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Portrait of Nerva on a Silver Denarius
Portrait of Nerva on a Silver Denarius
Marcus Cocceius Nerva
96 - 98 AD

The Chronicles of Narnia
Born on November 8th AD30 in Narnia (modern Narni, Umbria), one would expect to there should be chronicles of his life and times!, the brief reign of Marcus Cocceius Nerva was one of the most important of the early Empire. He began the practice of adopting his heir rather than choosing a blood-relative. By doing so he ensured that the best man became emperor. His reign marked the beginning of the so-called 'Golden Age' of the Roman Empire in the late first and early second centuries AD.

Early Years
Very little is known of Nerva's early life except that he belonged to a distinguished senatorial family. Nerva was known for his tact and diplomacy and he developed this skill as a young man; as praetor designate in AD65, Nerva uncovered the Pisonian conspiracy against Nero. The grateful emperor rewarded Nerva with triumphal regalia and a statue in the palace. Following Nero's fall and disgrace in AD68, Nerva quickly switched his support to the Flavian party. His loyalty to the new emperor, Vespasian, was rewarded with a joint consulship with the emperor himself. Continuing to hold high office and being highly respected, Nerva shared a consulship with the emperor Domitian in AD90. This could have been due to Nerva alerting Domitian to the growing revolt of Saturninus, the governor of Upper Germany, in AD89. Nerva may have been forced to retire from public life during the last years of Domitian's reign due to the increasingly tyrannical behaviour of the emperor. Domitian began to suspect everyone of plotting against him and he eventually fell victim to an assassin's dagger on 18th September, AD96.

Ultimate Power
There has been a great deal of debate recently as to whether Nerva was aware of the plot to murder Domitian. Nerva was named emperor on the same day that Domitian was assassinated and the transition of power seems to have gone very smoothly; some cynical observers at the time believed it to be rather too quickly! Whether Nerva was actually one of the conspirators is open to debate and may never be known for sure!
Nerva immediately proved himself to be a wise ruler; he released all those who had been imprisoned by Domitian and he recalled the exiles who had not committed violent crimes. Nerva was a good administrator and he introduced many economic reforms which helped the Empire's finances and the urban poor. His public works were few due to his short reign but he did complete the forum which Domitian had built, naming it the Forum of Nerva or Forum Transitorium. Surprisingly, Nerva preferred to consult his close friends for advice rather than the Senate. This attitude may have been the reason for senatorial discontent during his reign.

Mutiny of the Praetorians
Despite being assassinated in a palace coup, Domitian had been extremely popular with the army. The Praetorian Guards mutinied under their commander, Casperius Aelianus, in October AD97 and they demanded that Nerva hand over Domitian's assassins. Nerva was forced to comply and he was so shaken by this that he decided to adopt a strong, military heir. He chose Marcus Ulpius Traianus (Trajan), a highly successful commander and also the governor of Upper Germany. Trajan's promotion was extremely popular with the Rhine legions. The speed of the adoption and the choice of heir was a masterstroke; Nerva immediately secured his position and the grievances of the army disappeared.

Death and Deification
The choice of an heir came just in time. On January 1, AD98, the start of his fourth consulship, Nerva suffered a stroke during a private meeting in the palace. Three weeks later he died at his villa in the Gardens of Sallust. From his headquarters at Cologne, Trajan insisted that Nerva's ashes be placed in the mausoleum of Augustus and he asked the senate to vote on Nerva's deification.
Nerva's reign was not a dynamic period of military expansion or radical change in the government of the Empire. Actually, his economic policies, his relationship with the senate, and the men whom he chose to govern and to offer him advice all show signs of Flavian influence. In many ways, Nerva was the right man at the right time. His immediate accession following Domitian's murder prevented anarchy and a descent into civil war, while his age and moderate views were perfect attributes for a government that offered a bridge between Domitian's tyrannical reign and the emperors of the 'Golden Age' ahead.

Nerva Denarius
The silver denarius we have shown can be dated to 98 AD, the last year of his reign, by the obverse legend ...TR P II COS III...
Its reverse design shows two hands shaking in front of a legionary standard (not a kekab), and the legend CONCORDIA EXERCITUM, meaning harmony and common interest between the emperor and the army.
The obverse has the head of Nerva facing right, and the legend IMP NERVA CAES AUG PM TRP II COS III PP.

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