Roman Empire, Antonia Minor - The Portrait of a Noble and Virtuous Woman

Article Image

This coin bears the posthumous representation of Antonia Minor, and was struck in memory of her by Claudius her son upon his ascension to the throne. This well liked and respected Roman woman who was celebrated for her virtue and beauty was the younger of the two daughters of Marc Antony and Octavia, who after Antony’s death was allowed by Augustus to benefit from her father’s estate. She thus became wealthy and influential, and married Nero Claudius Drusus, general and consul, bearing him several children. Three survived into adulthood: the popular Germanicus, the future emperor Claudius, and a daughter Livilla. Following the death of her husband in AD 9 whilst on campaign in Germania, the rest of Antonia’s life was plagued by ill fortune as she outlived her oldest son, her daughter and several of her grandchildren.

The legend of this pleasing reverse type refers to perseverance in the face of adversity, which indeed Antonia displayed continually throughout her life, not to a god ‘Constantia’ to whom no other references may be found besides three coin types issued under Claudius. After first the death of her husband, her eldest son Germanicus died in AD 19 in mysterious circumstances in Asia, where he had successfully defeated the kingdoms of Commagene and Cappadocia and turned them into Roman provinces. It is thought that he was perhaps poisoned by his adoptive father Tiberius as his influence and popularity with his troops was becoming too great. Her younger son Claudius, who was born with severe disabilities, was ostracised by his family and excluded from public office until his consulship in AD 37 which he shared with his nephew Caligula. Ironically, this action by his family may have actually saved his life as he was not perceived as a threat to power and therefore survived the purges of Tiberius and Caligula's reigns, going on to prove himself a worthy emperor.

Antonia's woes did not stop with her sons, as her daughter Livilla is supposed to have poisoned her husband Drusus the Younger, son of Tiberius. According to Cassius Dio, Tiberius handed Livilla over to her mother, who locked her up in a room and starved her to death. After the death of Tiberius, her grandson Caligula became emperor, and though Antonia would often offer him advice, he once told her, ‘I can treat anyone exactly as I please!’ Caligula was rumoured to have had his young cousin Gemellus beheaded, to remove him as a rival to the throne. This act was said to have outraged Antonia, who was grandmother to Gemellus as well as to Caligula. Able to stand no more of Caligula’s tyranny, Antonia committed suicide, though Suetonius’s ‘Caligula’, clause 23, suggests she might also have been poisoned by her grandson.

‘When his grandmother Antonia asked for a private interview, he refused it except in the presence of the prefect Macro, and by such indignities and annoyances he caused her death; although some think that he also gave her poison. After she was dead, he paid her no honour, but viewed her burning pyre from his dining-room.’

This reverse design also makes reference to Antonia's abilities and long service as a mother and grandmother. Ceres, whose attributes of the torch and cornucopiae she is shown holding, was the Roman goddess of agriculture, fertility and motherly relationships. As well as her own children, after the death of Germanicus Antonia became the de facto mother for his children, including Caligula, and later Claudius' daughter Claudia Antonia after her mother had been divorced and removed from the Imperial family. With this reverse type Claudius celebrates Antonia's devotion to her family and dedication in ensuring the survival of the Julio-Claudian dynastic line. 

The figure on the reverse is most likely a magnificent statue of Ceres which may have had a head with the features of Antonia known to have been commissioned by Claudius when he became emperor after his nephew’s assassination in AD 41. This identification is supported by the portrayal of Antonia on the obverse wearing a wreath of grain ears, a typical attribute of Ceres. Claudius gave his mother the title of Augusta and her birthday became a public holiday, which had yearly games and public sacrifices held and her image was paraded in a carriage.

Antonia Minor AV Aureus. Rome, AD 41-45. Struck under Claudius. ANTONIA AVGVSTA, draped bust of Antonia to right, wearing wreath of grain ears / CONSTANTIAE AVGVSTI, Antonia standing facing, holding long torch in right hand, cornucopiae in left. RIC 65 (Claudius); von Kaenel Type 16, 316 (V253/R261); Lyon 108 (unlisted dies); Calicó 318a; BMCRE 109 (Claudius); BN 9 (Claudius); C. 1. 7.77g, 19mm, 12h.

A couple of light marks, otherwise Good Extremely Fine. Rare, and one of the finest known of this important issue.