Drusus (Caesar) Coin: Brass Sestertius
(no legend) - Crossed cornucopias, each surmounted by the bareheaded bust of a boy facing one another; winged caduceus between
DRVSVS CAESAR TI AVG F DIVI AVG N PONT TR POT II around large SC. - Legend surrounding large S C
Mint: Rome (22-23 AD)
Wt./Size/Axis: 24.74g / 34mm / 6h
RIC I 42 (Tiberius)
BMC Tiberius 95
CBN Tiberius 73
Richard Baker Collection
Acquisition/Sale: CNG Internet 435 #315
This issue, commemorating the birth of twin sons to Drusus Caesar and his wife Livia Drusilla (Livilla), was part of the series issued under the Tiberius in AD 22-23 to promote the imperial virtue and dynastic solidity of the emperor's family. Although Germanicus Gemellus died very young, his brother Tiberius lived into his adulthood, with the expectation that he would be heir to his grandfather following the premature death of his father, Drusus. In the later years of the emperor’s life, though, Gaius (Caligula) was often seen in close company with the emperor, while Tiberius Gemellus’s status was shrouded in obscurity. Thus, after the death of the emperor, Caligula, assisted by the Praetorian Prefect, Macro, quickly moved to take the purple. Upon the reading of the deceased emperor’s will, however, it was discovered that Tiberius intended for both Tiberius Gemellus and his cousin Gaius to be jointly elevated, and, moreover, that Gemellus was to be the senior partner. Under unknown authority, Caligula quickly had the will vacated, and, shortly thereafter, his cousin murdered.
This sestertius was struck in 22/23, nearly three years after the death of Germanicus, Tiberius’ nephew and first heir. In the
interim Tiberius had named no heir, but with the nine coins in his dated aes of 22/23 he announces a ‘Tiberian dynasty’
that includes his son Drusus, his daughter-in-law (and niece) Livilla, and his twin grandsons Tiberius Gemellus and
Germanicus Gemellus, whose heads decorate the crossed cornucopias on this sestertius.
Since it is the only coin in the aes of 22/23 without an obverse inscription, we must presume its design was believed
sufficient to communicate the fact that the twin boys were portrayed. Though this type usually is thought to celebrate the
birth of the twins, that event had occurred two and a half years before this coin was struck. Rather, it is best seen in light of
early Julio-Claudian dynastic rhetoric in which male heirs were celebrated as twins (even if they were not literally twins, or
even biological brothers) and were routinely likened to the Dioscuri, the heavenly twins Castor and Pollux.
The crossed-cornucopias design is familiar on ancient coinage, and here the cornucopias, grape clusters, grape leaves and
pine cones seemingly allude to Bacchus or Liber in a reference to fecundity. In terms of dynastic appeal, the design boasts
of the prosperity and fruitfulness of the Tiberian line, with the caduceus symbolizing Mercury as the messenger of the gods
and the bringer of good fortune.
Despite the hopefulness represented by this series of coins, tragedy struck on two fronts. The ‘Tiberian dynasty’ collapsed
within months of its being announced when both Drusus and his son Germanicus Gemellus (the boy whose head is shown
on the right cornucopia) died in 23.
Poor fates awaited the remaining two members: Drusus’ wife Livilla became increasingly associated with Tiberius’ prefect
Sejanus, and she died shamefully in the aftermath of his downfall in 31, and the second grandson, Tiberius Gemellus,
survived long enough to be named co-heir of Tiberius with Caligula, but after Tiberius’ death he was pushed into a
subsidiary role and soon was executed by Caligula, who would not tolerate a second heir to the throne.
The Caduceus between two cornucopia indicates Concord, and is found on medals of Augustus, M. Antony, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, Nerva, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, and Clodius Albinus in addition to this sestertius of Drusus.
Tiberius Julius Caesar Nero Gemellus, known Gemellus and his twin brother Tiberius Claudius Caesar Germanicus II Gemellus, were born on the 10th of October 19AD. They were the win sons of Drusus and Livilla, the grandson of the Emperor Tiberius, and the cousin of the Emperor Caligula. Gemellus is a nickname meaning “the twin”. Germanicus II Gemellus, died in early childhood in 23 AD whereas Nero Gemellus died 37 or 38AD perhaps on the orders of his cousin Caligula.
Gemellus’ father Drusus (also known as Castor) died mysteriously when Gemellus was only four. It is believed that Drusus died at the hands of the Praetorian Prefect, Lucius Aelius Sejanus. His mother Livilla was either put to death or committed suicide because she had been plotting with Sejanus to overthrow Tiberius, and also because she may have worked with Sejanus to poison her husband. Livilla had been Sejanus’ lover for a number of years before their deaths, and many including Tiberius believed that both Gemelli were really Sejanus’ sons.
We know very little about Gemellus’ life, since he was largely ignored by most of the Imperial family. When Gemellus was 12 years old, he was summoned to the island of Capri where Tiberius lived at that time, along with his cousin Caligula. Tiberius made both Caligula and Gemellus joint-heirs, but Caligula was the favorite.
After Tiberius died on March 16th, 37AD, Caligula became Emperor and adopted Gemellus as his son. Caligula soon thereafter ordered him killed in late 37 AD or early 38 AD . The allegation was plotting against Caligula while he was ill. Suetonius writes that Caligula ordered Gemellus killed.