsyas, a tragic figure in Greco-Roman mythology who became an icon of free speech and liberty. According to the original legend, Marsyas was a satyr who picked up the aulos (a double-piped reed wind instrument) tossed aside by its original inventor, Athena. Marsyas became quite proficient with his new flute, so much so he became embroiled in an ancient musical duel with Apollo and his lyre. Marsyas lost, and was tortured and killed for his hubris.

To the common people of Rome, Marsyas was viewed as a symbol of free speech against oppression. Examining the coin closely, one discerns that the figure is old, almost grotesque, nude except for slippers, carrying a full wineskin over his left shoulder (as any proper satyr would), with his legs bent, bearded head thrown back, and right arm lifted high in a (perhaps defiant) gesture. He stands in front of a slender column that carries a draped figure, possibly Libertas.

The coin’s reverse was modeled after the Statua Marsyae in the Forum, which at the time was a meeting place for Romans to share their written and oral critical views. Among those Romans was probably Lucius Marcius Censorinus, the moneyer who produced this coin in 82 BC. That same year, Rome was in the midst of civil war right up to her gates, and the victorious general Sulla was proclaimed dictator. The new dictator and his puppet Senate took exception to the coin’s message, and L. Marcius Censorinus, like Marsyas, was cruelly put to death.

Coin Details: ROMAN REPUBLIC, L. Marcius Censorinus, c. 82 BC, AR Denarius (4.56 g), NGC Grade: Ch MS*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: laureate head of Apollo right, Reverse: Satyr Marsyas, standing left with wine-skin on shoulder, searing slippers, in front of column surmounted by draped figure, L CENSOR, References: Crawford 363; Marcia 24; Sydenham 737.
View Coin Lucius Cornelius Sulla ANCIENT - ROMAN IMPERATORIAL (1st CENT BC) ROMAN IMPERATORIAL Sulla, d.79 BC AR Denarius Roma/Sulla in quadriga 82 BC. L.Man. Torquatus. NGC MS Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5 Julius Caesar may have been Rome’s most famous dictator, but he certainly wasn’t the first. Dozens held the title in the early Roman Republic, wielding varying degrees of absolute power, up until 202 BC. After that, the title was seemingly abandoned for more than a century, until someone rose up to claim it again: Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138 – 78 BC). Although he re-instated the role of dictator, Sulla did not wish Rome to evolve into an autocracy. In fact, Sulla relinquished his totalitarian power once he thought his actions had secured the Republic’s future. Even so, Sulla’s actions upset Rome’s power structure to an extent that facilitated the ascent of Caesar and his successors. Intentionally or not, Sulla’s turn at dictatorship proved the prelude to Empire.

Sulla hailed from a patrician family, and reportedly spent his youth consorting with Rome’s performance artists. It was not until his thirties that Sulla earned fame for his first significant accomplishment: the 107 BC capture of the Numidian usurper Jugurtha. After Sulla turned forty, he distinguished himself as administrator over Cilicia, battling pirates and thwarting a Persian invasion. After that, the rising general returned to Italy, joining the fight against several city-states that were former socii, or allies, but now sought separation from Rome. That conflict, known as the Social War (91-88 BC), secured Rome’s mastery over the Italian peninsula and propelled Sulla’s career even further. Sulla managed a series of impressive victories, including one after which the troops awarded him their very highest form of exaltation, namely a corona graminea, or grass crown. Sulla also managed to win the post of consul, Rome’s highest elected political office.

Even while Rome outlasted its enemies in the Social War, another crisis brewed. To the east, Pontic King Mithridates VI planned and plotted his realm’s expansion. In a shocking development, Pontus launched a highly orchestrated massacre of many thousands of Roman men, women, and children residing throughout Asia Minor. Rome sought revenge, and Sulla was the Senate’s logical appointee for the task. However, Sulla’s military and political mentor-turned-rival, Gaius Marius, preferred his own glorification, and managed a popular assembly’s override of the Senate’s decision. The political unrest spawned violent protests and rioting, even within the Forum, the very center of Roman public life. Sulla, who had a long history with Marius, decided that Pontus could wait. He mustered his available forces (six formidable legions) and marched against Rome. It was the first time that a Roman general had ever stormed the Eternal City. The forces supporting Sulla (mostly the optimates, or “best men,” who championed oligarchic rule) battled those favoring Marius (mainly the populares, who preferred power via popular assemblies). Sulla’s battle-hardened forces proved stronger, and Marius barely managed to escape. Sulla proceeded to establish his power over Rome, at least to the extent he re-established the Senate’s authority.

Having stabilized the situation in Rome, Sulla turned his earnest attention to Mithridates. He rallied his troops and merged them with Rome’s remaining eastern forces to wage the First Mithridatic War. For further support, Sulla also called upon the realm of Bithynia, whose ruler, King Nicomedes IV, had developed the habit of giving up his throne to Pontus, then seeking Rome’s assistance to regain it. Sulla and his Bithynian allies waged several epic battles against Mithridates’ forces; of particular note was a brutal siege of Athens. By 85 BC, Mithridates was forced to surrender his control over Greek territories, not to mention a large portion of his own personal wealth.

Meanwhile back in Rome, Marius returned, and managed his re-election as co-consul for an unprecedented seventh time. It proved his last; he died just two weeks later. It was enough time, however, to launch a vicious purge of Sulla’s supporters. After Marius’ death, his co-consul, Lucius Cornelius Cinna, continued persecuting the pro-Sulla faction.

With Pontus out of the way, Sulla returned his attention back to Rome and retribution against his domestic enemies. Cinna, perhaps fearing Sulla’s growing popularity, decided that the best course of action was to set forth from Rome with a pre-emptive attack force. Cinna’s men, not eager to engage Sulla’s battle-hardened veterans, decided to murder their leader instead.

Although Marius and Cinna had both been eliminated, many of their followers (referred to as the Marians) remained, and still controlled much of Italy. But their power did not last for long. A highly determined Sula returned to Rome, and, with local supporters including future triumvirs Crassus and Pompey, he once again waged civil war. In 82 BC, he achieved final victory at the monumental battle of the Colline Gate.

Subsequently, the Senate granted Sulla the title dictator legibus faciendis et reipublicae constituendae causa, meaning dictator for the making of laws and for the settling of the constitution. Apparently, no term limit applied, effectively bestowing perpetual, unlimited power. It was now the great imperator’s turn to carry out bloody proscriptions. Sulla reportedly killed thousands of Romans who he deemed had acted against the Republic’s best interests. Escaping the bloodbath was Julius Caesar, a potential target since he happened to be Cinna’s son-in-law. Sulla reportedly lamented his failure to deal with Caesar, foreseeing him as a future threat to Rome’s political system. Besides brutal proscriptions, Sulla issued many reforms to promote economic recovery, as well as renew the power and prestige of the Senate.

Sulla also issued coins, including this well-preserved denarius, probably struck by his own travelling military mint. The obverse features the classic motif of a helmeted Roma, along with the inscription PROQ L MANLI T, indicating Lucius Manlius Torquatus, Sulla’s proquaestor during the Pontic war. On the verso, an exultant figure drives a quadriga (a four-horse chariot), while holding a caduceus (a winged staff), and being crowned by Victory (the Roman goddess personifying the same). Based on the inscription L SVLLA IMP, the scene probably portrays Sulla celebrating a triumphus, or triumph (a public ceremony reserved for Roman military commanders who have achieved a great victory). It is not clear which victory is being represented, and it may be the case that Sulla issued the coin in anticipation of his final victory over the Marians. It is conceivable that Sulla approved of the design, despite the numismatic tradition that living Romans not be depicted on Rome's coinage.

In 81 BC, Sulla, keeping his resolve to maintain Rome as a Republic, resigned as dictator and restored the Senate's power. He served as consul for a second term, then retired from public life in 79 BC. He died shortly thereafter. Sulla married five times, and sired several children, ensuring the continued political prominence of his clan for decades. More than descendants, precedents define Sulla's legacy: marching on Rome, reigning as dictator, and even issuing coins invoking his own image. These bold moves set the stage for similar actions by Caesar and the Republic’s subsequent transformation to an Empire.

Like many figures of ancient Rome, Sulla's personal history is complex and subject to interpretation. His brilliant, yet brutal, tactics were enacted not merely for personal glory, but also out of a deeply-rooted patriotism and his own sense of justice. Sulla is perhaps best epitomized by his purported epitaph: "No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full."

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, died 79 BC, AR Denarius (3.94g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Helmeted head of Roma right, L. MANLI. PROQ (L. Manlius Torquatus, proconsul), Reverse: Triumphator Sulla, crowned by flying Victory, in quadriga right, holding reins and caduceus; in exergue, L. SVLLA IMP, References: RRC 757; Crawford 367/5.
View Coin Mithradates VI ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) PONTIC KINGDOM Mithradates VI, 120-63 BC AV Stater Alexander III/Athena Callatis. Lysimachus type NGC Ch MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 In early 3rd century BC, Mithradates I established rule over lands in northern Asia Minor near Pontos Euxeinos, the Black Sea. His Kingdom was comprised of Greek coastal cities to the north, abounding in fish and home to capital of Sinope, and Persian and native Anatolian communities south of the Pontic mountains, where lands were rich in natural resources such as woods, minerals, and metals.

For the next two centuries, the fertile Pontic Kingdom expanded under Mithradates’ successors, who frequently battled amongst themselves for power. During one such struggle around 120 BC, the young Mithradates VI (134-63 BC) went into hiding after his father was assassinated by poisoning. Endeavoring to avoid his father's fate, the prince spent his hiatus intentionally ingesting sub-lethal doses of various toxins, surmising that the effort would promote immunity. Satisfied with his improved tolerance, Mithradates returned to the political scene. He declared himself rightful heir to the throne, imprisoned his ruling mother and brother, and married his sister Leodice, the first of his (at least) six wives, not to mention concubines and mistresses.

Prolific in many ways - fluent in over 20 languages, and siring at least as many offspring - he earned the name Mithradates Eupator (the Great), and portrayed himself as protector of the Greek kingdoms against the barbarians of Rome. Such propaganda is consistent with this gold stater, modeled after the design of Lysimachus, a bodyguard of Alexander the Great who ruled Asia Minor in late 4th century BC. The obverse depicts the diademed head of Alexander, whose facial features resemble the Pontic King. The likeness reflects Mithradates’ claimed ancestry (the list of famous forebears spans from Cyrus the Great to the later Seleucid kings). The coin’s verso, also mimicking Lysimachus' designs, presents an enthroned Athena, holding Nike, with shield propped against her throne and spear over her shoulder. The details of both obverse and reverse reflect Hellenistic sensibilities, contrasting contemporary coins struck by the Romans.

Like Lysimachus two centuries earlier, Mithradates VI ruled not only most of Asia Minor, but also exerted influence over much of its surrounding demesnes. Inevitably, Pontus clashed with another growing superpower, i.e., the Roman Republic. For decades, Mithradates VI bitterly battled the Romans in several mighty wars, the details of which are well worth further study. In the end, the Romans were not to be denied, even if the effort drained their coffers. Finally defeated by the great Roman general Pompey the Great, the Pontic King tried to commit suicide via poison, but the effort failed due to his immunity. Mithradates was not, however, immune to the sword of his bodyguard, under orders to finish the deed.

Coin Details: PONTIC KINGDOM, Mithradates VI, 120-63 BC, AV Stater (8.34 g), Callatis, Lysimachos type, 88-86 BC, NGC Grade: Ch MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Diademed head of deified Alexander III right, Reverse: Athena enthroned left, holding Nike, shield propped against throne, transverse spear in background, HP monogram to inner left, ornamented trident in exergue, Reference: Müller 226.
View Coin Nicomedes IV ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) BITHYNIAN KINGDOM Nicomedes IV, c.94-74 BC AR Tetradrachm eagle on fulmen. Yr.208. rv Zeus w/wreath+scepter; NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 The location of ancient Bithynia was highly strategic - northwestern Asia Minor, bordering Paphlagonia to the east, Mysia to the west, and Phyrgia to the south. Bithynia's rugged, mountainous interior descended into fertile coastlines providing access to the Propontis (Sea of Marmara) and the Pontos Euxeinos (Black Sea), as well as the important waterway connecting them, namely the Bosporus Strait. As such, the realm repeatedly came under diplomatic and military scrutiny of other ancient states. In mid 6th century BC, Bithynia fell under the sway of King Croesus and his Lydian Kingdom. The Bithynians eventually regained independence, and managed to retain it, even against the late 4th century BC marauding Macedonians led by Alexander the Great. Bithynia continued to prosper under its distinguished rulers, notably King Nicomedes I, who founded the great city of Nicomedia in mid-3rd century BC.

Around the turn of 1st century BC, the influential and strategic Bithynia came under pressure from its rapidly growing rival, the Pontic Kingdom. In 90 BC, Pontic King Mithradates VI supported an uprising that forced Bithynian King Nicomedes IV to flee his court and seek protection within the Roman Republic. The Romans, who considered Mithradates VI their greatest enemy and valued Bithynia's strategic nexus, restored Nicomedes IV to his throne. Nicomedes IV tried to return the favor by warring against Mithradates VI, only to face defeat and seek Italy's refuge once again. Several years later, Nicomedes IV was re-restored to the Bithynian throne, in accordance with negotiations between Rome and Pontus.

Within this tumultuous period, probably 90-89 BC, unknown Bithynian artisans struck this interesting tetradrachm. The obverse presents an unusual, whimsical portrait of Nicomedes IV that is somehow best appreciated at the coin's actual scale. The King's lips form a sly smile beneath his prominent proboscis, his flowing hair barely contained beneath a diadem. In contrast, the reverse motif is portrayed in traditional, classical style: Zeus Stephanophorus, attended by an eagle perched on a thunderbolt, accompanied by an inscription to provide pedigree. Both obverse and verso employ very fine Hellenistic details that emerge upon further contemplation.

Like this coin's obverse, Nicomedes IV apparently had an eclectic side. In 80 BC, he hosted the visit of an ambitious young Roman named Julius Caesar, who was interested in raising a fleet and promoting his future political career. During his stay (and at least one additional sojourn), Caesar enjoyed Nicomedes IV's hospitality such that rumors surfaced of an affair with his Hellenistic host. Although bisexuality among Romans was acceptable and even commonplace, there were rules; allegedly, Rome's future dictator played the submissive role in the relationship, normally reserved for slaves, prostitutes, and entertainers. The rumors grew into elaborate stories wherein Caesar donned enticing nightgowns and powdered and perfumed himself like a courtesan. Caesar became the butt of his enemy’s jokes, for example he was disparagingly hailed as “Queen of Bithynia.” Such wild accounts were likely exaggerations, and perhaps even complete fabrications. Expectedly, Caesar denied the specific accusations, although he certainly established a lasting bond with the Bithynian royal family, and acted as their supporter in Rome.

Although the exact details of the relationship remain uncertain, Nicomedes IV thought fondly of Caesar and Rome, even to his deathbed. With his final royal act in 74 BC, he bequeathed them his entire Bithynian Kingdom.

Coin Details: BITHYNIAN KINGDOM, Nikomedes IV Philopator, 94-74 BC, AR Tetradrachm (31.5 mm, 16.55 g, 12h), Dated 208 BE (90/89 BC), NGC Grade: Ch AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Diademed head right, Reverse: Zeus Stephanophoros standing left, to inner left, eagle standing on thunderbolt above monogram above HE (date), References: Callatay p. 63; RG 40; HGC 6, 646; DCA 445.
View Coin Tigranes II The Great ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) KINGS OF ARMENIA Tigranes II, 95-56 BC AE15 rv filleted cornucopia NGC Ch VF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 Tigranes II (140 – 55 BC) ruled ancient Armenia from early to mid 1st century BC. He was the son-in-law and supporter of Mithradates VI Eupator, one of Rome’s all-time greatest enemies. Tigranes' accomplishments are somewhat difficult to evaluate, considering the negative bias of surviving, pro-Roman histories. Undisputedly, Tigranes grew Armenia into a powerful realm, even rivaling his mighty contemporaries to the north (Pontus), the east (the Parthians), and the west (the Romans).

Like Julius Caesar, Tigranes achieved greatness and fame relatively late in life, at least by ancient standards. In 95 BC, the 45 year-old descendent of Artaxias secured his release from Parthian imprisonment in exchange for a ransom of “seventy valleys.” He then ascended the Armenian throne, and soon consolidated power by reuniting his territory with the adjacent southwestern kingdom of Sophene, previously split off under rule of the rapidly waning Seleucid Kingdom.

Tigranes allied with Pontus against Bithynia and the great Roman general Sulla during the first Mithradatic War. Initially, Tigranes did little, if anything, to directly confront Rome, instead taking advantage of the regional power vacuum to expand his Kingdom from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Seas. Eventually, his campaigns resulted in dominion over portions of Commagene, Cilicia, and Cappadocia to the north and Mesopotamia and Syria to the south. Having regained his seventy valleys (and then some), Tigranes earned epithets such as “The Great” and “King of Kings.”

Tigranes needed a new, centrally located capital. To this end, the great city of Tigranakert was constructed, reportedly with outer walls several hundred feet high, and grand buildings including a royal palace replete with hunting grounds and fish ponds. It was arguably the apex of Hellenization, which Armenia shared with Pontus and the neighboring states of the Near East. However, the Armenian Kingdom had spread so rapidly that its diversification was now a liability. By the time of the third and final war between Mithradates and Rome, Armenia was fully embroiled in the conflict. This time, the Romans, now led by Pompey the Great, eliminated Mithradates and his Pontic Kingdom. The Romans also managed to sack Tigranakert, and Armenia's King had no other choice but to surrender as well.

The account of Tigranes' surrender provides an interesting insight into the ancient Romans and their quest for glory. The 75-year old Tigranes approached the Roman camp on horseback, dismounted, removed his crown, and prostrated himself before Pompey. Reportedly, the great Roman general was so moved he took his adversary by the hand, lifted him up, replaced his crown, and proceeded to discuss peace terms. In the end, Tigranes agreed to pay an enormous sum of 6,000 talents and indeed retained his crown, although his Kingdom was shrunk back to its previously modest borders. Importantly, Tigranes established himself as Rome’s ally, thus protecting Armenian lands against potential Parthian encroachment.

Tigranes continued his reign for another decade, during which this particular coin was struck in Tigranakert. On the observe portrait, Tigranes wears his Armenian tiara, replete with a star and two eagles. It is proposed that this star, often portrayed with a curved tail, may represent the passage of Halley’s comet, which was visible in 87 BC. It is reasonable that Tigranes would exploit such a dramatic occurrence as divine affirmation of his power. Indeed, Tigranes was renown for pomp and circumstance, from his famous tiara to his stately purple garments to the constant presence of his four vassal kings. The theme of glorifying Tigranes continues on the coin’s reverse - a filleted cornucopia and a Greek epithet confirming his status as King of Kings.

After Tigranes’ death in 55 BC, Armenia continued its allegiance as Rome’s protectorate, and once, if only briefly, held the status of a province. Owing its strategic location, the region was frequently contested between the Romans and the Parthians, and, after the latter waned, the Sassanids. Although internal autonomy often prevailed, Armenia would never again reach prominence such as that achieved by the great King of Kings.

Coin Details: KINGS of ARMENIA, Tigranes II ‘the Great’, 95-56 BC, Æ Hemichalkon (15.5mm, 2.72 g, 1h), Tigranakert mint, Struck circa 69-55 BC, NGC Grade: Ch VF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Draped bust right, wearing tiara with star and eagles, Reverse: Filleted cornucopia, [B]AΣIΛEΩΣ BAΣIΛEΩN [T]IΓPANOY, References: M&D 47; CAA 105 corr. (no letter in field); AC 96; Sunrise –.
View Coin Celtic Tribes ANCIENT - CELTIC (4TH CENT BC - 1ST CENT AD) CELTS, SOUTHERN GAUL 2nd-1st Centuries BC AR Drachm types of Massalia or Northern Italy(?) NGC MS Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5 Before the advent of the Romans, there thrived throughout Europe an ethnolinguistic society collectively referred to as the Celts. The earliest relevant records date to 6th century BC and the Greek explorers who settled Massalia (modern Marseille, France). The colonists made a strong impression on the Celts, who imitated Hellenistic culture and customs, including the striking of coinage.

As an example, consider this silver drachm, struck by the Salluvii (or Salyes) sometime during 2nd or 1st century BC in Galia Cisalpina (northern Italy). Over that period, a relatively large number of these coins circulated, evidence of Salluvii dominance over the region. Consequently, the Salluvii were among the first transalpine tribes viewed as a serious threat, and subsequently subdued, by the ancient Romans.

This Celtic coin’s design mimics Greek drachms struck several centuries earlier in Massalia. The obverse depicts the head of a nymph, and the reverse portrays a stylized lion sometimes referred to as a “lion-scorpion.” On the original Massalian drachm, the lion was struck in realistic fashion; over time, the Celtic interpretation became progressively more impressionistic. Interestingly, the lion’s evolution occurred concomitantly with a decrease in the drachm’s silver content, foreshadowing the debasement later employed by the Romans.

Besides the Salluvii, numerous other Celtic tribes came into increasing contact, and often conflict, with the growing Roman Republic. By the time Julius Caesar decided to conquer Gaul, Celtic communities existed throughout much of Europe. From about 58 to 50 BC, Caesar encountered many different peoples, as documented in his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars. Caesar referred to those he encountered as Gauls, and classified them according to various regions: Celtica (central Gaul), Narbonensis (southeastern Gaul), Aquitania (southwestern Gaul), Gallia Cisalpina (Northern Italy on the Roman side of the Alps), Gallia Transalpina, (Italy north of the Alps), Belgica (northern Gaul along the modern day English Channel), and Britannia.

Caesar began his conquests by halting the Helvetii, who were planning a mass migration westward from their base in modern-day Switzerland. Along the way, Caesar defeated the Sequani, who threatened another Celtic tribe, the Aedui, who happened to be Rome's allies. Caesar then proceeded to conquer the Belgae, including peoples known as the Nervii, the Menapii, and the Treveri. This resulted in a wedge between central Gaul and Germania that remained strategically important for centuries. Subsequently, Caesar crossed over to Britannia – twice – and, surviving dangerous tides and storms, conquered rebellious tribes therein, notably the Catuvellauni. Although Caesar did not directly claim any Britannic lands for Rome, he left his allies, the Trinovantes, to rule over the defeated eastern Britannic tribes.

Caesar's most notorious Celtic adversary was the Arverni chieftain Vercingetorix, who rallied several other Gallic clans to stand with him against Rome. Vercingetorix won an initial battle (at Gergovia), only to later suffer defeat (at Alesia), but only after Caesar personally stepped in to lead Rome’s last reserves. The Celtic chieftain gave himself up to Caesar, reportedly to save his remaining men. By late 50 BC, Caesar had completed his conquest over Gaul, and returned to Rome, sparking a civil war that raged for years. Rome's newest dictator apparently held his famous prisoner until the optimal occasion for political gain. In 46 BC, Rome celebrated Caesar's accomplishments with an elaborate quadruple Triumph, wherein Vercingetorix served as an impressive war trophy.

Such events promoted Caesar’s rise and the Republic’s subsequent transition into an Empire, just one illustration of the Celts' influence on ancient Rome’s history.

Further reading: J. Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic Wars.

Further reading: J Corsi et al., Pre-Roman coins from Northern Italy: Characterization with Neutron Diffrcation Analysis and First Results, VIII Congresso Nazionale di Archeometria Scienze e Beni Culturali, Bologna 5-7 February 2014.

Coin Details: CELTS, SOUTHERN GAUL (OR NORTHERN ITALY, Lombard Plain), 2nd - 1st century BC, AR drachm (2.54 g), Imitating Massalia, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Head of nymph right, wreathed in grain, wearing triple pendant earring, Reverse: "Lion-scorpion" with gaping mouth walking right atop double exergual line, ΜΛΣΣΛΛ (blundered version of Greek legend), References: BMC Celtic II 3-17, S5-34; De La Tour 2126.
View Coin Deiotarus ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) KINGDOM OF GALATIA Deiotarus, c.62-40 BC AE18 fulmen; royal monogram. obv Zeus. rv eagle on NGC VF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 In 3rd century BC, a conglomeration of Celtic tribes migrated from Europe into central Asia Minor, eventually founding their own realm of Galatia, the “land of the Gauls.” Due to their central location, Galatians factored in local power struggles, often opposing Rome. Of particular note was Manlius Vulso’s infamous 189 BC genocide at Mount Olympus. Tens of thousands of Galatian men, women, and children were massacred by Romans, with a similar number of survivors enslaved.

When the First Mithradatic War began around 88 BC, powerful Galatia logically allied itself with Pontus against Rome. Even so, Pontic King Mithradates VI doubted Galatia’s loyalty, and increasing paranoia led to drastic action. Mithradates hosted Galatia’s leaders at a grand banquet, and took the opportunity to slaughter his guests. Among the handful of Galatia’s royalty absent, and thus fortuitously surviving the pogrom, was a prince named Deiotarus, the “divine bull.”

Seeking retribution and possessing innate leadership and military skills, Deiotarus mustered an army that expelled Pontus from Galatia. Next, he challenged Mithradates’ forces in nearby Phrygia and Cilicia. As Fortuna would have it, he now shared a common goal with Rome. Over the next couple decades, the Galatians supported the Romans in a series of wars against Mithradates and his Armenian ally, Tigranes the Great. Eventually, Deiotarus achieved his revenge; Mithradates and his Pontic Kingdom were terminated.

For his efforts, Deiotarus was acknowledged as King of an expanded Galatian realm. To celebrate and advertise his status, Deiotarus issued coins, such as this extremely rare bronze struck sometime in mid first century BC. Unlike the abstract artistry employed by many other contemporary Celts, Galatian designs reflect Hellenistic influence. On this coin, the obverse depicts a laureate Zeus, and the reverse an eagle standing on a thunderbolt. The eagle was also an important symbol to the Romans; for example, each Roman Legion bore a standard displaying the raptor's image, known as the Aquila. It is interesting to note that Deiotarus’ forces eventually formed Rome’s Legio Vigesima Secunda Deiotariana (the 22nd Deiotaran Legion). In addition to the eagle, the coin’s reverse also depicts Deiotarus’ monogram, completing the association of the Galatian leader, his forces, and their loyalty to Rome.

Despite his track record supporting Rome, Deiotarus’ situation turned precarious when the Republic plunged into civil war. In particular, the Galatian King was renown as friend to Pompey the Great, who ultimately opposed Caesar as Rome’s dictator. After Pompey's demise, Deiotarus was summoned and brought before Julius Caesar on accusations of a murder plot. Luckily for Deiotarus, coming to his defense was none other than Marcus Tullius Cicero, one of Rome’s all-time greatest lawyers and orators. Circero presented a brilliant speech that provides fascinating reading, as illustrated in the following excerpt.

Pardon Deiotarus, pardon him, I entreat you, O Caesar, if he, though a king, yielded to the authority of that man whom we all followed, and on whom both gods and men had heaped every sort of distinction, and on whom you yourself had conferred the most numerous and most important honors of all. Nor, indeed, does it follow that, because your exploits have thrown a cloud over the praises of others, we have, therefore, entirely lost all recollection of Cnaeus Pompeius. Who is there who is ignorant how great the name of that man was, how great his influence, how great his renown in every description of war, how great were the honors paid him by the Roman people, and by the Senate, and by you yourself? He had surpassed all his predecessors in glory as much as you have surpassed all the world. Therefore, we used to count up with admiration the wars and the victories, and the triumphs, and the consulships, of Cnaeus Pompeius. But yours we are wholly unable to reckon.

True to his reputation, Cicero successfully defended Galatia’s King, stressing that the alignment with Pompey was to protect the authority of the Senate, the freedom of the people of Rome, and the dignity of the Republic (not to mention the savvy Cicero simultaneously manages to flatter Pompey and Caesar). Interestingly, Caesar invoked these same traditional Roman values as he launched the civil war that led to his establishment as Rome’s strongest dictator ever.

On the ides of March 44 BC, Caesar was famously murdered, and Deiotarus became embroiled in the tumultuous aftermath. Deiotarus ensured his continued rule with a reportedly large bribe to Caesar’s ally, Mark Antony. Subsequently, Deiotarus provided support to Caesar’s murders, notably Brutus and Cassius. However, after the latter duo fell at the Battle of Philippi, Galatia changed its allegiance in favor of Caesar’s heir, Octavian.

Deiotarus ruled over Galatia until his death, sometime around 40 BC. A quindecennium later, Octavian incorporated Deiotarus' Kingdom as a Province, and, for the next several centuries, the Galatians steadfastly strove for the glory of Rome.

Additional Reading: M T Cicero “Speech in Behalf of King Deiotarus,” 45 BC.

Coin Details: KINGDOM OF GALATIA, Deiotarus, Circa 62-40 BC, Æ (18-19 mm, 6.2 g), NGC Grade: VF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Laureate head of Zeus facing right, Reverse: Eagle standing left, head right, on thunderbolt; monogram to left, References: E.T. Newell, Un monnayage de bronze de Déjotarus 2; SNG France -; RPC I p. 356, 2.
View Coin Julius Caesar and the Roman Civil War ANCIENT - ROMAN IMPERATORIAL (1st CENT BC) ROMAN IMPERATORIAL Julius Caesar, d.44 BC AR Denarius & snake. rv implements. c.49-48 BC. obv elephant NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5 Ancient coins provide us with a palpable link to a specific time and place in history. Their wondrous, diverse iconography frequently epitomizes the setting in which they were struck. More than a means for exchanging goods and services, they publicized - and even influenced – the very course of ancient history. A notable example is this famous denarius, struck by Julius Caesar soon after he triggered the Great Roman Civil War.

