The Roman Empire





Coin Details

Design Description: Caligula AE As
Item Description: AE28 Spain, Carthago Nova rv SAL AVG; hd. of Salus
Full Grade: NGC Ch VF Strike: 4/5 Surface: 3/5
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:

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. Both viewpoints provide a suitable backdrop for contemplating this ancient Roman provincial coin.

This coin originated in Carthago Nova, a strategically important Hispanic port established as a Roman 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. Of particular note is a remarkable sestertii depicting his three sisters Agrippina Jr, Julia Livilla, and Julia Drusilla, also featured elsewhere in this collection.

Such evidence supports that Caligula was fond of his sisters, and, if certain ancient sources are accurate, that love 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, 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. It is difficult to know how accurate such accounts might be since ancient sources were frequently written with a strong negative bias against Caligula.

In any case, Caligula annuled Drusilla's marriage after he ascended 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 late 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. Undoubtedly, 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, not to mention created religiopolitical 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, Caligula left behind a rich and interesting variety of coinage. This particular bronze has the distinction of contemporaneity with Caligula’s metamorphosis into a monster, although the extent of monstrosity is subject to interpretation.

Additional Reading: “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.

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