The Roman Empire
Agrippina Sr.

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Coin Details

Origin/Country: ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Agrippina Sr., d.AD 33
Design Description: Agrippina Sr. Sestertius
Item Description: AE Sestertius rv SC within inscription posthumous under Claudius
Full Grade: NGC Ch VF 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:

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.

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