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Will the Real Caesonia Please Stand Up?


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The wait is finally over - coin safe in hand, I can now post my first white whale from the recent Naville sale

Judaea, Caesaria Panias

AE18 of Herod Agrippa I, for Caesonia, with Julia Drusilla, wife and daughter of Caligula

Dated Year 5 = 40-41 AD

Obv: KAIΣΩNIA ΓYNH ΣEBAΣTOY, Draped bust of Caesonia left

Rev: ΔΡOYΣIΛΛA ΘYΓATΡI ΣEBAΣTOY LE, small figure of Julia Drusilla, robed, holding Nike and branch


This coin is the only generally accepted portrait of Milonia Caesonia, and certainly of the Imperial couple's infant daughter, Julia Drusilla. Another commonly cited example is the AE "as" of Carthago Nova, in which a vaguely imperial female bust of "Salus" is presented opposite of Caligula


The only problem is Caligula honored many of his female relatives on coinage, and no name is given on this issue, which I recall reading may have been minted prior to the Imperial wedding in 39. I haven't been able to locate the exact example of this type with KAIΣΩNIA legible, but it apparently exists somewhere.

Very little is known for certain of the life of Caesonia, due to the efforts to erase and later deface the memory of her husband. She married Caligula in AD 39, having been recently divorced or widowed, and was the mother to three daughters by her first husband and already at least seven or eight months pregnant with Julia Drusilla when she and Caligula were wed. It is uncertain whether Caligula was the father, or whether it was her former husband's. 

Unusual for a disgraced emperor, ancient sources are unanimous in declaring that the marriage was a happy one, with both Caligula and Caesonia infatuated and dedicated to one another. Caligula also considered Drusilla to be his, regardless of her true paternity.

Caesonia died in the praetorian coup that had her husband killed on 24 January 41, reportedly she offered no resistance and simply requested a quick death. The toddler Drusilla was also murdered immediately after her parents, to ensure that Caligula's bloodline was erased forever.

After the murder of the Imperial family, the senate issued a Damnatio Memoriae, ordering statues broken, inscriptions erased, and coins recalled and melted.

Interestingly, these coins show signs of being part of that same Damnatio:

- They are extremely rare (RPC cites 15, ACsearch lists about 12, with some overlap)

- Multiple die pairs exist, hinting at a much larger initial issue (most notably the figure of Drusilla can be seen in various states of posture)

- The surviving coins show relatively little wear, but almost universally display moderate to heavy corrosion, hinting that they were simply dropped and exposed directly to the elements, rather than hoarded in a protective container.

- My coin was described as having large surface pits, but upon closer examination I believe they are actually countermarks, indicating that it was perhaps recovered and circulated for a time before being lost again.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share anything relevant!

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How lucky you are, @Finn235, to have such a true rarity! I only have the SALVS issue of Carthago Nova, which is not really Caesonia. Even my first attempt to acquire the coin was a disaster!

Very early in my coin collecting "career" when eBay was a new thing and the Celator was still in print, I bought this one from an eBay dealer as a "Caligula and Caesonia":

After all, it looked very similar to one posted at an academic website, the Virtual Catalog of Roman Coins, maintained by Austin College:


The coin had a "soft" appearance and feel to it and there were traces of a casting seam around the edge -- though I believe most of the flan was filed down -- and the whole coin had an artificial patina applied to age the coin and cover the file work on the edge.

I compared the coin to that one posted on the Virtual Catalog of Roman Coins' page and it was identical in flan shape and die and placement of the dies on the flan -- it was a cast copy -- the only differences being the artificial patinas that were applied to each. Both coins are forged.

I confronted the dealer with this evidence and demanded (and got) a refund without returning the coin only to be sold to another sucker.

I eventually bought another example -- a genuine one -- and also learned that the coin does not actually portray Caesonia at all, but a personification of Salus. Here's the real deal:

Caligula AD 37-41.
Roman provincial Æ 28 mm, 11.17 gm.
Carthago Nova, Spain, AD 37-38.
Obv: C. CAESAR AVG. GERMANIC. IMP. P.M. TR.P. COS., laureate head of Caligula, r.
Rev: CN. ATEL. FLAC. CN. POM. FLAC. II. VIR. Q.V.I.N.C., head of Salus r., SAL AVG across field.
Refs: SGI 419; Heiss 272, 35; Cohen 247, 1; RPC 1, 185; SNG Cop 503.

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Thanks @Roman Collector!

I am curious - what is the giveaway that the Carthago Nova Salus issue was minted before 39 AD? Perhaps the duovirs being mentioned elsewhere?

If indeed SALVS is intended to the ailing health of Antonia, that would be just as good, as she is not otherwise known from lifetime coins, only posthumous.

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What an amazing coup, @Finn235!  (At a fabulous price, I might add!)  And it couldn't have entered a better "all the Roman personalities on a coin" collection! 👍

I've recently made some additions to my much more modest attempt to get all the "essential" (read: reasonably important and obtainable) Roman personalities on a coin.  The biggest one was the Pescennius Niger on the left:


As you can see, it's a type match for the very rare (much rarer than the Niger!) Septimius coin I have that followed, while the civil war still raged.  Clearly they're from the same mint workers, although the Pescennius normally gets attributed to Antioch and the Sep Sev to Emesa.  Lots of work remains to be done on these eastern mints...

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19 hours ago, Finn235 said:

- My coin was described as having large surface pits, but upon closer examination I believe they are actually countermarks, indicating that it was perhaps recovered and circulated for a time before being lost again.

That's the first thing I wondered, if any of those might be countermarks (it's often hard to tell and countermarks can easily be misread as pits). It raises the question of whether Provincial coins were more likely to escape "damnatio recalls" (or if sometimes countermarking might've substituted in times/places where they were reluctant to destroy what scarce small change was available).

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