Marcus Cocceius Nerva
The Lawyer Emperor 96-98AD
Born 30AD – Died 98AD, Age 68
Marcus Cocceius Nerva was a distinguished lawyer who served as Consul with Vespasian in 71 AD and with Domitian in 90 AD. Nerva had won the favor of the imperial court since the time of Nero. His legal advice, help establish the policy of succession for the throne, which helped maintain political stability during most of the 2nd century AD.
It is said that when Domitian inquired with his astrologers as to who would be his successor, given the fact that he had no male heir, the name of Nerva was first put forth. However, since Nerva was much older than Domitian, he laughed and ignored the prediction.
Domitian was assassinated in a palace plot involving his wife Domitia, the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard and several others. It is quite possible that Nerva was part of that conspiracy. In any event, upon the death of Domitian, Nerva was immediately offered the throne and he accepted.
Nerva was was proclaimed Emperor by the Senate. Nerva was a wise choice, being a man of conservative nature who would undoubtedly prove to be a fair ruler. However, at the time of his accepting the throne, Nerva was already 66 years old, being born in 30 AD.
Nerva promised to end Domitian’s reign of terror. This promise, however, soon revealed that the corruption was far deeper than he imagined. Domitian had bought the army’s loyalty with large pay rises and when he was murdered, the army wanted revenge. The Praetorian Guard stormed the palace and demanded that those responsible be executed. Nerva faced the soldiers and offered his own life by baring his neck to their swords. The soldiers merely laughed and went on to kill many of Domitian’s friends and allies.
The Guard had also forced Nerva to dismiss the two Prefects Norbanus and Petonius Secundus. They were replaced by the Guard’s choice of Casperius Aelianus. Aelianus led an attack on the palace demanding the execution of the assassins of Domitian. Nerva had little choice and thanked them for carrying out justice. Nevertheless, Nerva was seriously humiliated and the extent of his power was questionable. Nerva knew he needed an heir who would be acceptable to the military.
Rome became the greatest empire that ever existed because of its organization, which included its communication system. Nerva understood that. Here we have a Roman sestertius of Emperor Nerva (96-98 AD) who issued this coin to declare that Rome would assume the costs of the imperial post, which had been shifted to the municipalities slowing communications. Clearly, the idea of the Pony Express we hear associated with the Wild West days of the United States was by no means a new invention. As much as things change, they remain very much the same. History repeats because the passions of humankind never change. But also the solution to the same problem always reappears.
Indeed, the roads were built by Rome to move conquering armies and to facilitate communications and supplies from one end of Rome’s vast empire to its most remote frontiers. Every long stretch of road had mutationes for changing horses and mansiones for lodging at night.
Julius Caesar and his army traveled so fast on those roads that it took them only eight days to go from Rome to the Rhone which ran from the Mediterranean through Gaul to Lake Geneva in Switzerland.
By using the relay and refreshment stations all along the highways, couriers could cover 500 miles on horseback in just 24 hours. Letters have been discovered showing they have traveled from Britain to Rome in about 7 days.
Communications were the key. The Pony Express was set up on the same design of relays. To those who assume history has nothing to offer, the entire insurance industry in Britain began in Llyod’s Coffee shop in London to become Llyods of London. Likewise, Starbucks has emerged with the same idea of people having business meetings while having coffee. Study history and you may come up with the next idea for a good business.
We honestly do not know for certain the origin of this countermark “NCAPR” for some have suggested that it was applied by Nerva who faced a shortage of bronze coinage in circulation. The theory I ascribe to suggests that these countermarks probably certified the coin for further circulation. We do know that his successor Trajan (98-117AD) recalled all the old silver and gold coinage to increase the money supply by reducing the weight. This implies that perhaps he was following a dissimilar idea by re-certifying the old worn bronze coinage of particularly the Julio-Claudian Era.
These countermarks are commonly found on old worn coins was a recertification of value. Some have argued that they were applied as a donative by the issuing ruler but that theory just does not fit with any historical tradition. The meaning of “NCAPR” has been suggested to be Nero Caesar Augustus with PR being “Probavit” (he approved) or “Populi Romani” suggesting a donative purpose.
Here are two coins that I believe support the recertification of old bronze coinage. First, we have a Claudius with a variety of “PROB” which is clearly a mark of validation. Secondly, we have a barbarous imitation of a Claudius sestertius with the countermark “DV” meaning it was devalued to a Dupondius.
There is one coin of Vespasian bearing this mark NCAPR which causes some people to suggest Nerva rather than Nero or even Vespasian applied this countermark. This has caused a question as to when they were applied or if was this a practice that began with Nero and was continued. It is entirely possible that the practice continue when Nerva came to the throne applying the NCAPR countermark to remonetized worn outstanding bronze coinage even several decades old applying a
Nevertheless, during his short reign (96-98 AD), Nerva did much to improve the conditions of the state and its economy. He instituted a welfare system to provide food for the poor. This would be maintained by his successor.
His major weakness was that he had been a lawyer with no military experience, which won him only the half-hearted support of the Roman Legions. Nerva’s reign was marked by a second mutiny in 97 AD. There was an attempted coup was made by a nobleman, Gaius Calpurnius Crassus Frugi Licinianus. While the coup failed, Nerva refused to order his execution.
Nerva had no children and as such lacked the ability to create a dynasty based upon his bloodline. Nerva thus searched for a candidate who was both wise and with an accomplished military career. His choice was Trajan who was supported by many generals. Despite being a “provincial” from Spain (born outside of Italy), Nerva adopted Trajan as his son and heir to the throne.
Nerva died on January 25th, 98 AD. Nerva’s system of adopting heirs to insure the best possible candidate would prevail until the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Trajan succeeded Nerva and was hailed, Emperor.
IMP NERVA CAES AVG PM TR P COS II PP
IMP NERVA CAES AVG PM TR P COS III PP
AU Aureus (6.54 grms)
AU Quninarius (3.52 grms)
AR Cistophorus (12.0 grms)
AR Denarius (3.54 grms)
AR Quinarius (1.54 grms)
Restoration Issues of Nerva
AR Denarius (bare hd rt/capricorn globe & rudder)
AE Sesterius (Aug seated lf/SC)
AE Sesterius (Aug Laur hd lf/SC)
AE Sesterius (Aug Laur hd rt/SC)
AE Dupondius (Rad Hd rt/rudder on globe)
AE Dupondius (Rad Hd Lf/Rudder on globe)
AE As (bare hd rt/eagle thunderbolt)
AE As (bare hd rt/eagle on globe)
AE As (bare hd rt/winged thunderbolt)
AE As (bare hd rt/square altar with door)
AE As DIVUS AVG.. PATER(bare hd rt/sq altar with door)
AE Sesterius (Draped bust rt/SC)