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A Provincial Coin- the children of Emperor Claudius: Claudia, Octavia and Britannicus

Prieure de Sion

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The Emperor Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus

Born on 01 August 10 BC in Lugdunum as the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor. Claudius was a grandson of Marcus Antonius and Octavia, the sister of Emperor Augustus. One might think that being born into such an influential line of the ruling family would have brought him great advantages. However, Claudius' life was characterised by hardship from an early age. He was considered incompetent and harmless. On the one hand, this meant that he was not given any tasks or offices as a young man. On the other hand, it was probably the only reason he survived the purges under his two predecessors. 

When he was young, Claudius was plagued by several physical ailments that caused his family to become estranged from him and he was often treated harshly. Suetonius tells us: "His mother Antonia often called him "a monster of a man, not finished, but only begun by nature" - and when she accused someone of stupidity, she used to say that he was "a greater fool than her son Claudius. His grandmother Augusta always treated him with the utmost contempt and very rarely spoke to him - and when she did admonish him, she did so in short, harsh letters or through a messenger. When his sister Livilla heard that he would one day become emperor, she prayed openly and loudly that the Roman people would be spared such a cruel and undeserved fate."

As the last male adult of his family, Claudius unexpectedly became his successor after Caligula's assassination in 41 AD. He was the first Roman emperor in whose elevation the military played a significant role. Despite his lack of political experience, Claudius proved to be a capable administrator and developed a lively building programme. The conquest of Britain took place during his reign. Ancient historians and biographers describe Claudius before his time as emperor as a neglected, sickly and ridiculous man; as emperor he was characterised as ignorant, weak and malicious. After his death, he was mocked and denigrated by Seneca. Although many negative things were said about Emperor Claudius by his contemporaries, in the light of modern research he appears as a capable, far-sighted monarch and as a contrasting figure to his stepson and successor Emperor Nero.



The wives and children of Claudius

Edward Gibbon writes that Claudius' love life was unusual for a higher-class Roman, as he was neither a pederast nor homosexual. Gibbon's view was based on Suetonius' statement that Claudius had a great passion for women but no interest in men. Suetonius and the other historians used his love life against him. They accused him that his wives exerted considerable influence over him. Claudius was engaged twice as a young man, but in both cases the marriage never materialised. The first engagement to his 12-year-old cousin Aemilia Lepida was cancelled when her mother fell out of favour with Augustus in 8 BC. The second engagement to Livia Medullina ended with the sudden death of the bride shortly before the wedding.

Claudius was married four times. His first marriage was to Plautia Urgulanilla, a granddaughter of Livia's confidante Urgulania. Claudius Drusus was born during their union. Shortly after his betrothal to Seianus' daughter, Drusus died of asphyxiation in infancy. Claudius later separated from Urgulanilla due to adultery and suspicion of the murder of her sister-in-law Apronia. When Urgulanilla gave birth to a daughter named Claudia after the divorce, Claudius rejected the child, as the father was one of the freedmen.

Probably in the year 28 AD, Claudius married Aelia Paetina, a relative of Seianus. He had a daughter with her, Claudia Antonia. He separated from her in 31 AD, presumably in connection with the fall of Seianus.

Even before his accession to power (around 39/40 AD), he married the 14-year-old Valeria Messalina. She bore Claudius two children: daughter Claudia Octavia in 40 AD and, shortly after Claudius' accession to power in 41 AD, son Tiberius Claudius Germanicus, who became known as Britannicus. Ancient sources describe Messalina as a nymphomaniac who was constantly unfaithful to Claudius. In 48 AD she married her lover Gaius Silius in a public ceremony while Claudius was in Ostia. The sources are contradictory as to whether or not she had been divorced by the emperor and whether she intended to usurp the throne. The Claudius biographer Vincent Scramuzza believes that Silius had convinced Messalina that Claudius was doomed to failure and that the union was her only hope of maintaining her position and protecting her children, as Agrippina's efforts to have her son Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus (later Nero), the only grandson of Germanicus, on the throne were already recognisable at this point. According to Tacitus, Claudius may have been prevented from publicly denouncing the affair by his ongoing activity as a censor ("guardian of morals"). Claudius had Silius and Messalina and most of their acquaintances executed in 48 AD. Claudius made the praetorians promise that they would be allowed to kill him if he ever married again.