Caesar probably struck this marvel of self-promotion in mid 49 BC, a crossroads in ancient history. Caesar had recently led his troops across the Rubicon, and arrived in a Rome deserted by his political enemies. He addressed the remaining Senators, and, with his growing political power and extraordinary charisma, managed to procure vast quantities of public precious metals. This silver and gold was used for striking coins, such as this so-called elephant denarius, the first coin directly attested to the Caesarian side during the civil war. These coins were struck by Caesar’s military mint in the millions - without formal Senate approval – to advertise both his own achievements and the shortcomings of his opponents.

The obverse depicts religious implements associated with Caesar’s office of Pontifex Maximus: a culullus (a ritual cap), an aspergillum (a brush used to sprinkle holy water), a securis (a single-bladed, double-handed, and animal-headed axe), and a simpulum (a long-handled ladle used at sacrifices, for example to share libations). These religious symbols emphasize Caesar’s religious post as well as provide a reminder of his claimed relationship with the gods, such as Venus. The verso portrays an elephant facing right, with its trunk defiantly raised upwards, about to trample what appears to be a horned serpent, and, in exergue, the simple, yet striking, legend of CAESAR.

This extraordinary imagery (the only instance Caesar employed an elephant) still draws attention today, the subject of intense debate among historians and numismatists alike. Interpretations range from a representation of good over evil to a play on the Punic term for pachyderm. However, the most satisfying explanation involves Caesar’s clever attack against his political opponents, notably Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey the Great.

The elephant motif as a numismatic device was employed on earlier Roman Republican and Hellenistic coinage. Importantly, the large and powerful elephant had become associated with Alexander the Great, even though the Macedonian marauder did not actually employ them in battle. It was no coincidence that Pompey, wishing his reputation to be comparable to Alexander’s, encouraged his own association with elephants. During his first Triumph in 81 BC the great imperator attempted to impress the populace by driving his elephant-drawn chariot through Rome’s gates. Unfortunately for Pompey, the entrance was not large enough, forcing the chagrined hero to improvise a more mundane entrance. Pompey also employed elephants in the extravagant games for his theatre’s opening in 55 BC. Embarrassingly, the scene rallied the crowds’ sympathies against Pompey.

If anything, Pompey had earned embarrassment for his attempts to exploit elephants. Of course, Caesar knew this, as he strove to promote himself above his ally-turned-enemy. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to theorize that Caesar’s elephant denarius was intended to mock Pompey.

Regarding the snake, explanatory theories abound, including those positing an allegorical battle between good and evil. Interestingly, some Romans considered the snake and elephant as natural enemies. For instance, Pliny the Elder recounted their perpetual discordia in a tale of battle wherein the snake eventually kills the elephant, only to be crushed under the weight of its falling foe. While impossible to divine Caesar’s true intent, the possibility remains that Caesar was invoking the ancient rivalry between the two animals, presumably identifying himself with the elephant, whose figure dominates the coin’s flan. Intriguingly, the coin depicts the very moment before engagement; the final outcome of bestial battle, just like the Great Roman Civil War itself, is to be determined.

Caesar’s ultimate fate, famously murdered by enemies nervous of his powers, parallels Pliny’s outcome for the serpent, rather than the elephant.

Additional Reading: “Turning Points in Roman History: The Case of Caesar’s Elephant Denarius,” D. L. Nousek, Phoenix, 2008, 62:290-307.

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, Julius Caesar, April-August 49 BC, AR Denarius (19mm, 3.87 g, 3h), Military mint traveling with Caesar, NGC Grade: Ch AU*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Elephant advancing right, trampling on horned serpent, CAESAR, Reverse: Emblems of the pontificate (simpulum, aspergillum, securis, and culullus), References: Crawford 443/1; CRI 9; Sydenham 1006; RSC 49.
View Coin Julius Caesar, Reign as Dictator ANCIENT - ROMAN IMPERATORIAL (1st CENT BC) ROMAN IMPERATORIAL Julius Caesar, d.44 BC AR Denarius rv Aeneas w/Anchises c.47-46 BC. obv Venus. NGC MS Strike: 3/5 Surface: 5/5 Julius Caesar (July 13, 100 BC – March 15, 44 BC) is one of the most important figures in history, as famous for his love affairs as for his military prowess. He is remembered not only for his life’s achievements, but also for his death’s betrayal. Claiming to be descended of the gods, he used his charisma and gift for oratory to help forge critical political alliances, such as the Triumvirate with the influential Pompey and the enormously wealthy Crassus. In 60 BC, Caesar was elected Consul, Rome’s highest political office. Caesar used strong-arm tactics to achieve his ends, including granting himself a five-year term as Gaul proconsul, which was later renewed.

Over that decade, Caesar extended Rome’s territories over most of central Europe, and campaigned even further, including forays into Britannia and Germanic lands. Meanwhile, the Triumvirate dissolved: Crassus died in battle, and Pompey and other Senators tried revoking Caesar’s command.

In 49 BC, Caesar famously crossed the Rubicon, marking his return to Italy and start of the next Roman civil war. He arrived in Rome, prompting Pompey and many Senators to flee. Subsequently, Caesar was appointed Dictator, a title he soon resigned in favor of Consul for a second time. Leaving Rome under Marc Antony’s leadership, Caesar pursued Pompey to Egypt. When he arrived, his adversary was already killed, and Caesar helped Cleopatra prevail in an Egyptian civil war (and, of course, also had a famous love affair with her).

Caesar continued eliminating his opposition in North Africa, Spain, and Greece. In 48 BC, he was again appointed a one-year term as Dictator. Caesar minted coins with the intent of promoting himself. This denarius, produced by a travelling military mint sometime in 47 to 46 BC, is a clear example of such political propaganda. On the obverse is the wreathed Venus Genetrix, the goddess that Caesar claimed afforded him protection and military assistance. Moreover, Caesar’s clan maintained they were the goddess’ descendants. The verso depicts the Trojan hero Aeneas, son of Venus, as he escaped from his falling city. Aeneas valiantly carries his father Anchises on his left shoulder and holds in his right hand the Palladium, the wooden statue of Pallus Athena (Minerva), which strongly resembles a figure of Nike (Victory). According to legend, Aeneas’ offspring and the Palladium would make Rome their new home. Thus, the coin’s design is a powerful allusion not only to Caesar's claimed decent from Venus and Aeneas, but also to the aid in battle bestowed by the goddess.

Shortly after this coin was minted, Caesar was appointed Dictator for ten years, and in 44 BC, the term was extended for life (not to mention he was making a habit of being elected Consul every year). Caesar used his powers to embark on improvement projects, for example establishing the first public library, granting Roman citizenship to the provinces, and formalizing a new calendar, wherein Quintilis was renamed July in his own tribute. He bestowed many other titles and honors upon himself. He consolidated his power by making himself non-impeachable, and giving himself censorial control and veto power over the Senate.

By this time, Caesar’s growing power fostered many enemies in Rome, leading to his famous murder on the ides of March in 44 BC. The conspiracy involved dozens, mostly aristocrats. Notable among them were Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus. Brutus was Caesar’s former opponent, then converted ally, then finally, betrayer. Moreover, Brutus’ mother, Servilia, had been Caesar’s lover; some historians speculate that Brutus was Caesar’s illegitimate son.

Caesar did have an official, adoptive heir, namely Octavian (later known as Augustus), who, along with Mark Anthony, struggled in civil wars for several years with Brutus and Cassius. Ironically, Caesar’s murder did not liberate the Republic, but instead triggered events that resulted in Rome’s transformation into an Empire.

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, Julius Caesar, d. 44 BC, AR Denarius (3.76 g), Struck 47-46 BC, Military mint traveling with Julius Caesar in North Africa, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 3/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Diademed bust of Venus right, Reverse: Aeneas advancing left, carrying palladium in right hand and Anchises on left shoulder, CAESAR to right, References: Julia 10; Crawford 458/1; Sydenham 1013; Sear 55.
View Coin Julius Caesar, Reign as Dictator for Life ANCIENT - ROMAN IMPERATORIAL (1st CENT BC) ROMAN IMPERATORIAL Julius Caesar, d.44 BC AR Denarius rv Venus hldg. Victory 44 BC. P.Sepullius Macer. NGC AU Strike: 3/5 Surface: 4/5 The Coin That Killed Caesar is the dramatic epithet attached to denarii, such as this example, featuring a lifetime portrait of Julius Caesar. Before that time, Rome’s coinage had never portrayed the unambiguous face of a living Roman. Beyond breaking from numismatic tradition, these coins also proclaimed Caesar as dictator-for-life. It plausibly comprised the final straw that compelled anti-Caesarians to take matters into their own hands.

Given Caesar’s obvious political savvy, it is curious that he did not foresee his growing peril. Previously, he introduced propagandist masterpieces such as his elephant denarius and his Venus/Aeneas denarius, both featured in this NGC Ancients Custom Set. Interestingly, Caesar was not directly responsible for his lifetime portrait coinage. The quattuorviri monetales produced them. Those four men (whose numbers had recently been increased from the traditional three) were moneyers responsible for supervising Rome’s coinage.

One of those moneyers was P. Sepullius Macer, the issuer of this historically important coin. Like much of Caesar’s lifetime portrait denarii, this coin’s strike is slightly weak and off center, suggesting haste and urgency in its production. The obverse infamously features the veiled head of Julius Cesar, depicted in a highly veristic style, consistent with Caesar’s actual age and literary descriptions of his appearance. Caesar’s veiled visage has led to some speculation that this coin was struck posthumously. However, the obverse inscription, CAESAR DICT•PERPETVO, strongly suggests that the strike occurred the last month of Caesar’s life. In this case, Caesar’s veil probably reflects his position as Rome’s highest pontiff (Pontifex Maximus).

The verso artistically returns to a more traditional Caesarian theme, featuring Rome’s counterpart of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. That goddess, who Caesar claimed as forebear, was Venus, representing various related aspects such as love, beauty, sexuality, fertility, prosperity, and victory. Specifically portrayed in this coin’s reverse is the goddess’ latter aspect, namely Venus Victrix. She stands above a shield on the ground, with Victory (the divine embodiment of the same) in her extended right hand and a vertical scepter in her left. The inscription P SEPVLLIVS MACER encircles and completes the scene.

It is widely discussed that Caesar’s lifetime portrait coinage may have reflected the dictator’s aspirations for kingship. Even so, Caesar adamantly eschewed any comparison of his regime to monarchy. For example, Caesar thrice rejected a crown offered to him by Marc Antony at the Lupercalia (a Roman religious festival) held on February 15, 44 BC. In the end, Caesar’s efforts to mollify his detractors backfired - his infamous murder transpired just one month after this coin’s debut.

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, The Caesarians, Julius Caesar, February-March 44 BC, AR Denarius (17mm, 3.92 g, 3h), Lifetime issue, Rome mint; P. Sepullius Macer, moneyer, NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 3/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Laureate and veiled head of Caesar right, CAE[SAR DICT•PE]RPETVO, Reverse: Venus Victrix standing left, holding Victory in extended right hand and vertical scepter in left; shield set on ground to right, [P SEPVLLIVS] MACER, References: Crawford 480/13; Alföldi Type IX, 40 (A3/R28); CRI 107d; Sydenham 1074; RSC 39; RBW 1685.
View Coin The Pompeians ROMAN IMPERATORIAL Sextus Pompey, d.35 BC AE As Pompey Mag. janiform/prow Sicilian mint, c.43-36 BC NGC Ch VF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 To appreciate ancient Rome's ferocious military machine, consider the firsthand account by historian Josephus: “…as if born ready armed they never have a truce from training…no indiscipline dislodges them from their regular formation, no panic incapacitates them, no toil wears them out…victory over men not so trained follows as a matter of course.” Indeed, ancient Rome's war machine excelled in many aspects, including its size, weaponry, training, communications, and engineering.

Of course, Rome also boasted many eminent generals. Among the most talented was Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, who supported Sulla’s rise to become Rome’s first dictator in over a century. Pompey pursued his anti-Sullan foes into Africa, where he also subdued the Numidians. For these efforts, Pompey earned the honorific cognomen Magnus, i.e., the Great, and his first Triumphus, i.e., Triumph. A Triumph was an elaborate religious and political celebration to publically advertise a Roman military commander’s achievement. Shrouded in pomp and circumstance, Triumphs were reserved for particularly epic occasions. (Even so, the Fasti Triumphales published in 12 BC listed well over 200 instances.) On this occasion, Pompey was eager to make an unprecedentedly grand appearance, entering Rome on a chariot powered by no less than four elephants. To the imperator’s chagrin, the pachyderms did not fit through the city gates! Subsequently, a far less impressive entrance was improvised.

Over the following decade, Pompey racked up further military achievements, for example victories over rebel forces in Spain. He returned to Italy, and aided his imperatorial rival Crassus defeat a widespread slave revolt led by the celebrated former gladiator, Sparticus. Pompey participated in his second Triumph (this time, without elephants).

Even greater victories were in store for Pompey. In 67 BC, he took to the Mediterranean Sea to stamp out a growing piracy problem. Afterwards, he was given command over forces warring against Rome’s eastern nemesis, namely Mithradates VI. In a few years, Pompey managed to eliminate the Pontic King. He also took the liberty to transform lands such as Pontus, Cilicia, and Syria into Roman Provinces, and appoint client Kings in lands such as Armenia, Cappadocia, Galatia, and Judaea. For expanding Rome’s influence in the east, Pompey earned his third (and what turned out to be his final) Triumph.

By 60 BC, Pompey took part in the ill-fated faction known as the Triumvirs, joining with Crassus and another, increasingly famous imperator, Julius Caesar. The arrangement lasted for a time, but ultimately disintegrated due to competing ambitions, egos, and jealousies. Caesar took command over Gaul, and racked up impressive victories over the next decade. Meanwhile, Crassus warred against the up and coming Parthians, and was killed in the attempt. It was now down to Pompey and Caesar, and after the latter's famous Rubicon crossing the alliance was over, and the pair clashed. Their final battle was waged at the Greek city of Pharsalus. Although favorably positioned to outlast his foe, Pompey followed the Senate’s directive to attack. The results were disastrous. One of Rome’s all-time greatest generals met an ignominious end; disguised, Pompey fled the losing battle and disembarked in Egypt, only to be decapitated by King Ptolemy XIII.

Continuing the conflict with Caesar were Pompey’s sons, Pompey Jr. and Sextus Pompey. The former met his death by Caesar in 45 BC, but Sextus managed to escape to Sicily. The following year, Caesar was famously murdered by a group of Roman aristocrats including Brutus and Cassius. Three of Caesar's successors, namely Octavian, Marc Antony, and Lepidus, formed a new Triumvirate to pursue those responsible. Eventually, Brutus and Cassius were defeated at the battle of Philippi. Meanwhile, the situation provided Sextus Pompey an opportunity to consolidate his position.

While growing his forces in Sicily (42-38 BC), Sextus Pompey struck this interesting bronze coin. The obverse depicts Janus, the two-headed Roman god of beginnings, transitions, and endings. A uniquely Roman concept without Hellenistic equivalent, Janus was associated with gates, doors, and passageways. He manifested two faces, one looking ahead to the future, the other reflecting back to the past; the month of January was named in his honor. Importantly, Janus presided over the start and end of conflict, hence, war and peace. At his temple in the Roman Forum, the doors were closed during peaceful times, and opened - quite often, and with great fanfare - when Rome warred. Along with Jupiter, Janus was one of the most powerful of all Roman Gods. On this coin, the janiform portraits resemble Pompey the Great. Further invitation to associate god and imperator is provided by the inscription MAGN.

The coin’s reverse features a galley, a type of Roman naval ship associated with many of the Pompeians’ military successes. The galley’s details include a corvus (a Roman-developed boarding bridge), an acrostolium (the curved end of the prow, typically fashioned to resemble an animal), and an apotropaic device known as the Eye of Horus, thought to promote safe passage.

Galleys similar to the one depicted herein formed a crucial component of Sextus Pompey’s Silician forces that, at least for a time, successfully defended against the second generation of Triumvirs. In 39 BC, the parties agreed to a truce, but it didn’t last, and Sextus Pompey and his navy were finally defeated around 36 BC. The last son of Pompey the Great was caught the following year in Miletus, and, like his father before him, ignominiously executed without a trial.

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, POMPEIANS, Sextus Pompeius Magnus Pius, As (31 mm, 24.6 gm), Sicily circa 42-38, NGC Grade: Ch VF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Laureate Janiform head of Pompey the Great, MAGN, Reverse: Prow, PIVS, IMP in exergue, References: Babelon Pompeia 20 C 6; Sydenham 1044; Sear Imperators 336; Woytek Arma et Nummi page 558; Crawford 479/1.
View Coin Brutus ANCIENT - ROMAN IMPERATORIAL Brutus, d. 42 BC ROMAN-BRUTUS (44-42 BC) AV STATER (8.52GM) NGC CHOICE UNCIRCULATED Marcus Junius Brutus (85 – 42 BC) was the son of Brutus the Elder and Servilia Caepionis. Servilia was also mistress to Julius Caesar, prompting uncertainty regarding Brutus’ true biological father. The young Brutus started his career working for his uncle, Cato the Younger. He later held important political posts and made a fortune moneylending in the provinces, subsequently becoming one of Rome’s most influential Senators.

In 49 BC when Caesar started a Roman civil war, Brutus initially aligned with Pompey (even though the pair were former enemies). After Pompey’s defeat, Brutus switched sides, and Caesar accepted him into his inner circle, even making him governor of Gaul. While Brutus appreciated Caesar’s confidence, he was troubled by colleague’s obsession with controlling Rome. He became even more disturbed as Caesar made himself non-impeachable, and gained censorial control and veto power over the Senate. By 44 BC when Caesar earned the title of Dictator for life, Brutus was alarmed to the point he took drastic action.

Brutus was not alone. Many of Rome’s elite opined it was in Rome’s best interests - if not their own - to murder their dictator. On the Ides of March 44 AD, Caesar was stabbed to death by Brutus, along with dozens of other aristocrats led by Gaius Cassius Longinus.

After the assassination, Brutus fled Rome, and soon became embroiled in civil war against Caesar’s co-consul, Marc Anthony, and heir, Octavian, later known as Augustus. In October 42 BC at Philippi, Rome’s latest civil war reached its climax. Brutus and his ally Cassius agreed beforehand that if victory escaped them, the best course of action would be to take their own lives. As it turned out, that suicide pact sealed their fate. As the epic Battle of Philippi unfolded, Brutus managed the upper hand against Octavian, at least to the extent he took the latter’s camp; Octavian managed to escape, according to one account by hiding himself in a marsh. Unfortunately for Cassius, he was unaware of Brutus’ achievement, and, even worse, he mistakenly thought that Brutus’ camp had fallen. Consequently, Cassius, fearing the worst, responded by dutifully committing suicide. Brutus managed to rally Cassius’ remaining forces, and fought a second battle weeks later. As it turned out, Brutus’ men were defeated, and he fled the battlefield. Realizing he would soon be captured, Brutus committed suicide.

This gold stater was struck in Thrace or Dacia concurrent with these historic events. The obverse depicts three men wearing togas, walking to the left, two of them carrying objects over their shoulders. The figures are Roman lictors (bodyguards) carrying fasces (axe-like weapons), and the motif bears striking resemblance to coins issued by Brutus a decade earlier. In exergue is the enigmatic epithet KOSON. On the verso, an eagle stands on a scepter, facing to the left, its right claw raised, holding a wreath. This design also resembles earlier Roman Republican coins.

Attribution of this issue has been the subject of lively numismatic debate. According to one hypothesis (which has fallen out of favor over time) Brutus struck coins like this one after he fled from Rome to Greece, tapping into his enormous personal wealth combined with funds from sympathetic Senators. An alternate theory (which has gained favor over time) attributes a Thracian or Dacian King named Koson, who imitated Roman designs. According to this scenario, Brutus was not involved in the coins’ production besides providing numismatic inspiration.

Adding to the perplexity, two versions of the coin exist, those with a mysterious BR monogram on the obverse, and those without. It has been postulated that the BR refers to Brutus. An alternate view is that the letters relates to BA(sileus), i.e, king, as in King Koson. Curiously, no other records mention a monarch by that name (although there was a King Kotison). Many modern scholars espouse the view that there was a local King Koson; perhaps he was Brutus’ ally. It is interesting to note that since ancient times, several large hoards of coins inscribed KOSON have been discovered in the land formerly known as Dacia. The largest group, comprising thousands of gold coins and other gold objects, was discovered in 1543. If there was indeed a Dacian King Koson, he apparently had access to vast wealth (adding to the mystery of his historical anonymity).

Recently, both monogrammed and non-monogrammed versions of so-called Koson staters were examined for their composition. These studies provided a highly sensitive elemental fingerprint for each coin. It was found that all coins without the monogram were made from native alluvial gold, (i.e., had trace amounts of tin) the same composition found for other Dacian gold artifacts (i.e., bracelets) that were made at the time. In contrast, all the coins with the BR monogram lacked tin, and were of highly purified gold. This finding leads to an intriguing possibility – BR-monogrammed coins were produced by Brutus using highly refined gold, and non-monogrammed coins were imitations by Thracians or Dacians using their own methods and local alluvial gold.

This particular coin is the non-monogrammed type. At the time it was graded by NGC Ancients, its was attributed according to the Brutus origin theory. An example of the monogrammed counterpart – which, perhaps ironically, was attributed to Thrace or Dacia – is present in another NGC Custom Set, The Ancient World Collection. Whether Brutus took part of the production of either, or neither, coin remains uncertain, illustrating the fascination and intrigue of ancient coin collecting.

Additional Reading: B Constantinescu, D Cristea-Stan, A Vasilescu, R Simon, D Ceccato, “Archaeometallurgical Characterization of Ancient Gold Artifacts from Romanian Museums using XRF, Micro-PIXE and Micro-SR-XRF Methods,” Proc Romanian Acad 13:19-26, 2012.

Coin Details: ROMAN – BRUTUS, 44-42 BC, AV Stater (8.52 g), NGC Grade: Choice Uncirculated, Obverse: Roman Consul with two Lictors, KOSON in exergue, Reverse: Eagle on scepter, holding wreath, References: RPC 1701B; BMC Thrace pg. 208, 2; BMCRR II pg. 475, 50.
View Coin Cassius ANCIENT - ROMAN IMPERATORIAL (1st CENT BC) ROMAN IMPERATORIAL Cassius, d.42 BC AR Denarius obv tripod rv jug, lituus legate Lentulus Spinther NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 The murder of Julius Caesar involved several, if not dozens, of Rome’s elite Republicans (also referred to as Liberators), i.e., those vehemently supporting the current governmental structure and opposing totalitarian control. Top of mind among these perpetrators is Brutus, thanks in no small part to Shakespeare’s famous recordation of Caesar’s last words, “…et tu Brute?” Shakespeare portrayed Caesar’s dying words based on contemporary popular lexicon, dating to the writings of Suetonius, who suggested Caesar viewed his protégé as his son, at least in a figurative, if not biological, sense. While Brutus certainly played his traitorous part, it is widely postulated that the primary mastermind behind Caesar’s murder was Gaius Cassius Longinus (85 – 42 BC).

Cassius forged a highly distinguished career in the Roman military. In 53 BC, he fought valiantly against the Parthians while serving under Crassus, a member of Rome’s first Triumvirate that also included Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great. After Crassus’ demise, the first Triumvirate disintegrated, and Cassius joined Pompey in the civil war against Caesar. After Caesar defeated Pompey at the famous Battle of Pharsalus, he pardoned Cassius, even bestowing him the second highest command in the city of Rome (praetor peregrinus). Cassius now found himself serving alongside Rome’ highest-ranking official (praetor urbanus), none other than his own brother-in-law, Brutus. Evidently, Caesar strove to win the hearts and minds of allies and former enemies alike, in order to unite Rome under his dictatorial rule. What Caesar apparently did not foresee was treachery lurking amidst those he so graciously exonerated.

Caesar’s power grew, as did wariness and resentment among many Roman. On February 14, 44 BC, Caesar was granted the title of dictator perpetuo, or dictator in perpetuity; the unprecedented abandonment of any term restriction bore the trappings of monarchy. The very next day at the pagan feast of Lupercalia, Caesar thrice rejected a golden diadem offered to him by Marc Antony. Caesar’s refusal of this royal symbol was public assurance that he did not intend to serve as Rome’s king. Even so, Caesar’s opponents were riled, and became even more so when their perpetual dictator audaciously struck coins bearing his own image, another unprecedented action invoking kingly comparisons.

One month later, on the ides of March, 44 BC, dozens of Rome’s elite led by Cassius and Brutus famously stabbed Caesar to death in Pompey’s Theatre. Despite their treachery, the perpetrators were once again granted amnesty, this time by Marc Antony, although others (notably Lepidus) desired revenge. Cassius eventually fled to the eastern territories, and in early 42 BC met up with Brutus at the strategic Anatolian port of Smyrna. The duo united once again, this time against a second Triumvirate comprised of Marc Antony, Lepidus and Caesar’s heir, Octavian.

It was in Smyrna where Cassius’ military mint struck this denarius in the spring of 44 BC. These coins were struck both to pay soldiers under Cassius’ command, as well as to promote his political cause against perceived tyranny. The obverse depicts a cortina (or cauldron) perched on a tripod, decorated with laurel leaves, an apparatus commonly employed in pagan religious ceremonies. The motif continues on the verso, with representations of a praefericulum (a tall, handled vase) and a lituus (the augur’s staff). Such motifs mirror those found on Caesar’s (and later Octavian’s) coinage. Rather than promoting himself as god-like (as did Caesar), Cassius’ imagery was intended to indicate defiance against Caesarian tyranny.

The obverse epithet C CASSI IMP boldly declares Cassius the imperator. In the days of the Roman Republic, this title was akin to a general. Ironically, Cassius’ claimed title would become a cognomen for Rome’s future dictators. The coin’s reverse bears the inscription LENTVLVS SPINT, in reference to Publius Cornelius Lentulus Spinther, an important supporter of Cassius and Brutus in the fight against the Triumvirs. Spinther was following in the footsteps of his father who, like Cassius and Brutus, initially supported Julius Caesar but changed sides as Rome plunged into civil war, allying with Pompey instead. Dissimilar to the fate of Brutus and Cassius, Spinther’s father was apparently executed, rather than pardoned, after losing in battle to Caesar.

In October 43 AD at Philippi, Cassius and Brutus waged their final battle against Octavian and Marc Antony. The pair of Liberators agreed beforehand that if victory escaped them, the best course of action would be to take their own lives. As it turned out, that suicide pact sealed their fate. As the epic Battle of Philippi unfolded, Brutus managed the upper hand against Octavian, at least to the extent he took the latter’s camp. Octavian managed to escape, according to one account by hiding himself in a marsh. The situation was reversed for Cassius, forced to abandon his camp in the face of Antony’s onslaught. Unfortunately for Cassius, he was not aware of Brutus’ achievement. Moreover, he mistakenly thought that Brutus’ camp had also fallen, perhaps deceived by a false report. In any case, Cassius responded by dutifully committing suicide, leaving Brutus with the painful task of burying his old comrade, whom he affectionately described as “Last of the Romans.”

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, C. Cassius Longinus and Lentulus Spinther, AR Denarius (18mm, 3.82 g, 6h), Military mint, probably at Smyrna, probably travelling with Brutus and Cassius, 43-42 AD, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Filleted tripod surmounted by a corina (cauldron) and laurel branches, CASSI IMP, Reverse: Capis and lituus, LENTVLVS / SPINT, References: Crawford 500/1; CRI 219; Sydenham 1308; RSC 7.
View Coin Lepidus ANCIENT - ROMAN IMPERATORIAL (1st CENT BC) ROMAN IMPERATORIAL Lepidus,triumvir 43-36 BC AR Obol Apollo/cornucopia+wreath issue of Cabellio, Gaul NGC AU Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5 Participating in the Roman Empire’s genesis were many monumental figures of ancient history: Julius Caesar, his ally-turned-assassin Brutus, Pompey the Great, the famous lovers Marc Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian (a.k.a. Augustus), and then there is…Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (88? - 12? BC). If the name isn’t familiar, no wonder - Lepidus turned out the prototypical persona non grata of Roman politics. Borrowing sic erat scriptum the tagline of a late, modern-day comedian, he didn't get no respect.

Lepidus, an early supporter of Julius Caesar, held the post of praetor in 49 BC, and watched over Rome while his mentor defeated Pompey at Pharsalus. On March 14, 44 BC, while Lepidus served as Caesar’s magister equitum (Master of the Horse), he warned his leader about an imminent murder plot. Lepidus’ arguments proved unpersuasive, and the next day Caesar fell at the hands of a mob. (If Lepidus had had been a more effective communicator, history might have turned out vastly different!) Afterwards, Lepidus had an opportunity to redeem himself by avenging Caesar’s murder and punishing the known perpetrators. Instead, Lepidus stayed his hand, following Marc Antony’s advice. Furthermore, Lepidus went along with Antony's opposition of Caesar's legally named heir, Octavian. However, the power grab by Lepidus and Antony failed, and the duo retreated to Gaul. However, the power grab by Lepidus and Antony failed, and the duo retreated to Gaul.

