Caligula (Augustus) Coin: Brass Sestertius (Agrippina I)-reverse
AGRIPPINA M F MAT C CAESARIS AVGVSTI - Bust of Agrippina the Elder, right, her hair falling in queue down her neck
SPQR MEMORIAE AGRIPPINAE - Carpentum, with ornamented cover and sides, drawn right by two mules
Mint: Rome (37-41AD)
Wt./Size/Axis: 22.00g / 34mm / 180
RIC 1-Gaius 55
Trillmich Group II; BMCRE 81-5 (Caligula)
BN 128 (Caligula)
BMCRE 86-7 (Caligula)
Acquisition/Sale: sesterc1975 Ebay
The obverse inscription translates: "Agrippina, daughter of Marcus, mother of Emperor Gaius Caesar".
ODERINT, DUM METUANT (LET THEM HATE, SO LONG AS THEY FEAR). — CALIGULA
Agrippina Sr.,one of the most tragically unfortunate women of Roman history. Agrippina was destined to achieve the highest possible status that did not happen. In 29AD she was deprived of her freedom, and in 33AD of life itself. This sestertii dedicated to Agrippina was produced by her son Caligula, The inscription, SPQR MEMORIAE AGRIPPINAE, is itself dedicatory from the Senate and the Roman people to the memory of Agrippina.
Of this coin, minted at Rome, in gold and silver, Agrippina occupies the most distinguished place, namely the obverse side. She styles herself (by implication) the wife of Claudius, and, in direct terms, the mother of Nero; as though the government of the empire had been in her hands, and her son only Caesar. It is on this account that Tacitus (Ann. 23), asks -- What help is there in him, who is governed by a woman? It is not to be wondered at therefore, adds Vaillant, if the oaken garland was decreed to this woman and to her son, as it had already been to Caligula and to Claudius, ob cives servatos, by the Senate, whom she assembled in the palace, where she sat discreetly veiled. Praest. Num. Impp. ii. 60.
Agrippina the Elder, mother of Caligula, was honored on a bronze sestertius. The obverse inscription surrounding her strong, dignified portrait translates: “Agrippina, daughter of Marcus, mother of emperor Gaius Caesar.” On the reverse, the legend “To the Memory of Agrippina” appears beside a carpentum, a ceremonial cart drawn by two mules that paraded an image of Agrippina on special occasions.
Three issues of sestertii were struck in honour of Agrippina Senior, one of the most tragically unfortunate women of
Roman history. She began life as a favoured member of the Julio-Claudian family during the reign of her grandfather
Augustus, and upon her marriage to Livia’s grandson Germanicus, she seemed destined to achieve the highest possible
However, upon the death of Augustus and the accession of Tiberius, her life took a turn for the worse: supreme power had
shifted from the bloodlines of the Julii to the Claudii. Though her marriage represented and ideal union of Julian and
Claudian, it was not destined to survive Tiberius’ reign. Germanicus died late in 19 under suspicious circumstances, after
which Agrippina devoted the next decade of her life to openly opposing Tiberius until in 29 he deprived her of freedom,
and in 33 of life itself.
The sestertii dedicated to Agrippina are easily segregated. The first, produced by her son Caligula, shows on its reverse a
carpentum; the second, issued by her brother Claudius, shows SC surrounded by a Claudian inscription, and the third is
simply a restoration of the Claudian type by Titus, on which the reverse inscription is instead dedicated to that emperor.
Though both Caligula and Claudius portrayed Agrippina, each did so from their own perspective, based upon the nature of
their relationship with her. The inscription on Caligula’s coin, AGRIPPINA M F MAT C CAESARIS AVGVSTI, describes
her as the daughter of Marcus (Agrippa) and the mother of Gaius (Caligula). While Claudius also identifies her as
Agrippa’s daughter, his inscription ends GERMANICI CAESARIS, thus stressing her role as the wife of his brother
Germanicus. It is also worth noting that on the issue of Caligula Agrippina has a slender profile like that of her son,
whereas on Claudius’ sestertii her face is more robust, in accordance with his appearance.
The carpentum reverse is not only a superbly executed type, but has a foundation in the recorded events of the day.
Suetonius (Gaius 15) describes the measures taken by Caligula to honour his family at the outset of his reign, which
included gathering the ashes of his mother and brothers, all victims of persecution during the reign of Tiberius. Upon
returning to Rome, Caligula, with his own hands, transferred to an urn his mother’s ashes “with the utmost reverence”; he
then instituted Circus games in her honour, at which “…her image would be paraded in a covered carriage.”
There can be little doubt that the carpentum on this sestertius relates to the special practice initiated by Caligula. The
inscription, SPQR MEMORIAE AGRIPPINAE, is itself dedicatory from the Senate and the Roman people to the memory