Coinage in Roman Imperial Policy, 31 B.C.-A.D. 68

By C. H. V. Sutherland | Go to book overview

VIII
NERO AND THE FAILURE OF THE HEREDITARY SYSTEM

AT the moment of Claudius' death Nero was not yet 17 years of age. He succeeded to the Principate as Agrippina's son and nominee. Of his own capacity and merits little could be said, as Seneca1 perhaps went out of his way to emphasize, and doubts of his ability to exert even a nominal control over the administrative machine were quickly expressed when, a few weeks after his accession, news came of Parthian interference in Armenia.2 But the real direction of policy lay in older hands, and was to remain there for some time. Agrippina, who had enjoyed such overwhelming influence in Claudius' last years, had no intention of surrendering it. It is true that she had to counter the weight of aristocratic traditionalism which, as in the case of Livia under Tiberius, resented the intrusion of women into the higher counsels of state: Seneca and Burrus, to whom she had above all entrusted the promotion of Nero's interests and a high degree of executive competence,3 were themselves least likely to welcome an extension of her already great dominance.3 Outwardly, however, and for the moment she must be humoured and courted. Her prestige in the empire as a whole was far too great to permit of any overt attack upon it which would not also damage Nero himself.5

Damage to Nero's reputation was, indeed, the last thing to be desired either by the Senate or by Seneca and Burrus. For the Principate was in a new phase, highly important and apparently full of interesting possibilities. Hitherto each princeps had

____________________
1
De clem. i, 1, 7.
2
TA. xiii, 6.
3
See A. Momigliano in CAH. x, p. 711, on Dittenberger, Sylloge3810.
3
TA. xiii, 2.
5
E. A. Sydenham, The Coinage of Nero ( London, 1920), pp. 39 ff., shows an impressive list of local provincial coinages on which Agrippina (with or without Nero) was honoured at the opening of his reign. Inscriptions of the time frequently style her Augusta mater Augusti, and her virtual co-regency is well seen in the procurator Caesaris et Augustae Agropinae of A. B. West, Corinthviii (ii), p. 50, no. 68. See also Levi, op. cit., p. 106 f.

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