Coin Relief 26 – Gold and silver of Claudius I

Welcome to the latest edition of Coin Relief. This time Dr. Andrew Brown examines the gold and silver coinage of Claudius I.

Claudius I, AD 41-54

We have already looked at some of the coinage of Claudius I (AD 41-54) when we highlighted the contemporary copies of Claudian dupondii and asses. These are by far the most prolific coins of the
Claudian period, however there are also much rarer precious metal issues in both gold and silver that play an important part of the coinage after the Roman conquest. Although these are not prolific on the PAS, they do form a bridge between the coinages of Tiberius, Caligula, and the pre-AD 64 reform issues of Nero.

Born in Lugdunum (Lyon) on 1st August 10 BC, on the day the Altar of Rome and Augustus was inaugurated, Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus was a member of the first imperial dynasty, the Julio-Claudians. His father was the military general and politician Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus (son of the empress Livia, stepson of Augustus, and brother to Tiberius), while his mother was Antonia Minor (daughter of Mark Antony and Octavia Minor (sister of Augustus)). For much of his early life he was kept away from the public eye due to symptoms of illness that left him with a twitch, confused speech, a running nose, and weak knees – his
family, largely embarrassed by him, felt he was unlikely to amount to anything or that he had any real intelligence at all. He was perhaps to surprise them somewhat! His father, Drusus,
died on campaign in Germania in 9 BC and his care passed to his mother and grandmother (Livia). With the encouragement of the likes of Livy, Claudius developed as a skilled historian, scholar, and linguist but under first Tiberius and then Caligula was shunned from public office despite apparent popular support until appointed consul by Caligula in AD 37.

Claudius was subjected to a degree of humiliation by his nephew, Caligula, prior to the latter’s assassination in a widespread conspiracy in AD 41. During the chaos surrounding Caligula’s murder, Claudius was discovered hiding behind a curtain by the Praetorian guard, who declared him emperor and placed him under their protection within the Praetorian camp. Even if Claudius had no direct hand in Caligula’s death, and perhaps showed an element of clemency to the conspirators, he was intelligent and quick to mete out justice where he perceived a threat. As emperor, he took a close interest in elements of religious life, the judiciary, the imperial finances, and in continued attempts to appease the senate (he had after all been
elevated by the military rather than the politicians, many in the senate demonstrating a clear dislike for him!) presided over an increasingly centralised empire. He was a lover of the games that included those in honour of him, his father, and in AD 47 Secular Games to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Rome. Claudius married four times. Perhaps most notorious was his third wife, Valeria Messalina, who he married in AD 37 and by whom he
had two children, Claudia Octavia (later wife of Nero) and Tiberius Claudius Caesar Britannicus. Messalina, however, was infamous for the murder of any and all of her enemies or rivals as well as blatant adultery that culminated in her marrying in a public ceremony one of her lovers while Claudius was away from Rome at Ostia! Needless to say, Messalina was executed by Claudius, who went on to marry Agrippina in AD 49, adopting her son, Nero, as imperial heir over his own son, Britannicus.

A very obvious element of Claudius’ reign were several significant building projects that included the completion of the Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus aqueducts in Rome that met at the Porta Maggiore where the Claudian gate of Travertine limestone remains visible today. Also significant for Rome was the construction of a new harbour at the mouth of the Tiber near Ostia – Portus – to help secure the grain supply to the capital. Parts of the Claudian harbour remain visible and it is also depicted on sestertii of Nero.

The empire expanded under Claudius, with perhaps the most notable (and relevant to us!) development being the annexation of the new province of Britannia. The four legions that landed in Kent in AD 43 were led by future governor of Britannia, Aulus Plautius, and included in their number the Legio II Augusta commanded by the future emperor Vespasian (AD 69-79). Invasion had supposedly been predicated on a plea from the exiled King of the Atrebates, Verica, to Rome for assistance in restoring him to power (Cassius Dio, 60.19). The foundations for this had begun, however, much earlier, first with Caesar and then in Caligula’s aborted attempt in AD 40. With the legions already close at hand in Gaul, and a clear political benefit for Claudius in invading, the annexation of the new province brought him an important military victory. The invading force met with resistance from the Catuvellauni led by the brothers Togodumnus and Caratacus, with battles on the Medway and Thames that left Togodumnus dead and Caratacus in flight. The Roman legions advanced to Camulodunum (Colchester), the regional capital of the Catuvellauni, where with much choreographed theatrics – and elephants! – Claudius eventually joined them to receive the
surrender of the British kings and claim his victory on the battlefield. The campaign was an important piece of propaganda for Claudius and one that was highlighted for many years as not only a significant event for Rome but particularly for an
emperor who was far from a military leader. He remained in Britain for only 16 days before returning to Rome where he received a triumph that included the senate bestowing on him the
title Britannicus and the construction of triumphal arches in Boulogne and on the Aqua Virgo in Rome dedicated in AD 51. There are some disparaging voices though – Suetonius remarks
that “He made but one campaign and that of little importance” (Suetonius Life of Claudius, XVII.1-2). At Camulodunum the first Roman fort then colony and capital was established, Colonia Claudia Victricensis, and a temple to Claudius and Rome was constructed on the site where Colchester Castle now stands. After Claudius’ death the temple became the Templum Divi Claudii – Temple of the Divine Claudius. It is from here that Claudius was revered although Seneca, mocking Claudius in his political satire the Apocolocyntosis Divi Claudii (‘The Pumpkinification of Claudius’!), remarks “Is it not enough that he has a temple in
Britain, that savages worship him and pray to him as a god, so that they may find a fool to have mercy upon them?” (Seneca, Apocolocyntosis, 8). The temple was not to last for long, being a target for the events of the Boudiccan revolt in AD 60/61.

