The Roman Empire
Caesonia and Drusilla Minor, with Herod Agrippa I





Coin Details

Origin/Country: JUDAEA Agrippa I, AD 37-44
Design Description: Herod Agrippa I AE19 featuring Caesonia and Drusilla Minor
Item Description: AE19 Judaea obv Caesonia. rv Drusilla CaesareaPanias.Yr.5(40/1)
Full Grade: NGC VG Strike: 4/5 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 coin is the only issue representing Milonia Ceasonia (died 41 AD), fourth and final wife of Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, better known to history as Caligula. It also happens to be the sole issue representing the only child born of Caesonia and Caligula, namely their daughter Drusilla Minor (39 – 41 AD), also referred to as Julia Drusilla or Drusilla the Younger. Moreover, it is one of the relatively few issues ever struck by Herod Agrippa I (11 BC – 44 AD). Therefore, this ancient bronze is not only extremely scarce, but also highly sought after - both by ancient Roman and Herodian coin enthusiasts.

Herod Agrippa I (also referred to as Herod Agrippa, Herod, or Agrippa I) was the grandson of Herod the Great. His parents, Aristobulus IV and Berenice, named him after Augustus’ trusted friend, Marcus Julius Agrippa. In 7 BC, an increasingly paranoid Herod the Great ordered Aristobulus’ murder on account of suspected treason. Subsequently, the four-year-old Agrippa I, like his father before him, was sent to Rome for education and rearing. The young Agrippa I became an imperial favorite with the likes of Augustus’ niece Antonia Minor and her youngest son, Claudius. In particular, Agrippa I became a close friend to Tiberius’ son, Drusus. Given the latter’s reputation for gambling and living an exorbitant lifestyle, no wonder that by the time Agrippa I reached adulthood he had racked up substantial debts. Some time after Drusus’ untimely death in 23 AD, Agrippa I left Rome (no surprise, considering his large debts!). As testament to Agrippa I’s camaraderie with Drusus, Tiberius declared that the Judaean prince’s sight could not be borne since it reminded the Emperor of his dead son.

Eventually, Agrippa I returned to Rome to repay his debts (according to ancient historian Josephus, thanks to a bail out by Antonia Minor). Satisfied, Emperor Tiberius entrusted Agrippa I with the education of his grandson and potential heir, Tiberius Gemellus. Around this time, Agrippa I forged a close friendship with another potential heir to Rome’s throne, namely Caligula, who was Tiberius’ great-nephew and adopted son. Unfortunately for Agrippa I, he was overheard pining for the Emperor’s passing and Caligula's ascension. A highly displeased Tiberius cast Agrippa I into prison. However, the Judean prince's fortune turned around in 37 AD upon Tiberius' death and Caligula’s ascension. Caligula not only set his Jewish friend free, he also made him King over Judaea’s surrounding lands (but not Judaea itself, which remained a Roman province), and bestowed him other honors including the title amicus caesaris, or Caesar’s friend.

As one of Rome’s client Kings, Agrippa I struck coins, including issues intended to honor and advertise his close friendship with Rome. Although Agrippa I did not strike many different coins, he employed an interesting array of Roman, Hellenistic, and Judaean motifs, reflecting the melting pot of royal cultures he experienced in Rome, for example those comprising the remarkable court of Antonia Minor. The current coin provides an intriguing example. It was struck at the mint city of Caesarea Panias during the fifth year of Agrippa I’s reign, corresponding to 40-41 AD. The obverse bears the draped bust of Caligula’s wife Caesonia, her hair forming a long plait. Although difficult to discern on this coin due to physicochemical deterioration, she is accompanied by the Greek epithet KAIΣΩNIA ΓYNH ΣYNH ΣEBAΣTOY, identifying her as Caesonia, wife of the Emperor. The reverse bears a female figure holding a branch and a representation of the Greek goddess Nike (Victory to the Romans). Although appearing as an adult, the figure is toddler Drusilla Minor, the Emperor’s daughter and only child, based on translation of the reverse inscription, ΔPOYQΣΙΛΛΑ ΘYΓATPI ΣΕΒΑΣTOY.

Unfortunately for Caesonia and Druilla Minor, their fates inexorably linked to Caligula’s. The latter was assassinated in early 41 AD by disgruntled officers within his own Preatorian Guard. Not wishing to leave any loose ends, the assassins also wiped out the rest of Rome’s First Family. According to Josephus, Caesonia, grieving beside her dead husband, willingly offered herself to her attackers. In the aftermath, Praetorians still faithful to the imperial family elevated a wary Claudius to sit on Rome’s throne, Interestingly, Agrippa I may have played a role in promoting his friend’s ascension. In any case, Claudius expanded the realm of Agrippa I, whose reach now rivaled his grandfather’s.

In 44 AD, while hosting games in Claudius’ honor, Agrippa I fell ill, and died soon thereafter. He left behind a legacy worthy of his upbringing in Rome, including construction of grand buildings (such as theatres and baths) in many of his prominent cities. True to his riotous youth, King Agrippa I’s expenditures exceeded his revenues. Above all, he earned the label of Caesar’s friend. Perhaps most telling, he paid forward his allegiance to Rome by arranging the schooling of his only son, Herod Agrippa II, at Emperor Claudius’ court.

Coin Details: JUDAEA, Herodians. Agrippa I, with Caesonia and Drusilla, 37-43 CE, Æ (19mm, 5.37 g, 12h), Caesarea Panias mint, Dated RY 5 of Agrippa I (40/1 CE), NGC Grade: VG, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Draped bust of Caesonia left, wearing hair in long plait, [KAIΣΩNIA ΓYNH ΣYNH ΣEBAΣTOY], Reverse: Drusilla Minor standing left (facing?), holding branch and Nike, [ΔPOYQΣΙΛΛΑ ΘYΓATPI ΣΕΒΑΣTOY], References: Meshorer 117; Hendin 1241; Sofaer 150; RPC I 4977.

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