The Roman Empire
Tiberius

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Coin Details

Origin/Country: ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Tiberius, AD 14-37
Design Description: Tribute Penny
Item Description: AR Denarius Biblical 'Tribute Penny' Lugdunum. rv Livia as Pax
Full Grade: NGC XF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Owner: Kohaku

Set Details

Custom Sets: The Roman Empire
Competitive Sets: This coin is not competing in any sets.
Research: NGC Coin Price Guide

Owner Comments:

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.

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