Despite this declaration, Claudius remarried. After briefly considering remarrying his second wife or marrying the childless Lollia Paulina, the widow of his predecessor, the choice fell on Agrippina the Younger, who won Claudius over with her feminine charms. However, it was probably also a marriage for political reasons. Claudius had no adult heir, as Britannicus was still a boy. Agrippina was the great-granddaughter of Augustus and brought another successor to the emperor into the marriage with her eleven-year-old son.



Claudia Antonia, daughter of Claudius and Aelia Paetina

Claudia Antonia's mother was the adopted sister of the praetorian prefect Lucius Aelius Seianus, who was the most powerful man in Rome under Emperor Tiberius. At the height of his power, he succeeded in having his sister married into the imperial family in the year 28 AD, even though Claudius was a rather insignificant prince at the time. Claudia Antonia was probably born the following year. After Seianus' fall in 31 AD, Claudius divorced their mother. Claudia Antonia therefore grew up first with her grandmother Antonia minor and then with her father.

Her first husband Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, a descendant of the famous Pompeius, was almost killed as a child by Caligula because of his surname Magnus. Claudius rehabilitated him and gave him his daughter in marriage in 41 AD. According to Suetonius, he nevertheless had him killed later. According to Cassius Dio, he was denounced by Messalina in 47 AD on a pretext and executed by Claudius. Apparently Messalina wanted to strengthen the Julio-Claudian dynasty by marrying her half-brother Faustus Cornelius Sulla Felix to her stepdaughter. However, this second marriage of Claudia Antonia produced only one son, who died as an infant. Cassius Dio emphasised that it would have been a good decision on Claudius' part not to celebrate the birth of this child in public.

After the murder of her second husband by Nero in 62 AD, Claudia Antonia joined the so-called Pisonian conspiracy against Nero. The plan was for Nero to be murdered on 19 April 65 AD during a visit to the circus. After the successful tyrannicide, Claudia Antonia was to wait with Gaius Calpurnius Piso, the leader of the conspiracy, at the Temple of Ceres until the two were brought into the Praetorian camp to proclaim Piso the new ruler. Antonia was to accompany him "to arouse the people's favour". This could be interpreted to mean that Piso intended to marry Antonia, possibly in order to legitimise his claims by marrying a daughter of the emperor. However, Piso was married. But while Piso and numerous co-conspirators died after the betrayed assassination attempt, Antonia seems to have remained unharmed after the conspiracy was uncovered. It was only when she refused to become Nero's third wife after Poppaea's death in the summer of 65 AD that Nero accused her of participating in a conspiracy and had her killed.



Claudia Octavia, daughter of Claudius and Messalina

Octavia was betrothed to her relative Lucius Silanus at the age of one. However, when Claudius intended to marry his niece Agrippina in 48 AD, her son Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, who later became Nero, appeared to be a more suitable marriage candidate. Lucius Silanus was accused of having an illicit relationship with his sister Iunia Calvina and expelled from the Senate. On the day of Claudius' wedding to Agrippina, he committed suicide. This cleared the way for the new empress to betroth Octavia to her son. The problem that Nero, who had been adopted by Claudius, was now officially Octavia's brother, whom she was not allowed to marry under Roman law, was solved by the bride being pro forma adopted by an Octavian. As a result of this adoption, she was given the name Octavia. The wedding took place in 53 AD.

When her father Claudius died in 54 AD, Octavia became empress at Nero's side. The death of her brother Britannicus in 55 AD, which, as in the case of her father, was suspected to be a case of poisoning, left her alone in a hostile environment, as Nero rejected his young wife from the outset and had numerous affairs, including with a freedwoman named Acte. Agrippina, on the other hand, who saw her own position threatened by Acte's influence over Nero, sought Octavia as an ally.

Although Nero's lover Poppaea probably had an influence on the murder of his mother in 59 AD, Nero only divorced Octavia after the death of Burrus in 62 AD. The divorce was justified on the grounds of Octavia's infertility. She received the estates of Rubellius Plautus, a great-grandson of Tiberius, who had been murdered shortly before. In order to suppress the protests of the people, who greatly honoured her as a legitimate member of the Iulian-Claudian imperial dynasty, Nero accused her of adultery and - contrary to his reason for divorce, infertility - of having an abortion. As Suetonius reports, Anicetus, Agrippina's murderer, finally claimed to be her lover at Poppaea's instigation.


The head of Octavia

This gave Nero an excuse to banish her. Octavia, who resisted the unjustified treatment, was sent to Pandateria and her slaves were murdered to break her resistance. In exile, she was murdered at Poppaea's instigation. Her head is said to have been brought to Poppaea. In contrast to Octavia, who had never received the title Augusta, Poppaea was given this title immediately after the birth of her daughter Claudia on 21 January 63 AD. The fabula praetexta Octavia, attributed to Seneca, is the only surviving drama about a topic from Roman history.