On the 13th of October AD 54, Claudius was murdered. He appears to have been poisoned, possibly by mushrooms, and it is likely that this represented a culmination of his wife Agrippina’s attempts to ensure power transferred to her son, Nero, over Claudius’ own son, Britannicus. He had adopted the young prince in AD 50 and Nero’s position within the imperial family was secured through is marriage to Octavia, Claudius’ daughter by
Messalina. With Claudius removed, Agrippina and Nero could take power unopposed. Claudius was deified by the senate after his death and although work began on a temple dedicated to him in Rome on the Caelian Hill, this stopped with Agrippina’s death, only to be completed much later in the Flavian period.

Claudius’ coinage

Gold aurei and silver denarii of Claudius I are generally rare as British site finds. Gold is never common, but it is notable that, much like the silver coinage of Caligula and the earliest coinages of Nero, Claudian denarii do not have widespread distribution. It may be that they simply did not reach Britannia in any volume in the first place. Perhaps more plausibly, their scarcity might be linked to Nero’s coinage reforms in AD 64 that could have seen the removal from circulation of good quality early denarii and their replacement with Nero’s reformed denarii. Claudius’ coinage would arguably have only been in circulation for a
relatively short period of time after the conquest therefore and the examples we see recorded potentially largely the result of losses prior to AD 64.

There are a total of 50 denarii of Claudius I recorded as single finds on the PAS of which 36 have images and four cannot be closely identified to type. Seven of this total are coins from the Welsh IARCW dataset. In addition, there are five aurei, all of which have images with the exception of a single IARCW coin.
Examples of Claudian silver and gold do turn up in early-1st century AD hoard groups too, albeit again in comparatively limited quantity. Indeed, hoards ending with coins of Caligula, Claudius, and the early issues of Nero are far less common than, for example, those terminating with Tiberius or post-AD 64 coinages of Nero. This may again go back to the effects of Nero’s reforms and the paucity of Claudian silver in particular remaining in circulation into the later-1st century. It has been argued that the comparatively larger number of hoards closing with Tiberius might actually represent deposition of material after the Roman conquest in AD 43 given that silver coinage of Tiberius is much more abundant and would have circulated for a longer period of time than the rarer, new issues of Claudius. Early
Roman gold is rare in hoards, although perhaps one of the best examples of a conquest period hoard is the 37 aurei of the Bredgar Hoard from Kent, which has been interpreted as
potential evidence for the invading Claudian legions and their advance from Kent to London in AD 43 (for the hoard see IARCH-75460A).

The Iron Age staters and Roman denarii of the Malpas Hoard. Record ID is LVPL-DFD9E1 (National Museum Liverpool, License: CC-BY).

One potentially complicating factor lies in the presence of mixed Iron Age and Roman assemblages that post-date AD 43. These have potential to reveal interesting evidence for the Roman invasion and interactions during the immediate post-conquest period. Local Iron Age coin types circulated alongside incoming new Roman coinages like those of Claudius I, only disappearing in some areas by the Neronian period. Indeed, there are multiple hoard groups that incorporate early Roman gold and silver with British Iron Age coin types and so it is important to keep this in mind when recording early Roman coinage on the PAS. Perhaps the best example of a mixed early hoard is the Malpas Hoard discovered in Cheshire in 2014 (LVPL-DFD9E1) that combines 25 early denarii with seven Iron Age gold staters, likely deposited after AD 43. Sam has suggested that the Malpas Hoard, in
conjunction with other similar conquest period assemblages as well as single finds of early Roman denarii, might provide tentative evidence for resistance in Britain to the Roman
invasion. In this instance potentially linked with the flight of Caratacus and his eventual capture in the north of England.  Although this is a tentative association, it highlights the
importance of recording these early Roman coins fully and with good quality images.

