Featured An Illegal coin and exciting mystery - Lydia, Sardes for Diva Claudia Octavia

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Finn235, Sep 30, 2020.

  1. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    My winnings from the Papillon Numismatic Auction 1 just arrived - quite pleased with this one

    Roman Provincial
    Lydia, Sardes for Diva Claudia Octavia, (d. AD 62)
    Minted under Mindios, Strategos for the second time

    Obv: ΘΕΑΝ ΟΚΤΑΟΙΑΝ, Head right
    Rev: CΑΡΔΙΑΝΩΝ / ΕΠΙ ΜΙΝΔΙΟΥ / ΣΤΡ ΤΟ Β, Demeter standing right, holding scepter

    Ref: RPC I 3000 (Var? There seems to be multiple legend layouts, many of which are probably not documented)
    Diva Claudia Octavia Lydia sardes Mindios strategos.jpg

    Born in about 39, Octavia was the middle child of Claudius, and his first child with Messalina, who was also the mother of Britannucus. Sadly always destined to be a pawn in the political games of her family, she was initially betrothed to the son of one of her father's political allies while still a young child, then finally married to her first cousin once removed, Nero.

    Their marriage was never happy, but ancient historians mention that Octavia was a virtuous wife, and well beloved by the people. Nero eventually became bored with Octavia and took on several mistresses. Finally, around the time that his mistress Poppaea became pregnant with his child in about AD 62, Nero divorced Octavia and banished her to the island of Pandateria on trumped-up charges of adultery. He married Poppaea, but the populace rose up in public demonstrations, calling for her return. Frightened, Nero signed Octavia's death warrant, and his agents cut open Octavia's veins and placed her in a very hot bath, apparently to frame it as a suicide. Her head was removed and sent back to Rome, and it is said that Poppaea delivered it to Nero herself.


    While there are various provincial coins from various stages in Octavia's eight year marriage to Nero, this particular emission from Sardes is unique in its use of ΘΕΑΝ, generally meaning "The Goddess" - a title generally reserved for dead empresses or divine personifications. The most common provincial coins to use this are the ones primarily from Pergamon that show the "god" of the Roman Senate (ΘΕΟΝ CΥΝΚΛΗΤΟΝ) and the goddess Roma herself (ΘΕΑN ΡωΜΗN)
    Pergamon mysia AE bust Senate roma.jpg
    Initially I wondered if this perhaps could have been intended for Augustus' sister Octavia; however the strategos Mindios in Sardes struck coins only for Nero and Octavia.

    If indeed these are intended to commemorate a deified Octavia, as the titulature would seem to suggest, they are not only the only coins struck after her death, but also the only coins to deify a Roman empress who was executed on the orders of her husband. Perhaps Mindios was one of many who loved Octavia far, far more than her husband, and decided to take the immense risk and declare her apotheosis, on the hope that his coins would never make it all the way to Rome?

    And I had no idea that such coins even existed prior to seeing them in auction - what fun!

    Any related coins out there? Let's see them!
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2020
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  3. limmle

    limmle Active Member

    Thanks for this write up Finn235 Here's an article about ancient images of Nero's women by Susan Wood of Oakland University: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263851331_The_Incredible_Vanishing_Wives_of_Nero

    It mentions the Sardes coin, proposing that the "mint magistrates of Sardis were both premature and over-optimistic" in their application of a divine title on Octavia in response to her popularity perhaps? It's also interesting to note that she was never formally awarded the title of Augusta, but coins from Perinthus refer to her as such (OKTAOYIA ΣEBAΣTH), so there is another example of a provincial coin being "out of step" with the situation in Rome. Agrippina had been the dominant woman in Nero's rule until her death in 59. She is the one who claimed the title Augusta. Octavia obviously taking a subordinate role to her. Perhaps in the 3 years between Agripinna's death and Nero's divorce from Octavia in 62, the Perinthus mint responded to Octavia's popularity by taking it upon themselves to apply the Augusta title. Could this have been the same with the magistrates at Sardes and their use of ΘΕΑΝ.

    For my contribution, let me post three coins depicting 4 people relevant to Octavia. First, her mother Messalina.
    Business%20Morning%20_edited-6.jpeg Business%20Morning%20_edited-4.jpeg
    Messalina (3rd wife of Claudius)
    Bronze. 41-48, Aigai, Aeolis. Obverse:ΜЄCΑΛЄΙΝΑ CЄΒΑCΤΗ, draped bust right Reverse:[ΑΙΓΑЄωΝ], Zeus standing left, holding eagle and sceptre. RPC I 2430; SNG Copenhagen 23.

    Her brother Britannicus, and future husband, Nero.
    Business%20Morning%20_edited-5.jpeg Business%20Morning%20_edited-6.jpeg
    Britannicus (son of Claudius) and Nero as Caesars
    Bronze. 50-54, Pergamum, Mysia Obverse:BPЄTANNIKOC KAICAP, bare-headed and draped bust of Britannicus right Reverse: NЄPΩN KAICAP, bare-headed and draped bust of Nero right. RPC I 2371

    And lastly her rival Poppaea.
    Business%20Morning%20_edited.jpeg Business%20Morning%20_edited-2.jpeg
    Poppaea (2nd wife of Nero)
    Bronze c. 62 Laodicea ad Lycum
    Obverse:ΠOΠΠAIA ΣEBAΣTH Draped bust right Reverse: IOΥΛIA ZHNΩNIΣ ΛAOΔIKEΩN (magistrate Ioulia Zenonis), Aphrodite standing right, holding sceptre and apple (dove?). SNG von Aulock 3841. RPC 2924.

    Attached Files:

  4. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Related but distantly???
    Is it possible that this is a lifetime coin but honoring her with a different use of ΘΕΟΝ? A similar thing comes up when Julia Domna was alive and the coin below was issued from Nicopolis using ΘΕA. Her hair style places this a decade before her death.
  5. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the write up, and a interesting coin of Octavia deified.

    a coin of Poppae is in place in this thread imho
    After Nero ordered to kill Octavia , he personnaly kicked pregnant Poppae to death in 65 AD (Seutonius)

    P1160606vz (2).jpg
  6. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Finn235, Lovely coin & interesting article :happy:!.
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