A Fascinating Provincial Dynastic Issue
Lotto 493:
Claudius (41-54) with Messalina, his third wife (died 48 AD). AR Tetradrachm, Alexandria mint, year 3 (c. 42/43 AD). Obv. Laureate head of Claudius right; in front, L Γ. Rev. Messalina standing left, leaning on column, holding two children (Britannicus and Octavia) and grain ears. RPC I 5131; Dattari (Savio) 123; K&G 12.54. AR. 10.96 g. 25.00 mm. RR. Very rare, seldom offered and in excellent condition for issue.
VF. The dissolute third wife of Claudius, Valeria Messalina married him in 39, when she was only 14 years old. She soon bore him two children, Britannicus and Claudia Octavia. Upon marrying Claudius, and though quite young herself, she also became the adoptive mother of Claudia Antonia, whom Claudius had had by his earlier marriage (…). Valeria Messalina was not shy about her ambitions, and she was ruthless in her pursuit of them. Most shocking was her destruction of her female rivals, including two of Claudius' nieces, Livia Julia (…) and Julia Livilla(...).
Not surprisingly , Valeria Messalina was instrumental in the persecution of Agrippina Junior, whose son, Nero, whas the rival to her own son, Britannicus. Since Nero and Britannicus were the only important male heirs of the Julio-Claudians, the throne would go to one of the two boys after the death of Claudius.
Suetonius and Tacitus tell us that she tried to have young Nero strangled one night as he slept, but that the attempt was failed when the would-be murderers were frightened by a snake that emerged from beneath the boy's pillow. Despite her less-than-virtuous demeanor, Valeria Messalina was made the head Vestal in 43.
This appointment was in particularly bad taste, for she was notoriously promiscuous. Indeed, it was this element of her personality which caused the greatest scandal in the principate of Claudius. Valeria Messalina had become smitten by Gaius Silius, the consul-designate who was reputedly the best-looking young man in Rome. So uncontrollable was her passions for Silius that even though she was still the emperor's wife, she married her lover in 48, while Claudius was away in Ostia (…).
Many historians believe the marriage may have been the first stage of a coup against Claudius, in which the newlywed would install Britannicus as emperor. Though Claudius had always had poor luck with wives, this was the most shocking and humiliating event of his life. In what most considered justifiable revenge, Silius was brought to the praetorian camp (where Claudius had been taken for safety) and was swiftly executed. Messalina was driven to suicide, after which her memory was damned. All coins of Valeria Messalina were struck under Claudius. (D. L. Vagi. Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, vol. I History, p. 157-8).
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