Mints and issues

In RIC I, it is assumed that production of both gold and silver occurred in Rome after the mint had been switched to the capital from Lyon under Caligula. However, this is something that has been subject to discussion both at the time C.H.V. Sutherland was compiling RIC and in more recent years. We have already touched on the complexities of the silver coinage in particular of this period when looking at Nero and the Claudian coinage is another element of this discussion. Analysis of the chemical composition of Julio-Claudian denarii by K. Butcher and M. Ponting has demonstrated that they are struck from very pure silver – up to 98-99% purity – and with trace elements that show continuity from Tiberius until the pre-reform coinage of Nero. The shift appears to be with Nero’s reforms in AD 64 when both the percentage of silver within the denarii and their composition in terms of trace elements, very clearly changes. This continuum and then sudden change in AD 64 would seem to suggest that production did not move to Rome under Caligula, but instead remained at Lyon until the Neronian reforms. 

As with Nero’s coinage on the PAS, it is quite likely that we need to edit the Claudian denarii and aurei to reflect the fact that they were likely issued from Lyon rather than Rome. In this piece, I follow RIC, since this is the standard reference that is readily accessible for recording gold and silver coinages of this period, although with the acceptance that we perhaps need to adjust for the re-attribution of the mint! Claudius’ gold and silver coinage was issued in up to six officinae from the start of his reign although coins were not produced every year. We are essentially dealing with gold aurei and silver denarii that appear at fairly regular intervals and with the same limited reverse types generally repeated throughout the period. The coin issues can be broadly divided into two groups: dated coins that carry Claudius’ tribunician powers, consulships, and his titles as imperator on the obverse legends; and an issue (or issues) of undated types,
probably at the end of his reign, that reference the imperial family and Julio-Claudian dynasty.

The first group, of dated coins, were issued in the following years – obverse legends all begin
T CLAVD CAESAR AVG with the addition of the following titles at their end:
AD 41-42
o P M TR P
o 6 reverse types: Constantia Avgvsti; de Germanis; EX S C Ob Cives
Servatos; Imper Recept; Praetor Recept; Paci Avgvstae
AD 43-45
o P M TR P III (AD 43-44)
o P M TR P IIII (AD 44-45)
o 3 reverse types: Imper Recept; Praetor Recept; Paci Avgvstae
AD 46-47
o 6 reverse types: Imper Recept; Paci Avgvstae; de Britann; Constantia
Avgvsti; de Germanis; S P Q R P P Ob C S
AD 49-52
o 4 reverse types (AD 49-50): Paci Avgvstae; de Britann; Constantia Avgvsti;
S P Q R P P Ob C S
o P M TR P X IMP P P (AD 50-51)
o P M TR P X P P IMP XVIII (AD 50-51)
o 3 reverse types (AD 50-51): Paci Avgvstae; Constantia Avgvsti; S P Q R P P
Ob C S
o P M TR P XI IMP P P COS V (AD 51-52)
o 2 reverse types (AD 51-52): Paci Avgvstae; S P Q R P P Ob C S

The assumption with the dated series is that each different reverse type represents a separate officina in the mint. Identification of the reverse type may therefore help in narrowing down the rough date range of the coin even when the legend is not visible. In addition to the dated issues, coins that typically do not carry Claudius’ official titles were struck in relatively large quantity and perhaps focused more toward the end of his reign. These commemorate the imperial family in both aurei and denarii:
Antonia (c.AD 41-45?)
o 2 reverse types: Constantiae Avgvsti; Sacerdos divi avgvsti
Drusus (c.AD 41-54?)
o 3 reverse types: de Germ; de Germanis; de Ge-r-ma-nis
Agrippina (c.AD 50-54)
o 1 reverse type: Nero Clavd Caes Drvsvs Germ Princ Ivvent
Nero (c.AD 50-54)
o 2 reverse types: Sacerd coopt in omn conl supra nvm ex s c; Eqvester Ordo
Principi Ivvent
Claudius with Agrippina (c.AD 50-54)
o 1 reverse type: Agrippinae Avgvstae
Claudius with Nero (c.AD 50-54)
o 1 reverse type: Nero Clavd Caes Drvsvs Germ Princ Ivvent

Dated issues

CONSTANTIA AVGVSTI – ‘To the Constancy of the Augustus’ – a reverse type personal to the emperor and his endurance was issued from early in the reign. There are so far only two
PAS examples, an aureus from the beginning of his reign and a denarius of unclear year.

Aureus of Claudius, c.AD 41-42. Record ID is ESS-2C7051 (Colchester & Ipswich Museum Service, License: CC-BY).

DE GERMANIS – A rare type for aurei commemorating Drusus’ military victories in his German campaigns. There is a single PAS example of this type.

