Bits & Pieces... by David Sundman

Otho, The Elusive Roman Emperor

[photo: Otho bronze AE28 of Antioch]

Otho bronze AE28 of Antioch

In an earlier Bits & Pieces article, I wrote about collecting the Roman coins of the Twelve Caesars and the challenge it presents to build a nice set with coins in silver or gold. For the collector, one of the tougher Roman emperors to find coins for is Otho, one of Emperor Nero's closest friends. Otho ruled for three short months in A.D. 69, which was a time of civil war. Married to Poppaea Sabina, who had carried on a secret affair with Nero, Otho was eventually divorced by Poppaea, and sent far away to the colony of Lusitania, Spain by Nero – reportedly at her insistence. Nero could now enjoy Poppaea Sabina's company, undistracted by her old husband and his old friend, Otho.

[photo: Otho "sestertius" medal by Cavino]

Otho "sestertius" medal by Cavino

Seven months after the 70-year-old Galba succeeded Nero, Otho succeeded to the throne as a result of the murder of Galba by the praetorian guard. Otho's short rule resulted in gold and silver coins, but no official bronze imperial coinage. This is a shame for collectors, as completing the set would be a more affordable option with bronze coins. However, completing a bronze set of the Twelve Caesars can still be accomplished if you are willing to accept a reasonable substitute.

There are two choices. You can obtain a Roman provincial (colonial) bronze coin of Antioch, Syria (shown above), or collect a "Paduan" replica – a Renaissance period copy of an Otho "sestertius." There was no such genuine sestertius issued at the time, so this is a fantasy piece, as imagined by an artist (shown below). This particular example was created in the mid-1500s by Giovanni de Bartolommeo Cavino, known today as Giovanni Cavino. It was created by Cavino to sell to new devotees of coin collecting who travelled to Italy and Europe in search of antiquities. It is a historically important piece in its own right, and Renaissance period copies only complement a collection of genuine ancient coins. In March of 2000, respected Coin World Editor Steve Roach wrote on the PCGS website, "To the fifteenth and sixteenth century numismatist, the fact that a coin was genuine was secondary to the artistic and historical elements of the piece. A contemporary medal by Cavino was an acceptable substitute for the rare emperors and was often considered superior to a genuine worn example."