The Roman Empire
Nero and Drusus Caesars





Coin Details

Origin/Country: ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Nero Caesar+Drusus Caesar
Design Description: Nero Caesar & Drusus Caesar Dupondius
Item Description: AE Dupondius posthumous under Caligula died AD 30/1 & AD 33
Full Grade: NGC Ch VF 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:

The domestication of animals is one of the most impactful developments in all human history. An early example, Canis lupis, has appropriately earned the title “man’s best friend.” Another, particularly important case is the horse. In reciprocation for subdual, Equus has furnished us not only its companionship, but also dramatic advances in agriculture, transportation, and, of course, warfare.

The first unambiguous evidence for horse-powered war chariots is attributed to the ancient Sumerians around 2500 BC. Interestingly, the Sumerians were also at the technological cutting edge of agriculture and transportation, not to mention they invented writing. A millennium later, the Egyptians developed the yoke saddle, resulting in horse chariots with improved speed, mobility, and reliability. By the advent of the ancient Greeks, horses more commonly bore soldiers, rather than pulled chariots. Alexander the Great developed several specialized cavalry units, and his own personal stead (named Bucephalus) is the most famous military horse in history. Following the Greeks, the ancient Romans also used horses to pull chariots, especially racing ones, to the delight of crowds packing the Circus Maximus and similar venues throughout the realm. Of course, horses also carried Rome’s soldiers, and they became associated with the military aristocracy.

Not surprisingly, the horse frequently appears on ancient Roman coinage, often ridden by an Emperor or Caesar. The current, iconic coin provides a dramatic example. It is a bronze dupondius struck by Caligula posthumously honoring his brothers Drusus Julius Caesar Germanicus (7 – 33 AD) and Nero Julius Caesar Germanicus (6 – 31 AD). The obverse depicts the elder two sons of Germanicus and Agrippina Sr. riding horses side-by-side, their cloaks billowing behind them.

The chivalrous image clashes with the tragic history of two brothers. As children, they were held in great esteem; after all, their father was one of Rome’s greatest all-time war heroes. However, when Germanicus mysteriously died in 19 AD (many suspected poison), the situation turned precarious. Whether they were interested or not, Nero Caesar and Drusus Caesar were legitimate candidates to succeed Emperor Tiberius, who was keen to see his own direct bloodline retain Rome’s throne.

To strengthen his standing among the Claudian branch of the Julio-Claudians, Nero Caesar married Tiberius’ granddaughter, Livia Julia. The strategy backfired, since Livia Julia apparently used her position to defame her husband, probably in collaboration with her mother Livilla and her mother's adulterous lover, Lucius Aelius Sejanus. The conniving Praetorian prefect Sejanus, preferring his own imperial designs, brought about the brothers' downfall. Sejanus perhaps even convinced Drusus Caesar to betray his brother, contributing to the latter’s arrest in 29 AD. Subsequently, Nero Caesar was exiled to the Pontian Islands, where he died several years later, perhaps a forced suicide.

Drusus Caesar’s fate proved no less tragic. Presumably, his alliance with Sejanus was a desperate attempt at self-preservation, not to mention the Praetorian prefect probably promised to lead him to Rome’s throne. Instead, Sejanus arrested Drusus Caesar on trumped up charges and led him to jail. The eldest living son of Germanicus was held in the Palatine Dungeons, where he eventually perished, likely from starvation.

Surviving Nero and Drusus Caesar was Caligula, now the last living male directly descended from Augustus. Caligula ascended Rome's throne after Tiberius died in 37 AD. The ancient Roman historian Suetonius reported that Emperor Caligula gave Tiberius a grand funeral, then proceeded to personally retrieve the ashes of his brothers, as well as his mother, Agrippina Sr. (who also died while being held Tiberius’ prisoner). Caligula arranged for his relative’s 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.

Given Suetonius’ narrative, it is straightforward to comprehend Caligula’s decision to produce this commemorative coin, and the design he choose to strike upon it. Caligula longed for Rome, if not for himself, to remember his brothers as gallant equestrians. While it is difficult to know for certain, Nero Caesar and Drusus Caesar were probably experienced horsemen, as was Caligula. Caligula’s own horse, Incitatus (meaning “quick,” as in a horse at full gallop), reportedly lived quite the pampered lifestyle: residing in a marble stable, donning purple blankets, and feeding upon oats mixed with gold flake. Caligula even planned to promote Incitatus as Roman consul. While convenient to blame the Emperor’s madness, such actions mocked the Senate that had wronged his brethren.

Caligula and the ancient Romans were not unique in their fondness for the horse. Many of Rome’s enemies were also expert equestrians. Several Julio-Claudian Emperors grappled with the Parthians, who mastered the highly impressive ability to shoot arrows while retreating at a full gallop. The Parthian’s successors, the Sassanids, employed a highly armored and effective cavalry known as the Cataphracts. In mid first millennium AD, a great migration of barbarian tribes threatened the Empire, many of whom rode horses. Attila and his infamous Huns, for example, virtually lived on horseback, and the ancient poet Sidonius likened them to centaurs. The notorious Vandals were also expert horsemen, although their most famous king, Gaiseric, injured from a horse accident, decided to threaten Rome by sea instead. He sacked the Eternal City in 455 AD, hastening Italy’s descent into barbaricum soon thereafter. The old Roman Empire transformed into a new one centered in Byzantium, and endured another millennium. Aptly, Equus appears at the Empire’s last vestige, when Memhet II, after successfully besieging Constantinople, rode his stead through the city’s gate.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Nero & Drusus Caesar, Died AD 31 and 33, respectively, Æ Dupondius (28mm, 15.83 g, 6h), Rome mint, Struck under Gaius (Caligula) in AD 37-38, NGC Grade: Ch VF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Nero and Drusus Caesar on horseback riding right, cloaks flying behind them, NERO ET DRVSVS CAESARES, Reverse: C CAESAR AVG GERMANICVS PON M TR POT around large S • C, References: RIC I 34 (Gaius), Cohen 1.

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