Britannicus, son of Claudius and Messalina

His original birth name was Tiberius Claudius Caesar Germanicus. He was given the nickname "Britannicus" on the occasion of the conquest of Britain in 43 AD, his father's most spectacular military success. Britannicus was the stepbrother of the future emperor Nero. Nero, who was four years older, was the son of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and Iulia Agrippina, a niece of Claudius. Nero's birth name was Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. After Claudius ordered the killing of Britannicus' mother Messalina (48 AD), Claudius married Iulia Agrippina in 49 AD (this was Claudius' fourth marriage in total and Agrippina's third) and adopted her son from his first marriage, who was henceforth called Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.

Britannicus was the pride of his father and grew up well protected by his own tutors for the first few years. The young man learnt the fine arts, the right view of politics, both internal and external, and the right way to behave at court. And he also fell in love - with the beautiful Junia. The romance was not to last. It was his stepbrother - Nero, of all people - who stole her from him.

In 54 AD, Emperor Claudius died, allegedly poisoned by Iulia Agrippina with the help of a mushroom dish. Instead of Britannicus, who was only 13 years old at the time, she installed her biological son Nero as the new emperor. However, when disputes soon arose between her and Nero, the latter allegedly feared that she might support Britannicus' claims to the imperial title in the future. Nero got rid of his supposed or perhaps actual rival by having him poisoned in February 55 AD. He had previously had his taster bribed. One source seems to know that Nero had him killed by the notorious poisoner Locusta with poisonous panther mushrooms. According to Suetonius, Nero lied to the horrified guests that Britannicus had fallen victim to an "ordinary attack of epilepsy". It is possible that Britannicus, like Gaius Iulius Caesar, actually suffered from this illness and may have died from it. Tacitus also refers to (unnamed) historians of the time, according to whom Britannicus was abused by Nero in the days before his death.




Provincial Coin from Cyzicus with Britannicus (Caesar), Claudia Antonia and Claudia Octavia

Britannicus (Caesar), Claudia Antonia and Claudia Octavia; Reign: Claudius; Mint: Cyzicus, Mysia; Date: ca. 41/54 AD; Nominal: Bronze; Material: AE; Diameter: 13mm; Weight: 1.46g; Reference: RPC I 2248; Obverse: Bare head of Britannicus, right; Reverse: Draped busts of Antonia and Claudia Octavia, facing each other.

RPC Online Illustration: https://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/coin/464870 

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I got this provincial bronze of the children of Claudius today - and since I find the historical background and the tragedy between Claudius, his wives, the children up to the later emperor Nero so fascinating - I didn't want to just post the coin under "post your latest Ancient". 


Feel free to post your coins.
On Claudius, on his wives, on his children - or whatever else you can think of.

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Great thread, @Prieure de Sion. Many members are probably very familiar with the 2 novels Robert Graves wrote - both having Claudius as main character. I found them excellent reads - relaxing and even if the author added his own touch, they are still historically accurate - from what we know. 

I have a few Claudius coins, but the most presentable one is this Antioch. 



I also have an Aizanis from Agrippina II. 


17 mm, 2,91 g.
Phrygia, Aizanis. Agrippina II 50-59. Ӕ.
ΑΓΡΙΠΠΙΝΑΝ ϹƐΒΑϹΤΗΝ, draped bust of Agrippina II, right / ΑΙΖΑΝΙΤΩΝ, draped bust of Persephone with ears of corn before.
RPC I, 3102; BMC 91; Cop 91.

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2 minutes ago, ambr0zie said:

Great thread, @Prieure de Sion. Many members are probably very familiar with the 2 novels Robert Graves wrote - both having Claudius as main character. I found them excellent reads - relaxing and even if the author added his own touch, they are still historically accurate - from what we know. 


Yes - thats one of my favorite book - I have already read it twice. 
I find it wonderfully written and also entertaining.


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3 hours ago, Prieure de Sion said:


How peculiar. Everyone knows that Claudius spoke English, not German, and did so with a British accent like all Romans. He sounded like Derek Jacobi.