It was in Gaul during this period (44 to 42 BC) that Lepidus struck this silver obol. It is rare, and one of only perhaps two issues he struck there. For the obverse, Lepidus portrayed Apollo, a traditional choice as opposed to the bold, new trend of self-portraiture. The verso presents a cornucopia encircled by a wreath, promising future prosperity.

Lepidus’ own fortunes improved when Octavian convinced him and Antony to form together as Triumvirs. They divided Rome’s demesnes amongst themselves: Lepidus was assigned Spain and shared Gaul with Antony, junior partner Octavian controlled North Africa, and all three shared responsibility over Italy. The Triumvirs needed to re-conquer the rest: Sicily under Sextus Pompey’s control, and the eastern territories dominated by Brutus and Cassius. The latter duo fell in 42 BC at the Battle of Philippi. Afterwards, the Triumvirs readjusted their power-sharing. This time, Lepidus - almost expelled by Octavian as a suspected Sextus Pompey sympathizer - was demoted to control over North Africa.

Understandably, Lepidus disapproved his reduced role. He strove to improve his lot while jointly campaigning with Octavian against Sextus Pompey's Sicilian forces. Lepidus landed on Sicily, and then proceeded to lead a land assault. He succeeded in regaining control over Sicily, and then, with Octavian still busy battling the enemy's navy at sea, Lepidus announced his intention to keep it. Lepidus’ land grab did not sit well with Octavian, who issued a challenge in response. Consequently, Lepidus’ legions defected en masse, fearing Octavian’s displeasure. The defenseless and humiliated Lepidus had no choice but to beg for Octavian’s mercy. Octavian indeed spared Lepidus’ life. However, Lepidus was required to abdicate all his political powers and titles, except for the largely meaningless post of Pontifex Maximus.

Lepidus was expelled to the remote promontory of Mount Circeo, where he spent his remaining years in obscurity, watching Antony’s fall, Octavian's transition to Augustus, and the Republic’s transformation to Empire. Occasionally, Lepidus was allowed to visit Rome on official business. Even then, the humiliation continued; he was required to speak last.

Historians traditionally view Lepidus as the Triumvirate’s weakest link, untrustworthy and ineffective. Even Shakespeare disparaged Lepidus, depicting him as a simpleton and a drunkard. Evidently, Lepidus still doesn’t get much respect.

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERIATORIAL, M. Aemilius Lepidus, as Triumvir(?), AR obol (0.43 g, 10.6 mm), Cabellio (Cavaillon), Gaul, 44-42 BC, NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Head of Apollo right, CABE before, Reverse: Cornucopia, LE-PI in left and right fields, all within wreath, References: RPC 528; Sear CRI 491.
View Coin Fulvia, with Marc Antony ANCIENT - ROMAN IMPERATORIAL (1st CENT BC) ROMAN IMPERATORIAL Fulvia, 3rd wife M.Antony AR Quinarius Fulvia as Victory/lion r. Lugdunum(?), 43 BC NGC Ch F Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5 Depending on the historical source, Fulvia (83? - 40 BC) was either the antithesis, or role model, of a Roman matron. As sole survivor of a noble and deep-rooted clan, she coveted political status and power. As such, and within the constraints of Rome’s male-dominated culture, Fulvia influenced many powerful men around her. Like any ambitious Roman noblewoman, she sought partners of rising political status. Her first husband, an incendiary politician who championed the common people, was murdered in 52 BC. Afterwards, Fulvia’s public lamentations and trial testimony facilitated the murderer’s punishment. Fulvia’s second husband, also a popular politician among plebeians, died in 49 BC fighting for Julius Caesar’s cause. Afterwards, Fulvia entered into her third, and final marriage. This time, her husband was yet another dynamic and powerful political figure, Marc Antony.

Fulvia supported Antony in the chaotic period following Caesar’s assassination on the ides of March 44 BC. In the aftermath, Antony and Fulvia emerged as Rome’s most powerful couple. On at least two occasions, Antony was abroad when Fulvia, back in Rome, defended her husband against political enemies. The formidable list of opponents included Cicero, Rome’s most famous orator and lawyer. It is not surprising that several surviving accounts (especially Cicero’s) paint a negative picture of Fulvia: domineering, greedy, and cruel. To the extent Fulvia exhibited such traits, her actions seem hardly more objectionable than her opponents’. Allegedly, Fulvia played a major role in brutal proscriptions eliminating many prominent Romans, including Cicero. One account, probably apocryphal, describes her piercing his dead tongue with golden hairpins. Besides sparring with Cicero, Fulvia interacted and influenced many of Rome’s elite. She promoted the 43 BC reconciliation between her husband and his fellow Triumvirs Octavian and Lepidus. She even agreed that Octavian could marry her daughter, Clodia Pulchra.

Per the Triumvir’s agreement, Antony gained control over Gaul, including the mint city of Lugdunum, where he struck this ancient silver quinarius. The obverse depicts Victoria, the goddess representing victory. Close inspection reveals that Victoria's facial features suggest an older woman. Interestingly, the deity sports a nodus, a popular hairstyle among mortal Roman noblewomen, including Fulvia. Numismatic research suggests that Victoria on this coin represents Fuvia (she also appears on one provincial bronze issue that Antony struck in Phyrgia). Assuming the attribution is correct, Fulvia was the first Roman woman to behold her own coinage. The attribution remains equivocal; the first living Roman woman unambiguously appearing on coinage was Antony’s next wife, Octavia.

The coin’s reverse bears the inscription III VIR R P C, denoting Antony’s status as triumvir reipublicae constituendae, one of the three men for the regulation of the Roman Republic. The reverse depicts a lion walking right, along with an inscription proclaiming imperator Antony’s 41st birthday. Thus, the strike probably occurred in 42 BC, the same year Antony helped defeat Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius, at the epic Battle of Philippi.

After the Battle of Philippi, Antony headed to Egypt, where he allied himself with Queen Cleopatra VII. Around this time, Octavian re-settled his victorious Roman troops back into Italy. However, doing so required confiscation of Roman property. As a result, there was widespread disapproval for Octavian among many of Rome’s civilians. Fulvia allied with Antony’s brother Lucius to oppose Octavian’s land policies. At least one of her motivations was advancing her husband’s power by raising discontent against Octavian. As tensions rose, Octavian divorced Fulvia’s daughter, claiming he never consummated the relationship. The situation continued to escalate, and a displeased Fulvia took action, raising a considerable army in conjunction with Lucius. Fulvia and Lucius briefly controlled Rome until Octavian showed up to confront them, backed by his own, much larger and more powerful force. Fulvia and Lucius had no choice but to retreat, and they chose the fortress of Perusia.

The struggle between Fulvia and Octavian resulted in some remarkable historical artifacts illustrating Roman propaganda. One such example is an epigram, or poem, allegedly written by Octavian himself. The epigram presents Fulvia as an aggressive matron so jealous of her husband Antony’s extramarital affairs that she offers her son-in-law an ultimatum of coitus or war.

…since Antony screws Glaphyra [his Cappadocian mistress], Fulvia has appointed this punishment for me, that I too should screw her. Therefore do I screw Fulvia?...I don't think so, if I were sane...doesn't she know my prick is dearer to me than life itself? Let the trumpets blare!

Clearly, the poem is not so much an attack on Antony, but rather Fulvia, reflecting her prominent role in the events preceding the Perusine War. While it is nearly inconceivable that Fulvia made such an offer, it is easy to imagine Octavian’s propaganda machine generating the epigram. The vulgar tone and sexual language promoted Octavian’s masculinity in the face of accusations of the triumvir’s effeminacy. The poem’s style and content appear consistent with Octavian’s authorship, although there is no proof of it.

Other, even more provocative, examples of ancient Roman propaganda resulted from Fulvia and Lucius’ war with Octavian. In ancient times, slings served as popular projectile weapons and their ammunition (lead bullets called glans) often bore inscriptions to intimidate or otherwise demoralize its targets. Given its shape (one that inspired naming of certain anatomical features), glans provided a particularly interesting canvas for ancient soldiers to taunt their enemies. Apparently, Octavian’s forces used the opportunity to encourage their glans to penetrate certain orifices belonging to Fulvia and Lucius. Milder examples poked fun at Lucius’ receding hairline. Not to be denied equal billing, sling bullets from forces representing Fulvia and Antony declared their intention to penetrate Octavia’s rear end. (Presumably, they were not aiming at Octavian’s sister, but rather questioning the Triumvirs’ sexual preference by addressing him by the feminine form of his name.)

Amidst the naughty jesting, Fulvia and Lucius’ forces tried to withstand Octavian’s siege. They might have persevered, if only Antony’s forces had come to their aid. Alas, Antony did not respond, and his lack thereof probably reflected his displeasure, if not betrayal, of his wife and brother, who had no choice but to surrender. In the aftermath, Octavian pardoned Lucius, but deemed reconciliation with his former mother-in-law impossible. Fulvia retreated eastward, and one account describes her meeting up with Antony, who then rebuked her, either for the audacity to wage her own war, or for failure to achieve its success, or both. It is also described that Fulvia grew despondent after the chastisement, soon thereafter succumbed to disease, and died.

Using Fulvia as scapegoat for instigating the Perusine war, Antony reached a renewed peace with Octavian and agreed to marry his sister Octavia (although neither truce nor marriage endured). Ironically or not, Fulvia supported her husband's cause even after her death.

Additional reading: “A Study of Fulvia,” A J Weir, 2007.

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, Fulvia, first wife of Mark Antony, died 40 BC, AR Quinarius (1.79 g), Lugdunum Mint, NGC Grade: Ch F, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Bust of Victory right with the likeness of Fulvia, III VIR R P C, Reverse: Lion right between A and XLI, ANTONI above, IMP in exergue, References: Crawford 489/6; Sydenham 1163; RSC 3; ex. Neubecker collection.
View Coin Octavia, with Marc Antony ANCIENT - ROMAN IMPERATORIAL (1st CENT BC) ACHAEA Marc Antony & Octavia AE "As" M.Oppius Capito. RPC 1470 Fleet Coinage,38-37 BC(?) NGC VF Strike: 3/5 Surface: 3/5 The nexus of relationships to Octavia (69 – 11 BC) reads like a who’s who of the early Roman Empire: sister of Octavian (also known as Augustus), adoptive niece of Julius Caesar, mother of Antonia Major and Antonia Minor, grandmother of Emperor Claudius, and great-grandmother of Emperor Caligula, to name a few. Among all of Octavia’s relationships, perhaps most famous – or infamous, rather – was Octavia’s marriage to Marc Anthony, her second and his fourth nuptial, respectively. She accepted the arrangement in 40 BC as part of political deal among the Triumvirs (Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus). The marriage also required Senate approval since Octavia was pregnant at the time with her first husband's child. She was reportedly a loyal and faithful wife to Antony, supporting him during his travels among the various eastern provinces and bearing him two daughters, Antonia Major and Antonia Minor, who, in turn, were forebears to several future Emperors.

This unusual bronze coin dates from the early years of their marriage, ca. 38-37 BC. It was struck in Achaea, situated on the northwestern Peloponnese peninsula. At that time, Antony struck what today hails as his “fleet coinage” comprising varying bronze denominations with interesting portraiture. The series represented a blend of ancient Hellenistic and western Roman numismatic elements, and set a new precedent for imperial nomenclature. For example, the various weights and denominations of the fleet coinage series correspond to Roman standards, whereas each coin comprises a Greek letter denoting the value. This particular coin bears an alpha and was worth one unit of value known as an “as”. Interestingly, this same denomination series was later adopted as part of Octavians’ currency reforms in the early Roman Empire.

The fleet moniker refers to the coin’s reverse. Specifically, the verso depicts a heavy Greek warship known as a quinquereme. These ships were huge and rather slow compared to Roman-evolved designs, and by 1st century AD were relegated to serve as fleet flagships. The reverse also bears the name of M. Oppius Capito, perhaps one of Antony’s admirals.

The obverse portrays the busts of Octavia and Antony. Although depicting living people on Roman coins struck in Italy was relatively new, it was traditional in the eastern territories. In this context, Antony probably intended to promote his authority over the eastern territories wherein these coins circulated. In addition, historians posit that Antony struck such coinage as propaganda, to counter Octavian’s bronze coins produced in the west, and advertise the Triumvir’s bond, as evidenced by Antony’s marriage to Octavia.

Despite the coin’s charming obverse imagery, the marriage between Octavia and Antony, similar to the Triumvirs' bond, was destined for failure. In 37 BC, Antony abandoned Octavia to wed Cleopatra VII of Egypt. In the absence of a formal divorce, the new nuptial was not legally binding in Rome. Octavian implored his sister to file to divorce, but she remained devoted, at least for a while. In 35 BC, Octavia even attempted to parley with Antony, bringing him a fleet laden with supplies. However, Antony refused, barring Octavia’s progress past Athens, and sending her back to Italy.

By 32 BC, Octavia finally divorced Antony, now sworn enemy of Octavian and the State. The following year, Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra at the epic naval Battle of Actium. In the aftermath, the famous lovers committed suicide, and the gracious Octavia assumed responsibility for their three children: Alexander, Ptolemy, and Cleopatra Selene. Octavia raised them in Italy, a testament to her many charitable good deeds.

Octavia died sometime around 11 BC. At her public funeral, she was severely mourned and bestowed much adulation. The epitome of Roman feminine virtues, Octavia also represented one of the Empire’s most prominent women. Among many honors to note, Octavia was the first Roman woman, living or otherwise, unambiguously portrayed on coinage.

Coin Details: ACHAEA, Mark Antony, with Octavia, Summer 37 BC, Æ (15mm, 3.97 g, 9h), Fleet Coinage, Light series, M. Oppius Capito, propraetor and praefectus classis, NGC Grade: VF, Strike: 3/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Jugate bare heads of Antony and Octavia right, M ANT IMP TERT COS DESIG ITER ET TER III VIR, Reverse: Quinquereme sailing right, M OPPIVS CAPITO PRO PR PRAE, A and gorgoneion in exergue, References: Amandry, Bronze II, Series 2C; RPC I 1470; CRI 296.
View Coin Marc Antony ANCIENT - ROMAN IMPERATORIAL (1st CENT BC) ROMAN IMPERATORIAL Marc Antony, d.30 BC AR Denarius rv standards. LEG II. 32-31 BC. obv galley. NGC AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 This ancient coin was struck by Marc Antony at Patrae (modern day Patras, Greece) circa 32-31 BC. Antony produced millions of similar coins, all bearing the obverse image of a galley, and the reverse image of two military standards (signa or vexilla) on either side of an aquila military standard. The aquila, or eagle, represented the specific military standard representing each Roman legion. The reverse inscription on this particular denarius reads LEG II, in honor of the second Roman legion. Also produced were more than a score of other variants (honoring different legions, praetorian cohorts and speculatores), collectively referred to as Antony’s “legionary denarii,” along with a very limited volume of related gold coinage.

Antony produced these coins to pay his legions and his fleet. To support such a large volume of production, Antony had to resort to lowering his coin’s silver content by the addition of copper (apparently foreshadowing a trend that the Romans would follow for the next several centuries). Due to their debasement, these coins tended to circulate constantly (as opposed to being hoarded), and many survive only in highly worn state. This legionary denarius, though among the more common variants, is relatively scarce since it retains an uncommonly high state of preservation of almost uncirculated. Also due to their debasement, many legionary denarii bear bankers’ assay marks. For example, this particular specimen bears test cuts on its edge.

It is interesting to note that the obverse inscription reads ANT AVG, denoting that Antony held the title of augur, one who interpreted the will of the gods. The same title was previous held by Julius Caesar; Antony’s advertisement of the title was perhaps an attempt to associate himself with Rome’s murdered dictator. Ironically, AVG later became associated with Augustus, Octavian’s new title upon defeating Antony and becoming Rome’s supreme ruler. The obverse also bears the inscription III VIR R P C, denoting triumvir rei publicae constituendae, i.e., “one of three men for the restoration of the Republic." The three men referenced Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus, even though by the time this coin was struck, their triumvirate had been dissolved.

Antony struck his legionary denarii in preparation for what turned out to be his last campaign against Octavian. The epic Battle of Actium took place on September 1, 31 BC. Emerging victorious was Octavian, with assistance from his trusted general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. In the aftermath, Antony committed suicide, and, shortly thereafter, so did his famous lover, Cleopatra.

Surviving Antony were his highly recognizable legionary denarii, although they were probably unpopular at the time due to their debasement. They circulated for centuries; meanwhile, the silver content of Rome’s denarii declined to the point they came to equal the intrinsic value of Antony’s legionary coinage. Thus the legionary denarii became more famous over time. Elements of Antony’s design were replicated by many future Roman Emperors such as Nero, Galba, Titus, Domitian, Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian. In 169 AD, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus marked the two-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Actium with a re-issue honoring Legio VI (interestingly, they decided to change AVG to AVGVR so as avoid any confusion between their title and Anthony's).

Today, Antony’s legionary denarii are arguably the most recognizable and collectible group of ancient coinage, Roman or otherwise.

Additional Reading: D Vagi, “Marc Antony legionary denarii iconic. Plentiful and historic coins highly collectible today,” Coin World, 01/27/12.

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, The Triumvirs, Mark Antony, Autumn 32-spring 31 BC, AR Denarius (16mm, 3.75 g, 6h), Legionary type, Patrae(?) mint, NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Galley right, Reverse: LEG II, legionary aquila between two signa, References: Crawford 544/14; CRI 349; Sydenham 1216; RSC 27.
View Coin Cleopatra, with Marc Antony ANCIENT - ROMAN IMPERATORIAL (1st CENT BC) PTOLEMAIC KINGDOM Cleopatra VII+Marc Antony AE21 Cleopatra VII/Marc Antony 32/1 BC. Syria, Chalcis. NGC XF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5 The name Cleopatra in Greek denotes “she who comes from glorious father,” and among the many queens bearing the name, Cleopatra VII (69-31 BC) proved herself a most worthy Ptolemaic dynast. When embroiled in an Egyptian civil war, she famously persuaded Julius Caesar to help her secure the throne. Moreover, she even lived for a while in one of the dictator’s country villas. Their love affair, scandalous since both were already legally married, came to an abrupt end on the ides of March 44 BC.

In the aftermath of Caesar's assassination, the civil war against his murderers fell to his legally named heir, Octavian, along with fellow Triumvirs Marc Antony and Lepidus. It was logical that Cleopatra sided with the Triumvirs, and after they disintegrated, she aligned herself with Antony, and the two lived together in Alexandria. Once again, Cleopatra embroiled herself in a famous and scandalous relationship. This time, her paramour was Antony, even though he was still legally married to Octavian's sister, Octavia. Octavian implored his sister to divorce, but she remained devoted, at least for a while. In 35 BC, Octavia even attempted to parley with Antony, bringing him a fleet laden with supplies. However, Antony refused, barring Octavia’s progress past Athens and sending her back to Italy. Apparently, Antony was busy experiencing the indulgences of the Egyptian way of life. The ancient historian Cassius Dio even described Antony as being “Cleopatra’s slave.” In any case, Octavia finally filed for divorce in 32 BC, and her ex-husband and Cleopatra were now sworn enemies of Octavian and the Roman State.

Whereas Cleopatra and Caesar comprised the über-power couple (both were extremely charismatic), Cleopatra and Marc Antony seemed an unlikely pair. Cleopatra’s cleverness, beauty, and charm were countered by Antony’s recklessness, rugged physical appearance, and irascibility. Even so, Cleopatra and Antony become arguably the most famous lovers of all time, sharing not only in love, but also in war, and after their defeat, in suicide. Their fascinating, tragic tale has been chronicled, with varying degrees of improvisation, for millennia.

There is a particular thrill when one contemplates firsthand an ancient coin bearing portraits of Cleopatra and Antony. This ancient bronze struck in 32-31 BC Syria provides a striking example due to the very clear portraiture for both subjects. Unlike the ancient coin featuring conjoined portraits of Antony and Octavia found elsewhere in this NGC Ancients collection, herein Cleopatra demands equal billing, as if not willing to sharing the flan with Antony. Cleopatra’s diademed and draped bust solely dominates the coin’s obverse, with Antony’s bust reserved for the reverse. The bare-headed portrait of Marc Antony is expectedly rugged. Cleopatra’s visage, however, presents somewhat of a surprise. Despite her renowned beauty, her obverse portrayal is rather ordinary looking. Moreover, her demeanor and attire are not particularly feminine. This observation is not unique; in fact, it is consistent with Cleopatra’s portrayals on other contemporary objects and coins.

The seemingly masculine rendering of Cleopatra was likely intentional, similar to the numismatic portrayal of previous Ptolemaic Queens. Given the chaos arising from Egyptian and Roman civil wars, Cleopatra strove to project a strong leadership image, and in ancient times there was no better propaganda tool than coinage.

Coin Details: SYRIA, Chalcidice, Chalcis, Cleopatra VII and Marc Antony, 32-31 BC, Æ (21mm, 7.14 g, 12h), Dated RY 21 (Egyptian) and 6 (Phoenician) of Cleopatra (32/1 BC), NGC Grade: XF, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Diademed and draped bust of Cleopatra right, Reverse: Bare head of Antony right, References: Svoronos 1887; Weiser 186; SNG München 1006; RPC I 4771; HGC 9, 1451; DCA 476.
View Coin Cleopatra ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) PTOLEMAIC KINGDOM Cleopatra VII, 51-30 BC AE14 rv eagle in wreath Damascus Yr.280 (33/2 BC) NGC Ch XF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 Notwithstanding its unassuming appearance, this ancient coin is highly noteworthy. First, its visage adorns a figure (or plate) in an important reference text; hence, it represents a “plate coin”. Moreover, its rarity is exquisite − one of only three extant (as cited therein). Perhaps most important of all, the obverse portrays Cleopatra VII (69 – 30 BC), one of the most famous women in all history.

Cleopatra hailed from an Egyptian royal lineage descended from Ptolemy I Soter, general to Alexander the Great. Upon her father’s death in 51 BC, she and her eldest brother, Ptolemy XIII, inherited the Ptolemaic Kingdom. According to custom, she married her brother, although their relationship was contentious and eventually led to Egyptian civil war. Illustrating her defiance, Cleopatra dropped Ptolemy XIII’s name from official documents and even struck coins bearing her image – alone – defying the Ptolemaic custom of female inferiority to their male counterparts. For her audacity, Cleopatra was banished around mid 1st century BC; however, she was far from vanquished.

In 48 BC, the shrewd Cleopatra found her opportunity to regain power. Pompey the Great, on the run after losing the Battle of Pharsalus, disembarked in Alexandria only to be beheaded by minions of Ptolemy XIII, who thought the act might result in favor with Julius Caesar and Rome. Instead, the overture had the opposite effect; Caesar was outraged at the murder of his fellow Roman and son-in-law (not to mention the missed chance for Triumphal propaganda). He then seized the city, and declared himself as arbiter over the contended Egyptian throne.

Reportedly, Cleopatra smuggled herself within a carpet in order to meet with Caesar and plead her case. She not only convinced Caesar that she was the rightful ruler, she also became Caesar’s mistress, and, nine months later, gave birth to their son, Caesarion. It is satisfying to imagine Cleopatra as the consummate temptress, seducing Caesar with her famous beauty. Considering Caesar’s power and womanizing skills, it seems unlikely he would have fallen for Cleopatra based on sexuality alone. Indeed, Cleopatra also had a “most delicious voice and knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to everyone,” according to the ancient Roman historian Lucius Cassius Dio. In short, Cleopatra represented perhaps the most charismatic woman of her time –arguably of all time – and she and Caesar must have presented quite the couple.

The exact details of Cleopatra’s arguments notwithstanding, Caesar proceeded to defeat Ptolemy XIII. He then restored power to Cleopatra, who kept up appearances by marrying her next brother in line for succession, Ptolemy XIV. The royal family visited Rome in 46 BC, and Cleopatra resided in one of Caesar’s country villas. The love affair between Cleopatra and Caesar was now publically obvious, and viewed as scandalous (after all, both were legally married - but not to each other - within the framework of their own societies). Upon Caesar’s assassination on the ides of March 44 BC, Roman civil war raged anew, and Cleopatra and her entourage made an understandably quiet and expeditious return trip home. Soon thereafter, Ptolemy XIV died, possibly poisoned by Cleopatra, who then named Caesarian as her co-ruler.

Since he had refused to acknowledge Caesarian, Caesar’s inheritance passed to his legally named heir, Octavian. Octavian, along with fellow Triumvirs Marc Antony and Lepidus, also assumed responsibility for punishing Caesar’s murderers. It was natural that Cleopatra sided with the Caesarian faction. After the Caesarians proved victorious, their Triumvirate fell apart, and Cleopatra aligned herself with Antony, who moved to Alexandria live with her. Once again, Cleopatra embroiled herself in a famous and scandalous relationship (Antony was still legally married to Octavian’s sister Octavia, at least until the latter filed for divorce). Cleopatra bore Antony three children, including Cleopatra Selene.

The current ancient bronze was struck in Damascus, Syria during this tumultuous period, probably between 33-32 BC. At first inspection, the designs appear typical for ancient Ptolemaic coinage, for example the ubiquitous eagle featured on the reverse. Of particular interest is the obverse depiction of Tyche, whose features unmistakably resemble Cleopatra. Tyche was a popular goddess presiding over the fortune and prosperity over an individual, city, or realm. She commonly appeared on ancient coinage, dating back to at least the 4th century BC. To the Romans, she was known as Fortuna. The motif of Cleopatra as Tyche probably intended to advertise the queen’s responsibility for the prosperity of her subjects.

As for Cleopatra, her own fortunes turned when Octavian waged open war against her paramour. Antony was defeated in 30 BC at the epic Battle of Actium, and subsequently committed suicide. In the aftermath, Cleopatra probably surmised her own death was near. The details of Cleopatra’s final days are subject to debate. It is possible Cleopatra attempted parley with Octavian, perhaps to seduce him, or at least to secure the future of her children, who were spared and taken into Octavia’s care. In any case, Cleopatra decided that she would rather not serve as a war trophy in a Triumphal parade. According to many ancient sources, Cleopatra committed suicide by allowing a venomous snake to bite her breast. More likely, the erudite and resourceful Cleopatra ended her life by ingesting a deadly mixture of hemlock, wolfsbane and opium.

Coin Details: PTOLEMAIC KINGDOM, SYRIA, Coele-Syria, Damascus, Cleopatra VII of Egypt, Circa 37-33/1 BC, Æ (14mm, 2.56 g, 12h), Dated CY 280 (33/2 BC), NGC GRADE: XF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Turreted head of Cleopatra as Tyche right, Reverse: Eagle standing right; L Π/Σ (date) to right; all within wreath, References: De Saulcy –; RPC I 4785.1 (this coin, illustrated on pl. 173); DCA 499; HGC 9, 1465. Very rare, one of three cited in RPC, no additional in supplements.
View Coin Herod the Great ANCIENT - JUDAEAN (4th CENT BC - 2st CENT AD) JUDAEA Herod I, 40-4 BC AE 2-Prutot rv tripod table & palms obv cross in diadem NGC F Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5 Whether viewed as ruthless tyrant or resourceful visionary, the man known to history as Herod the Great (73 BC– 4 BC) served as one of the early Roman Empire’s most influential client rulers. Never referred to as “the Great” in his own lifetime, Herod was apparently more popular with Romans than Judaeans. In particular, Herod infamously exploited resources at his disposal to carry out grandiose architectural projects that rivaled, or even exceeded, Rome.

Herod’s mother was Cypros, a Nabatean. His father, Antipater, and his grandfather, Antipas, served as advisors to the Hasmonean monarchs, who, in turn, served as Rome’s clients following Pompey’s Judaean conquest in 63 BC. After Pompey’s demise, Antipater allied with Julius Caesar, coming to the latter’s rescue during the 47 BC siege of Alexandria. Thusly was the way paved for Herod, through an intricate series of politico-military maneuvers, to eventually usurp Judaea’s throne. Supported by Rome’s triumvirate, particularly Marc Antony, the Senate declared Herod as king in 40 BC. After three years of civil conflict, Herod emerged victorious, and cemented his position by banishing his current wife and son (Doris and Antipater, respectively) in order to wed the Hasmonean princess Mariamne. Such marital re-arrangement for political gain was not unusual. Indeed, in this respect Herod borrowed from the practices of Rome's aristocracy.

Also mimicking his Roman patrons, Herod apparently gave no quarter to those with perceived disloyalty. Among his first decrees was the execution of dozens of Judaean councilmen who supported his Hasmonean predecessors. Most notorious was the biblical account of Herod’s “slaughter of the innocents,” although that atrocity was likely apocryphal. Herod’s paranoia did not exclude his own kin; reportedly, his suspicions prompted the execution of his wife and his two sons she bore him. Augustus opined that “it was better to be Herod’s pig than his son,” referencing his client king’s refusal to consume pork in adherence with Judaean custom (although Herod reportedly disregarded many other religious laws and customs).

Like Augustus, Herod earned fame for colossal building projects. Most renown was a massive expansion of Jerusalem’s Temple. Herod also created a new port, Caesarea Maritima, employing cutting-edge technologies. He set multiple new records in ancient construction, including the world’s largest palace (Herodium) and the longest building (the stoa on the Temple Mount). Herod even erected some pagan cities, such as Sebaste. His pathological distrusts led him to erect several mountain fortresses connecting his realm to Nabataea, serving as palatial resort getaways. His numerous building projects, both within his own territory and abroad, included gymnasia (e.g., Ptolemais), marketplaces (e.g., Tyre), theatres (e.g.,Damascus), aqueducts (e.g., Laodicea ad Mare) and baths (e.g, Ashqelon).

