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.
During his short reign (96-98 AD), Nerva did much to improve the conditions of the state and its economy. 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. It appears that Nerva remonetized worn outstanding bronze coinage of even several decades old applying a counterstamp “NCAPR” to deal with a shortage of bronze coinage in circulation.
Nerva’s reign was marked by two mutinies. In 97 AD, an attempted coup was made by a nobleman, Gaius Calpurnius Crassus Frugi Licinianus. While the coup failed, Nerva refused to order his execution. The more serious threat came from a revolt within the Praetorian Guard. Despite a large donative for their support, their loyality was questionable. The Guard 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. When Nerva exposed his own neck the laughed and then the Guard killed any of Domitian’s palace friend whom they suspected. Nerva knew he needed an heir who would be acceptable to the military.
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. Despite being a “provincial” from Spain, 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)