Here are my only two coins showing any of Claudius I's wives or children:

Claudius I, billon [Sear & others]/AR [RPC] Tetradrachm, Year 4 [43/44 AD], Alexandria, Egypt Mint. Obv. Laureate head right, ΤΙ ΚΛΑVΔΙ ΚΑΙΣ ΣΕΒΑ ΓΕΡΜΑΝΙ ΑVΤΟΚΡ around, LΔ [Year 4] under chin / Rev. Messalina [Third wife of Claudius and mother of Britannicus] as Demeter, standing facing, head left, wearing long chiton, leaning left elbow on short column, holding grain ears in left arm and two standing children [representing Claudia Octavia and Britannicus*] on outstretched right hand; to left, lituus; ΜΕΣΣΑΛΙΝΑ ΚΑΙΣ ΣΕΒΑΣ. RPC [Roman Provincial Coinage] Vol. I  5146 (1992); RPC I Online at  https://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/coins/1/5146; Emmett 74.4 [Emmett, Keith, Alexandrian Coins (Lodi, WI, 2001)]; Milne 93 at p. 3 [Milne, J.G., Catalogue of Alexandrian Coins (Oxford 1933, reprint with supplement by Colin M. Kraay, 1971)]; K&G 12.36 [Kampmann, Ursula & Ganschow, Thomas, Die Münzen der römischen Münzstätte Alexandria  (2008)]; Dattari (Savio) 126198 [Savio, A. ed., Catalogo completo della collezione Dattari Numi Augg. Alexandrini (Trieste, 2007)]; Köln 82 [Geissen, A., Katalog alexandrinischer Kaisermünzen, Köln, Band I (Augustus-Trajan) (Cologne, 1974); Sear RCV I 1869 [Year 6; ill. of Year 2 w/lituus at p. 369.]  23 mm., 13.02 g., 12 h. 


*Her two children with Claudius, both born before Year 4 of Claudius’s reign; Claudia Octavia later became the Emperor Nero’s first wife. See note in Sear RCV I at p. 369.

Agrippina II (the Younger) (AD 15-59, 4th wife and niece of Claudius I [Empress AD 49-54], mother of Nero, daughter of Germanicus & Agrippina I, sister of Caligula), AE diobol, Claudius I Year 13 [AD 52-53], Alexandria, Egypt Mint. Obv. Draped bust of Agrippina II right, crowned with corn wreath, hair in queue, ΑΓΡΙΠΠΙΝΑ - ϹƐΒΑϹΤΗ around / Rev. Draped bust of Euthenia right, crowned with corn wreath, holding two ears of corn; across fields, ƐΥΘΗ – ΝΙΑ [Euthenia], across fields below, L – Ι Γ [Year 13 of Claudius]. 24.40 mm., 13.19 g. RPC [Roman Provincial Coinage] Vol. I  5194 (1992); RPC I Online 5194 (see https://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/coins/1/5194); Emmett 103.13; BMC 16 Alexandria 110 (p. 14); Milne 127 (p. 4) (ill. RPC I 5194, Specimen 1); K & G 13.4 (ill. p. 54);  )]; SNG France 4, Alexandrie I 258 (ill. Pl. 19) [Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, France Vol. 4, Alexandrie I, Auguste-Trajan (Zurich 1998)].* 24.40 mm., 13.19 g.** Purchased from Naville Numismatics, Ltd., London, UK, Auction 80, 2 Apr 2023, Lot 329.


* See Jones, John Melville, A Dictionary of Ancient Greek Coins (London, Seaby, 1986) at p. 89 [entry for Euthenia]: “ ‘Plenty’, the equivalent of the Roman Abundantia. At Alexandria she was represented as the bride of the Nile, reclining like him, or seated, with corn wreath and sometimes with sceptre and uraeus (sacred cobra).” According to the Classical Numismatic Group’s catalog for the 1 Sep 2018 Triton XXI Staffieri Collection sale,  describing the specimen of this type (ex Dattari Collection) sold as Lot 11, “Agrippina Junior, wife and niece of Claudius, is assimilated to the goddess Euthenia (Abundance), the wife of Nilus, and symbol of agricultural prosperity, who appears on the reverse. The excellent and realistic portrait of Agrippina recalls, in particular, the marble head that resides in the collection of Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen (Catalog No. 636).”

