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Exceptional Portrait of Messalina
Pedigreed to 1925

Triton XXII, Lot: 491. Estimate $7500.
Sold for $12000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

CRETE, Koinon of Crete. Claudius, with Messalina. AD 41-54. Æ (22mm, 7.17 g, 6h). Struck circa AD 41-43. TI KΛAYΔIOΣ KAIΣAP ΓERMA ΣEBA, bare head of Claudius left / OΥAΛEPIA MEΣΣAΛEINA, bareheaded and draped bust of Messalina right. Svoronos 25; BMC 9; McClean 7219; RPC I 1032. Good VF, green patina. Among the finest known, with a delicate and wonderfully preserved portrait of Messalina.

Ex Numismatica Ars Classica 38 (21 March 2007), lot 21 (CHF 12,000); Leu 30 (28 April 1982), lot 304; “An important collection of portrait coins” (Glendining, 20 November 1969), lot 40; Ars Classica XVII (3 October 1934), lot 1262; H.C. Levis Collection (Naville XI, 18 June 1925), lot 357.

Claudius was unlucky in marriage, but his third wife caused him the most scandal. Messalina was only 14 or 15 when she married the emperor, who at the time was about 50 years old. Although she bore Claudius two children (Claudia Octavia and Britannicus), she appears to have felt little attraction to her much older husband and was notoriously promiscuous according to ancient accounts. While the emperor was traveling to Ostia in AD 48, he was informed that Messalina had secretly taken a second husband, a senator named Gaius Silius, who was said to be the handsomest man in Rome. Claudius returned to Rome and swiftly had Silius executed. Messalina was ordered to commit suicide.

No Imperial issues with the portrait of Messalina were struck. As for the small number of provincial issues that carry her portrait, only her coins of Crete and Caesarea in Cappadocia match the artistry of the Imperial coinage.