Herod’s gargantuan construction projects required commensurate resources. Not to mention that the Jewish king boasted a lavish court, and sponsored Olympic games throughout the Hellenistic world. To support such expenditures, Herod taxed his subjects rather aggressively. He also struck coins that conveniently generated a profit since their worth exceeded the value of their metal content.

This ancient bronze provides an example. Its denomination is 2-prutot (Herod also issued 1-, 4-, and 8-prutot coins). The obverse depicts a diadem, a gold band or ribbon worn symbolically by kings, signifying their status. The diadem surrounds a symbol that is often referred to as a cross. More precisely, the cross represents the Greek letter chi, associated with the anointment of Judaea’s high priest. Interestingly, Herod was Judaea’s first king lacking the qualifications to serve as high priest. He was not born of a priestly family, but rather one that recently converted to Judaism. In this case, the obverse imagery of chi within a diadem advertised King Herod’s control over the Temple via selection of its high priest.

The coin’s reverse is equally interesting, featuring a flat object on a tripod table flanked by palm leaves. Such tables were part of the furnishings of Jerusalem’s Temple. The table represented on this coin is consistent with the silver table holding the service vessels for religious ceremonies. As such, this table was especially sacred. Herod’s decision to depict this particular table, despite the Judaean decree forbidding such a depiction, was likely intended to commemorate, or otherwise draw attention to, the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple.

Herod struck coins as Judaea’s ruler up until his death in 4 BC, an impressively long tenure. Even at the end, the monarch’s mania manifested. Herod captured several innocent, distinguished men, and ordered their deaths after his own demise, thusly ensuring his subjects’ mourning. Although Herod’s heirs did not carry out that final decree, the king’s intent reflects his relationship with his subjects. To this day, Herod’s legacy remains suspect, comprising equal elements of tyranny and grandeur, as befits the most famous of all the Roman Empire’s client kings.

Additional Reading: Guide to Biblical Coins, D. Hendin, Amphora Press, 2010 (5th Edition).

Coin Details: JUDAEA, Herodian Kingdom, Herod I, 40 BC - 4 BC, AE 2 prutot (18.08 mm, 3.37 g), Jerusalem mint, NGC Grade: F, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Cross within closed diadem, HPΩΔOY BAΣIΛEΩΣ, Reverse: tripod table, flat object (vessel) upon it, flanked by palm branches, References: Hendin 1178; Meshorer TJC 48; RPC 4905; ex. David Hendin.
View Coin Syllaeus and Aretas IV of Nabataea ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) NABATAEA Syllaeus+AretasIV,c9-6 BC AE14 rv crossed coruncopias obv Obodas III(?) NGC Ch VF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5 Around mid 2nd century BC, King Aretas I established rule over Arabic tribes between Judea and Ptolemaic Egypt. This realm, Nabataea, comprised desert oases connecting the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean. Valuable goods were transported along this route, particularly frankincense and myrrh. Although such items were fantastically expensive, the ancient Romans craved them, and the Nabataeans happily sated their appetite.

Not surprisingly, Nabataea increasingly drew her favorite customer’s attention, and eventually became one of Rome’s client kingdoms. Even so, Nabataea maintained sovereignty and monopolistic control over their valuable trading route. The situation drained Rome’s coffers such that Augustus mandated an alternative spice route by identified. For this important task, Octavian appointed his Egyptian prefect, Aelius Gallus. To guide the Romans, the Nabataean King at the time, Obodas III, chose one of his subordinates named Syllaeus. Syllaeus faced a major dilemma. He needed to demonstrate loyalty to Rome, however, if the mission fully succeeded, Nabataea would likely loose their monopolistic control over the spice trade.

Reportedly, Syllaeus feigned cooperation, while actually sabotaging the mission. The extent of Syllaeus' treachery is debated. Poor decision-making on Gallus’ part likely played at least some role in his expedition’s poor outcome. Travel was extremely slow and dangerous. Syllaeus picked highly sketchy routes for the Romans to follow, both by land (barren deserts devoid of roads) and by sea (rocky coastlines and areas with dangerous tides and current). Moreover, Gallus’ men suffered from fatigue, famine, and disease. Losses were considerable. Although Gallus suspected subterfuge, his Nabataean guide managed to avoid any consequences at that time.

Returning to Nabataean capital of Petra, Syllaeus received a hero’s welcome. He had placated the Romans, and even manipulated them to weaken rival tribes in the area. For his efforts, Syllaeus was promoted to Obodas’ chief minister. His new responsibilities included serving as ambassador not only to Rome, but also Nabataea’s powerful neighbor and fellow client kingdom of Judaea. Nabataea and Judaea were traditionally on poor terms. For example, Nabataea denied asylum to Herod the Great when he was on the run after losing control of the Judaean throne. Instead, Herod turned to Rome, and was eventually restored as a client king in Augustus’ service.

While on a diplomatic visit to Judaea, Syllaeus met and fell in love with Herod’s sister. Syllaeus was upset when he learned that fulfilling his desire would require his conversion to Judaism. Back in Nabataea, such a choice would probably result in his death by stoning. Syllaeus refused Herod’s terms, and apparently carried a grudge henceforward.

Relations between the neighboring client kingdoms deteriorated further when Obodas and Syllaeus harbored bandits raiding Herod’s territory. Herod responded by sending in soldiers, killing many bandits and their families. The situation escalated, and the bandits redoubled their raids. As conflict flared, Herod demanded all bandits be handed over and that Nabataean debts be paid. Shifty Syllaeus responded that he could not locate the bandits in Nabataea, and put off the repayment. Herod then appealed to the Roman governors of Syria, who ordered Nabataea to comply with Herod’s requests. Once again, Nabataea refused, and this time Herod responded even more forcefully, his army moving in to demolish the bandit stronghold, along with any Nabataeans who responded in defense.

It was then that Syllaeus appealed to Rome, directly meeting with Augustus. He told Augustus an exaggerated tale of Herod’s severe and unprovoked attack, neglecting to mention Herod’s justification, and greatly exaggerating Nabataea's destruction and death toll. The tale expectedly angered Augustus, and upon receiving third-party confirmation of Herod’s attack - but not details regarding motive and extent - Judaea fell out of Rome’s favor.

Syllaeus’ sneaky behavior soon backfired. Around this time, Obodas died and Aretas IV claimed Nabataea’s throne. Augustus was displeased that Aretas had assumed power without Rome’s permission. Meanwhile, Herod’s ambassador received an audience in Rome. Convincing evidence was presented regarding Syllaeus’ many crimes: adulterous relationships, supporting bandits, neglecting debt repayments, and, most importantly, misleading Augustus about the cause and severity of Judaea's attacks. This last was most displeasing to Augustus, although Syllaeus managed to once again evade repercussions. Herod regained Rome’s favor, and Aretas was confirmed as client king of Nabataea.

This ancient bronze coin, struck between 9 to 6 BC, provides insights into this chaotic period. Based on its visage, the obverse diademed bust probably represents Obodas. The reverse depicts two cornucopias, symbols of prosperity and fertility borrowed from Hellenistic cultures. The reverse also contains a combination of Aramaic monograms representing both Syllaeus (shin) and Aretas (heth). Perhaps neither Nabataean could easily displace the other, so a truce made more sense, hence the dual monograms. Aretas' choice of Obodas for the obverse, rather than himself, was likely intended to add credibility and promote his link to Nabataea’s former ruler. This theory is also consistent with the view that Augustus had probably not yet approved Aretas' ascension. In any case, later coins bear Aretas’ portrait, not Obodas’.

To what extent, and to what end, Syllaeus shared power with Aretas is not certain. In any case, Syllaeus' numismatic run did not endure. He was eventually captured, convicted, and executed for his crimes. Aretas ruled as Nabatea's client King for nearly the next half century, succeeded by his son, Malichus II who ruled another three decades. Malichus maintained good relations with the Roman Empire, supporting Titus to suppress the Great Jewish Revolt. Rome's valuation of Nabataea continued to rise, and under Augustus Trajan the realm merged into the new Roman province of Arabia Petraea.

Additional Reading: A AL-Rawabdeh, About the Nabataean Minister Syllaeus from New Silver Coins, Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, Vol. 15, 2015.

Coin Details: NABATAEA, Syllaeus and Aretas IV, 9-6 BC, AE 14 (2.58 g), Petra mint, NGC Grade: VF, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Diademed head of Obodas III(?), Reverse: Crossed cornucopias, Syllaes' Aramaic monogram (shin) left, Aretas' Aramaic monograms (heth) right, References: K. Schmitt-Korte II, p. 113, 26; Meshorer Nabataean 43 var (no left het on rev); SNG ANS 1426 var (same).
View Coin Vedius Pollio ANCIENT - ROMAN PROVINCIAL (2nd CENT BC - 3rd CENT BC) LYDIA, TRALLES Vedius Pollio,c29/8-27 BC AE20 obv Vedius Pollio rv Zeus issued as Legate of Asia NGC F Strike: 5/5 Surface: 3/5 When it came to assimilating neighboring territories and their cuisine, the ancient Romans certainly had a hearty appetite. To sustain growing civilian populations, not to mention the large number of troops abroad, comestibles from staple grains to exotic spices were produced and distributed at massive scale. At its height, Rome achieved luxuriance, even overabundance, in food consumption. Eventually, environmental and other factors weakened the food supply and contributed to the Empire’s demise.

For the ancient Romans, gastronomy was not merely a matter of sustenance - it also held religious, social, and economic implications. Cooking typically revolved around a hearth called the focus, aptly serving as both household altar and indoor grill. In the dining room, or triclinium, Romans often reclined while they dined (especially on formal occasions) and employed a vast array of napkins and utensils. While the Empire expanded, so did the menu, as new provincial ingredients and culinary traditions were integrated. For a glimpse, one can peruse Apicius, the world’s oldest cookbook, named after (but not authored by) the 1st century AD lover of food and all items luxurious, Marcus Gavius Apicius. The cornucopia of popular items included breads, eggs, cheeses, honey, milk, fruits, vegetables, a wide variety of fishes and shellfood, meats such as boar, pork, and lamb, and fowl such as peacock, ostrich, duck, goose, and chicken. Popular items like figs and pears were available in several dozen varieties. To complement the food, a host of different wines were consumed, often mixed with ingredients such as other liquids, spices, and honey. Beer was known but disdained as a barbarian's beverage.

Not all Romans downed such fantastic fare; opulence correlated with socioeconomic standing. For Rome’s elite, dinner parties provided the opportunity to flaunt status and out-do one another. Of course, at the very top of the food chain was the Emperor, many of whom feasted elaborately while doling out staple foods to the masses. Nero reportedly ate from noon to midnight. Caligula gorged himself on many unusual delicacies; reportedly, his favorite fare was a cocktail of valuable pearls dissolved in vinegar. The overweight Vitellius used his navy to fetch rare delicacies from around the world. Elagabalus hosted elaborate color-themed banquets of gastronomical proportions.

Besides the imperium, Rome’s history is peppered with famous epicureans among the aristocratic and even equestrian, classes. A notable example was Publius Vedius Pollio, whose bare-headed bust appears on this ancient bronze coin struck in the city of Tralles in Lydia. In Tralles, Pollio built an elaborate estate where he wined and dined many important guests; after all, he served as Augustus’ legate over Asia. Pollio chose to depict himself on the coin’s obverse. This was still a relatively new practice for a living Roman at the time (29-27 BC), although not so uncommon on provincial coinage. For the verso, Pollio decided the appropriate choice was Zeus, the King of the Gods.

Perhaps Pollio’s numismatic choices provide insight into his sense of self-worth. He was the son of a freedman, and how he managed to rise to such a powerful position is not clear. In any case, Pollio gained Augustus’ favor, and the latter topped the list of celebrity guests visiting the Tralles mansion. On one occasion when Pollio was hosting Augustus, an attending servant broke a crystal cup. Pollio, famous for his cruelty as well as his wealth, ordered the perpetrator cast into his pond full of blood-sucking eels. The terrified servant prostrated himself before Augustus, begging for clemency. Appalled, Augustus ordered the destruction of all the valuable cups and forced Pollio to spare the servant. Since ancient times, historians and philosophers have cited this incident as a parable illustrating human avarice, anger, and absolution.

While Pollio apparently used his eel pond as a torture chamber, it primarily served as a source of fresh fish for his table. Such practice dated back at least to Roman consul Lucinius Muraena in mid 2nd century BC. Some Roman nobles reportedly farmed up to thousands of eels. Both saltwater and fresh water ponds were developed, wherein not only eels, but also many other species of fish and shellfish, particularly oysters, were kept. Constructing and maintaining fishponds in ancient times required great effort and expense. For example, around 75 BC Lucius Licinius Lucullus, one of Rome’s most renowned gourmets, excavated a hill to source fresh water for his pond expansion project. Beyond a source of fresh food, piscinae also offered relaxation and a chance to rear fish as pets. For instance, Augustus’ niece Antonia had a pet eel she adorned with golden earrings. Perhaps she was imitating Crassus, one of Rome’s original triumvirs and wealthiest men of all time, who fed his earringed, jewel necklaced eels by hand. It is also posited that the ancient Romans first domesticated the common carp. Archeological evidence dating from the Empire’s height suggests that the Danube legions feasted on, if not farmed, the fish. After the Roman Empire collapsed in the west, King Theodoric, ruler of the succeeding Ostrogoth Kingdom, ordered that carp be transported from the Danube to Italy, in order to imitate and propagate Roman traditions. Carp were later introduced into Asia and bred into many colorful varieties known as nishikigoi or koi, highly prized by today’s fish keepers.

To get a taste of the Lucullan lifestyle, one does not necessarily need to own a fishpond. Modern technology affords an opulent supply of fresh and processed foods that the ancient Romans could never have imaged. That is not to say that everyone enjoys our current buffet; 10-20% of the world's current population lives with hunger. This percentage is similar to the estimated slave population across the Empire - in Italy, it was much higher, perhaps 40% - so we are presumably faring better today than the ancient Romans, or at least we prefer to think so.

Additional Reading: "Origin and domestication of the wild carp, Cyprus carpio: from Roman gourmets to the swimming flowers," E. K. Balon, Aquaculture 129:3-48, 1995.

Coin Details: LYDIA, TRALLES, Vedius Pollio, Legate of Asia, 29/8-27 BC, Æ 20 mm (5.34 g), Menandros, son of Parrhasios, Magistrate, NGC Grade: F, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Bare head of Vedius Pollio right, uncertain object behind, OΥΗΔΙΟΣ ΚAIΣΑΡΕΩΝ, Reverse: Laureate head of Zeus right, MENANΔΡΟΣ ΠΑΡΡΑΣΙΟΥ, References: RPC I 2635.17; Stumpf 157p, Imhoof-Blumer, Lydische pp. 174-5, SNG München 718; SNG Copenhagen 688; BMC 76-8.
View Coin King Juba II of Mauretania ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) KINGDOM OF MAURETANIA Juba II, 25 BC-AD 23/24 AR Denarius rv cornucopia & scepter NGC AU Strike: 4/5 Surface: 4/5 Juba II (~50 BC – 23 AD) hailed from a royal family in northern Africa. His father, King Juba I of Numidia, supported the Roman general Pompey in the Roman civil war against Julius Caesar. The elder Juba was defeated, and his heir brought back to Rome as part of Caesar’s triumphal procession. Recognizing an opportunity, Caesar took responsibility for the young African prince. Under the aegis of gens Iulia (most likely Octavia, Caesar’s grand niece) Juba was raised in Rome and had access to its finest teachers. Juba proved a brilliant student, and retained a fascination for the arts and sciences his entire life. On the ideas of March 44 BC, Caesar was famously assassinated, and his heir, namely Octavian, took responsibility for completing Juba's training. For example, Octavian provided Juba some valuable on-the-job military experience at battles marking the end of the Roman Republic. The two men harbored a lifelong friendship.

Around the time Octavian received the title of Augustus, he restored Juba as Numidia’s monarch, and arranged a suitable Queen, namely Cleopatra Selene II, the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. The pair seemed destined for one another given a shared pathos: orphaned, taken as prisoners on triumphal parade, pardoned, and fostered by Rome. The newlywed royal couple moved to Mauretania, renaming their capital Caesarea to honor their benefactor. The city and its demesnes grew into a cultural hub of mixed Egyptian, Greek, and Roman influences. Juba and Cleopatra Selene enthusiastically promoted the performing arts and sciences, in particular research related to natural history.

This coin was struck in Caesarea during the height of Juba’s reign, probably around 16-17 AD. The obverse diademed bust suggests Roman sensibilities, and the epithet of REX IVBA (King Juba) reflects Mauritania's status as a client kingdom. The reverse has a more Egyptian flair, depicting a filleted cornucopia before a transverse scepter, with a crescent in the upper right field. Such iconography was popular among the Ptolemaic dynasts.

The image of the cornucopia reflected not only Cleopatra Selene’s heritage, but also the prosperity of Juba’s realm, which became an important Mediterranean trading center. Among its exports was an exquisitely valuable purple dye manufactured from the Murex shellfish, via a process Juba borrowed from the ancient Phoenicians. The confluence of relative prosperity and stability allowed for advancement of the arts and sciences, which Juba and Cleopatra Selene enthusiastically promoted. Juba himself amassed an impressive library, and authored dozens of treatises on learned topics ranging from history to painting to classical theatre. During his lifetime, Juba most renowned tome was his guide to Arabia. Juba’s favorite subject was natural history. He sponsored and engaged in research and expeditions, including a journey to the Canary Islands (reportedly named by Juba based on its population of ferocious-looking dogs).

Juba remained Rome’s loyal and powerful ally until his death around 23 AD. His son Ptolemy ascended Mauretania's throne, maintaining his father’s legacy of supporting the arts and sciences, and remaining faithful to Rome’s interests. In 40 AD, Ptolemy was summoned to Caligula’s court, and after an appropriately warm welcome, the capricious Emperor had his royal guest imprisoned and subsequently slain. This shocking act may have been precipitated by Caligula’s jealousy regarding Ptolemy’s couture, colored with Mauretania’s famous Murex dye. Regardless of the exact motive, the golden age of Roman client kings in Mauretania came to an abrupt end.

Additional Reading: D W Roller, “Scholarly Kings: The Writings of Juba II of Mauretania, Archelaos of Kappadokia, Herod the Great, and the Emperor Claudius,” 2004.

Coin Details: KINGDOM OF MAURETANIA, Juba II, 25 BC-AD 23/24, AR denarius (17 mm 3.1 g), Caesarea, ca. 16-17 AD, NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Diademed head right, REX IVBA before, Reverse: Filleted cornucopia before transverse scepter, crescent in upper right field, References: SNG Copenhagen 593-594.
View Coin Julia, with Livia ANCIENT - ROMAN PROVINCIAL (2nd CENT BC - 3rd CENT BC) MYSIA, PERGAMUM Livia & Julia AE17 of Augustus. RPC I 2359. c10-2 BC. Wife & daughter NGC VF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5 Not surprisingly, ancient histories regarding Julia the Elder (39 BC – 14 AD) focus more on her crassness and sexual promiscuity than her intelligence and independent spirit. Although among the most eminent women of her generation, Julia abode within the constraints of male-dominated Rome. As such, societal expectations focused on marriages and the resulting propagation of her clan’s prominence. The stakes were rather high in her particular case. After all, she was daughter and only biological child of Octavian, later known as Augustus.

From the start, Julia’s life intertwined with familial tension. On the day of her birth, Julia’s father Octavian divorced her mother Scribonia. Julia was placed under the care and imperial grooming of her new stepmother, Livia Drusilla. Julia’s role as a dynastic pawn also began at an early age. While still an infant, her future marriage was arranged to the 10-year-old son of Marc Antony, Octavian’s fellow triumvir. The union never materialized, and Octavian and Antony ended up opposing one another for Rome’s control. Octavian won that epic conflict, and afterward became known as Augustus, whereupon Rome transformed into in Empire. The pre-teenaged Julia was now part of Rome’s first imperial family.

Peaceful and prosperous Augustan Rome afforded the young Julia rich cultural opportunities. However, her father strictly controlled her social circle. Since Augustus had no direct male heir, he had to rely on finding a suitable candidate to adopt and/or bring into the imperial clan via marriage. To this end, as soon as Julia turned fourteen, she wedded her seventeen-year-old cousin Marcus Claudius Marcellus. The union was brief and childless; Marcellus died just two years later. Next, Augustus paired his daughter with his most trusted comrade and military ally, namely Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, two and a half decades Julia’s elder.

Julia spent a considerable portion of her second marriage travelling abroad with Agrippa. Around 16 BC, they departed for a tour of Rome’s eastern territories including Asia Minor, where this ancient bronze coin was struck (in the ancient city of Pergamum, located in Mysia). This coin is one of only three ancient issues attributed to Julia, whose likeness inspired the reverse engraving of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation (Venus was the equivalent Roman divinity). The pairing of Julia and Aphrodite is an interesting one, considering that the Emperor’s daughter was – at the very least – not reserved regarding her own sexuality. The obverse of this coin features Julia’s stepmother, appropriately in the guise of the Greek goddess Hera (known to the Romans as Juno), wife of Zeus, the King of the Gods (Jupiter, to the Romans).

Julia and her family did not return to Italy until about 13 BC. The following year, Agrippa fell ill and died. Their decade long marriage resulted in no fewer than five children: Gaius Caesar, Julia the Younger, Lucius Caesar, and Agrippina Sr., and Agrippa Postumus. Dutifully or not, Julia successfully produced dynasts for the newly launched Empire. And she was capable of more; at least, that was her father’s thinking.

For Julia’s next husband, Augustus chose Tiberius, son of Livia by her previous husband. Forced to divorce his wife at that time (even though he deeply loved her), Tiberius viewed the marriage as unwanted. The feeling was mutual. Even so, Julia did manage to produce another male heir. Sadly, the young prince died in infancy, and the rift between Julia and Tiberius widened even further.

In 6 BC, Julia was left behind in Rome as Tiberius departed for Rhodes, seeking to retire from public life. The couple was probably already separated by that time. In any case, Julia now had to live alone, without any hope for divorce, since her father disallowed it, except under strictly defined circumstances. That initiative was part of a religious revival that Augustus had been promulgating since his final conquest over Antony. At first, the public supported the effort; many deemed it necessary to maintain the new and hard-won harmony. Augustus’ divine docket included holding holy festivals and legislating religious morals. It was a convenient platform to consolidate power and address perceived social ills such as the declining rate of marriage and children within Rome’s upper classes. The decrees included penalties for those who did not marry, and benefits to those married with multiple children. Harsh consequences met those found guilty of adultery. Over time, Romans grew critical of such religious reforms dictated by an Emperor with a track record of exploiting marriage for political gain and suspected relationships with both sexes.

Although Julia was indoctrinated under these religious reforms, she strove for the same sexual liberties her father had once enjoyed. She acted upon that desire, perhaps flagrantly so, at least according to the ancient sources. The latter describe indecent behavior ranging from public drunkenness to numerous cases of adultery. For example, Seneca alleged that Julia sold her sexual favors, and did so publically at the statue of Marsyas in Rome’s Forum. Augustus strove to prohibit inappropriate behavior in public places such as the Forum. The choice of venue is interesting, since the Romans considered Marsyas a symbol of free speech against oppression. In fact, the statue was known as a meeting place for Romans to share their critical views.

Veracity of such revelries aside, other aspects of Julia’s personality can be discerned from surviving evidence. She harbored a keen sense of humor, and was well liked among the Roman people. She enjoyed repartee with her those around her, including her father. Perhaps her most outrageous recorded remark addressed why her children resembled Agrippa, despite her apparent dalliances:…that’s because I only take on passengers when the cargo is already loaded!” Another interesting example was Julia’s response to pleas that she adopt her father’s austerity: “He forgets that he is Caesar, but I remember that I am Caesar’s daughter. Reportedly, Augustus once commented that he had to endure the caprices of “two spoiled daughters,” the other being Rome herself.

The situation came to a crisis in 2 BC when Augustus formally accused his daughter of infidelity. The enraged Emperor, ignoring his own legislation, divorced Julia on behalf of Tiberius. Julia was summarily banished to the tiny island of Pandateria, without a chance to defend herself. While the ancient sources clearly discredit Julia, many questions remain unanswered regarding the exact circumstances of the scandal. Augustus may have feared that the list of Julia’s partners indicated her complacency in a parricidal plot. Those on that list were also banished, and some, like Iullus Antonius (son of Mark Antony and Fulvia), were coerced to suicide. Regardless of true extent of her guilt, removal of the popular and rebellious Augustus’ daughter was unquestionably convenient.

Augustus disallowed Julia any visitors, except by his own permission, and he even denied her wine. Julia remained on Pandateria for a half decade. Augustus finally allowed her to return to mainland Italy, provided she remained in Rhegium, far removed from the intrigues of Rome. Augustus died in 14 AD, without offering forgiveness or apology to his daughter. By this time, Julia’s three sons had died, and she found herself at the mercy of Tiberius, who succeeded her father. She died shortly thereafter. Some speculate that Julia starved to death by orders of her ex-husband, although just as likely she simply succumbed to despair.

Perhaps the ancient author Macrobius best described the life of Julia the Elder, daughter of Augustus:“...she abused the indulgence of fortune no less than that of her father.

Additional Reading: Julia Augusti. The Emperor’s Daughter. E. Fantham, 2006.

Coin Details: ROMAN PROVINCIAL, MYSIA, Pergamum, Julia Augusta (Livia), with Julia, daughter of Augustus, Charinos, grammateus, Æ (17mm, 4.16 g, 1h), Struck 16-12 BC, NGC Grade: VF, Strike: 4/5, Surface 3/5, Obverse: Draped bust of Livia, daughter of Augustus (as Hera) right, ΛΙΒΙΑΝ ΗΡΑΝ ΧΑΡΙΝΟΣ, Reverse: Draped bust of Julia (as Aphrodite) right, ΟΥΛΙΑΝ ΑΦΡΟΔΙΤΗΝ, References: RPC I 2359; SNG Copenhagen 467.
View Coin Octavian, with Divus Julius Caesar ANCIENT - ROMAN IMPERATORIAL (1st CENT BC) ROMAN IMPERATORIAL Octavian (Augustus) AR Denarius rv temple of Divus Julius c.36 BC. Italian mint. NGC XF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5 Whether serendipity or divine intervention, a bright new star appeared over Rome in 44 BC, coinciding with the festival of Ludi Victoriae Caesaris, the funeral games honoring Julius Caesar. That celestial newcomer reportedly lasted for a week, its luminosity sufficient to be visible at midsummer’s day. Perhaps one of the five brightest comets ever recorded, it is often referred to as either sidus Iulium (the Julian star) or Caesaris astrum (the star of Caesar). Not surprisingly, many Romans interpreted the comet’s appearance as proof of their former dictator-for-life’s divinity.

Among the earliest and most fervent believers was Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian, later known as Augustus. While the concept of a divine political leader was not unprecedented in other cultures (e.g., the Egyptian Pharaohs), Octavian’s promotion of Caesar’s divinity was extraordinary for ancient Rome. Nonetheless, the Senate posthumously deified Julius Caesar, defining a new religion that worshipped – for the first time – one of Rome’s own.

Some uncertainty remains with respect to Caesar’s comet and the extent that Octavian exploited it for political gain. Certainly, Octavian was a master of propaganda, and produced several coins advertising his relationship to Caesar and the latter’s status as a god. Presumably, these coins contributed to Octavian’s growing power and his subsequent transformation of Rome’s government into an autocracy.

This propagandistic masterpiece, a denarius struck by Octavian’s travelling mint, circulated in Rome the decade after Caesar’s murder. The obverse depicts the bare head of Octavian sporting an impressive beard. At the time in Rome, such a visage was unusual, at least for Octavian’s age (beards were more commonly seen on the elderly, or adolescents prior to their first ceremonial shave). In this case, Octavian grew his beard to indicate he mourned Caesar. Octavian kept up the effort for at least several years, and he probably even ceremoniously shaved and re-grew it for added effect. Whether viewed in person or on his coinage, Octavian’s mourning beard advertised his link to his holy father. On this coin, the obverse legend reads IMP CAESAR DIVI F III VIR ITER RPC, indicting that Octavian was the son of the deified Caesar (as well as one of Rome’s Triumvirs).

The coin’s reverse provides further interest, featuring the Temple of Julius Caesar. Within the impressive tetrastyle structure stands a statue of Caesar beside a lit altar, and DIVO IVL (to the divine Julius) boldly proclaimed on the architrave above. Notably, a large star, i.e., sidus Iulium, appears within the building’s pediment. Completing the coin’s reverse is the inscription COS ITER ET TER DESIG, a reminder that Octavian served as consul for the second time, and was designated for a third term. Intriguingly, these consular titles suggest this coin’s strike may have occurred around 32 BC, although many numismatic sources cite several years earlier. In any case, this coin circulated during the period that Octavian consolidated power and emerged as Rome’s Augustus.

