The Roman Empire
Augustus, with Caius and Lucius Caesars

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Coin Details

Origin/Country: ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Augustus, 27 BC-AD 14
Design Description: Augustus Denarius
Item Description: AR Denarius ex HSA (1001.1.3569) rv Gaius & Lucius Caesars
Full Grade: NGC Ch AU Strike: 3/5 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:

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).

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