The Roman Empire
Estimate: 5'000 CHF
Starting price: 4'000 CHF
Agrippina Senior, wife of Germanicus and mother of Gaius. Sestertius Roma 37-41,
Æ 28.40 g.
Description: AGRIPPINA M F MAT C CAESARIS AVGVSTI Draped bust r., hair falling in long plait at the back. Rev. S·P·Q·R / MEMORIAE / AGRIPPINAE Carpentum drawn l. by two mules; the cover supported by standing figures at the corners with ornamented side. References: C 1
BMC Gaius 81-5
RIC Gaius 55
CBN Gaius 128 Condition:Very rare. A very interesting and finely engraved reverse composition. Brown patina very gently smoothed, otherwise good very fine Provenance: Vinchon, November 1986, 629
CNG sale 100, 2015, 1840
The Armand Trampitsch collection Note: 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 status.
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 an 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 of Agrippina.