Augustus’ political savy allowed him to wrest power away from a Senate that ruled over Rome for five centuries. He was able to achieve nearly complete control by maintaining the illusion that he was restoring the Republic (not to mention he ingratiated himself by granting the Senate hereditary membership). An integral part of Augustus’ agenda was Rome’s religious revival. To this end, he promoted mos maiorum, the way of the elders, a complex concept encompassing long-established morals, behavioral norms, and social practices relating to sociopolitical and military life. Augustus established himself as the Princeps senatus, or first among equals in the Senate, and his ruling Principate achieved an unprecedented breadth, totality, and duration.

Augustus died in 14 AD, marking the end of his impressive, four decade long reign. Just like Caesar, he posthumously achieved the status of an official Roman god. Even before Augustus’ apotheosis, many revered him as the world’s savior. After all, he sustained peace and prosperity after nearly a century of constant civil strife. This remarkable achievement befitted the man who leveraged a 100-million-to-1 astronomical and sociopolitical convergence into a new Imperial cult, whose historical impact is best imagined in context of religion's persistence and influence in modern times.

Additional Reading: NB Pandey, 2013, “Caesar’s Comet, the Julian Star, and the Invention of Augustus,” Trans Amer Phil Assn 143:405 - 449.

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, Octavian, AR Denarius, 36 BC(?), Mint moving with Octavian, NGC Grade: XF, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Bare head right, IMP CAESAR DIVI F III VIR ITER RPC, Reverse: Tetrastyle temple with Julius Caesar standing within, DIVO IVL on the architrave, star in pediment, lit altar to left, COS ITER ET TER DESIG, References: Crawford 540/2; Syd 1338; Babelon 139; RSC 90; Sear Imp. 315; Sear 1545.
View Coin King Rhoemetalces of Thrace, with Augustus ANCIENT - ROMAN PROVINCIAL (2nd CENT BC - 3rd CENT BC) KINGDOM OF THRACE Rhoemetalces I,c11BC-AD12 AE19 rv Augustus obv Rhoemetalces I NGC AU Strike: 4/5 Surface: 4/5 By mid 1st century BC, the city-state of Rome had grown into a powerful Republic, exerting hegemony over much of the Mediterranean. During this expansion, Rome’s ruling classes forged friendships and alliances with those governing the various surrounding realms. Such relationships figured prominently in the series of civil wars that heralded the end of the Republic and the genesis of an empire.

The role of Rome’s client states expanded when Octavian, later named Augustus, consolidated power after prevailing at the Battle of Actium. Realizing he needed to promote his own power and defend his extensive realm, Augustus looked beyond employing foreign allies simply as military assets; they must now agree to become personal clients. In this fashion, Augustus employed his client kingdoms as necessary: buffers against more remote enemies, protectors of valuable trade routes, and, of course, allies in battle. Augustus also recognized that annexation, i.e., direct rule, of some of these kingdoms was necessary, and thus a gradual transformation into new provinces ensued. By the end of Augustus’ reign, the list of client kingdoms was prodigious: Armenia, Bosporus, Cappadocia, and Dacia, just to name a few.

This particular coin was struck in the client kingdom of Thrace. Around 29 BC, the Romans defeated the Bastarnae, a tribe of mixed ethnicity who were threatening Thrace and the surrounding areas. In the aftermath, Augustus decided to leave the local ruler, King Rhescuporis I, in charge; other, more troublesome nearby lands he annexed in order to keep them under closer Roman control. There was a rebellion in 11 BC, and Rhescuporis was killed. Subsequently, the Romans moved in to quell the rebellion, and afterwards Augustus renewed his decision to keep Thrace as a client kingdom under the rule of Rhescuporis’ uncle, Rhoemetalces I.

This bronze, struck in Thrace between 11 BC and 12 AD, provides evidence of the political arrangement. One side of the coin depicts a diademed bust whose epithet reads BAΣIΛEΩΣ POIMHTAΛKOY, or King Rhoemetalces. The other side depicts another, bare headed, bust whose epithet reads KAIΣAPOΣ ΣEBAΣTOY, signifying Caesar Augustus.

Rhoemetalces provided peace and prosperity over Thrace until his death in 12 AD. At that time, Augustus decided to split Thrace into two portions, and appointed Rhoemetalces’ brother, Rhescuporis II, sovereign over the more troublesome portion (ancient historian Tactitus described it as wild and savage, with enemies on its frontier). The remaining, cultivated portion of Thrace was placed under the dominion of Rhoemetalces’ son, Cotys III. Augustus’ reasoning for splitting Thrace into disparate client states, rather than maintaining it as one, or even annexing as one or more new provinces, remains unclear. Presumably, he deemed it too early for Rome to exert direct control, e.g., would be too costly at that time.

Several years after Augustus’ death, Rhescuporis II imprisoned his nephew, seeking to consolidate Thracian rule. Cotys III died in prison, and it was widely held that Rhescuporis II was responsible. At least that was the conclusion reached by the Roman Senate, following an investigation opened by Augustus’ successor, Tiberius. Sentenced into exile, Rhescuporis II attempted to flee his captors, but was killed in the attempt. Tiberius then reunited the Thracian Kingdom under joint rule of Cotys’ widow, Antonia Tryphaena (whose testimony helped to convict Rhescuporis II), and her eldest son with Cotys, Rhoemetalces II. The latter, who never married nor had any children, died in 38 AD. Thrace’s throne then passed to the eldest male dynast, who happened to be the son of Rhescuporis II, namely Rhoemetalces III. The latter died in 46 AD, and, after a brief anti-Roman uprising, Thrace was finally absorbed into the provincial Empire.

Convoluted dynastic struggles aside, Augustus’ long-term strategy for Thrace succeeded; for centuries, the region served as an important eastern province and buffer zone against Rome’s eastern enemies. Augustus’ successors maintained Rome down a similar path of absorbing surrounding kingdoms. The Julio-Claudians and Flavians continued the annexation process, only adding new client kingdoms for military support at the expanding Empire’s fringes. The policy proved largely successful, with a few notable exceptions such as Armenia, a region constantly contended between Rome and the Parthians (and later the Sassanids). Only Emperor Trajan succeeded in fully conquering and annexing Armenia, and even then, direct Roman control proved short-lived. In fact, it was not until Trajan that any Emperor dared to annex all Rome’s client kingdoms. Ultimately, the Empire failed to sustain direct control over such vast borders, demonstrating the wisdom of Augustus’ original, balanced system of provinces and client kingdoms.

Additional Reading: J D Everatt, A Study of the Client Kings in the Early Roman Period, Durham Theses, Durham University, 1972.

Coin Details: KINGDOM OF THRACE, Rhoemetalces I, with Augustus. Circa 11 BC – 12 AD, Æ (19mm, 4.54 g, 6h), NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Diademed head of Rhoemetalces right, BAΣIΛEΩΣ POIMHTAΛKOY, Reverse: Bare head of Augustus right, KAIΣAPOΣ ΣEBAΣTOY, References: RPC 1718; Youroukova 194-200.
View Coin Livia, with Augustus ANCIENT - ROMAN PROVINCIAL (2nd CENT BC - 3rd CENT BC) IONIA, EPHESUS Augustus & Livia AE20 rv stag; quiver above obv Augustus+Livia jugate NGC Ch XF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 3/5 This ancient bronze represents one of perhaps only two of its kind extant, as cited in a seminal reference. It was struck in Ephesus (near modern day Selçuk, Turkey), while that illustrious city served as the capital of proconsular Asia. Once part of a powerful dodecapolis known as Ionia, Ephesus was bequeathed to Rome in 133 BC by the last Attalid king of Pergamon. Under Rome’s suzerainty, the provincial Mother City flourished, its prominence exceeded only by the Eternal City herself, at least according to Strabo, an ancient scholar contemporaneous with this coin’s strike. Echoing earlier Ephesian coinage, the reverse depicts a stag and a quiver. Contrasting this Hellenistic-inspired verso, the obverse confirms a Roman provincial provenance - the jugate heads of the Empire’s first imperial couple, Augustus (formerly known as Octavian) and Livia Drusilla (58 BC – 29 AD).

When Livia came of age, her father, a powerful senator who opposed Julius Caesar, arranged her first marriage to one of her cousins, Tiberius Claudius Nero. The following year, Livia’s father committed suicide after he and his fellow Republicans (notably, Brutus and Cassius) lost the Battle of Philippi against Caesar’s successors (notably, Octavian and Marc Antony). That same year, Livia and her first husband gave birth to their first son, Tiberius. Within a couple years living in Rome, Livia and her family were forced to flee, seeking refuge in the wake of Octavian’s continued rise.

It was only several years later that Livia and her family dared return to Rome, which provided her first opportunity to meet Octavian in person. That meeting reportedly sparked an emotional connection. While it was quite possibly Octavian’s first ever sight of the beautiful, nineteen-year-old Livia, the reverse was likely untrue, considering coinage’s widespread use as propaganda. For example, Livia may have previously held in hand a denarius depicting Octavian in mourning beard (such as the one appearing elsewhere in this NGC Ancients Custom Set). She may have spied a glimpse of Octavian at one of his public appearances, for instance when he hosted Caesar’s funeral games in Rome. It is reasonable to speculate that when Livia finally did met Octavian in person, she already had had a pre-conceived notion - political, emotional, or otherwise.

In any case, Livia and Octavian announced their plans to marry shortly after they first met. The news caused a stir. Beyond the couple’s diverse politico-social backgrounds, and even beyond eschewal of their current spouses, the situation was unusual since Livia was pregnant with her second son (Nero Claudius Drusus). No matter, Livia and Octavian married, without delaying past the usual waiting period. Livia’s two sons were reportedly taken into the care of their biological father, whose convincement or coercion can only be imagined (one source even cites he gave away his former wife at her second wedding).

As should have been expected, Livia and Octavian made quite the powerful pair. Indeed, a decade later, Octvian emerged undisputed as Rome’s Augustus, whereupon Livia found herself part of Rome’s First Family. She diligently carried out her duties as wife, mother, and imperial matriarch. She probably remained faithful to Augustus, although he likely did not return the favor. Despite her great wealth and power, she exercised devout modesty, supporting her husband’s religious revival; Livia reportedly even wove her family’s clothes. She was the most prominent woman of her time, and, within the constraints of a male-dominated society, nurtured her young Empire through its formative years.

Like the duality of Hellenistic and Roman elements on opposite sides of this coin, Livia also had another side, one far less matronly, at least according to some ancient references. It is important to note that such sources tend to harbor negative bias against Livia that reverberates into modern times. Like any mother in her position, she had ambitions for her sons’ futures. According to rumors, she played a role in the death of competing candidates for Rome's future throne, and maybe even the death of Augustus as well. Ancient historian Tacitus went as far as describing Livia as “a curse to the state and a blight on the house of the Caesars.” The accuracy of this viewpoint remains highly questionable.

One historical fact for certain is that Livia’s second marriage lasted over fifty years, until Augustus’ death in 14 AD. They had only one pregnancy, a disappointing miscarriage. Short on Julian male dynasts, Augustus made it quite clear in his will that his intended successor was Livia’s son Tiberius (who outlived brother Drusus and many other potential successors). Also in his will, Augustus gave one-third of his estate to Livia (Tiberius received the remainder), decreeing that she be adopted into gens Julia and granted the honorific title of Augusta.

In this fashion, Livia maintained her power and status, while her son assumed responsibility as Rome’s second Emperor. At first, the imperial mother and son duo appeared to get along. Tiberius declared it treason to speak against Livia (after all, there were all those nasty rumors flying around), and granted her a theatre seat among the Vestal Virgins. However, several accounts of this period describe Livia as domineering and interfering. The tempestuous mother-son relationship was on-again, off-again, a duality noted by ancient Roman senator and historian Tacitus as “a genuine harmony between mother and son, or a hatred well concealed.” A potential source of this disharmony relates to the dynastic obligation paid by Tiberius. Specifically, Tiberius was forced to divorce his beloved first wife (Vipsania Agrippina) in order to enter into his second marriage with Augustus’ daughter (Julia). Evidence suggests that Tiberius grew resentful of his mother's political influence, particularly any notion she placed him on Rome’s throne.

When Livia died in 29 AD, Tiberius remained away from Rome (he had been absent for some years, weary of the Eternal City’ political intrigues), and delegated his grand nephew and ultimate successor, Caligula, to deliver the funeral oration. Not only did Tiberius refuse to personally pay his last respects, he vetoed his mother’s deification and denied her other posthumous honors as proposed by the Senate. It was not until the tenure of Rome’s fourth Emperor, Livia’s grandson Claudius, that Rome’s prototypical matriarch achieved divine billing.

Additional Reading: J M Swindle,"A Rhetorical use of Women in Tacitus", Annales Studia Antqua, Vol. 3(1), 2003, p. 105-15.

Coin Details: IONIA, Ephesus, Livia, with Augustus, 27 BC-AD 14, Æ (20mm, 6.75 g, 12h), Tryphon and Samiades, magistrates, NGC Grade: Ch XF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Jugate heads of Augustus, laureate, and Livia right, lituus before, Reverse: Stag standing right; quiver and TPVΦ–Ω[N] above, Ε–Φ[E] across central field, ΣAMI–A/ΔΗΣ below, References: RPC I 2605.2 (this coin); one of only two cited in RPC for this combination of magistrates.

View Coin Pax Romana ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Augustus, 27 BC-AD 14 AE Quadrans Silius and Annius. c.9 BC. Moneyers: Lamia, NGC AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 This ancient coin bears the simple yet powerful image of two clasped hands holding a caduceus. The motif invokes a sense of harmony and peace, even two millennia after its strike. Indeed, the clasping of hands, dating from at least the advent of coinage, developed as a way to demonstrate that neither party held a weapon, hence a greeting to demonstrate peaceful intent. The first coins featuring a handshake appeared in Rome during the time of Julius Caesar, who also employed the imagery of the caduceus, the staff of Mercury (the Roman analogue of the Greek god Hermes). Whereas clasped hands symbolized peace and harmony, the caduceus represented commerce and negotiation. Such imagery must have been particular impactful at a time when Rome was challenged by civil war and an uncertain future.

After Caesar’s murder, his followers Octavian and Marc Antony incorporated the meme of clasped hands holding a caduceus on denarii that also featured Concordia, ancient Rome’s divine personifications of concord. Despite the numismatic gesture, the battle for Rome’s supremacy was destined to continue. Octavian eventually proved the victor, and he became known as Augustus, the ruler who transformed Rome into an Empire. He proceeded to buffer Rome against competitor states by negotiation and establishment of client kingdoms. As a result, the people of Rome, accustomed to fighting their way to riches and glory, now faced the unusual prospect of relative peace.

In support of the new peace, Rome’s mints once again produced coins that depicted clasped hands holding a caduceus. This bronze quadrans circa 9 BC provides an example. Based on the obverse inscription (LAMIA SILIVS ANNIVS), it was issued by three men named Lamia, Silus and Annius, who, according to the reverse inscription (IIIVIR A A A F F) represented the triumviri auro argento aere flando feriundo, Rome’s moneyers for casting and striking gold, silver and bronze. Dominating the coin’s verso are the letters S C, denoting senatus consulto, confirming the senate’s ongoing authority to issuing coinage (albeit limited to bronze denominations).

Rome was inundated with such coins, part of a larger effort to promulgate peace towards a more prosperous Empire. Augustus’ successors maintained that effort for the next two centuries, until the Empire reverted back to constant civil and economic strife during the great Crisis of the Third Century. The intervening era, from Augustus’ ascension to late 2nd century AD, has become known as Pax Romana, or period of Roman peace. Actually, it included some notable, bloody conflicts, for example those involving Judaea and Parthia. Even so, the relative peace represented an abrupt change from previous centuries of nearly constant conflict.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Augustus (Emperor, 27 BC-14 AD), Struck in Rome circa 9 BC, AE Quadrans (3.19g), NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Clasped hands holding caduceus, LAMIA SILIVS ANNIVS, Reverse: IIIVIR A A A F F surrounding S C, References: Cohen 338; BMCRE 200; RIC I 420.
View Coin Augustus, with Caius and Lucius Caesars ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Augustus, 27 BC-AD 14 AR Denarius ex HSA (1001.1.3569) rv Gaius & Lucius Caesars NGC Ch AU Strike: 3/5 Surface: 3/5 In 27 BC, the Roman Senate formalized Lucius Munatius Plancus’ proposal to grant Imperator Caesar Divi Filius (a.k.a. Octavian) the extra title of Augustus, meaning sacred or revered. This appointment is often cited as the official end of the ancient Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.

For Augustus, it was not sufficient to convert Rome into an autocracy; he also needed to provide for its succession. Like his adoptive father (Julius Caesar) before him, Augustus had no sons, requiring him to find an adoptive male heir. He did have two inherited stepsons, Tiberius and Drusus (Livia’s children from her previous marriage). Augustus' only male blood relative, a nephew, died in 23 BC. Next under consideration was his lieutenant and lifelong friend Agrippa, who married Augustus’ daughter Julia. Agrippa died in 12 BC, but not before fathering two additional prospects, Lucius Caesar and Gaius Caesar. In 17 BC, Augustus formally adopted his two eldest grandsons and ordered his stepson Tiberius to marry the widowed Julia in order to serve as the duo’s reagent. Tiberius resented being used in this fashion, but had no choice but to abandon his current, blissful marriage. For Lucius and Gaius, the change in their lot meant growing up with celebrity status, guidance from Rome’s finest teachers, and their likeness honored on newly produced temples, statues, and even coins.

This exemplary denarius was struck in Lyon circa 2 BC – 4 AD. The obverse features the bust of Augustus, adorned with a crown of leaves from the bay laurel tree (Laurus nobilis). Centuries earlier, the Greeks bestowed such laureate crowns to those deserving the highest possible recognition: poets and athletes. The custom became adopted by the Romans to laud victorious military commanders, and by modern culture in idiomatic usage referring to success, literary or otherwise.

The obverse inscription, CΛESΛR ΛVGVSTVS DIVI F PΛTER PΛTRIAE, advertises Augustus’ name and title, emphasizing that he is a son of a god (the deified Julius Caesar), and father to his people. Such denarii were distributed throughout the young Empire, part of Augustus’ effort to promote himself as imperial leader. Also promoted in verso are Caius and Lucius Caesars, each depicted togate, holding crossed spears and shields. The imagery stresses the royal grandsons’ coming-of-age as they complete their military training. Above the pair hover prominent pagan implements: a simpuvium (a sacrificial spoon) and a lituus (a divination wand), emphasizing Augustus’ role as high priest (pontifex maximus). The reverse inscription, ΛVGVSTI F COS DESIG PRINC IVVENT, denotes that Caius and Lucius hold a tripartite of honorable titles: Augustus’ sons, designated consuls, and first among the youth.

As it turned out, neither Caius nor Lucius would sit upon Rome’s throne. In 2 AD, the Empire grieved when Lucius, while completing his military training in Gaul, suddenly fell ill and died. The following year, more dreaded news arrived, this time from the eastern front - Gaius had been injured on campaign. Over the following several months, Gaius weakened to the point he decided to eschew his imperial duties. Soon, he too was dead, and Augustus was once again left without an official heir. The fledgling Empire, mourning the loss of one revered Caesar after the other, pondered its uncertain future.

Augustus desperately needed to roll out a new succession plan. He was down to his last grandson, Agrippa Postumus, who fell out of imperial favor under uncertain circumstances around 9 AD. By this time, the aging Augustus was compelled to promote his stepson Tiberius. Soon Tiberius was actively playing the role of sole heir, dealing with various crises across the Empire.

Augustus died in 14 AD, and his will clearly stipulated that Tiberius take his place. In the end, Augustus’ choice was made out of necessity, since no other potential heir had managed to outlive him, a consequence of his remarkably long four-decade long rule. Although Tiberius famously eschewed it, the title of Augustus was borne by Rome’s future Emperors, and became synonymous with them. As for Gaius and Lucius, their imperial accomplishments can only be imagined, and the name Caesar evolved into a title denoting an Augustus’ heir.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Augustus, 27 BC – 14 AD, AR Denarius (19mm, 3.80 g, 1h), Lugdunum (Lyon) mint, Struck 2 BC – 4 AD, NGC Grade: Ch AU, Strike: 3/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Laureate head right, CΛESΛR ΛVGVSTVS [DIVI F PΛTER PΛ]TRIAE, Reverse: Caius and Lucius Caesars standing facing, two shields and two spears between them; above, on left, simpulum right, and on right, lituus left, ΛVGVSTI F COS DES[IG PRINC IVVENT], C L CΛESΛRES in exergue, References: RIC I 207; Lyon 82; RSC 43; BMCRE 519-33; BN 1651-7; ex HSA (1001.1.3569).
View Coin Augustus, with Agrippa ANCIENT - ROMAN PROVINCIAL (2nd CENT BC - 3rd CENT BC) GAUL, NEMAUSUS Augustus & Agrippa AE Dupondius(?) rv crocodile, palm tree c.AD 10-14 NGC VF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5 The Nile crocodile, Crocodylus Niloticus, represents one of our planet’s most fearsome creatures. Reaching a size in excess of six meters long, the crocodile serves as the apex predator of sub-Saharan Africa. In ancient times, their range extended up the Nile river delta to the Mediterranean coast, and one can image the frequency – and severity – of their encounters with humans. Not surprisingly, crocodilians grew to be respected and even worshiped among local Egyptians.

The Romans, ever fascinated with exotic and dangerous animals, associated the crocodile with Egypt herself, for example on this ancient iconic bronze coin struck sometime around 10-14 AD. The reverse illustrates a palm tree and before and enchained to it, a crocodile. Across the scene is inscribed COL-NEM, indicating the Roman colony of Nemausus, Gaul. This numismatic motif celebrated the acquisition of Egypt from Marc Antony and Cleopatra VII.

Inviting comparisons to the Janiform designs employed on Pompeian coinage, the obverse depicts the opposite facing heads of Octavian - known as Augustus by this time – and Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (64/63 BC – 12 BC). Agrippa, a prominent Roman statesman, general, and engineer, was a lifelong ally of Augustus, and played a decisive role in his 31 BC victory at the naval Battle of Actium, as commemorated on this coin.

Agrippa and Augustus grew up as friends in Rome, inspired by epic conquests of the likes of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Gaius Julius Caesar. The latter eventually attracted the two comrades to his cause, and in 45 BC sent them east to train with the Macedonian legions. Upon hearing the news of Caesar’s assassination a few months later, the pair returned to Italy, whereupon Octavian discovered he was named Caesar’s heir. Subsequently, Agrippa helped Octavian raise troops for the escalating Roman civil war. He became Octavians’s most effective and trusted general, securing victories against external and internal enemies.

In 37 BC, Octavian appointed Agrippa as Rome’s consul, charged with defending against potential invaders, i.e., Sextus Pompey’s Sicilian navy. To improve his defenses, Agrippa executed an ambitious construction project resulting in a new harbor complex that he named Portus Julius. This Roman feat of engineering was one of many accomplished by Agrippa. Examples of his military inventions range from improved grappling hooks to naval ship designs. However, Agrippa’s most famous works are architectural, among the most beautiful buildings in the history of Rome. Agrippa’s civil projects included improving Rome’s aqueducts and sewers, for example renovating the Aqua Marcia and enlarging and cleansing the Cloaca Maxima, as well as constructing baths, roads, and gardens. Octavian came to boast about Rome that "he had found the city of brick but left it of marble", thanks in no small part to Agrippa’s efforts.

Although the significance of such engineering projects should not be overlooked, Agrippa is most renowned for his military accomplishments. For instance, Agrippa scored victories over Sextus Pompey in Sicily, earning a Triumph. Agrippa’s most notable campaign was that against Marc Antony and Cleopatra at the aforementioned famous Battle of Actium. It was at that port city wherein the Egyptian naval ships consolidated, and Octavian and Agrippa joined forces to blockade them. On Agrippa’s advice, Octavian went on the offensive (rather than risk his foes slipping past the blockade). The resulting victory led to the suicides of Marc Antony and Cleopatra, and Octavian’s undisputed mastery over all Rome’s territories.

In gratitude, Octavian arranged for his niece, Claudia Marcella Major, to become Agrippa’s second wife. It is unclear whether Agrippa was forced to divorce his first wife, Caecilia Attica (who bore Vipsania Agrippina, future first wife to Emperor Tiberius), or if she was deceased by this time. Agrippa shared several consulships with Octavian, and watched as his friend earned the title of Augustus in 27 BC. In 21 BC, Augustus induced Agrippa to divorce Marcella and marry his recently widowed daughter, Julia. Up until his death in 12 BC, Agrippa was a leading candidate as Augustus’ successor. Instead, his descendents became prominent Roman leaders among the Julio-Claudian dynasty; Agrippa and Julia sired several children, including Agrippina Sr., mother of future Emperor Caligula and grandmother of future Emperor Nero.

Augustus honored his late faithful friend with an elaborate funeral involving a month of mourning. Agrippa’s accomplishments also continued to be lauded in the form of coinage, including issues commemorating the victory at Actium. Indeed, “crocodile coins” similar to the current example saw a continued production for decades, and their distinctness and popularity endures to this day.

Additional Reading: D Vagi, “Crocodiles of Roman coins most familiar as the emblem of the province of Egypt,” 02Mar15 Coin World.

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, Augustus and Agrippa, AE As (12.52 g, 27 mm), Nemausus, Gaul, struck 10-14 AD, NGC Grade: VF, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Heads of Agrippa (wearing rostral crown, left) and Augustus (laureate, right) back to back, IMP/DIVI F above and below, P-P to left and right of heads, Reverse: Palm-shoot with long vertical fronds, its tip to left, behind chained crocodile right; in upper left field, wreath with long ties going off to right, two horizontal palm-shoots beneath crocodile, COL-NEM (N and E in ligature) to left and right, References: RIC I p52, 161; RPC I 525.
View Coin Asinius Gallus AEOLIS, TEMNUS Asinius Gallus, d.AD 33 AE15 rv Dionysus issued as proconsul, 5 BC NGC MS Strike: 4/5 Surface: 4/5 Gaius Asinius Gallus (40 BC? – 33 AD) was a Roman patrician during the momentous period wherein the Republic transformed into an Empire. Numismatic data and other evidence demonstrate Asinius served prominently during Augustus’ reign, including tenures as triumvir monentalis (commissioner of the mint) (16 BC), consul (8 BC) and proconsul of Asia (6-5 BC). While serving the latter post, Asinius struck portraiture coinage. Apparently Asinius and a few other provincial governors were afforded this honor during the first half of Augustus’ reign. After this experimental period, very few, if any, such gubernatorial portraiture coins were produced; after all, the imperial family deemed themselves the only living persons worthy of adorning Rome’s coinage.

This rare bronze coin provides an example of Asinius’ portraiture coinage. It survives in a remarkable state of preservation, and it is likely among the finest known. Despite a relatively small flan - larger denominations were reserved for coins depicting the Emperor – the engraver managed a bold and impressive portrait of the Asian proconsul. The bare head is encircled by the Greek epithet ACINIOC ΓAΛΛOC AΓNOC, promoting Asinius Gallus as pure (or holy). This curious, grandiose title may reflect Asinius’ ambition to promote himself within his province and beyond its borders.

For the reverse, Asinius choose to depict the ivy-wreathed head of Dionysus, the Pantheonic deity associated with a cornucopia of festive concepts such as wine and winemaking, religious ecstasy, and theatre. According to legend, Dionysus married the Minoan princess Ariadne, after finding her abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos. The coin’s reverse inscription, APOΛΛAC ΦAINIOY TAMNITAN, perhaps refers to the philosophical concept of the Apollonian and Dionysian, or dichotomy between the irrationality of emotions (associated with Dionysus) and rationality of reason (represented by Dionysus’ brother, Apollo). According to the concept, the divine brothers were not opposites or rivals, but rather complementary and interconnected, mirroring the ancient Chinese concept of yin and yang. If this interpretation is correct, Asinius’ invocation appears unique among ancient coinage.

Undisputedly, the reverse epithet proclaims the coin’s pedigree of Temnos, formerly one of the twelve city-states comprising the western Anatolian dodecapolis known as the Aeolian League. At the time, Temnos was on the decline after experiencing its golden, Hellenistic age. The location was famed as birthplace of Hermagoras, the 1st century BC rhetorician famous for the “seven circumstances” (who, what, when, where, why, in what way, by what means) that still provides a basis for modern investigation. Alas, Temnos’ structures proved far less enduring than its philosophies. In 17 AD, a massive earthquake destroyed the city and many other population centers in western Anatolia. Although Temnos was rebuilt, it never reached its former splendor.

Interestingly, many of the themes present on this coin relate to Asinius’ fate. In 11 BC, Asinius married Vipsania Agrippina, the recent divorcee of Tiberius, echoing Dionysus’ pairing with the abandoned Ariadne. In the case of Vipsania and Tiberius, their divorce was forced upon them by Augustus (who preferred that Tiberius marry his daughter Julia). Tiberius, evidently still in love with his ex-wife, lamented the new arrangement, fostering understandable enmity with Asinius. Even more invidious, rumors raged that Asinius, rather than Tiberius, sired Vipsania’s first son, Drusus the Younger. Asinius never denied the rumors, suggesting he achieved his own personal balance among the Apollonian and Dionysian; marriage to Vipsania harmonized his emotional desires with his rational strategy for political advancement. It was even reported that Augustus considered Asinius among the few patricians worthy as his successor.

