The Roman Empire
Livia, with Augustus





Coin Details

Origin/Country: ANCIENT - ROMAN PROVINCIAL (2nd CENT BC - 3rd CENT BC) IONIA, EPHESUS Augustus & Livia
Design Description: Livia and Augustus AE20 (2 Known)
Item Description: AE20 Ionia, Ephesus rv stag; quiver above obv Augustus+Livia jugate
Full Grade: NGC Ch XF Strike: 5/5 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:

This extremely rare ancient bronze (one of perhaps only two known) 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, even though both were already married. 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 managed to divorce their current spouses so that they could be free to get married, and did so without delaying past the usual waiting period. Livia’s two sons were reportedly taken into the care of their biological father, whose coercion can only be imagined.

As should have been expected, Livia and Octavian made quite the powerful pair. A decade later, Octvian emerged undisputed as Rome’s Augustus, and 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 these negative 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 theater 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 that she took part in placing 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.

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