Claudius Varieties

The Roman coinage certainly includes an interesting span of varieties. This is expanded considerably if we include the coins issued for local circulation in the far flung parts of the Empire. These Roman Colonial or Greek Imperial issues were usually restricted to base metal (bronze). Alexandria, Egypt, was permitted a precious metal coinage in the form of a very low grade silver alloy that collectors call 'billon'. This week's Featured Coin is a billon tetradrachm of Claudius I (41-54 AD).

Claudius I - 46 AD (year 6) - Billon tetradrachm of Alexandria - 12.6g
Head of Claudius surrounded by Greek legend, year 6 = L digamma under chin
Messalina standing holding small figures of her two children, Octavia & Britannicus
Greek reverse legend: Messalina Caesara

Valeria Messalina was married to her second cousin Claudius before his ascension following the death of Caligula. Throughout the marriage she had a series of lovers, the last being Gaius Silius. In 48 AD, the pair conspired to overthrow Claudius and replace him with Messalina's 7 year old son Britannicus. The plot was foiled by Claudius' advisor Narcissus; Silius was executed and Messalina committed suicide. She was not shown on the standard Roman coinage but appears on several colonial issues. The Featured Coin is the most common of these. Note the interesting form of the letter A with the vertical 'crossbar'.

Claudius, like the other early Emperors known as the Twelve Caesars, is quite popular with collectors. The history of the period is well recorded and interesting enough to have been made into the public TV series I, Claudius. This popular demand has increased the price of nice specimens of the standard Roman coins to a level above the budgets of many collectors. In addition to the Greek Imperial coins, there are a few other 'alternative' styles of coins available to fill the demand for coins of Claudius. Followers of these pages must be expecting me to mention fourrees which are particularly common for Claudius. All silver coins of this period should be examined closely for seams and core exposure before a high price is paid for denarii.

Some of these lower priced coins are even more interesting than the standard Roman coins. Claudius campaigned heavily in the northern regions adding Britain to the Empire. These campaigns resulted in the production of barbarous copies of Roman bronze coins. Whether these were authorized local mints or contemporary counterfeits is not certain. They can be recognized by style which ranges from nearly as good as the Rome product to wild and crude productions. The sestertius shown here is certainly not Roman in style but has a charm of its own. Particularly well done is the treatment of the transparent drapery on the figure of Spes. The cutter may have been a local artist but the die was certainly a work of merit.

An obvious way of lowering the cost of coins for a collection is to buy low grade examples. Many well worn bronze coins of Claudius bear later countermarks certifying them for circulation. Some of these marks revalued the lightweight (through wear or unofficial origin) pieces to circulate at a reduced value. Worn sestertii are found stamped DVP turning them into dupondii. Other stamps certified the issue by the named authority. My grading page (near the bottom) shows a NCAPR countermark applied under Nero on a Nero Claudius Drusus sestertius. The Claudius as (Libertas reverse) shown here has the deepest strike of a countermark (AD) that I have ever seen. Note the flat area which eliminates the S of SC on the reverse.

Coins of the Twelve Caesars will remain the most popular of the Roman series among collectors with deep pockets. This page has shown a few alternatives to the regular Roman issues that might be of interest to collectors on a budget.

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(c) 1998 Doug Smith