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    Aelius, Doomed Heir

    Aelius Caesar (AD 136-138). AV aureus (19mm, 5.82 gm, 6h). Rome, AD 137. L AELIVS CAESAR, bare head of Aelius left /  TRIB POT COS II, Concordia seated left on high-backed throne, holding patera in extended right hand and resting left elbow on cornucopia set on chair; CONCORD in exergue. RIC 443c. Calic├│ 1445 (S4). BMCRE 999. Cohen 12. Edges somewhat filed, perhaps for jewelry wear, otherwise a scarce and attractive aureus, with a wonderful portrait of Hadrian's doomed first choice for heir. NGC Choice XF 5/5 - 2/5, Fine Style, edge filed.


    Aelius Caesar began life in around AD 104 as Lucius Ceionius Commodus, son of a distinguished senator who was consul in the year AD 106. Handsome and affable, Lucius entered public service in his 20s and rose steadily through the ladder of public offices until he attracted the attention of the Emperor Hadrian, who by the mid AD 130s was aging rapidly and searching for a suitable heir. Upon attaining the consulship in 136, Aelius was formally adopted by Hadrian and took the name Lucius Aelius Caesar, clearly marking him out as successor to the throne. Historians have long speculated as to why Hadrian chose the seemingly unimpressive Aelius, some even postulating that he was Hadrian's illegitimate son. However, Aelius may well have been far more competent than chroniclers of the time, who tended to be hostile toward Hadrian, allowed. In any case, the his elevation was duly celebrated with elaborate games and Hadrian even coerced the deaths of two potential rivals, his uncle Servianus and grand-nephew Fuscus, who were accused of plotting a coup. Aelius served another consulship in AD 137 and was granted the tribunican power, making him Hadrian's junior partner in government. He left for Pannonia that year to gain experience managing a province and make himself known to the military; however, the climate there was hard on his already frail constitution, and he returned to Rome in the winter having contracted tuberculosis. He fell seriously ill on New Year's Eve and died early on January 1, AD 138, prompting Hadrian to remark that he had "leaned against a tottering wall." Aelius' son, the future Lucius Verus, did eventually become co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius, and his family name of Commodus was given to Marcus' own son and successor.

    This scarce gold aureus depicts Aelius with a luxuriant head of curls and a longer beard than Hadrian's, setting the style for the Antonine rulers that followed. The reverse depicts Concordia, goddess of harmony, perhaps a call for calm after the turbulent settlement of succession.




    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    September, 2015
    17th-22nd Thursday-Tuesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 11
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