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Marcus Cocceius Nerva – 96-98AD

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Marcus Cocceius Nerva

Nerva Bust

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 Domitian in 90 AD. Nerva had won the favor of the imperial court since the time of Nero. His legal advice helped establish the policy of succession for the throne, which helped maintain political stability during most of the 2nd century AD.

3 nerva dIt is said that when Domitian inquired with his astrologers about who would be his successor, given that he had no male heir, Nerva was first mentioned. 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. Upon Domitian’s death, Nerva was immediately offered the throne, and he accepted.

Nerva was proclaimed Emperor by the Senate. Nerva was a wise choice, a conservative man who would undoubtedly prove to be a fair ruler. However, at the time of his accepting the throne, Nerva was already 66 years old, having been 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 also forced Nerva to dismiss the 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 Domitian’s assassins. Nerva had little choice but to thank 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.

Nerva AE Sesterius Revised Postal System

Wells Fargo Pony ExpressRome 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. However, the solution to the same problem always reappears.

Appian WayIndeed, Rome built roads to move conquering armies and facilitate communications and supplies from one end of its vast empire to its most remote frontiers. Every long stretch of road had mutations for changing horses and mansions for nighttime lodging.

Julius Caesar (100-44BC) 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 seven days.

Communication was the key. The Pony Express was set up using the same relay design. 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 Lloyds 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.


Claudius NCAPR Countermark

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 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, commonly found on old worn coins, are 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.

Claudius AE Ses ROB Countermark

Barbarous Imitation DV

I believe two coins support the recertification of old bronze coinage. First, we have a Claudius with a variety of “PROB,” which is clearly a mark of validation. Second, we have a barbarous imitation of a Claudius sestertius with the countermark “DV,” meaning it was devalued to a Dupondius.

One coin of Vespasian bears this mark NCAPR, which causes some people to suggest Nerva rather than Nero or even Vespasian applied this countermark. This has caused a question about when they were applied or if this practice began with Nero and was continued. It is entirely possible that the practice continued when Nerva came to the throne applying the NCAPR countermark to remonetized worn outstanding bronze coinage even several decades old, applying a


Nerva AE Ses Modus Poor

Trajan-Welfare-YouthNevertheless, 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, which his successor would maintain.

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, could not create a dynasty based on his bloodline. Thus, Nerva searched for a candidate who was both wise and had an accomplished military career. His choice was Trajan, whom many generals supported. 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 ensure the best possible candidate prevailed until the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Trajan succeeded Nerva and was hailed as Emperor.

Monetary System


Mints: Rome

Obverse Legends:


Nerva Aureus AR Cistophorus Denarius Susterius Dupondius As Quadrans


AU Aureus (6.54 grams)
AU Quninarius (3.52 grams)
AR Cistophorus (12.0 grams)
AR Denarius (3.54 grams)
AR Quinarius (1.54 grams)
AE Sestertius
AE Dupondius
AE Quadrans

Restoration Issues of Nerva

Restitution of Augustus by Nerva


AR Denarius (bare hd Augustus rt/Capricorn globe & rudder)
AE Sestertius (Aug seated lf/SC)
AE Sestertius(Aug Laur hd lf/SC)(Rare)
AE Sestertius (Aug Laur hd rt/SC)
AE Dupondius (Rad Hd rt/rudder on the globe)
AE Dupondius (Rad Hd Lf/Rudder on globe)
AE As (bare hd rt/eagle thunderbolt)
AE As (bare hd rt/eagle on the 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 Sestertius (Draped bust rt/SC)(Rare)

 The Monetary History of the World
© Martin A. Armstrong