Ultimately, it was not Asinius, but Tiberius, who ascended Rome’s throne after Augustus died in 14 AD. The enmity between the two men escalated. For instance, it is widely described that Asinius introduced measures to the Senate attempting to shame Tiberius. In 30 AD, Tiberius ordered the elderly patrician’s arrest, perhaps suspecting an association with Praetorian Prefect-turned-conspirator Sejanus, who was arrested and executed the following year. Asinius’ culpability notwithstanding, he remained in solitary confinement until his death in 33 AD, probably via starvation. Although Asinius was never convicted or even brought to trial, there is evidence that Tiberius declared damnatio memoriae, or erasure of Asinus’ name from all history. There is also evidence that Asinus’ name was rehabilitated sometime after Tiberius’ death. Like the mint city that produced his portrait coinage, Asinius’ reputation rebounded, but never attained its prior glory.

Additional Reading: DCA Shotter, “Tiberius and Asinius Gallus,” Historia (20), 1971, pp 443-457.

Coin Details: AEOLIS, TEMNUS, Asinius Gallus, proconsul of Asia, circa 5 BC, AE 15/16 (4.159g), struck 5 BC, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Bare head of Asinius Gallus right, ACINIOC ΓAΛΛOC AΓNOC, Reverse: Head of Dionysos right, wreathed with ivy, APOΛΛAC ΦAINIOY TAMNITAN, References: RPC I 2447; SNG Cop 276; SNG München 627; BMC Troas p. 146, 25; SNGvA -.
View Coin Herod Antipas ANCIENT - JUDAEAN (4th CENT BC - 2st CENT AD) JUDAEA Herod Antipas, 4 BC-AD 39 AE Half-Denom. palm/inscription+wreath yr.37 (AD 32/3 or 33/4) NGC XF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 2/5 As Rome’s very first Emperor, Augustus grappled with not only the question of his own succession, but also that of his client kings. A noteworthy instance occurred upon the death of Herod the Great, whose last will decreed his Judaean realm be divided among various successors. Of course, Augustus had the final say - it was his prerogative to ratify his subordinate’s recommendations. Expectedly, Herodian family members residing in Rome were keen to provide Augustus their input. Also expectedly, Herod’s sons travelled to the eternal city to pitch the Emperor their own preferred visions for Judaea’s future. A bitter power struggle ensued between Herod’s eldest son, Herod Archelaus, and another son, Herod Antipater (before 20 BC – after 39 AD), also known as Herod Antipas or Antipas. Although Herod’s last will advised that Archelaus serve as future king of Judaea and Samaria, a previous version designated Antipas. Also surviving Herod and having a stake in these developments were a third son, Philip, and a sister, Salome I. After hearing all the arguments and weighing the available information, the judicious Augustus decided that none of the claimants deserved the title of king. Herod’s lands were split into a tetrarchy, effectively abolishing the Judaean monarchy.

Having failed to sway Augustus, Antipas found himself a tetrarch ruling over Galilee and Peraea, as well as the Jewish portion of Transjordan. While presumably disappointed at lacking a royal title, Antipas evidently made the most of the opportunity. Like Herod his father, Antipas was a prolific builder. The newly appointed tetrarch greatly expanded and renovated Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee, renaming it Autocratoris in honor or Rome’s supreme imperator. Even more impressive, Antipas built a new capital on the Sea of Galilee, an undertaking that lasted beyond Augustus’ reign. In honor of Rome’s second Emperor, Antipas named his new capital Tiberias.

Antipas established a mint at Tiberias, where he struck this ancient bronze, described as a half unit, probably equivalent to a Roman as. Respecting the customs of the Jewish majority residing in his territories, Antipas avoided portraits and graven images as numismatic devices. The obverse of this coin bears the unassuming design of a wreath encircling an inscription that verifies the origin - TIBE PIAC. The reverse depicts an upright palm branch accompanied by Antipas’ epithet, HPΩΔOY TETPAPXOY. The additional inscription L ΛΓ denotes the strike date as year 37 of Antipas’ reign (corresponding to sometime in 33 or 34 AD). Although relatively unusual at the time, Antipas struck dates on all his coins.

Beyond construction projects and coinage, Antipas is most famous - or infamous, rather – for biblical accounts of his dealings with certain troublesome Galileans. A prominent instance involved a popular preacher who condemned Antipas’ decision to divorce first wife (Phasaelis, Daughter of Aretas IV, Rome’s client king ruling Nabataea) in favor of marrying his cousin Herodias. The disapproving preacher, best known as John the Baptist, was taken into custody. Antipas was reluctant to prosecute, until his stepdaughter Salome II danced her way into compelling the prisoner’s decapitation. Another prominent instance transpired several years later, when Roman prefect Pontius Pilate sought Antipas’ support to punish a troublesome Galilean named Jesus. After a period of rigorous, but non-productive interrogation, Antipas returned the ridiculed prisoner back to Pilate for sentencing.

Non-flattering biblical depictions aside, Antipas was a successful administrator. Even though tasked with a notoriously refractory population, Antipas managed to avoid any armed rebellions under his watch. Impressively, Antipas’ reign lasted more than four decades, surpassing the tenures of aunt Salome I and brother Philip (their lands reverted back to Rome upon their deaths), not to mention brother Archelaus (who didn’t reign even a single decade before being sacked by Augustus for incompetence).

Despite his decades of serving the Empire, the venerable tetrarch was overlooked by Emperor Caligula when the latter crowned Antipas’ cousin, Herod Agrippa I, client king over lands previously ruled by Philip. Jealous of his cousin’s crown, Antipas once again made his pitch to Rome’s Emperor regarding his own worthiness for a royal upgrade. Unfortunately for Antipas, the ambitious Herod Agrippa I threw his uncle under the carpentum, accusing him of treason against Rome. Not surprisingly, Antipas was passed over for promotion. Instead, he was exiled, and Caligula turned over Antipas’ wealth and lands to Herod Agrippa I.

Coin Details: JUDAEA, Herodians, Herod III Antipas, 4 BCE-39 CE, Æ Half Unit (17.5mm, 3.93 g, 12h), Tiberias mint, Dated RY 37 (33/4 CE), NGC Grade: XF, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 2/5, Obverse: Wreath, TIBE PIAC, Reverse: Palm branch, HPΩΔOY TETPAPXOY, L-ΛZ (date), References: Meshorer 88; Hendin 1212; RPC I 4931.
View Coin Pontius Pilate ANCIENT - ROMAN PROVINCIAL, JUDAEA PILATE JUDAEA- PONTIUS (AD 30-31) PRUTAH MONEY OF THE BIBLE NGC Select Despite its rather unimpressive appearance, heavy wear, and relative abundance, this ancient coin nonetheless bears a fascinating history. It was produced and circulated in Judaea, a Roman province with authority to strike its own coinage. The standard unit of denomination struck by the Judaean prefects was the prutah, the denomination of this ancient bronze struck in 30-31 AD Jerusalem by Pontius Pilate.

Like much of Pilate’s coinage, the coin’s obverse depicts a lituus, a wooden staff commonly employed by priests in pagan rituals. Unlike other Roman provincial coinage, prutah never bore the image of any person or animal, respecting the local prohibition against graven images. Even so, the choice of the lituus may have been Pilate’s attempt to promote Roman sensibilities among the locals. These prutahs also bore the epithet TIBEPIOY KAICAPOC, a reminder they were the coins of Emperor Tiberius.

Regardless of one’s specific religious beliefs, there is no denying fascination with the time and locale wherein this coin circulated. In addition to their usual military and fiduciary (i.e., tax collecting) roles, prefects also served judicial responsibilities. As such, Pontius Pilate was responsible for presiding over trials and doling out punishments for state criminals. In the year 30 AD, by concord among modern experts, he conducted perhaps the most infamous trial in history, that of Jesus the Nazarean. According to gospel accounts, Pilate mollified his subjects by condemning Jesus to crucifixion, the requisite capital punishment of the time. These actions fueled a new religion, and over time Christianity’s path would intertwine with the very Roman Empire herself.

Besides the gospels, little else about Pilate’s life was ever recorded. The only relevant artifact ever recovered is the Pilate Stone, bearing his inscription to Tiberius, discovered among the ruins of a theatre in the ancient Judaean capital, Caesarea Maritima. Of course, also remaining are Pilate’s coins, relatively abundant (for ancients) and accessible to those interested. To hold and contemplate such a coin - that touched many hands at a monumental time and place in history – illustrates the fascination and intrigue of ancient coin collecting.

Coin Details: ROMAN PROVINCIAL, JUDAEA, Pontius Pilate AD 30-31, Prutah, NGC Grade: N/A (Money of the Bible), Obverse: Lituus, [TIBEPIOY KAICAPOC]?, Reverse: Wreath, [LIZ/H]?, References: Hendin 1342a, SGICV 5623.
View Coin Nero Claudius Drusus ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Claudius, AD 41-54 AE Sestertius Nero Claudius Drusus rv triumphal arch of NGC VF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 3/5 Even before he was born, Nero Claudius Drusus (38 – 9 BC) had already become somewhat of a celebrity. Also known as Drusus I or Drusus the Elder, he was born a mere three months after his mother, Livia Drusilla, married Octavian, who later emerged as Rome’s Augustus. Presumably, the elder Drusus’ sire was Livia’s previous (and recently divorced) husband, although many speculated otherwise. In any case, Drusus was adopted by Rome’s first Emperor, and grew up alongside elder brother Tiberius.

Even at a very early age, Drusus’ leadership talents were evident. In 19 BC he was deemed eligible to hold public office even though he was five years younger than the usual minimum age. A few years later, Drusus married Antonia Minor, the daughter of Mark Antony and Augustus’ elder sister Octavia. According to historical accounts, the marriage between Drusus and Antonia Minor was a very happy one, and resulted in three important Julio-Claudian dynasts surviving to adulthood: daughter Livilla, and two sons, Germanicus and Claudius.

Drusus’ most significant military successes occurred over the period of 12 to 9 BC, wherein he subjugated numerous Germanic tribes. Importantly, he spearheaded the first major Roman military campaign across the Rhine, exploring deep into the interior of Germania. He also led a successful naval expedition to subdue further Germanic tribes along the North Sea coast. Beyond military exploits, Drusus’ political posts included praetor (16 BC), governorship over portions of Gaul (in late 15 BC, Augustus named him legatus Augusti pro praetor), Rome’s praetor urbanus (11 BC), and Roman consul (9 BC).

Despite speculation that he may have pined for the Republic’s return, Drusus’ talents and accomplishments branded him as a legitimate candidate for imperial succession. Any such prospect, however, evaporated in 9 BC when Drusus suffered a fall off his horse, and died a month afterwards. At that time, Rome deeply grieved for their fallen hero, whose memory was deeply honored across the Empire. So distraught was the widowed Antonia Minor that she refused to ever take another husband.

Drusus was paid even further tribute after his son Claudius ascended Rome’s throne. Those additional honors, bestowed a half century after his death, included annual games in the Circus Maximus and the issuance of gold, silver, and bronze coins. Among the latter is this impressive sestertius, struck in Rome circa 41-42 AD. Although the obverse design – Claudius’ laureate bust and the inscription TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR P IMP – is noteworthy, the coin’s reverse – a triumphal arch featuring the statue of Drusus on horseback, along with the epithet NERO CLAVDIVS DRVSVS GERMAN IMP – is more striking. Ironically, the arch depicted on this coin is evidently not related to the remains of what is referred to today as the Arch of Drusus. That structure, located on the first mile of the Appian Way in Rome, is devoid of statuary and triumphal trappings.

Even if he entered this world amid some controversy, Nero Claudius Drusus figured prominently in the Roman Empire’s formative years. His military accomplishments paved the way for Rome’s growing and sustained domination of surrounding Germanic tribes. His widow, Antonia Minor, remained a strong presence in Roman politics, and established herself as Matriarch not only to Rome, but also to many of the Eternal City's allies and rivals alike. Drusus' imperial connections proved rather extensive: stepson of Augustus, brother of Tiberius, father of Claudius, grandfather of Caligula, and great-grandfather of Nero. Perhaps Drusus' most impressive legacy of all is that, even today, many consider him as Rome's all-time greatest general, and that's saying something.

Coin Details: Nero Claudis Drusus, Æ Sestertius (35mm, 27.53 g, 6h), Rome mint, Struck AD 41-42, NGC Grade: VF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Laureate head right, TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR P IMP, Reverse: Arch of Nero Claudius Drusus (triumphal arch surmounted by trophies and statue of Drusus on horse rearing right, spearing downward), NERO CLAVDIVS DRVSVS GERMAN IMP, References: RIC I 98; von Kaenel Type 56; Ex Hirsch 336 (7 February 2018), lot 2391; Reportedly ex old German Family Collection formed before 1950.
View Coin Tiberius ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Tiberius, AD 14-37 AR Denarius Biblical 'Tribute Penny' Lugdunum. rv Livia as Pax NGC XF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.

According to Matthew the Apostle, Jesus spoke these words in response to the question of whether Jews should pay taxes to Rome. As a visual aid, Jesus employed a Roman coin. Although not certain, the most commonly cited coin in this context is this denarius struck by Rome’s second Emperor, Tiberius (42 BC – 37 AD).

As such, the so-called “tribute penny” is highly sought after for its numismatic value and historical importance. For some, it might even be considered a religious relic. In any case, it represents a quintessential issue for Tiberius, whose laureate bust appears on the obverse. The accompanying inscription, TI CΛESΛR DIVI ΛVG F ΛVGVSTVS, advertises that Tiberius is the son of Augustus. That relationship was not by blood, but by adoption. Tiberius’ biological father and mother were Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. The latter appears on this coin’s verso in the guise of Pax, the Roman goddess of peace. While Tiberius was still a toddler, Livia divorced in order to marry the rising military and political star Octavian, who later emerged as Rome’s Augustus.

Augustus transformed Rome into an autocracy, and grappled with the necessity of establishing his succession. Besides candidates from his own Julian clan, Augustus also groomed additional prospects from the Claudian gens, particularly Tiberius. To that end, around 19 BC Tiberius married Vipsania Agrippina, the daughter of Augustus’ trusted friend and greatest general, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. In 14 BC, the couple provided the new Empire with yet another dynast, Drusus Julius Caesar. When Agrippa died in 12 BC, Tiberius moved up on the succession candidate list. It was decreed by Augustus that Tiberius upgrade to a more prominent spouse, namely Augustus’ daughter and only biological child, Julia. Unfortunately for Tiberius, he had to divorce his beloved Vipsania. That concession, analogous to his mother’s, would torment him for the rest of his life.

Tiberius, whose clan historically championed the old Republic, oftentimes treated his own imperial aspirations with indifference. In 6 BC, he even proclaimed his withdrawal from Rome’s political scene, and retired to Rhodes. However, Tiberius was not destined to maintain a low profile. Over time, whether by natural causes or otherwise, Augustus’ list of succession candidates had grown quite thin. Inexorably, Tiberius was drawn back into the imperial fold. By 13 AD, Tiberius was declared co-princeps. When Augustus died the following year, Tiberius had no choice but to assume his role as Rome’s second Emperor.

Along with Rome’s throne, Tiberius, now in his mid-fifties, also inherited the responsibility to secure its succession. Besides his own son Drusus, Tiberius adopted his nephew Germanicus. The latter’s enormous popularity and military prowess made him a worthy succession candidate on par, if not exceeding, Drusus. The pair’s rivalry came to an end, however, when Germanicus died in 19 AD. It was widely thought that the death was a murder, and perhaps Tiberius was behind the plot. Even so, it was the Syrian governor, Piso, who was found guilty and executed for the deed.

Over time, Tiberius distanced himself from Rome, while passing on increasing responsibilities to Drusus. Tiberius also increasingly empowered his Praetorian Guard and their leader, the Prefect Sejanus. That decision proved hazardous, especially since Sejanus was probably the mastermind behind Drusus’ untimely demise in 23 AD. Unaware of any perfidy at the time, Tiberius allowed Sejanus to expand his powers even further, even naming him socius laborum (partner of my labors). Apparently tired of imperial intrigues, Tiberius once again withdrew from politics – at least in terms of routine governance. In 26 AD, Tiberius retired from Rome to the island of Capri, where he owned a vast villa complex inherited from his adoptive father.

While Tiberius was away, Sejanus apparently held sway. Those posing a threat to the Praetorian Prefect’s authority found themselves subject to imprisonment or worse. Sejanus seemingly even had control over Tiberius himself; at least, the Praetorian Prefect managed to control the flow of information between Rome and its Emperor. The tables turned, however, in 31 AD when the eldest surviving Julio-Claudian, namely Antonia, paid Tiberius a visit. The matriarch finally convinced the Emperor that Sejanus was planning to overthrow him. In response, Tiberius sent a letter to the Senate – this time, without Sejanus’ interposition – ordering the Praetorian Prefect’s execution. More than that, the Emperor also punished anyone tied to Sejanus. According to the vivid annals of ancient historian Tacitus, the result was an “unnumbered dead of every age and sex.

Meanwhile, Tiberius continued his life of seclusion at his Capri estate, keeping watch over his remaining two heirs: his biological grandson, Tiberius Gemellus, and his great-nephew and adopted grandson, Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, better known to history as Caligula. Reportedly, Tiberius occupied his remaining years with paranoia for treachery against his life, brooding over his deceased kin, and – if ancient sources are to be believed – acts of unbridled debauchery. Tiberius’ alleged exploits ranged from launching suspected enemies off of Capri’s cliffs to transsexual escapades with children. Such accounts should probably be considered with caution, as are claims that the dying Tiberius was smothered by his new Preatorian Prefect, Naevius Sutorius Macro, to ensure that Caligula ascended as Rome’s third Emperor.

Like many Roman Emperors, Tiberius left behind a complex legacy. At the time of his death, he was widely reviled, and the Senate refused him the divine honors bestowed upon Augustus. History widely paints Tiberius as a dark, brooding ruler, who, struggling with his own succession, dealt violently with perceived enemies. Even so, Tiberius was arguably one of Rome’s finest generals, and that’s saying something. Leveraging both military prowess and diplomacy, Tiberius managed to consolidate and strengthen the Empire without unduly draining its resources.

Beyond foreign policies, Tiberius also dealt with economic issues, including Rome’s great Financial Crisis of 33 AD. That predicament was brought about his predecessor’s lavish spending, which triggered massive credit extension into real estate and the public sector, which, in turn, led to skyrocketing land values. To control the situation, the austere Tiberius ordered loans be paid off, with lack of payment resulting in confiscations. The sudden selling pressure led to rapid deflation and impending market collapse, with financial shock waves reverberating throughout the Empire’s provinces. To solve the issue, Tiberius lowered interest rates, essentially to zero. It is interesting to note that similar strategies to ameliorate financial crises are employed to this day.

Importantly, Tiberius’ fiscal policies ensured that the Empire remained solvent and, most importantly, that its troops were paid. To raise revenues, Tiberius imposed taxes throughout the Empire’s provinces. Even so, Tiberius strove to maintain those taxes low enough to be sustainable. According to ancient historian Seutonius, when urged by his provincial governors to increases taxes Tiberius commented that it was “the part of a good shepherd to shear his flock, not skin it.”

Although this comment might suggest he considered himself like a god, Tiberius adamantly refused that distinction during his own lifetime. Certainly, Tiberius promoted the Imperial cult as a political tool, and exercised intolerance of any conflicting religious views. Such blasphemies included monotheistic Judaism. Tiberius strove to remove Rome’s Jews, ordering anyone eligible to enter into military service.

At least regarding the first part of Jesus’ proclamation, Tiberius would probably have agreed.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Tiberius, AD 14-37, AR Denarius (18mm, 3.79 g, 5h), “Tribute Penny” type, Lugdunum (Lyon) mint, Group 4, AD 18-35, NGC Grade: XF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Laureate head right; one ribbon on shoulder, TI CΛESΛR DIVI ΛVG F ΛVGVSTVS, Reverse: Livia (as Pax), holding scepter in right hand and olive branch in left, seated right on chair, feet on footstool; ornate chair legs, single line below, PONTIF MΛXIM, References: RIC I 30; Lyon 150; RSC 16a; BMCRE 48-51; BN 28-31.
View Coin Drusus the Younger and Germanicus, with Tiberius ANCIENT - ROMAN PROVINCIAL (2nd CENT BC - 3rd CENT BC) SPAIN, ROMULA Tiberius, AD 14-37 AE27 and Drusus confronted rv heads of Germanicus NGC VF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5 This ancient Roman provincial coin was struck near modern-day Seville, Spain. Julius Caesar established the site, inland yet conveniently accessible to sea via the Baetis river, as Colonia Romula. Romula became an important ship-building and economic center of the Roman province Hispania Baetica. Romula was one of only a few Spanish cities to strike coins for the Roman Empire.

This particular bronze is one of only four types published for Romula, and represents a so-called “dynastic issue,” i.e., it depicts multiple members of the imperial dynasty. The obverse presents the radiate head of Emperor Tiberius with the inscription COL ROM PERM DIVI AVG, meaning that the coin hails from the colony Romula, by permission of the divine Augustus. On the verso, the bare heads of Tiberius’ two Caesars face one another, their identities advertised by the accompanying inscription, DRVSVS CAESAR GERMANICVS CAESAR. Both obverse and reverse inscriptions read counterclockwise, a relatively unusual device for an ancient Roman coin.

This particular bronze dates from 14-19 AD, when Drusus (13 BC – 23 AD) and Germanicus (15 BC – 19 AD) reigned as co-Caesars under Emperor Tiberius. Drusus, also referred to as Drusus the Younger or Drusus Junior, was son and only child of Tiberius, by his first wife, Vipsania Agrippina. Germanicus was Tiberius' nephew, the son of Nero Claudius Drusus and Augustus’ niece Antonia.

In 4 AD, Drusus wedded his cousin Livilla, who also happened to be Germanicus' sister. The marriage was arranged very soon after the death of Livilla’s previous husband, Gaius Caesar, grandson and former Caesar to Augustus. Drusus was thus cousin, adoptive brother, and brother-in-law to Germanicus. As Tiberius' son, Drusus represented the obvious heir, however, his direct bloodline comprised only the Claudian clan (his association with the Julians was only by marriage). On the other hand, Germanicus’ bloodline comprised both Claudian and Julian clans. Moreover, in 5 AD Augustus arranged his granddaughter Agrippina Senior’s marriage to Germanicus. Willing or not, Tiberius was forced to accept his nephew Germanicus as co-Caesar along with Drusus.

Echoing the reverse confronted portraits, the co-Caesars’ shared destinies intertwined, marked by both parallels and contrasts. Germanicus was active in the Roman military starting from a very young age, and rapidly advanced in political power. Drusus, two years younger, forged a similar political trajectory, only several years behind, although he largely owed his status to the military accomplishments of his father Tiberius, rather than any of his own.

When Augustus died in 14 AD, his will emphatically declared Tiberius the next Emperor, followed by Germanicus; Drusus maintained an advisory role, pursuant with political, rather than military aptitude. Even so, Drusus earned prominence during the exequies held in Rome. When Tiberius collapsed under stress while eulogizing his predecessor, Drusus rushed in to support his father and finished delivering the speech. Meanwhile, Germanicus remained in Germania, where local forces showed signs of rebellion. The troops, who swore their allegiance directly to Augustus (and not necessarily his successor), were dissatisfied with their service terms and conditions, and many tried to promote Germanicus as the new Emperor. Germanicus refused to claim the throne, and regained control by utilizing his leadership skills, charisma, and a bit of chicanery (a forged letter from Tiberius promising to buy the troops' support). A similar revolt also brewed in Pannonia, providing Drusus an opportunity to demonstrate his mettle. Leveraging his trusted advisors, employing shrewd diplomacy, and brandishing his status as son of Rome’s new Emperor, Drusus managed to control the Pannonian situation. This success firmly established Drusus as co-Caesar alongside Germanicus.

The co-Caesars were ostensibly rivals, although any true rivalry was the machination of others, notably Tiberius. If not rivals, Drusus and Germanicus were opposites. Germanicus was a consummate hero, famous for his strength and kindness, idolized by soldiers and civilians alike. In contrast, Drusus earned a reputation for irritability, heavy drinking, and wagering on gladiator fights. Despite such different personalities, Drusus and Germanicus appeared to get along; in fact, they were friends, often pairing together within the Senate. When Tiberius assigned Germanicus to Asia (perhaps a move to diminish his power), the co-Caesar stopped on the way to pay a visit to his brother-in-law and sister. It would be the last time Drusus and Germanicus enjoyed each others’ company.

By 18 AD, Germanicus arrived at his new command and, regardless of the Emperor’s intent to weaken his influence, subsequently defeated the kingdoms of Cappadocia and Commagene, further expanding Rome’s lands. The following year, tragedy struck; Germanicus died, not in glorious combat, but by a sudden and mysterious malady. Many suspected the cause of death as poison, and Syrian governor Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso as the culprit, perhaps under Tiberius’ orders. The allegations were never proven; Piso died while facing trial, perhaps the victim of suicide or murdered by his co-conspirators. Whatever the true cause of Germanicus’ demise, it triggered intense public mourning that lasted for days. Drusus grieved along with the rest of Rome, even though he emerged as frontrunner to succeed his father.

As Fortuna would have it, Drusus’ path once again paralleled Germanicus.’ In 23 AD, the only son of Tiberius fell ill and died. It is highly likely that he, too, was poisoned, victim of a murderous plot by Livilla and Tiberius’ Praetorian Prefect Sejanus, who were having an affair. Imperial succession plans were once again upset, and history will never know how either Drusus or Germanicus might have fared as the supreme ruler of the early Roman Empire.

Coin Details: ROMAN PROVINCIAL, SPAIN, Romula, Tiberius, with Germanicus and Drusus as Caesars, AD 14-37, Æ As (27mm, 12.32 g, 7h), NGC Grade: VF, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Radiate head of Tiberius left, PERM DIVI AVG COL ROM, Reverse: Bare heads of Germanicus and Drusus facing one another, DRVSVS CAESAR GERMANICVS CAESAR, References: ACIP 3361; RPC I 74; Burgos 2016; SNG Cop 422.
View Coin Sejanus ANCIENT - ROMAN PROVINCIAL (2nd CENT BC - 3rd CENT BC) SPAIN, BILBILIS Tiberius, AD 14-37 AE29 Tiberius+L.Aelius Sejanus AD 31.rv names of consuls NGC F Strike: 5/5 Surface: 2/5 Perhaps only nineteen examples exist of this coin, struck in the name of Lucius Aelius Sejanus (20 BC – 31 AD). On this particular specimen, Sejanus’ name is only barely visible, perhaps due to time’s ravages. It is also quite possible that the name was intentionally obliterated, compliant with Emperor Tiberius’ 31 AD desire to erase the very memory of his once-trusted Praetorian Prefect from all history. That imperial directive, known as damnatio memoriae evidently failed. Ample evidence has survived to chronicle Sejanus’ rise to power, descent into villainy, and ultimate fall from grace.

Like many Romans, Sejanus was obsessed with social status. As a young equestrian, he reportedly was a favorite of wealthy patrician and famous gastronomer Marcus Gavius Apicius. Sejanus forged his politico-military career in the footsteps of his father, Lucius Seius Strabo. During Augustus’ reign, Strabo rose to the position of Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, an elite military unit formed by the Emperor for his own personal protection. Over time, the Praetorians assumed responsibility beyond protecting the imperial family, including Rome’s general security and civil administration. By the time Sejanus succeeded his father as Praetorian Prefect, that position afforded to him the greatest amount of personal power he could ever reach as one of Rome’s equestrians. Furthermore, Sejanus enacted reforms that resulted in an even greater number of highly coordinated forces under his own personal command.

Over time, Sejanus progressively abused his growing power to secure his own position in the line for Rome’s throne. He had an adulterous affair with Livilla, wife of Tiberius’ son Drusus the Younger, for the purpose of recruiting her to help poison her own husband. It has been widely speculated, perhaps even by Emperor Tiberius, that Livilla’s twin sons, Tiberius and Germanicus Gemellus, were sired by Sejanus, rather than Drusus. Sejanus wanted to betroth the widowed Livilla (and thus achieve a marriage tie to patrician status), but Tiberius forbade the union at that time.

Around 26 AD, Tiberius departed Rome to reside on the island of Capri. Sejanus now had virtually supreme power in the Eternal City. Sejanus also influenced the governance of territories outside Rome; notoriously, he nominated Pontius Pilate to serve as Judaea's Prefect. Importantly, Sejanus had great control over the information flowing to and from his Emperor. During this time, Sejanus became even bolder towards removal of any threats to his power. He began a series of trials to eliminate those he deemed enemies, including senators and others of high status. The victims included potential imperial rival Gaius Asinius Gallus. Sejanus infamously betrayed Nero Caesar and Drusus Caesar, the two elder sons of Germanicus. He exiled the two Julio-Claudians dynasts, and both perished in prison. Thanks to Sejanus’ efforts, the list of claimants to Rome’s throne was growing thin. A notable survivor was Germanicus’ youngest son Caligula, who escaped by moving to the same island as his great uncle Tiberius.

In 31 AD, Sejanus reached the height of his power. He had largely eliminated any imperial competition. He was named co-consul, sharing the title with Tiberius. Sejanus’ new status was promoted on coins such as this one that were struck in the municipium of Augusta Bilbilis, located in Hispania. Sejanus even gained the Emperor’s permission to marry into the Julio-Claudian line (the bribe-to-be was either Livilla or her daughter Livia Julia).