And here's a coin showing Claudius's mother Antonia:

Claudius I, billon [Sear]/AR [RPC] Tetradrachm, Year 2 [41/42 AD], Alexandria, Egypt Mint. Obv. Laureate head right, ΤΙ ΚΛΑVΔΙ ΚΑΙΣ ΣΕΒΑ ΓΕΡΜΑΝΙ ΑVΤΟΚΡ around, LΒ [Year 2] under chin / Rev. Draped bust of Antonia [Claudius’s mother] right, ΑΝΤΩΝΙΑ upwards to left, ΣΕΒΑΣΤΗ downwards to right. ); RPC [Roman Provincial Coinage] Vol. I 5117 (1992); RPC I Online at https://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/coins/1/5117; Emmett 73.2 [Emmett, Keith, Alexandrian Coins (Lodi, WI, 2001)]; Sear RCV I 1868 (ill.); Sear GIC 492 (ill.) [D. Sear, Greek Imperial Coins and their Values (1982)]; BMC 16 Alexandria 65 at p. 9 [Poole, Reginald Stuart, A Catalog of the Greek Coins in the British Museum, Vol. 16, Alexandria (London, 1892)]; K & G 12.3 [Kampmann, Ursula & Ganschow, Thomas, Die Münzen der römischen Münzstätte Alexandria  (2008)]; Milne 61-64 at p. 3 [Milne, J.G., Catalogue of Alexandrian Coins (Oxford 1933, reprint with supplement by Colin M. Kraay, 1971)]; Dattari (Savio) 114 [Savio, A. ed., Catalogo completo della collezione Dattari Numi Augg. Alexandrini (Trieste, 2007)]. 24 mm., 11.25 g.


Edited by DonnaML
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Nice coin @Prieure de Sion and thanks for the informative post! Someday, I'd like to get this type - very expensive in a grade like this, but not too bad if you're willing to compromise a bit:


JUDAEA, Roman Administration. Claudius, with Britannicus, Antonia, and Octavia. 41-54 CE. Æ (24mm, 13.00 g, 12h). Caesarea Panias mint. Struck before 49 CE. [T]I CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR IM P P, laureate head left / ANTONIA BRITANNICVS OCTAVIA, the children of Claudius: from left to right, Antonia, Britannicus, and Octavia, the two daughters each holding a cornucopia. Meshorer 350; Hendin 1259; Sofaer 83; RPC I 4842. Good VF, brown patina under a layer of earthen deposits. Rare.


This coin hammered for $11,000 back in 2016. 😬

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Thanks for your nice thread, @Prieure de Sion. It is an interesting read. 

I recently picked up a Nero / Agrippina Junior tetradrachm from Antioch. Photo is from CNG (as the coin still in the mail). 🙂

23-07 Agrippina Jr.jpg

SELEUCIS and PIERIA, Antioch. Nero, with Agrippina Junior. AD 56-57 (CY 3).
AR Tetradrachm (25mm, 14.30 g, 12h). 
Obv: Head of Nero right wearing oak wreath
Rev: Draped bust of Agrippina Junior right; Γ EP (date) to right.
McAlee 253; RPC I 4175; Prieur 74. 


Edited by happy_collector
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I had that one on my watch list. But when I was blown out of the water on my MSC mark,  by a stone cold bidder early, I didn't bid anymore in the N auction.

Glad it found its way into a class collection. Coingrats! Excellent win!

Here's my messier version from years ago:

Britannicus, with Octavia and Antonia
Mysia, Kyzikos, AD.41-55. AE (12mm, 1.29g). NЄOC ΓЄPMANIKOC / K - Y. Bare head of Britannicus right. / AN OKTA. Confronted and draped busts of Antonia and Octavia. RPC 2248. Rare! Former Kairos Numismatik

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Very cool early provincial! I've only had one with Britannicus and he is standing on the reverse.


Lydia, Tralleis. Æ18. Claudius, Messalina & Britannicus.

Æ18 Trichalkon of Tralleis in Lydia, A.D. 43-48.
Obv: TI KΛAY KAI CEBAC. Confronted busts of Messalina and Claudius.
Rev: BRETANNIKOΣ KAIΣAREΩN. Britannicus, togate, standing almost to front, head left, holding grain ears.
18mm. 5.40gm.
RPC 2654. Sold

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On 11/5/2023 at 3:14 AM, DonnaML said:

How peculiar. Everyone knows that Claudius spoke English, not German, and did so with a British accent like all Romans. He sounded like Derek Jacobi.

Oh !
I didn't know that, I've always been thinking they all spoke french back then. Weird !



Claudius, Dupondius
CERES AVGVSTA, Ceres, veiled and draped, seated left on ornamental throne, holding two corn-ears and a long torch, S C in exergue.
11,20 gr
Ref : RCV # 1855, RIC # 94


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