Julio-Claudian history is rife with promising young heirs who did not live long enough to succeed their fathers as emperor: eleven had perished before Britannicus was born, and he would be the last of the Julio-Claudian heirs to die at the hands of a rival. Even though Britannicus was the legitimate son of Claudius, he was never his father’s preferred heir. It is difficult to know whether this was due to Claudius’ personal misgivings or if, as the ancient sources indicate, Claudius had succumbed to the will of his niece and final wife Agrippina Junior, who wanted her own son Nero to succeed him. Whatever his motivation, Claudius promoted Nero strongly: he married Nero to Britannicus’ sister Claudia Octavia and adopted him as his son, and since Nero was older than Britannicus it made him Claudius’ principal heir. Few coinages were struck for Britannicus, and this sestertius is the only one that may be described as an imperial issue. It belongs to a series of sestertii and dupondii struck at an imperial branch mint in the Balkans, and though in the past some scholars have described it as a memorial issue under Titus, that view has been abandoned in favour of a Claudian vintage. It is linked with four other rare bronzes: sestertii and dupondii of Nero and Agrippina Junior. The five issues clearly represent a mintage under Claudius while Nero held the title of Caesar, and Britannicus was the imperiled back-up heir. The style and fabric of the issue is consistent with Balkan mint bronzes, especially those of Perinthus, though it is always possible that it emanated from a mint in nearby Bithynia. Marking this Britannicus sestertius as an imperial issue is the fact that Latin is used for its inscription, and the reverse bears the traditional formula SC (although this feature is not shared by all of the coins ascribed to this emission). Von Kaenel notes it may have been a special issue for the creation of Thracia as a province in about the year 46, though a date toward the end of Claudius’ reign, c. 50-54, is more generally accepted.
Bareheaded and draped bust l.
TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG F BRITANNICVS
Mars, helmeted and cuirassed, advancing l., holding shield and spear
S – C
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