11. The Wives of the Sovereigns
Central Mints of the 1st Century CE
Showcase 11: Central Mints of the 1st Century CE

A series of women stood behind the male political actors of this period, who participated in the course of history in various forms. The women of the Roman imperial house are the most well known. Members of the reigning Jewish families also appear occasionally in the historical record, however. Women and their roles can generally only be conjectured from Jewish coinage, though the coins do provide occasional insight.

Livia (* 58 BCE ‒ † 29 CE)

Livia was the wife of Emperor Augustus and the mother of the emperor Tiberius (Fig. A.). Augustus supposedly discussed political issues with her, and she often accompanied him on his travels. She presumably also influenced his decisions. After Augustus’ death, his testament adopted Livia into the gens Iulia (Julian family), and she received the honorific name Augusta and the Greek Sebaste (Tacitus, Annals 1,8,1). In coinage, on the other hand, the name Iulia is used, as is demonstrated for instance by coins of the Roman prefect Valerius Gratus (No.5B Showcase 9). Even before, she had been granted various privileges – she was able to manage her own fortune, was awarded the sacrosanctitas (immunity), and under Tiberius received the right to travel with a carpentum (ceremonial cart) driven by mules. Her exceptional position honoured the imperial family, numerous cities were named after her, and statues were erected in her honour.

Antonia Minor (* 36 BCE ‒ † 37 CE)

Antonia Minor was married to Nero Claudius Drusus, the son of Livia and younger brother of the later emperor Tiberius. Their union produced three children: Germanicus, Livilla, and the later emperor Claudius. After the death of her husband in 9 BCE, Antonia remained unmarried. Her grandson Gaius (Caligula) furnished her with the privileges of a Vestal virgin and appointed her as a priestess of the divine Augustus (Fig. B.). When he wished to elevate her to Augusta she modestly declined, and this distinction was conferred on her only posthumously. Claudius honoured her memory by holding annual games on her birthday and erecting numerous monuments.

  • Cameo: Portrait of Livia

A. Cameo: Portrait of Livia (©:KHM, ANSA IXa 95)

  • Cameo: Portrait of Antonia Minor as Ceres

B. Cameo: Portrait of Antonia Minor as Ceres (©: KHM, ANSA IXa 34)

  • Coin of Berenice

C. Coin of Berenice (©: Israel Musem, 93.002.14393)