EX S C / OB CIVES / SERVATOS – the reverse legend within an oak wreath reflects the senate awarding Claudius the corona civica for saving the lives of fellow Romans (presumably in ending the reign of Caligula!) and references his acceptance as emperor.
There is only a single denarius of this type on the PAS.

S P Q R / P P / OB C S – A type with variation on the EX S C type appears once Claudius achieves success in military matters and adds the title P P (Pater Patriae – ‘Father of his country’) to his coinage, probably from c.AD 46 onward. This is more common on the PAS than the earlier type, with five denarii and an aureus.

Aureus of Claudius, c.AD 46-47. Record ID is WMID-626B77 (Birmingham Museums Trust, License: CC-BY-SA).

IMPER RECEPT – ‘Imperator Receptus’ (the reception of the emperor), depicting the Praetorian camp and the protection of the Praetorian guard following their nomination of Claudius as emperor. There are just two PAS examples; one appears to be an
irregular plated or very base copy.

Contemporary copy of a denarius of Claudius, c.AD 41-42. Record ID WILT-BE74A4 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

PRAETOR RECEPT – A type with similar message to the previous coin again reaffirming Claudius’ elevation, acceptance, and protection by the Praetorians. This is rare and does not appear to be represented within the PAS data.

DE BRITANN – Very similar to the DE GERMANIS type but in this instance commemorating Claudius’ own victory in his conquest of Britannia. The legend again appears on the architrave of a triumphal arch with equestrian statue (perhaps even giving an
idea of how his own arch in Rome may have looked?!) with the type probably issued from AD 46. There are just two PAS examples and oddly they are both incomplete,
plated contemporary copies!

PACI AVGVSTAE – This is by far the most commonly seen of Claudius’ dated coin types on the PAS. The type depicts Pax-Nemesis in the guise of Victory, again referencing Claudius’ successful elevation as emperor and clemency or restraint(?!) during the overthrow of Caligula. The database has two aurei 
and 13 denarii of this type from the various issues of his reign – almost a third of the total number of precious metal coins of Claudius recorded on the PAS.

Undated issues

For the undated issues of Claudius’ reign, perhaps likely struck towards the end of the period,7 there are a total of 22 denarii recorded on the PAS but with no aurei to date.

Antonia –  Coins honouring Claudius’ mother, Antonia, were struck in two different types. These are very rare as PAS finds and there appears to be only one example, which lacks an image

Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus –  Claudius’ father we have already seen referenced on the dated issues, but issues in Drusus’
own name were struck by Claudius and commemorate his victories in Germany with two types represented. There are four PAS examples, two from each type (two without images,
one of which is an IARCW record).

Agrippina (with Claudius) –  The most frequently seen PAS type for the Imperial family are coins with an obverse of Claudius and a reverse of his wife, Agrippina. A total of eleven denarii, all of the same type (RIC 81), are recorded of this type, three of which are from the IARCW dataset.

Denarius of Claudius, c.AD 50-54, with Agrippina reverse. Record ID HESH-1E7358 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Nero – A young Nero as the newly adopted, presumptive heir to the imperial throne and prince of the youth appears on silver and gold coinage at the end of Claudius’ reign after his adoption in
c.AD 50. We have already looked at the coinage of Nero in detail in a previous edition, but it is worth reiterating that there are six denarii of Nero as caesar under Claudius recorded to date on the PAS.

Contemporary copies

Contemporary plated copies of Claudius’ denarii are not uncommon among the 50 coins recorded on the PAS database (Fig. 27). At least 13 (26%) have been identified to date, a not
insubstantial percentage, so it is worth double checking if you do have Claudian denarii for recording that they aren’t contemporary copies. There does not appear to be a specific
distribution for the contemporary copies that suggests different mechanisms at work outside the usual patterns of circulation – the majority fall within the areas of coin loss for the Claudian silver generally. Precisely when they were struck is a different
problem though. As already noted above, the silver content of Claudian denarii was high, but this drops later in the century notably with the reforms of Nero by AD 64. It is possible that
the plated copies could well have been struck during Claudius’ reign when his coinage was in circulation, but it is equally plausible that they are products from later in the 1st century after
the Neronian reforms.

References and further reading:

S. Moorhead and D. Stuttard The Romans who shaped Britain (Thames and Hudson, 2016)

R. Abdy Romano-British Coin Hoards (Shire, 2002); R. Bland Coin Hoards and Hoarding in Roman Britain, AD 43-c.498 (Spink, 2018): 35

S. Moorhead ‘The Malpas Hoard and the Flight of Caratacus’ in E.J. Stewart (ed) Insights into Roman Hoards of North West England (National Museums Liverpool, 2017)

K. Butcher and M. Ponting ‘The Roman denarius under the Julio-Claudian emperors: Mints, metallurgy and technology’ Oxford Journal of Archaeology 24(2), 2005.