Twelve Caesars

When historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus set out to write biographies of Julius Caesar and his 11 successors [ The Twelve Caesars ], he had little idea that nearly two millennia later, that his work would continue to ignite the imagination of scholars, researchers, and collectors.

Suetonius’ De vita Caesarum (“About the Life of the Caesars”) is not the only source of information that we have about these twelve rulers of Rome, but it is the most compelling.

For collectors of coins from Ancient Rome, the work is an essential companion piece to what is, perhaps, the most popular area of collecting specialty.

Links to The Twelve Caesars
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Collecting the Twelve Caesars

The Twelve Caesars in GoldAssembling a collection of coins of the Twelve Caesars has been a popular pastime for intermediate and advanced collectors alike. CoinWeek Ancients writer Mike Markowitz characterizes the pursuit succinctly:

For centuries, assembling a complete set of the “Twelve Caesars” has been a challenge to the patience, persistence and budget of advanced collectors.

In silver, a fairly good set of Twelve Caesars denarii (recognizable portraits, mostly readable inscriptions) could probably be assembled today for a few thousand dollars. In gold, even a relatively low-grade set would be likely to retail for a sum in the high tens of thousands.

Otho issued no bronze coinage as far as we know, so a complete set in bronze is impossible, except for some fantasies counterfeited during the Renaissance to satisfy collectors.

The Manuscript

The page illustrated above comes from the oldest surviving copy of Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars. This page was drawn by hand in the late 8th or early 9th century C.E. and is currently held in the rare manuscripts collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. This copy is incomplete and is missing the prologue and the first part of the biography of Julius Caesar.

At the bottom of the page is a beautiful illustration of a Roman coin.

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