Caesar assassination coin up for auction

One of the most iconic coins of the ancient world, a circa 42 BC aureus in Mint-State (MS) condition will cross the block at a U.K. auction in late October.

While Roman senator Marcus Junius Brutus issued as many as 100 silver examples of the “EID MAR” coin in the eastern Mediterranean (likely in northern Greece), only two gold examples were known until recently. The coin celebrates the murder of Roman dictator Julius Caesar, whose most famous assassin was Brutus.

“Though Caesar had countless enemies, his most formidable turned out to be Brutus and Cassius, young senators who led the conspiracy against him,” reads a statement issued by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), whose ancients division certified the coin. “Though both men eventually struck coins of their own, only Brutus chose to portray himself and to create a design that celebrated the murder.”

The coin’s reverse design depicts two daggers, representing Brutus and Cassius, alongside a “pileus,” the freedman’s cap of liberty, which declared the murder was an act of Roman liberation. The inscription “EID MAR,” an abbreviation of “EIDIBVS MARTIIS” – or the Ides of March, the day Caesar was assassinated at the Senate House of Pompey – is also on the reverse.

“The ‘EID MAR’ aureus of Brutus is an undisputed masterpiece of ancient coinage,” said NGC Chair Mark Salzberg, who’s also the firm’s grading finalizer. “Over the last 40 years, I’ve handled most of the world’s greatest numismatic rarities, but I found this coin especially captivating. It has everything a collector could possibly want.”

‘UNPARALLELED BRAGGADOCIO’

Offered as Lot 463 of Roma Numismatics’ Oct. 29 sale, it’s expected to bring £500,000 ($850,250 Cdn.).

“Nothing resonates so deeply with those knowledgeable in ancient Roman coinage as the dramatic EID MAR type struck by Brutus in 42 BC, nor indeed is any type more sought after by connoisseurs,” reads the auction catalogue, which references Herbert Cahn’s 1989 study, “Eidibus Martiis,” which records 56 examples in silver and two in gold.

“Anecdotal comments have long suggested the extent of the surviving population of EID MAR denarii could approximate as many as a hundred specimens – a reasonably high figure for what is considered to be an extreme rarity – and Campana’s as yet unpublished Die Study indeed identifies 88 examples (at last count) in silver (of which at least 34 are now in institutional collections) and three in gold.”

Auctioneers describe the coin of “enormous historical importance … enhanced by its virtual unobtainability (sic) to all but the most fortunate of collectors.”

“Foremost of the reasons for the exalted position of the type in the collective consciousness is its naked and shameless celebration of the murder of Julius Caesar two years earlier in 44 BC,” reads the auction catalogue, which adds this “coin type like no other has inspired great admiration, fascination, disbelief and desire in the hearts of historians, numismatists and collectors.”

“This brutal and bloody assassination had been prompted by the well-founded belief among the Senate that Caesar indented to make himself king, which in truth he was already in all but name. By special decree of the Senate, Caesar had been made dictator perpetuo – dictator in perpetuity – and granted the extraordinary and unprecedented honour of striking coins bearing his own likeness, thus breaking the ancient taboo of placing the image of a living Roman upon a coin. By these and other affronts to the traditional values and institutions of the Republic did Caesar seal his fate.”

On March 15, 44 BC, Caesar was stabbed 23 times by between 30 and 60 senators who Caesar “called his friends, and of whom many had been pardoned by him on the battlefield and now owed their ranks and offices to him,” according to auctioneers.

“The simple but bold reverse design employed by Brutus for this aureus contains the three principal elements of this ‘patriotic’ act of regicide committed to liberate the Republic from monarchical tyranny. Most striking are the two daggers of differing design, the one symbolising that wielded by Brutus himself, the other that of Cassius his co-consipirator. These flank the pileus, the cap of Liberty as worn by the divine twins and patrons of Roman armies Castor and Pollux, and which was conferred upon all freed slaves as a mark of their emancipation.”

With the “EID MAR” legend rounding out the reverse design “in an act of unparalleled braggadocio, we are at once presented with the murder weapons used to slay Caesar, the precise date of the deed, and the motive.”

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