Jul 15, 2011

The Most Famous Ancient Coin and its History

Heritage will auction in September a silver denarius minted by Brutus to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar. Should it reach its pre-auction estimate of $500,000+, it will establish a record price. 

This denarius is rightly considered the most important Roman coin. It ranked first in the vote among some of the world's leading collectors, curators and numismatists organized by Harlan J. Berk  for his book 100 Greatest Ancient Coins.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar

On 15 March (date known in the Roman calendar as "Ides of March") 44 BC, a group of conspirators led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus assassinated Julius Caesar in an attempt to restore the Roman Republic. But the dictator's death could not change a political reality that had long become irreversible. The power vacuum caused by the death of Caesar was quickly followed by a civil war between those who wanted to take charge of his political inheritance and those who aspired to restore the power of the Senate. Brutus and Cassius were forced to leave Italy, retreating to the eastern provinces in search of support and resources to fight Mark Antony and Octavian, the leaders of the Caesarian party.

The EID MAR Denarius

Both Cassius and Brutus minted many different types of coins in the following two years, not only to pay their troops but also to make propaganda for their cause. In an age without mass media, in which a very small percentage of the population could read, coins were one of the most effective means to quickly spread a message. The most famous of the coins minted by Brutus is the silver denarius depicted above. It refers directly to the murder of Caesar in its reverse. The meaning of the daggers represented there is unmistakable, but it is still made clear by the legend EID • MAR, Ides of March, the date of the murder. The pileus, depicted among the daggers, was a hat worn by Roman slaves when they gained freedom. Here, it symbolizes the justification of Caesar’s assassination: the tyrant must die because this was necessary to free the roman people from bondage. 

The obverse of this coin depicts the bust of Brutus. This is in sharp contradiction to the message of political liberation in the reverse. The representation of living people on a coin was a recent development in Rome. In fact, it was a novelty introduced by Caesar, and it had clear autocratic associations. It was one of the reasons why he was accused of aiming at the monarchy.

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