Hundreds of ancient mints in the Mediterranean world struck coins
with the permission of the Roman emperors.
These coins, usually called “Roman provincials” or “Greek
Imperials,” are avidly collected for their historical value, design
types and oftentimes their charming style.
One of the most important provincial mints was Caesarea, located
in Cappadocia, a lofty plateau in the center of modern-day Turkey.
Coinage under the Roman emperors commenced there after A.D. 17, when
its last king died and Cappadocia became a province.
Caesarea was one of the few provincial mints consistently allowed
to issue silver coins — a privilege usually reserved for the imperial
mints. Though Caesarea issued silver coins with the portraits of
emperors for more than two centuries, in terms of variety and interest
of types, its numismatic heyday was from A.D. 33 to 68, under the
Coins of this era were struck during the reigns of Tiberius (A.D.
14 to 37), Caligula (A.D. 37 to 41), Claudius (A.D. 41 to 54) and Nero
(A.D. 54 to 68). In silver, issues included the drachm (essentially
equal to a Roman denarius), the hemidrachm (a half drachm) and the
didrachm (a 2-drachm coin).
Some of them have attractive, historical reverse types celebrating
Claudius’ invasion of Britain, the appointment of a new ruler in
Armenia under Tiberius or a military campaign in Armenia during the
reign of Nero. Others portray relatives of the emperors, including
potential heirs and empresses. Though the coins of the emperors are
worthy of a column all their own, we’ll focus on coins depicting their relatives.
No coins honoring Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, were struck at
Caesarea during his lifetime, for the region was ruled on his behalf
by a client king, Archelaus (36 B.C. to A.D. 17). However, after
Augustus’ death and deification in A.D. 14, his portrait appears on a
drachm that also portrays his adopted son Germanicus.
These coins are now usually attributed to the reign of Tiberius,
the successor of Augustus, who sponsored Germanicus as his first heir
to the throne. It is also possible they were struck later, under the
Emperor Caligula, who was Germanicus’ only surviving son.
Nero Claudius Drusus
This nobleman, the brother of the emperor Tiberius, died from an
accident 23 years before his brother ascended the throne. Nero
Claudius Drusus is honored by his son, Claudius, who was only a
newborn when his father died.
Nero Claudius Drusus is portrayed on the obverse of didrachms that
show a triumphal arch dedicated to his victories in Germany. Though
Claudius struck numerous other coins honoring his long-deceased
father, this issue of Caesarea certainly is one of the rarest and most beautiful.
Perhaps the most promising of the Julio-Claudian heirs, Germanicus
was cut down in his prime. He was beloved to Augustus, Rome’s first
emperor, who would have named him his successor had he been more
experienced when Augustus neared the end of his life.
Instead, the throne passed to Germanicus’ uncle, Tiberius, who
made Germanicus his first heir. The two men often clashed, and many
believed Tiberius was responsible for Germanicus’ murder in A.D. 19
while the heir-apparent was in the East on a diplomatic mission.
Germanicus is portrayed on the Cappadocian drachms (already
described) that also portray the deified Augustus. His bust also
occurs on didrachms and drachms with a reverse type celebrating the
appointment of a king to the throne of Armenia in A.D. 18. Scholars
are not sure whether these coins were struck under Tiberius, Caligula
After the death of Germanicus, the succession passed to Drusus,
the only son of the Emperor Tiberius. Unfortunately for Drusus, a
craftier and more ruthless man, his father’s praetorian prefect
Sejanus, had designs on the throne. Sejanus was single-minded in
eliminating rivals in the Julio-Claudian family (including Drusus);
though it cleared his path, he ultimately failed himself.
The drachms portraying Tiberius and Drusus are memorial coins that
Tiberius struck in A.D. 33 a decade after his son’s murder. They are
interesting and historical coins, especially since no other precious
metal issues are known for Drusus.
The Emperor Claudius was unlucky in his relationships with women.
He was married four times, with all of them being terrible failures.
His third wife, Messalina, was 14 when they married, and apparently
was violent, vengeful and promiscuous. In A.D. 48, while Claudius was
away from Rome, Messalina unwisely married a young nobleman and paid
the ultimate price when Claudius returned and her new, unlawful
husband was executed and she was driven to commit suicide.
Her veiled portrait appears on one silver coin of Caesarea: a rare
and artistic didrachm that shows on its reverse the standing figures
of Claudius’ three surviving children, two of whom were her own.
The Emperor Claudius also struck a number of silver coins that
portrayed his next (and last) wife, Agrippina. She was a particularly
bad choice: not only was she his niece, but if the historical record
is true, after five years of marriage she served Claudius a dish of
poison mushrooms that caused his death.
Claudius was succeeded by Agrippina’s son, Nero, who was destined
to be the last Julio-Claudian emperor. Since Nero’s only true
qualification as emperor was his pedigree, he extensively honored
Agrippina and Claudius on coins, including silver drachms and
didrachms of Caesarea. Often on these coins, Claudius is shown as a
god, and Agrippina wears a veil. ■