The Roman Empire
Sejanus

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Coin Details

Origin/Country: ANCIENT - ROMAN PROVINCIAL (2nd CENT BC - 3rd CENT BC) SPAIN, BILBILIS Tiberius, AD 14-37
Design Description: Sejanus and Tiberius AE As (19 Known)
Item Description: AE29 Tiberius+L.Aelius Sejanus AD 31.rv names of consuls
Full Grade: NGC F Strike: 5/5 Surface: 2/5
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:

Perhaps only nineteen examples exist of this coin, struck in the name of Lucius Aelius Sejanus (20 BC – 31 AD). On this particular specimen, Sejanus’ name is only barely visible, perhaps due to time’s ravages. It is also quite possible that the name was intentionally obliterated, compliant with Emperor Tiberius’ 31 AD desire to erase the very memory of his once-trusted Praetorian Prefect from all history. That imperial directive, known as damnatio memoriae evidently failed. Ample evidence has survived to chronicle Sejanus’ rise to power, descent into villainy, and ultimate fall from grace.

Like many Romans, Sejanus was obsessed with social status. As a young equestrian, he reportedly was a favorite of wealthy patrician and famous gastronomer Marcus Gavius Apicius. Sejanus forged his politico-military career in the footsteps of his father, Lucius Seius Strabo. During Augustus’ reign, Strabo rose to the position of Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, an elite military unit formed by the Emperor for his own personal protection. Over time, the Praetorians assumed responsibility beyond protecting the imperial family, including Rome’s general security and civil administration. By the time Sejanus succeeded his father as Praetorian Prefect, that position afforded to him the greatest amount of personal power he could ever reach as one of Rome’s equestrians. Furthermore, Sejanus enacted reforms that resulted in an even greater number of highly coordinated forces under his own personal command.

Over time, Sejanus progressively abused his growing power to secure his own position in the line for Rome’s throne. He had an adulterous affair with Livilla, wife of Tiberius’ son Drusus the Younger, for the purpose of recruiting her to help poison her own husband. It has been widely speculated, perhaps even by Emperor Tiberius, that Livilla’s twin sons, Tiberius and Germanicus Gemellus, were sired by Sejanus, rather than Drusus. Sejanus wanted to betroth the widowed Livilla (and thus achieve a marriage tie to patrician status), but Tiberius forbade the union at that time.

Around 26 AD, Tiberius departed Rome to reside on the island of Capri. Sejanus now had virtually supreme power in the Eternal City. Sejanus also influenced the governance of territories outside Rome; notoriously, he nominated Pontius Pilate to serve as Judaea's Prefect. Importantly, Sejanus had great control over the information flowing to and from his Emperor. During this time, Sejanus became even bolder towards removal of any threats to his power. He began a series of trials to eliminate those he deemed enemies, including senators and others of high status. The victims included potential imperial rival Gaius Asinius Gallus. Sejanus infamously betrayed Nero Caesar and Drusus Caesar, the two elder sons of Germanicus. He exiled the two Julio-Claudians dynasts, and both perished in prison. Thanks to Sejanus’ efforts, the list of claimants to Rome’s throne was growing thin. A notable survivor was Germanicus’ youngest son Caligula, who escaped by moving to the same island as his great uncle Tiberius.

In 31 AD, Sejanus reached the height of his power. He had largely eliminated any imperial competition. He was named co-consul, sharing the title with Tiberius. Sejanus’ new status was promoted on coins such as this one that were struck in the municipium of Augusta Bilbilis, located in Hispania. Sejanus even gained the Emperor’s permission to marry into the Julio-Claudian line (the bribe-to-be was either Livilla or her daughter Livia Julia).

Tiberius almost certainly suspected Sejanus’ perfidies, but had not yet taken any punitive action. Instead, the Emperor acknowledged his Praetorian Prefect’s efficiency as Rome’s administrator, even describing him as “the partner of my labors.” Tiberius had intentionally distanced himself from Rome’s political intrigues, and Sejanus clearly seized that opportunity. But then Sejanus wnt too far. He decided to target his Emperor, or at least evidence to this effect came into Tiberius’ possession. The bearer of that information was the Emperor’s sister-in-law Antonia, the most powerful Julio-Claudian matriarch at that time. One can only imagine her satisfaction at implicating the man who had inflected so much damage to her clan.

Tiberius finally set plans in motion to deal with his treacherous colleague. He summoned Sejanus to meet with the Senate. Perhaps the co-consul expected good news; instead he received a condemnation and was escorted to prison. Within days, Sejanus was executed, along with many of his family and followers. The reprisals against anyone tied to Sejanus were reportedly quite severe, and continued until Tiberius’ death in 37 AD.

Sejanus arguably ranks among the most notorious villains in history. However, the extent to which he manipulated Tiberius, or vice versa, is subject to interpretation. Antonia’s information notwithstanding, no hard evidence remains of Sejanus’ plans to overthrow his Emperor. Without doubt, Sejanus firmly established his Praetorian Guards as a powerful politico-military force that increasingly impacted Rome’s history, even to the extent of removal and replacement of its Emperor.

Coin Details: ROMAN PROVINCIAL, Tiberius and L. Aelius Sejanus, Æ As (28mm, 11.45 g, 12h), Struck AD 31 in Bilbilis, Spain, NGC Grade: F, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 2/5, Obverse: Laureate head of Tiberius right, TI CAESAR DIVI AVGVSTI F AVGVSTVS, Reverse: Large COS within wreath, MVN AVGVSTA BILBILIS TI CAESARE V L AELIO SEIANO, References: Burgos 196, SNG Copenhagen 620; ACIP 3024a; RPC I 398 (19 samples cited); Vagi 484.

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