Tiberius almost certainly suspected Sejanus’ perfidies, but had not yet taken any punitive action. Instead, the Emperor acknowledged his Praetorian Prefect’s efficiency as Rome’s administrator, even describing him as “the partner of my labors.” Tiberius had intentionally distanced himself from Rome’s political intrigues, and Sejanus clearly seized that opportunity. But then Sejanus wnt too far. He decided to target his Emperor, or at least evidence to this effect came into Tiberius’ possession. The bearer of that information was the Emperor’s sister-in-law Antonia, the most powerful Julio-Claudian matriarch at that time. One can only imagine her satisfaction at implicating the man who had inflected so much damage to her clan.

Tiberius finally set plans in motion to deal with his treacherous colleague. He summoned Sejanus to meet with the Senate. Perhaps the co-consul expected good news; instead he received a condemnation and was escorted to prison. Within days, Sejanus was executed, along with many of his family and followers. The reprisals against anyone tied to Sejanus were reportedly quite severe, and continued until Tiberius’ death in 37 AD.

Sejanus arguably ranks among the most notorious villains in history. However, the extent to which he manipulated Tiberius, or vice versa, is subject to interpretation. Antonia’s information notwithstanding, no hard evidence remains of Sejanus’ plans to overthrow his Emperor. Without doubt, Sejanus firmly established his Praetorian Guards as a powerful politico-military force that increasingly impacted Rome’s history, even to the extent of removal and replacement of its Emperor.

Coin Details: ROMAN PROVINCIAL, Tiberius and L. Aelius Sejanus, Æ As (28mm, 11.45 g, 12h), Struck AD 31 in Bilbilis, Spain, NGC Grade: F, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 2/5, Obverse: Laureate head of Tiberius right, TI CAESAR DIVI AVGVSTI F AVGVSTVS, Reverse: Large COS within wreath, MVN AVGVSTA BILBILIS TI CAESARE V L AELIO SEIANO, References: Burgos 196, SNG Copenhagen 620; ACIP 3024a; RPC I 398 (19 samples cited); Vagi 484.
View Coin Livilla ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Drusus, d.AD 23 AE Dupondius rv SC in inscription obv Livilla(?) as Pietas NGC Ch XF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 3/5 This ancient coin represents the sole issue attributed to Claudia Livia Julia (13? BC – 31 AD), more commonly known as Livilla or “little Livia,” differentiating her from grandmother, Augusta Livia Drusilla. Since the teenaged Livilla hailed from such noble lineage (the daughter of Nero Claudius Drusus and Antonia Minor), many aspiring dynasts sought to betroth her. In 1 BC, she married her second cousin, Gaius Caesar, at that time in-line to succeed his grandfather Augustus. Gaius died a few years later, leaving the widowed Livilla available once again. Subsequently, she wedded her first cousin, Drusus the Younger.

Clearly Livilla was ambitious, although no one recorded her feelings about her personal situation. Initially she served Drusus as a dutiful wife, and bore their daughter, Livia Julia. Over time, however, she grew apart from her husband. It is easy to imagine that a contributing factor was Drusus’ growing reputation for irritability, heavy drinking, and wagering on gladiator fights. In 19 AD, shortly after the tragic death of her brother Germanicus, Livilla presented mourning Rome a pleasant surprise: the birth of twin sons, Tiberius and Germanicus Gemellus. Owing the imperial couple’s malcontent, many Romans believed that, instead of Drusus, the twins’ true father was Livilla’s lover, Lucius Aelius Sejanus, commander of the Praetorian Guard.

Prominent among the skeptics was Livilla’s father-in-law and uncle, Emperor Tiberius. Even so, the Emperor wanted to foster a stable succession for his son Drusus. To this end, Tiberius struck coins, including this bronze dupondius in 22-23 AD. The verso inscription DRVSVS CAESAR TI AVGSTI F TR POT ITER, gives Drusus, the Caesar and son of Augustus Tiberius, credit for once again serving as tribunicia potestate, and encircles the letters S C, denoting senatus consulto, or by the decree of the Senate. The obverse bears a veiled, diademed, and draped female bust and the inscription PIETAS. Pietas represented the concept of duty, particularly duty to family, Rome, and the gods. The theme of Pietas wove intimately into Roman culture, dating as far back as the earliest legends of Italy’s settlement. Not surprisingly, Pietas appears frequently on ancient coinage issued in the name of Rome’s prominent women, including, in this particular case, Livilla. The current attribution, proposed a century ago but not discussed in older numismatic references, is presented cogently and convincingly in the source cited below.

The depiction of Livilla as Pietas is one of the most ironic examples of Roman numismatic propaganda, and that’s saying something. It is likely that Livilla not only had an adulterous affair with Sejanus (resulting in the twins), but also conspired to poison her husband and overthrow her father-in-law. In any case, her husband fell mysteriously ill and died soon after this coin debuted. Once again, Livilla was single, and she asked her father’s permission to marry Sejanus. Emperor Tiberius adamantly refused at that time, increasingly suspicious of wrongdoing - yet still lacking proof of perfidy. Afterwards, the Emperor moved to Capri, leaving Livilla free to continue her love affair with Sejanus, who grew increasingly influential back in Rome.

Several years later, Livilla and Sejanus announced their engagement, their nefarious plans apparently progressing towards fruition. However, it was not Livilla’s destiny to marry thrice. In 31 AD, Tiberius received evidence of Sejanus’ treacherous plans. His suspicions finally verified, the Emperor ordered Sejanus' execution. A bloody pogrom ensued, claiming many of Sejanus’ kin and supporters. Among the victims was Livilla, whose fate, according to some ancient sources, Tiberius left up to Antonia Minor, who watched her daughter starve to death.

Additional Reading: D L Vagi, Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, Vol I: History, 1999, p. 127.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Tiberius, AD 14-37, Æ Dupondius (30mm, 12.33 g, 12h), Rome mint, struck AD 22-23, NGC Grade: Ch XF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Veiled, diademed, and draped bust of Livilla as Pietas right, PIETAS, Reverse: DRVSVS CAESAR TI AVGSTI F TR POT ITER around large S C, References: Vagi 477; RIC I 43 (Tiberius); from the Olav E. Klingenberg Collection.
View Coin Tiberius Gemellus ANCIENT - ROMAN PROVINCIAL (2nd CENT BC - 3rd CENT BC) LYDIA, PHILADELPHIA Tiberius Gemellus(?) AE14 Tiberius. rv thunderbolt. AD 35-37 as co-heir of NGC F Strike: 5/5 Surface: 2/5 Based on the reverse inscription (NEOKA-ICAPE[IC]?), this extremely scarce and enigmatic bronze coin was struck in the ancient Asia Minor city of Neocaesarea, formerly known as Philadelphia. Further attribution grows more complex and less decisive. The lone obverse die employed for this issue appears damaged, resulting in an inscription notoriously difficult to read. Based on the letters postulated (CEBACTON), and subject to uncertainty, the bare-headed obverse bust represents Tiberius Gemellus (19 – 37 AD), the son of Drusus the Younger and Livilla, and the grandson of Emperor Tiberius.

Like Augustus before him, Tiberius grappled with the question of his own succession. By 35 AD, Tiberius had outlived a number of potential heirs, including his own son Drusus (the obvious first choice), grandson Germanicus Gemellus (Tiberius Gemellus’ twin brother) and great-nephews Drusus and Nero Caesars. Among the dwindling Julio-Claudian male dynasts, Tiberius was down to two heirs: his remaining great-nephew, Caligula, and Tiberius Gemellus. (At the time, the sickly and ostracized Claudius was not considered fit for the task.) Between the finalists, Tiberius Gemellus was ostensibly in Tiberius’ direct bloodline. However, the Emperor had serious doubts, suspecting that his Praetorian Prefect, rather than his son, was Gemellus’ true sire.

The Emperor grew very wary for Tiberius Gemellus, who, regardless of true parentage, shared the potential path to the throne along with his notoriously brutal and capricious cousin, Caligula. As a result, the Emperor’s waning years were anxious; at one point he reportedly put his arms around Tiberius Gemellus and lamented to Caligula, “You will kill him and another will kill you.

Apocryphal or not, the predication proved accurate.

Coin Details: LYDIA, Philadelphia (as Neocaesarea), Tiberius Gemellus(?), Caesar, AD 35-37, Æ (19mm, 2.54 g, 6h), NGC Grade: F, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 2/5, Obverse: Bare head right, TIBEPION CEBACTION (?), Reverse: Winged thunderbolt, NEOKA-ICAPE[IC] (?), References: RPC I, 3017; Vagi 480 (under Tiberius Gemellus; same obverse die as illustration).
View Coin Germanicus II Gemellus, with Tiberius Gemellus ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Tib. & Germ. Gemellus AE Sestertius AD 22/23, under Tiberius twins of Drusus & Livilla NGC VF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 2/5 Like his predecessor Augustus, Emperor Tiberius struggled with the question of his own succession. To this end, Tiberius rejoiced in 19 AD when his niece Julia Livilla gave birth to twin sons, Tiberius Julius Caesar Nero Gemellus (known as Tiberius Gemellus) and Tiberius Claudius Caesar Germanicus II Gemellus (known as Germanicus II Gemellus or Germanicus Gemellus). At the time, Livilla was married to the Emperor’s son, Drusus. As Tiberius’ grandsons, the twins were excellent imperial candidates. However, there was an issue. Many Romans, including the Emperor himself, suspected that the pair’s sire was Livilla’s adulterous lover, the Praetorian Prefect Sejanus.

Notwithstanding, Tiberius advertised his new grandsons on this iconic sestertius struck in 22-23 AD. The issue was one of several bronzes wherein Tiberius honored his clan members (as another example of a ‘family’ bronze, this collection also includes a dupondius attributed to Drusus and Livilla). As Rome’s largest regular denomination, sestertii provided a dramatic palette for numismatic propaganda. Specifically for this coin, its unknown architect choose an obverse depiction of a pair of crossed cornucopias, surmounted by busts of the imperial gemini.

The cornucopia was a prominent religious symbol in ancient times. According to one Greek myth, the infant Zeus played too roughly with his nurse-goat, Amalthea, detaching one of her horns. The nanny’s shorn horn subsequently served as an unending source of nourishment. To this day, the “horn of plenty” symbolizes related concepts such as abundance, productivity, and fertility.

Not surprisingly, the cornucopia promulgated as a popular numismatic motif. Examples include coinage issued by the Seleucid Kings of Syria and the Ptolemaic dynasts of Egypt. Judaean monarchs likewise featured the cornucopia on their coins, invoking the legendary richness of the ancient Holy Land of milk and honey. Particularly noteworthy are prutot issued by that realm’s most notorious client ruler, namely Herod the Great, portraying a caduceus between two cornucopia. Numerous Roman Republican and Roman Imperatorial coins (e.g., Julius Caesar) also featured cornucopias, and the theme persisted within Imperial Rome until at least early fifth century AD (e.g., coin-weights attributed to Honorius).

Regarding this particular sestertius, its obverse echoes the aforementioned Herodian prutot by pairing the pair of cornucopias with a caduceus (and a winged one, at that). The caduceus was the staff wielded by the divine messenger known to the Greeks as Hermes (Mercury, to the ancient Romans). As such, the caduceus exemplified interconnected concepts such as occupation, commerce, and negotiations – a perfect complement for the cornucopias. With the decree of Rome’s Senate, Emperor Tiberius employed this combined imagery to advertise the fecundity of his son Drusus, then exercising tribunician power for the second time, as indicated by the reverse inscription (S • C, encircled by DRVSVS CAESAR TI AVG F DIVI AVG N PONT TR POT II).

The impact of this sestertius on the average Roman can only be imagined, especially given the contemporaneous opinion that the twins were not sired by Drusus, but rather Livilla’s adulterous lover, Sejanus. In any case, infant Germanicus Gemellus never got the chance to lead Rome into a prosperous future. He died about a year after this sestertius’ debut, and his existence scarcely merits history’s attention.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Tiberius & Germanicus Gemellus, Æ Sestertius (34.5mm, 25.27 g, 1h), Rome mint, Struck under Tiberius, AD 22-23, NGC Grade: VF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 2/5, Obverse: Crossed cornucopias, each surmounted by bareheaded bust of a boy, vis-à-vis; vertical winged caduceus between, Reverse: Large S • C, DRVSVS CAESAR TI AVG F DIVI AVG N PONT TR POT II, Reference: RIC I 42 (Tiberius); Cohen 1; BMC 95.
View Coin Agrippina Sr. ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Agrippina Sr., d.AD 33 AE Sestertius rv SC within inscription posthumous under Claudius NGC Ch VF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5 Grasping a so-called “raw” ancient coin represents a direct physical connection - even if tenuous – with our distant past. For some collectors, that experience is not diminished, but even enhanced, after professional grading and encapsulation within a protective coin holder. Even so, there are others who excoriate the practice of so-called “slabbing” ancient coins. Of course, individual collectors must form their own opinion, based on their own preferences. Regarding this collection, most coins were procured raw, providing for the experience of direct handling prior to achieving ultimate security within an NGC Ancients protective holder. In the case of this bronze featuring Vipsania Agrippina (14 BC – 33 AD), the experience warrants recapitulation.

Foremost appreciated firsthand is denomination, in this instance, a bronze sestertius. Aside from occasionally-produced medallions, sestertii were the largest and heaviest of all Roman coins. This specimen’s mass and diameter are nearly 30 g and 40 mm, respectively. As such, it sits rather satisfactorily in one’s palm. This and other certain aspects, for instance the impressive edge, are arguably best appreciated via direct examination. In the final analysis - at least by its current owner’s estimation – this coin deserves the benefits gained by encapsulation. Arguably more so than in the raw state, this coin’s fine numismatic details simultaneously invoke a sense of dignity and tragedy, an appropriate combination considering Agrippina’s personal history.

Also referred to Agrippina I (additional monikers include the Elder, Major, or Sr.), she was the daughter of Agrippa (Augustus’ trusted friend and ally) and Julia (Augustus’ daughter and only biological child). In 4 AD, Agrippina married Germanicus, the eldest grandson of Augustus’ wife Livia. The pairing was apparently part of a broader arrangement whereby Germanicus was adopted by Livia’s son Tiberius, who, in turn, was adopted by Augustus. As such, Agrippina carried Rome’s hopes for the successful propagation of a joint dynasty comprising both Julian and Claudian clans.

For her part, Agrippina remained steadfastly devoted to her husband. She accompanied him on military campaigns, even to the far reaches of the Empire. Over the span of about a dozen years, she bore him no fewer than nine children, an impressive six of whom survived to adulthood: Nero Julius Caesar, Drusus Julius Caesar, Gaius (better known as Caligula), Agrippina Jr, Julia Drusilla, and Julia Livilla.

The elder Agrippina’s devotion continued even after her beloved husband’s demise. In 19 AD while stationed in Syria, Germanicus fell mysteriously ill and died. Agrippina arranged for a cremation at Antioch, and then personally delivered her former husband’s ashes to Rome. Her appearance caused much lamentation, for Agrippina was not the only Roman who dearly loved Germanicus, nor was she alone in believing he was the murder victim of Syrian governor Gnaeus Calpurnicus Piso. Agrippina did not relent in her demand for justice until Piso had been recalled to Rome and paid the consequences.

Agrippina suspected that her adoptive father-in-law Tiberius played a role in Germanicus’ murder, although she lacked sufficient evidence and influence to take direct action. At least, her mistrust led her to refuse consuming food at imperial dinner parties. She found herself in an increasingly precarious political situation. Notably, she sparred with Tiberius’ Praetorian Prefect, the infamous Sejanus. Having made enemies in such high places, Agrippina found herself the object of damaging allegations. Particularly ruinous was the accusation that she engaged in an adulterous affair with Gaius Asinius Gallus, one of the non-Julio-Claudian aspirants to Rome’s throne.

By 29 AD, the imperial defamation campaign had succeeded to the point of Agrippina’s arrest and subsequent banishment to the island of Pandateria. She remained there until her death some four years later. The time sufficed enough that Agrippina survived her two eldest sons, and their mutual tormentor, Sejanus.

Eventually, Agrippina’s reputation was rehabilitated, but only after her youngest son Caligula ascended Rome’s throne. In commemoration, Caligula issued a large volume of gold, silver, and bronze coinage featuring his deceased mother. Agrippina was also honored by her brother-in-law Claudius, who struck sesterii copying Caligula’s designs, including this coin. These portrait sestertii are of such fine workmanship that a seminal reference (cited below) considers them “a height in Julio-Claudian coin artistry.” Such artistry easily transcends clear plastic, even if some might draw parallels to the fate of this coin and its subject.

Additional Reading: D L Vagi, Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, in two volumes, 1999.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Agrippina Senior, Died AD 33, Æ Sestertius (37mm, 29.62 g, 6h), Rome mint, Struck under Claudius, AD 42-43, NGC Grade: Ch VF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Draped bust right, AGRIPPINA M F GERMANICI CAESARIS, Reverse: Large S • C, TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG GERM P M TR P IMP P P, References: RIC I 102 (Claudius); von Kaenel Type 78; BMC 219, Cohen 3.
View Coin Nero and Drusus Caesars ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Nero Caesar+Drusus Caesar AE Dupondius posthumous under Caligula died AD 30/1 & AD 33 NGC Ch VF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 3/5 The domestication of animals is one of the most impactful developments in all human history. An early example, Canis lupis, has appropriately earned the title “man’s best friend.” Another, particularly important case is the horse. In reciprocation for subdual, Equus has furnished us not only its companionship, but also dramatic advances in agriculture, transportation, and, of course, warfare.

The first unambiguous evidence for horse-powered war chariots is attributed to the ancient Sumerians around 2500 BC. Interestingly, the Sumerians were also at the technological cutting edge of agriculture and transportation, not to mention they invented writing. A millennium later, the Egyptians developed the yoke saddle, resulting in horse chariots with improved speed, mobility, and reliability. By the advent of the ancient Greeks, horses more commonly bore soldiers, rather than pulled chariots. Alexander the Great developed several specialized cavalry units, and his own personal stead (named Bucephalus) is the most famous military horse in history. Following the Greeks, the ancient Romans also used horses to pull chariots, especially racing ones, to the delight of crowds packing the Circus Maximus and similar venues throughout the realm. Of course, horses also carried Rome’s soldiers, and they became associated with the military aristocracy.

Not surprisingly, the horse frequently appears on ancient Roman coinage, often ridden by an Emperor or Caesar. The current, iconic coin provides a dramatic example. It is a bronze dupondius struck by Caligula posthumously honoring his brothers Drusus Julius Caesar Germanicus (7 – 33 AD) and Nero Julius Caesar Germanicus (6 – 31 AD). The obverse depicts the elder two sons of Germanicus and Agrippina Sr. riding horses side-by-side, their cloaks billowing behind them.

The chivalrous image clashes with the tragic history of two brothers. As children, they were held in great esteem; after all, their father was one of Rome’s greatest all-time war heroes. However, when Germanicus mysteriously died in 19 AD (many suspected poison), the situation turned precarious. Whether they were interested or not, Nero Caesar and Drusus Caesar were legitimate candidates to succeed Emperor Tiberius, who was keen to see his own direct bloodline retain Rome’s throne.

To strengthen his standing among the Claudian branch of the Julio-Claudians, Nero Caesar married Tiberius’ granddaughter, Livia Julia. The strategy backfired, since Livia Julia apparently used her position to defame her husband, probably in collaboration with her mother Livilla and her mother's adulterous lover, Lucius Aelius Sejanus. The conniving Praetorian prefect Sejanus, preferring his own imperial designs, brought about the brothers' downfall. Sejanus perhaps even convinced Drusus Caesar to betray his brother, contributing to the latter’s arrest in 29 AD. Subsequently, Nero Caesar was exiled to the Pontian Islands, where he died several years later, perhaps a forced suicide.

Drusus Caesar’s fate proved no less tragic. Presumably, his alliance with Sejanus was a desperate attempt at self-preservation, not to mention the Praetorian prefect probably promised to lead him to Rome’s throne. Instead, Sejanus arrested Drusus Caesar on trumped up charges and led him to jail. The eldest living son of Germanicus was held in the Palatine Dungeons, and remained there even after Sejanus was finally paid the price for his own treachery (Tiberius ordered his execution in 31 AD). Drusus Caesar wasted away, and eventually died from starvation.

Surviving Nero and Drusus Caesar was Caligula, now the last living male directly descended from Augustus. As such, Caligula ascended Rome's throne after Tiberius died in 37 AD. The ancient Roman historian Suetonius reported that Emperor Caligula gave Tiberius a grand funeral, then proceeded to personally retrieve the ashes of his brothers, as well as his mother, Agrippina Sr. (who also died while being held Tiberius’ prisoner). Caligula arranged for his relative’s ashes to traverse Rome’s busy streets, proudly carried by the most distinguished men of the order of knights, to be inurned within Augustus’ Mausoleum.

Given Suetonius’ narrative, it is straightforward to comprehend Caligula’s decision to produce this commemorative coin, and the design he choose to strike upon it. Caligula longed for Rome, if not for himself, to remember his brothers as gallant equestrians. While it is difficult to know for certain, Nero Caesar and Drusus Caesar were probably experienced horsemen, as was Caligula. Caligula’s own horse, Incitatus (meaning “quick,” as in a horse at full gallop), reportedly lived quite the pampered lifestyle: residing in a marble stable, donning purple blankets, and feeding upon oats mixed with gold flake. Caligula even planned to promote Incitatus as Roman consul. While convenient to blame the Emperor’s madness, such actions mocked the Senate that had wronged his brethren.

Caligula and the ancient Romans were not unique in their fondness for the horse. Many of Rome’s enemies were also expert equestrians. Several Julio-Claudian Emperors grappled with the Parthians, who mastered the highly impressive ability to shoot arrows while retreating at a full gallop. The Parthian’s successors, the Sassanids, employed a highly armored and effective cavalry known as the Cataphracts. In mid first millennium AD, a great migration of barbarian tribes threatened the Empire, many of whom rode horses. Attila and his infamous Huns, for example, virtually lived on horseback, and the ancient poet Sidonius likened them to centaurs. The notorious Vandals were also expert horsemen, although their most famous king, Gaiseric, injured from a horse accident, decided to threaten Rome by sea instead. He sacked the Eternal City in 455 AD, hastening Italy’s descent into barbaricum soon thereafter. The old Roman Empire transformed into a new one centered in Byzantium, and endured another millennium. Aptly, Equus appears at the Empire’s last vestige, when Memhet II, after successfully besieging Constantinople, rode his stead through the city’s gate.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Nero & Drusus Caesar, Died AD 31 and 33, respectively, Æ Dupondius (28mm, 15.83 g, 6h), Rome mint, Struck under Gaius (Caligula) in AD 37-38, NGC Grade: Ch VF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Nero and Drusus Caesar on horseback riding right, cloaks flying behind them, NERO ET DRVSVS CAESARES, Reverse: C CAESAR AVG GERMANICVS PON M TR POT around large S • C, References: RIC I 34 (Gaius), Cohen 1.
View Coin Antonia ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Antonia, d.AD 37 AE Dupondius Western 'branch mint'(?) posthumous under Claudius NGC XF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5 It is remarkable how often reference to the “remarkable court” of Antonia Minor (36 BC – 37 AD) appears in the biographies of her contemporaries. Specifically, she supervised the upbringing of many children belonging to Roman patrician and foreign royal families. The Empire’ allies, client states, and even rivals had their princes and princesses educated in Rome. The list is indeed remarkable: Armenia (e.g., Tigranes V), Commagene (e.g., Antiochus IV), Egypt (e.g., Cleopatra Selene II), Judaea (e.g., Agrippa I), Mauretania (e.g., Ptolemy), Parthia (e.g., Vonones I), Pontus (e.g., Antonia Tryphaena), and Thrace (e.g., Pythodoris II), just to name a few.

From an early age, it seemed Antonia’s destiny to become an important matron of the ancient world. She never knew her father, Marc Antony, who divorced her mother, Octavia, when Antonia was four years old. Two years later, Antonia’s father committed suicide following his defeat at the legendary Battle of Actium. Consequently, Antonia grew up in the court of her uncle Octavian and Aunt Livia, amid an eclectic group of foreign and Roman royalty, including a sister (Antonia Major), half siblings from her mother’s previous marriage to Gaius Claudius Marcellus (Marcella Major, Marcella Minor, and Marcus Marcellus), half siblings from her father’s relationship with Cleopatra VII (Alexander Helios, Cleopatra Selene II, and Ptolemy Philadelphos), and a half sibling from her father’s previous marriage to Fulvia (Iullus Antonius). Young Antonia was exposed to various cultures, including instruction from renowned Greek philosophers. Beyond academics, she learned the etiquette and customs of an aristocrat. Antonia’s uncle Octavian, who earned the title of Augustus when he became Rome’s first Emperor in 27 BC, assigned her money from her father’s Italian estate. She also inherited many of her father’s social and business relationships in the East, not to mention properties in Egypt and Greece. Certainly, Antonia grasped the tools to effectively run a culturally complex imperial household.

Antonia married her step-cousin, Nero Claudius Drusus, who was Livia’s son from her previous marriage. Nero Claudius Drusus was a renowned general who attained quaestorship five years before the usual legal age. By all accounts, Antonia and Drusus were deeply in love and remained faithful to one another (a notable achievement for Rome’s aristocracy) until Drusus’ tragic death in 9 BC. Antonia never remarried, despite pressure from her uncle Augustus, who died in 14 AD and was succeeded by Nero Claudius Drusus’ brother, Tiberius.

Three of Antonia’s children survived to adulthood: Germanicus, Livilla, and Claudius. Like his father, Germanicus earned fame as a potent military commander until his tragic death while still in his prime years. Livilla’s destiny proved rather less heroic. She entered into an adulterous affair with Emperor TIberius’ Praetorian Prefect, the infamous Sejanus. Livilla conspired with Sejanus to murder her husband, Tiberius’ son Drusus the Younger. Moreover, Livilla and Sejanus apparently had designs to eliminate the Emperor himself. Considering the rather extensive purge of Julio-Claudian dynasts around this time, one can only imagine Antonia’s satisfaction when she obtained proof of Sejanus’ plans and personally presented the information to her brother-in-law. The Emperor ordered Sejanus’ execution, but he left Livilla’s fate up to Antonia. Remarkably, Antonia decided to lock up her daughter in her room until she starved to death. Such sentencing may seem incongruous for a gracious Roman matron, yet consider Antonia’s own personal history, in particular her father’s betrayal of her mother. Antonia also treated her surviving son, Claudius, with tough love, criticizing his physical impairments and even calling him “…a monster of a man, not finished but merely begun by Dame Nature.” It is interesting to note Antonia’s words promoted the public perception of Claudius’ ineptitude, likely a contributing factor to his survival amid the mysterious, untimely demise of numerous Julio-Claudian males.

Antonia’s no-nonsense approach to dealing with her own clan extended to her relationship with her grandson Caligula, who ascended Rome’s throne after Tiberius’ death in 37 AD. For the first few weeks of Caligula’s reign, he granted his grandmother many honors, including the privileges of Vestal Virgins and appointment as priestess of Augustus. Caligula even bestowed Antonia the title of Augusta, although she may have eschewed it. Apparently, the relationship between Antonia and her grandson soured several months into Caligula’s reign. It was around this time that Caligula fell ill, and upon his recovery began to exhibit an increasing madness. Antonia tried to counsel Caligula, but he declined to follow her advice. Caligula soon refused to even grant his grandmother an audience; moreover, he began to threaten her. If anyone knew Caligula’s potential for succumbing to his dark side it was Antonia; after all, she raised him, and reportedly even caught him violating his sister Drusilla while he was still a minor. Antonia, now in her early seventies, protested in her own fashion. By most accounts, she took her own life, although some sources cite poisoning by Caligula. In any case, Caligula did not honor his grandmother’s memory; he refused to attend her funeral, instead viewing her burning pyre from afar.

Sadly for Antonia, she missed the chance to see her surviving son Claudius ascend Rome’s throne after Caligula’s murder. Early into Claudius’ reign, he honored his mother posthumously on provisional and imperial coinage. The handful of imperial issues comprise denominations in various metals, including this bronze dupondius struck in Rome around 41-42 AD. The obverse prominently features Augusta Antonia’s draped bust, whereas Claudius appears on the coin’s verso as a togate figure holding a simpulum (a ladle used at sacrifices to make libations).

On this particular coin, Antonia’s strong features – almost masculine – manifest her unyielding demeanor and efforts to promote the Roman Empire’ succession. Antonia’s imperial lineage truly impresses: niece of Augustus, grandmother of Emperor Caligula and Empress Agrippina the Younger, mother of Emperor Claudius, not to mention maternal great-grandmother and paternal great-aunt of Emperor Nero. Equally impressive was Antonia’s impact on those not necessarily related to her by blood, i.e., the staggering array of foreign princes and princess who spent their formative years under her authority. Indeed, Antonia played a remarkable role in propagating Rome’s culture and political influence throughout the ancient world.

