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Rome's Greatest General



Newly Edited and Re-Posted Owners Comments posted on an ancient bronze sestertius featuring Nero Claudius Drusus, part of the Roman Empire Custom NGC Ancients Set...


Even before he was born, Nero Claudius Drusus (38 – 9 BC) had already become somewhat of a celebrity. Also known as Drusus I or Drusus the Elder, he was born a mere three months after his mother, Livia Drusilla, married Octavian, who later emerged as Rome’s Augustus.  Presumably, the elder Drusus’ sire was Livia’s previous (and recently divorced) husband, although many speculated otherwise.  In any case, Drusus was adopted by Rome’s first Emperor, and grew up alongside elder brother Tiberius.

Even at a very early age, Drusus’ leadership talents were evident.  In 19 BC he was deemed eligible to hold public office even though he was five years younger than the usual minimum age.  A few years later, Drusus married Antonia Minor, the daughter of Mark Antony and Augustus’ elder sister Octavia.  According to historical accounts, the marriage between Drusus and Antonia Minor was a very happy one, and resulted in three important Julio-Claudian dynasts surviving to adulthood: daughter Livilla, and two sons, Germanicus and Claudius.

Drusus’ most significant military successes occurred over the period of 12 to 9 BC, wherein he subjugated numerous Germanic tribes.  Importantly, he spearheaded the first major Roman military campaign across the Rhine, exploring deep into the interior of Germania.  He also led a successful naval expedition to subdue further Germanic tribes along the North Sea coast.  Beyond military exploits, Drusus’ political posts included praetor (16 BC), governorship over portions of Gaul (in late 15 BC, Augustus named him legatus Augusti pro praetor), Rome’s praetor urbanus (11 BC), and Roman consul (9 BC).

Despite speculation that he may have pined for the Republic’s return, Drusus’ talents and accomplishments branded him as a legitimate candidate for imperial succession. Any such prospect, however, evaporated in 9 BC when Drusus suffered a fall off his horse, and died a month afterwards. At that time, Rome deeply grieved for their fallen hero, whose memory was deeply honored across the Empire.  So distraught was the widowed Antonia Minor that she refused to ever take another husband.

Drusus was paid even further tribute after his son Claudius ascended Rome’s throne. Those additional honors, bestowed a half century after his death, included annual games in the Circus Maximus and the issuance of gold, silver, and bronze coins.  Among the latter is this impressive sestertius, struck in Rome circa 41-42 AD.  Although the obverse design – Claudius’ laureate bust and the inscription TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR P IMP – is noteworthy, the coin’s reverse – a triumphal arch featuring the statue of Drusus on horseback, along with the epithet NERO CLAVDIVS DRVSVS GERMAN IMP – is more striking.  Ironically, the arch depicted on this coin is evidently not related to the remains of what is referred to today as the Arch of Drusus.  That structure, located on the first mile of the Appian Way in Rome, is devoid of statuary and triumphal trappings.  

Even if he entered this world amid some controversy, Nero Claudius Drusus figured prominently in the Roman Empire’s formative years.  His military accomplishments paved the way for Rome’s growing and sustained domination of surrounding Germanic tribes.  His widow, Antonia Minor, remained a strong presence in Roman politics, and established herself as Matriarch not only to Rome, but also to many of the Eternal City's allies and rivals alike. Drusus' imperial connections proved rather extensive: stepson of Augustus, brother of Tiberius, father of Claudius, grandfather of Caligula, and great-grandfather of Nero.  Perhaps Drusus' most impressive legacy of all is that, even today, many consider him as Rome's all-time greatest general, and that's saying something.

Coin Details: Nero Claudis Drusus, Æ Sestertius (35mm, 27.53 g, 6h), Rome mint, Struck AD 41-42, NGC Grade: VF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Laureate head right, TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR P IMP, Reverse: Arch of Nero Claudius Drusus (triumphal arch surmounted by trophies and statue of Drusus on horse rearing right, spearing downward), NERO CLAVDIVS DRVSVS GERMAN IMP, References: RIC I 98; von Kaenel Type 56; Ex Hirsch 336 (7 February 2018), lot 2391; Reportedly ex old German Family Collection formed before 1950.





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Despite the fact that I do not own any "ancient" coins, I find all history fascinating. I appreciate you posting this. 

I did not know any of his history. As I  read the part about him falling off his horse , I wondered if there was anything nefarious involved- though I assume not. 

Very good write-up. Thanks!

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I agree that for such a great general to die from falling one his horse seems suspicious, right? I have not found a lot of speculation about foul play regarding Drusus...of course, many other Julio-Claudians certainly were either murdered or died under highly suspicious circumstances.  I am not an expert, but my opinion from what I have researched regarding Drusus is that the fall was probably an unfortunate accident.


Again, thanks for the feedback on my Owner's Comments.



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