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The Coinage of Nero and the Fall of Agrippina- What does Numismatic Propaganda Tell Us?  -Joe Geranio


In the first months of Nero’s reign Agrippina controlled her son and the empire.  I do not want to go over the whole history of the thread that lead to Agrippina's death, but what do the coins struck during the reign of Nero tell us of the strained relationship?  Agrippina enjoyed great prominence on the coins in silver and gold in 54-55 A.D. 

Nero’s most interesting precious metal coinages are his first three. The first two, struck from October 12 to December 3, 54, depict either the head of deified Claudius or the confronted busts of Nero and his mother Agrippina. These are replaced with his third issue, which shows the jugate busts of Nero and his mother. All of the precious metal issues Nero struck thereafter (December 4, 55 onward) bear only his portrait. This particular aureus is an important rarity because of the small object – either a grain kernel or a laurel leaf – behind Nero’s bust. Thus far, only three or four dies with this feature, all used for aurei, have been noted: one for the confronted bust, one or two for the Divus Claudius, and one for the jugate bust. All of the ‘marked’ aurei are significant rarities: perhaps six of the confronted bust aurei, including this piece, are known, and the variant is noted in RIC; perhaps three of the Divus Claudius issue are known (though they were essentially unrecognised until von Kaenel’s 1986 corpus), and only two of the jugate bust issue are known (similarly unrecognised until published by Curtis L. Clay in the 1982 Numismatische Zeitschrift). Considering these ‘marked’ coins are unusual in character and represent only a tiny percentage of the output, we can say they have no parallel on contemporary coinages. Furthermore, since the feature occurs on all three issues, it justifies a second look at the proposed chronologies: perhaps all of the marked pieces belong to late 54? Both the identification and the significance of the object are unknown. If a laurel leaf, it would probably note the bestowal of honours on Nero or would signify the funerary games Nero held for Claudius. More likely, however, the object is a kernel of grain, in which case it likely refers to a grain donative. Ancient sources reveal that Nero not only matched Claudius by paying each rank-and-file praetorian guard an accession bonus of 150 aurei (Suet. Claud. 10.2; Tacitus, Annals, XII, 69, 1-3), but that he added to this “…a free monthly issue of grain” (Suet. Nero 10). Perhaps the bonuses due to the praetorian guardsmen were paid with these aurei marked with the grain kernel to signify their additional bonus of grain. If we consider the comparative rarity of these coins, the fact that ‘marking’ dies in this manner was unprecedented, and that the marking occurs only on aurei, the scenario described above seems at least plausible. ACSearch