Additional reading: N. Kokkinos, Antonia Augusta: Portrait of a Great Roman Lady, 1993.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Antonia Minor, Augusta, Æ Dupondius (26.5mm, 10.61 g, 1h), Rome mint, Struck under Claudius, AD 41-42, NGC Grade: XF, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Draped bust right, ANTONIA AVGVSTA, Reverse: Claudius standing left, holding simpulum, TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR P IMP, S-C across field, References: RIC I 92 (Claudius); von Kaenel Type 59, BMCRE 166 (Claudius); BN 143 (Claudius); Cohen 6.
View Coin Caligula ANCIENT - ROMAN PROVINCIAL (2nd CENT BC - 3rd CENT BC) SPAIN, CARTHAGO NOVA Caligula, AD 37-41 AE28 rv SAL AVG; hd. of Salus NGC Ch VF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5 Caligula (12 – 41 AD) was Rome’s most notorious Emperor, and that’s saying something. History paints him as a megalomaniacal monster, ordering capricious murders, engaging in wild decadences, and squandering Rome’s precious resources. Looking beyond the negatively biased ancient records, the possibility of another Caligula emerges - the tormented survivor of a vicious pogrom and a near-death experience, fervently promoting his own interests to bring Rome into a new Golden Age. Incongruity notwithstanding, both viewpoints provide a suitable backdrop for contemplating this ancient Roman provincial coin.

This coin originated in Carthago Nova, a strategically important Hispanic port under Rome’s influence since the Punic wars, and established as a colony by Julius Caesar. At the time of this coin’s strike (circa 37 AD), Carthago Nova and the rest of the Empire bowed to Caligula, still within his inaugural ruling year. Up until that time, Rome’s third Emperor proved relatively popular. He presumably earned sympathy, if not respect, for ascending the throne amidst the downfall of numerous other succession candidates, including brothers Nero and Drusus Caesars. Caligula also survived the tragic death of his father, the beloved general Germanicus, and his mother, Agrippina Sr. The obverse bust on this provincial bronze bears the inscription C CAESAR AVG GERMANIC IMP P M TR P COS, advertising that Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was among the few remaining males with both Julian and Claudian blood. Reinforcement of that branding was meaningful among Romans who identified their Emperor as Caligula, or “little boots,” a childhood nickname affectionately proffered by Rome’s troops.

Early in his reign, Caligula garnered approval for demonstrating his pietas, paying respects to the imperial family. After hosting an extensive funeral for his predecessor (and adoptive grandfather) Tiberius, the newly ascended Emperor proceeded to personally retrieve the ashes of his brothers and mother, all of whom perished in exile thanks to imperial treachery. The new Emperor arranged for his relatives’ ashes to traverse Rome’s busy streets, proudly carried by the most distinguished men of the order of knights, to be inurned within Augustus’ Mausoleum. Furthermore, Caligula struck coinage, including artistic portrait sestertii honoring his mother, and another portraying his two brothers on horseback, as featured elsewhere in this collection. Caligula also honored living relatives on coinage, including remarkable sestertii featuring his three sisters Agrippina Jr, Julia Livilla, and Julia Drusilla, also featured elsewhere in this collection.

If ancient accounts are accurate, Caligula’s love for his sisters extended to the point of incest. In particular, he was fond of Drusilla, often described as his “favorite.” According to at least one historical source, whose negative bias must be carefully considered, Caligula violated Drusilla even before she came of age. Reportedly, their incestuous relationship continued even after Drusilla wedded her first husband, a marriage arranged by Emperor Tiberius in 33 AD. Caligula disapproved that union, dissolving it in 37 AD after ascending Rome’s throne. For a time, Drusilla became a regular member of the imperial household and she exclusively held the female position of honor at the Emperor’s banquet table. Understandably, such treatment further fueled the rumors of incest. While it is possible that Caligula’s actions were driven by lust, an alternative theory cites the Emperor’s desire to pattern his relationship with Drusilla and his other sisters after the Ptolemaic dynasts, wherein the union between jointly ruling brothers and sisters was tradition rather than turpitude.

Caligula strove to provide the Empire with an heir. His first wife, Junia Claudilla, died while delivering Caligula’s first child (the child died as well), and he divorced his second wife, Livia Orestilla, the day after the wedding. The succession question grew particularly pressing when the Emperor fell seriously ill in 37 AD. Indicative of the realm’s uncertainty, the current coin’s reverse features Salus, the Roman goddess of health and safety, accompanied by SAL-AVG, a prayer for Caligula’s return to good health. As a precaution, the childless Caligula revised his imperial will designating Drusilla as heir, the first time a woman was thus named. Presumably, the Emperor intended to propagate his dynasty through any children borne by Drusilla with her second husband, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, a union arranged by Caligula himself.

As Fortuna would have it, Caligula indeed recovered, and it was Drusilla who fell ill, and died in 38 AD. The devastated Caligula honored his sister with the posthumous title of Panthea, the first time a Roman woman had ever been deified. Thereafter, history increasingly records Caligula as a cruel and unstable despot. Likely contributing to that descent was the uncovering of a treasonous plot by Agrippina and Livilla, who were subsequently sent into exile.

The extent of Caligula’s progressive mental instability - illness-induced or otherwise - continues to generate lively debate among modern historians. Unquestionably, Caligula viewed himself as a god, whose power over the Senate was absolute. Apparently, the list of Caligula’s murder victims was as extensive as it was illustrious: grandmother Antonia, cousin and princeps iuventutis Tiberius Gemellus, Praetorian Prefect Macro Naevius Sutorius, widowed brother-in-law Lepidus, and distant cousin King Ptolemy of Mauretania, just to name a few. Often cited as an instance of madness, Caligula appointed his favorite horse, Incitatus, to the Senate; alternatively, the act served to mock the institution that had wronged him and his kin. In another infamous example, Caligula mustered Rome’s fleet to invade Britannia’s shores, only to order his men to collect seashells, exploiting the exoskeletal booty as evidence of conquering Neptune.

Caligula turned increasingly cruel and capricious. Moreover, and arguably more importantly, his actions increasingly drained Rome’s coffers and created political instability abroad. As an example of the latter, Caligula ignited riots in Judaea when he demanded that a statue of his own likeness be erected in the temple of Jersusalem; only the actions of local rulers, particularly Herod Agrippa, prevented wider spread revolt at the time.

No matter for Caligula, who deemed it his prerogative to enact punitive taxes, resort to extortion, and confiscate other citizen’s private assets. As the situation spiraled out of control, Caligula became increasingly paranoid, seeing potential plots surrounding him. He lashed out without mercy, whether his suspicions were reasonable or not.

In 41 AD, Caligula’s conspiracy fears were realized. Demonstrating a resolve foreshadowing centuries to come, an apprehensive Praetorian Guard murdered Caligula, along with his fourth and final wife, Milonia Caesonia, and their young daughter, Julia Drusilla. The young Empire faced its first succession crisis, quickly resolved when the Praetorians put forth Caligula’s uncle Claudius as the only surviving member of the Julio-Claudian line with a legitimate claim to the throne.

Even though Caligula’s reign was relatively brief compared to his predecessors, his legacy proved no less enduring. Besides scurrilous stories sensationalized to this day, Caligula left behind a rich and interesting coinage. This bronze is of particular interest, contemporaneous with Caligula’s metamorphosis into a monster, even if the extent of monstrosity is subject to historical interpretation.

“Caligula Unmasked: an Investigation of the Historiography of Rome's Most Notorious Emperor,” J Bissler, 2013.

Coin Details: SPAIN, Carthago Nova, Gaius (Caligula), AD 37-41, Æ As (28mm, 12.20 g, 11h), Cn. Atellius Flaccus and Cn. Pompeius Flaccus, duoviri, NGC Grade: Ch VF, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Laureate head of Gaius (Caligula) right, C CAESAR AVG GERMANIC IMP P M TR P COS, Reverse: Draped bust of Salus right, CN ATEL FLAC CN POM FLAC II VIR Q V I N C, SAL-AVG across field, References: ACIP 3155; RPC I 185.
View Coin Antiochus IV of Commagene ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) KINGS OF COMMAGENE Antiochus IV, AD 38-72 AE25 rv scorpion in wreath NGC Ch XF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5 The richest of all subject-kings.

Thusly was considered Antiochus IV (before 17 AD – after 72 AD), whose veins carried the blood of the Seleucid sovereigns. His parents ruled Commagene, an ancient realm located in southwestern Asia Minor. When Antiochus’s father died in 17 AD, Commagene fell into turmoil, its citizens divided on whether to remain independent or bow to Rome’s rule. Both pro-Roman and pro-independence factions sent representatives to plead with Emperor Tiberius directly. After considering both delegations, Tiberius absorbed Commagene into the Roman province of Syria.

Consequently, young Antiochus grew up in Rome, raised within the remarkable court of Antonia Minor. He grew up amid an eclectic mix of Roman aristocracy and princes and princesses of the surrounding lands. Among his companions was sister Iotapa, who became his wife in the tradition of the royal parents. From ancient accounts it would seem young Antiochus had a penchant for profligacy. His close comrades included Herod Agrippa I, with whom - according to ancient historian Cassius Dio – he taught tyranny to none other than future Emperor Caligula. After the latter ascended Rome’s throne, he restored Antiochus’ kingdom. Commagene celebrated not only the return of their king, but also payment of 100 million sesterces for two decades of income lost to the Empire! Perhaps Caligula’s largesse can be chalked up to eccentricity; in any case, Antiochus’ crown was inexplicably revoked sometime before the Emperor’s murder. No matter for Antiochus, who apparently was even friendlier with Caligula’s successor, Claudius. Not only was Antiochus soon back in business as Commagene’s king, he also substantially lengthened his name to Gaius Julius Antiochus IV Epiphanes (the latter cognomen signifying “glorious”). Importantly, Commagene’s king appears to have been adopted into Claudius’ clan.

Antiochus’ status was also proclaimed on ancient Commagenian coinage. On this particular bronze struck in 1st century AD Samosata, Antiochus’s compelling obverse portrait is accompanied by the epithet ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΣ, denoting Great King Antiochus. In Greco-Roman fashion, Antiochus’ bust bears a diadem, rather than the Armenian tiara featured on his forebear’s coins. On the coin’s verso, a scorpion appears within a wreath, along with an inscription denoting Antiochus’ realm.

Feared in ancient times as they are today, scorpions deliver powerful and painful stings. Some species wield deadly poison. The scorpion as a symbol to instill fear dates back to at least ancient Greece; Hoplites bore scorpions on the shields, inspiring fear among their enemies. Early coinage across Asia Minor also employed the motif of the predatory arachnid, including a fanciful creature comprising features of both lion and scorpion. Ancient Rome’s Praetorian guard adopted the scorpion as their main emblem. Interestingly, the Praetorians rose to prominence under the infamous prefect Sejanus, who served Emperor Tiberius, whose birth sign was Scorpio. With regards to ancient Commagene and its demesne, both Scorpio and Leo (including its brightest star, Regulus) were important constellations.

Beyond numismatic symbolism, scorpions were used in ancient times for military purposes. In late 2nd century AD, ancient Parthians used scorpions to successfully defend the city of Hatra against Emperor Septimus Severus’ siege. The crafty Parthians wielded a new, biological weapon: enormous projectile clay clots that disintegrated upon impact to release thousands of live scorpions. One can only imagine the horror among those receiving the rather angry creatures. Even more mindboggling is imagining the resources and project management required to develop such a weapon in ancient times.

Although there is no evidence Antiochus ever used scorpions offensively, Commagene’s king certainly had a potent military force. He used it to aid Rome on numerous occasions, including suppressing an uprising in Cilicia toward the end of Emperor Claudius’ reign, and supporting his successor Nero’s fight against those promoting Armenian succession. For his efforts, Antiochus’ wealth was expanded even further; he was awarded part of Armenia in 61 AD. After Rome plunged into civil war around 70 AD, Antiochus supported the rise of Emperor Vespasian. Commagene’s king deployed a force led by his son Epiphanes to aid Vespasian’s son, the future Emperor Titus, crush a Judaean uprising.

Despite faithful service for over three decades, Antiochus’ imperial career unraveled in 72 AD over suspected sympathies with Parthia. Consequently, Vespasian annexed Commagene into the Roman province of Syria. Commagene’s last king lived the rest of his years in accustomed luxury, finally retiring to the Eternal City of his childhood.

Coin Details: KINGS OF COMMAGENE, Antiochos IV Epiphanes (38-72), AE (26 mm, 14.55g), Samosata mint, NGC Grade: Ch XF, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Diademed and draped bust right, BAΣIΛΕΥΣ MΕΓΑΣ ANTIOXOΣ, Reverse: Scorpion within wreath; diadem above, KOMMAΓHNON, References: RPC I 3857; BMC 8-10.
View Coin Ptolemy of Mauretania ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) KINGDOM OF MAURETANIA Ptolemy, c.AD 21-40 AR Denarius rv club in wreath yr.20 (AD 40) NGC AU Strike: 4/5 Surface: 4/5 It’s probably unwise to upstage your boss, especially if he is a sadistic, megalomaniacal dictator. As a case example, consider Ptolemy, once ruler of Mauretania, one of many ancient kingdoms subservient to Rome’s Emperor, who at the time happened to be Caligula.

Ptolemy’s father was Juba II, the Numidian dynast famously captured by Julius Caesar. While growing up in Rome, Juba developed a strong friendship with Caesar’s heir Octavian, later known as Augustus. The latter restored Juba as Mauretania’s client ruler, and arranged his marriage to Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Marc Antony and Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt. Sometime before 5 BC, the royal couple gave birth to Ptolemy, who was sent to Rome for schooling. Ptolemy grew up in the remarkable court of his aunt Antonia Minor, alongside young Roman aristocrats as well as princes and princesses from the surrounding lands.

Besides an eclectic mix of Mediterranean ancestry, Ptolemy inherited Mauretania’s throne. Like his father before him, Ptolemy distinguished himself as Rome’s military ally, earning the title Rex, socius et amicus populi Romani or King, ally, and friend of the Roman people. Under Ptolemy’s rule, Mauretania prospered, and its high-end goods (particularly textiles and woods) were highly coveted. Like his father, Ptolemy exhibited a passion for the arts, learning, and literature. He maintained strong ties to his Hellenistic roots, promoting his country — and himself — while traveling extensively abroad, placing his own statues in high-profile locales such as Athens’ famed Acropolis.

Ptolemy also struck coins, including this silver denarius. The obverse depicts his diademed bust with the epithet REX, the same title originally borne by Rome’s ancient kings. Compared to his father’s coinage, Ptolemy’s tend to be cruder in design and lighter in mass, yet combining a similar blend of interesting cultural elements. The reverse of this particular coin features a club within a wreath. Dating back to Ptolemy’s forebears, this motif was associated with the Phoenician deity Melqart, whose identity assimilated into the divine Greek hero Heracles (Hercules, to the Romans). Characteristic of Ptolemy’s coins, this particular specimen is rare. Indeed, it is likely unique and among the last ever struck by Ptolemy — or any other Numidian king for that matter.

Early in the same year that this coin was struck (40 AD), Ptolemy was summoned to Rome by his distant cousin, Emperor Caligula, and subsequently imprisoned and executed. In the aftermath, Mauretania staged a bloody revolt that lasted several years. Rome finally regained control during the reign of Caligula’s successor (Claudius), who absorbed Mauretania into the Empire as two separate provinces.

According to ancient historian Suetonius, Caligula’s disaffection stemmed from Ptolemy’s attire. Specifically, the Emperor took umbrage that Ptolemy dared to strut around Rome in a purple colored robe. Such a robe was wildly rare and expensive. At the time, its production required the painstaking extraction of purple dye from many thousands of murex sea snails. Presumably, Ptolemy was well aware of his robe’s bling factor. The Numidian kings of old were famous for their extremely high-quality purple robes, and forbade anyone else from wearing that color, particularly in their royal presence.

Regarding the ancient Romans, they had many customs relating attire, social status, and public venue. Augustus, keen on spurring a religious revival, reinforced such regulations. After Augustus’ death, observance of the official garment guidelines apparently declined. His successor, Tiberius (who was Ptolemy’s first cousin) noticed that many Roman aristocrats had fallen off the carpentum, daring to sport purple clothing even in public. According to ancient historian Cassius Dio, Tiberius set an example by wearing a dark woolen cloak at a public festival. After that, no one dared to publically don purple, since they risked effectively declaring themselves above the Emperor.

Even so, Suetonius alleges that Ptolemy dared to wear purple, and paid the ultimate price for his pomposity. Doubt exists among modern scholars regarding Suetonius’ account since it reflects a known, notoriously negative bias. Another ancient source, namely historian Cassius Dio, states that Ptolemy was executed because he was rich, not necessarily contradicting Suetonius’ tale. If not a purple robe, Ptolemy probably wore a purple or golden paludamentum, a cape fastened at the shoulders, commonly worn by military commanders. Reportedly, Ptolemy was gifted such military regalia by Tiberius as a reward for helping Rome suppress rebellious Berber tribes. Thus, Ptolemy’s attire was a walking advertisement of his military accomplishments. By comparison, Emperor Caligula failed to achieve any substantial military victories for himself. In any case, Ptolemy’s presence projected vast wealth, military prowess and political prestige, all of which Caligula understandably might have viewed as a legitimate imperial threat and/or insult.

Alternate, noteworthy hypotheses have been proposed for Caligula’s action against Ptolemy. For example, the Emperor may have suspected Ptolemy in a conspiracy against his life. Another view cites Caligula’s increasing obsession with Egyptian customs and culture, and jealousy over Ptolemy’s marriage to chief priestess of the Emperor’s most cherished deity, Isis. Yet another theory is especially hair-raising. Caligula was highly sensitive about his premature baldness; he was known to order men whose long hair offended him to be shaved. Ptolemy, though twice the Emperor’s age, sported a luxurious head of hair. Drawing again from the account of Seutonius, Rome’s crowds responded to Ptolemy’s appearance by hailing the Mauretanian king as the ‘true Caesar.’ Interestingly, the Latin noun caesariei denotes long or luxuriant hair, and its owner can be referred to with the adjective caesariatus. The opportunity for punning was obvious, and, given the circumstances of an anonymous, emboldened mob, arguably irresistible. In such a scenario, one can imagine Ptolemy’s seemingly patronizing attempt to dissuade the Emperor from punishing the unruly crowd. No doubt, the Emperor would have been most displeased.

Additional Reading: D Woods, “Caligula, Ptolemy of Mauretania, and the danger of long hair,” 2005.

Coin Details: KINGS of MAURETANIA, Ptolemy, AD 24-40, AR Denarius (14.5mm, 2.04 g, 12h), Dated RY 20 (AD 40), NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Diademed head right, REX [PTOLEMAEVS], Reverse: Upright club, RA XX (date) across field, all within wreath, References: Unpublished, but cf. Mazard 430–5 for this type with earlier dates; Apparently unique type with this date.
View Coin Drusilla, with Agrippina Jr, Julia Livilla, and Caligula ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Caligula, AD 37-41 AE Sestertius Drusilla & Julia Livilla rv sisters Agrippina Jr., NGC Ch F Strike: 4/5 Surface: 2/5 This ancient bronze bears the obverse bust of Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known to history as Caligula, who, despite - or perhaps owing to – infamy remains a very popular Roman Emperor, at least among ancient coin hobbyists. This particular issue is noteworthy since the reverse features Caligula’s three sisters: Agrippina Sr. as the goddess Securitas, Julia Livilla as the goddess Fortuna, and Julia Drusilla (16 – 38 AD) as the goddess Concordia. Apocryphal or not, ancient histories describe Caligula’s incestuous escapades with his sistren. Given the combination of rarity, fascination, and historical significance, it is no wonder that this particular sestertius ranks among the most notorious of all Roman imperial issues.

This coin was struck in Rome, early in Caligula’s reign (circa 37-38 AD) concurrently with other issues wherein Rome’s youngest-ever Augustus honored various family members. In this fashion, Caligula advertised not only his personal pietas (devotion to relatives, and by extension, to his fellow Romans), but also his roots to the powerful Julian and Claudian clans. Beyond coinage, Caligula also decreed religious celebrations honoring his relatives, including the birthdays of each of his three sisters featured on this coin. These actions set Caligula apart from his predecessor Tiberius, who earned criticism for not properly honoring the domus divina (the imperial family). Caligula’s public display of devotion to his sisters, as well as other female family members, was particularly unusual.

Among Caligula’s unparalleled actions was striking this coin, the first imperial issue to feature and identify living Roman women by name. Given the dynastic struggles resulting in Caligula’s succession, the numismatic depiction of the sisters is particularly striking. Specifically, the three women form a harmonious triad, their complementary, contrapposto forms donning similar if not identical trappings (drapery, coiffure, etc.). Each sister/goddess holds a cornucopia. While the grouping invites comparisons to male triumvirates of previous generations, more appropriate analogies are drawn with the Parcae (the Fates) or the Gratiae (the Graces). In any case, the imagery on this coin - similarly to inclusion of the sisters’ names in public oaths and religious ceremonies – served as a reminder of the sibling’s standing within the imperial dynasty and their role in securing the Empire’s future.

Among the three sisters, Drusilla is widely described as Caligula’s favorite. According to at least one historical source, whose negative bias must be carefully considered, Caligula violated Drusilla even before she came of age. Reportedly, their incestuous relationship continued even after Drusilla wedded her first husband, Lucius Cassius Longinus. That marriage was arranged for Drusilla by her adoptive grandfather, Emperor Tiberius, in 33 AD. Caligula disapproved that union, dissolving it in 37 AD after ascending Rome’s throne. For a time, Drusilla became a regular member of the imperial household and she exclusively held the female position of honor at the Emperor’s banquet table. Understandably, such treatment further fueled the rumors of incest. While it is possible that Caligula’s actions were driven by lust, an alternative theory cites the Emperor’s desire to pattern his relationship with Drusilla and his other sisters after the Ptolemaic dynasts, wherein the union between jointly ruling brothers and sisters was tradition rather than turpitude.

Caligula, childless and in failing health at the time, arranged for Drusilla’s second marriage to Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Caligula also revised his imperial will designating Drusilla as heir, the first time a woman was thus named. Presumably, Caligula intended to propagate his dynasty through any children borne by Drusilla. Although history did not record Drusilla’s opinion, marital re-arrangement for the perceived benefit of the Empire’s future was standard practice (for instance, Augustus carried out this strategy more than once, regardless of the marital preferences held by the involved parties).

As it turned out, Caligula recovered, and it was Drusilla who fell ill, and died in 38 AD. The loss devastated Caligula, both emotionally and dynastically. He deified Drusilla, providing her the posthumous title of Panthea, akin to denoting her as Rome’s universal goddess. It was the first time that a Roman woman had ever been deified (despite popular public opinion, Tiberius declined to honor his mother Livia in such a fashion). Caligula’s consecration of his sister probably stemmed from an unwillingness to accept the finality of her death, and/or an attempt at dynastic damage control. Consequently, Drusilla’s name and visage endured as Diva Drusilla Panthea. The latter epithet also afforded association with other deities. In particular, celebrations of Drusilla’s birthday took the same form as the orgiastic Megalesia honoring Cybele, the ancient Phrygian Mother of the Gods conscripted to protect Rome during the Second Punic War.

Regrettably, Drusilla’s legacy suffers collateral damage with her brother’s. Owing to the strong negative bias of ancient accounts, modern-day books and films tend to focus on her as the object of Caligula’s purported sexual perversions. A more complex - if not more favorable - view of Drusilla emerges when one contemplates all the surviving evidence. Such artifacts include this notorious “3-sisters Caligula sestertius”, a poignant reminder of the honor and respect that Drusilla garnered during her lifetime, even if it was primarily based on her potential to propagate the imperial bloodline.

Additional Reading: “Diva Drusilla Panthea and the Sisters of Caligula,” S. Wood, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 99, No. 3 (Jul., 1995), pp. 457-482.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Gaius (Caligula), AD 37-41, Æ Sestertius (33mm, 23.83 g, 6h), Rome mint, Struck AD 37-38, NGC Grade: Ch F, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 2/5, Obverse: Laureate head left, C CAESAR AVG GERMANICVS PON M TR POT, Reverse: Caligula's three sisters standing facing: Agrippina (as Securitas), Drusilla (as Concordia), and Julia (as Fortuna), AGRIPPINA DRVSILLA IVLIA S C, References: RIC I 33, from the RJM Collection, Ex Classical Numismatic Group 51 (15 September 1999), lot 1204.
View Coin Caesonia and Drusilla Minor, with Herod Agrippa I JUDAEA Agrippa I, AD 37-44 AE19 obv Caesonia. rv Drusilla CaesareaPanias.Yr.5(40/1) NGC VG Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5 This coin is the only issue representing Milonia Ceasonia (died 41 AD), fourth and final wife of Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, better known to history as Caligula. It also happens to be the sole issue representing the only child born of Caesonia and Caligula, namely their daughter Drusilla Minor (39 – 41 AD), also referred to as Julia Drusilla or Drusilla the Younger. Moreover, it is one of the relatively few issues ever struck by Herod Agrippa I (11 BC – 44 AD). Therefore, this ancient bronze is not only extremely scarce, but also highly sought after - both by ancient Roman and Herodian coin enthusiasts.

Herod Agrippa I (also referred to as Herod Agrippa, Herod, or Agrippa I) was the grandson of Herod the Great. His parents, Aristobulus IV and Berenice, named him after Augustus’ trusted friend, Marcus Julius Agrippa. In 7 BC, an increasingly paranoid Herod the Great ordered Aristobulus’ murder on account of suspected treason. Subsequently, the four-year-old Agrippa I, like his father before him, was sent to Rome for education and rearing. The young Agrippa I became an imperial favorite with the likes of Augustus’ niece Antonia Minor and her youngest son, Claudius. In particular, Agrippa I became a close friend to Tiberius’ son, Drusus. Given the latter’s reputation for gambling and living an exorbitant lifestyle, no wonder that by the time Agrippa I reached adulthood he had racked up substantial debts. Some time after Drusus’ untimely death in 23 AD, Agrippa I left Rome (no surprise, considering his large debts!). As testament to Agrippa I’s camaraderie with Drusus, Tiberius declared that the Judaean prince’s sight could not be borne since it reminded the Emperor of his dead son.

Eventually, Agrippa I returned to Rome to repay his debts (according to ancient historian Josephus, thanks to a bail out by Antonia Minor). Satisfied, Emperor Tiberius entrusted Agrippa I with the education of his grandson and potential heir, Tiberius Gemellus. Around this time, Agrippa I forged a close friendship with another potential heir to Rome’s throne, namely Caligula, who was Tiberius’ great-nephew and adopted son. Unfortunately for Agrippa I, he was overheard pining for the Emperor’s passing and Caligula's ascension. A highly displeased Tiberius cast Agrippa I into prison. However, the Judean prince's fortune turned around in 37 AD upon Tiberius' death and Caligula’s ascension. Caligula not only set his Jewish friend free, he also made him King over Judaea’s surrounding lands (but not Judaea itself, which remained a Roman province), and bestowed him other honors including the title amicus caesaris, or Caesar’s friend.

As one of Rome’s client Kings, Agrippa I struck coins, including issues intended to honor and advertise his close friendship with Rome. Although Agrippa I did not strike very many different issues, he employed an interesting array of Roman, Hellenistic, and Judaean motifs, reflecting the melting pot of royal cultures he experienced in Rome, for example those comprising the remarkable court of Antonia Minor. The current coin provides an intriguing example. It was struck at the mint city of Caesarea Panias during the fifth year of Agrippa I’s reign, corresponding to 40-41 AD. The obverse bears the draped bust of Caligula’s wife Caesonia, her hair forming a long plait. Although difficult to discern on this coin due to physicochemical deterioration, she is accompanied by the Greek epithet KAIΣΩNIA ΓYNH ΣYNH ΣEBAΣTOY, identifying her as Caesonia, wife of the Emperor. The reverse bears a female figure holding a branch and a representation of the Greek goddess Nike (Victory to the Romans). Although appearing as an adult, the figure is certainly toddler Drusilla Minor, the Emperor’s daughter and only child, based on translation of the reverse inscription, ΔPOYQΣΙΛΛΑ ΘYΓATPI ΣΕΒΑΣTOY.

Unfortunately for Caesonia and Druilla Minor, their fates inexorably linked to Caligula’s. The latter was assassinated in early 41 AD by disgruntled officers within his own Preatorian Guard. Not wishing to leave any loose ends, the assassins also wiped out the rest of Rome’s First Family. According to Josephus, Caesonia, grieving beside her dead husband, willingly offered herself to her attackers. In the aftermath, Praetorians still faithful to the imperial family elevated a wary Claudius to sit on Rome’s throne. Interestingly, Agrippa I may have played a role in promoting his friend’s ascension. In any case, Claudius expanded the realm of Agrippa I, whose reach now rivaled his grandfather’s.

In 44 AD, while hosting games in Claudius’ honor, Agrippa I fell ill, and died soon thereafter. He left behind a legacy worthy of his upbringing in Rome, including construction of grand buildings (such as theatres and baths) in many of his prominent cities. True to his riotous youth, King Agrippa I’s expenditures exceeded his revenues. Above all, he earned the label of Caesar’s friend. Perhaps most telling, he paid forward his allegiance to Rome by arranging the schooling of his only son, Herod Agrippa II, at Emperor Claudius’ court.

Coin Details: JUDAEA, Herodians. Agrippa I, with Caesonia and Drusilla, 37-43 CE, Æ (19mm, 5.37 g, 12h), Caesarea Panias mint, Dated RY 5 of Agrippa I (40/1 CE), NGC Grade: VG, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Draped bust of Caesonia left, wearing hair in long plait, [KAIΣΩNIA ΓYNH ΣYNH ΣEBAΣTOY], Reverse: Drusilla Minor standing left (facing?), holding branch and Nike, [ΔPOYQΣΙΛΛΑ ΘYΓATPI ΣΕΒΑΣTOY], References: Meshorer 117; Hendin 1241; Sofaer 150; RPC I 4977.
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