Agrippina’s rapid loss of influence after successfully engineering Claudius’ death and Nero’s accession to the throne, culminating in her expulsion from the palace by Nero, is reflected in the gold and silver coinage of Nero’s first regnal year. Agrippina is prominent in Nero’s first coin type as emperor, shown by our denarius: her titles occupy the obverse, relegating Nero’s titles to the reverse, and her portrait faces Nero’s, though in the subordinate right-hand position.
One of ancient history’s most infamous characters, Nero rose to power in his mid-teens following the death of Claudius, his adoptive father. To speed things along he had Britannicus poisoned and in league with his mother Agrippina had had Claudius poisoned as well. His next few years were failry unremarkable one way or the other largely in part because of Agrippina’s overbearing influence. He corrected the problem, however, by having her executed on the pretext that she had a disfavorable view of Poppaea, his new mistress. Because he was already married to a certain Octavia he had her exiled and murdered as well. He would later kick Poppaea to death while she was pregnant. To round things out he had his teacher Seneca, another influential man of his age, commit suicide on suspicions of him and others plotting against him.
Popular legend holds that he set fire to Rome. Modern historians dismiss this account as an exaggeration but his decision to hold a poetry recital with the conflagration as his background was a crass political blunder that would hurt his popularity immensely. Needing to find a scapegoat, he chose to point the finger at Christians who up til then had been but a fledgling cult. For the next 300 years Christians would be villified for every ailment within the empire and used regularly as cannon fodder in the Colisseum. In one of the more bizarre spectacles imaginable, Nero would set Christians on fire and held in position to act as torches during his parties.
Becoming ever more hated for his cruelty and the demoralizing effect of the execution of countless innocent individuals, one by one far-flung provinces seceded and named emperors among their own. When Nero was unable to deal with the insurgencies he lost hope and fled to the countryside. The Senate then issued a warrant for his arrest and, on hearing of this, decided to commit suicide… but not before asking one of his slaves to commit suicide first just to see what it would be like!
Confronted busts of Nero, bare-headed, right and of Agrippina II, draped, left
AGRIPP AVG DIVI CLAVD NERONIS CAES MATER
Oak-wreath enclosing EX SC
NERONI CLAVD DIVI F CAES AVG GERM IMP TR P
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