‘Assassination Medal’

Obviously to coincide with the day, the British Museum is putting a gold ‘ides’ coin on display. For background, here’s the Guardian coverage:

A unique gold coin celebrating the assassination of Julius Caesar, which may have been worn as a boastful talisman by one of the emperor’s killers, will go on display at the British Museum tomorrow – the Ides of March, marking the 2,054th anniversary of his death.

The British Museum was first shown the coin in 1932 but couldn’t afford to buy it. Many private owners later, it has now been loaned to the museum, and will be displayed for the first time.

Caesar was struck down at the Senate, stabbed 23 times, in 44BC. The coin was among those issued by Caesar’s former friend and ally, Brutus, leader of the conspirators, after they fled to Greece.

Although 60 surviving examples of the silver version are known, including several in the museum’s coins and medals collection, there were only believed to be two in gold. Experts now believe one of those is a fake, making the newly displayed treasure unique.

The coin shows the head of Brutus on one side and, on the other, two daggers and the date, Eid Mar, the Ides of March, which would forever after be regarded as unlucky. The daggers flank a pileus, a freeman’s hat, symbolising the conspirators’ insistance that in killing Caesar they were toppling a tyrant who threatened the future of the Roman republic.

The coin was punched with a hole shortly after it was minted, probably so it could be worn – certainly by a supporter, conceivably by one of the conspirators.

The swaggering imagery displayed on the coin was already famous in antiquity. In the second century AD, the Roman historian Cassius Dio wrote: “Brutus stamped upon the coins which were being minted in his own likeness and a cap and two daggers, indicating by this and by the inscription that he and Cassius had liberated the fatherland.”

Here’s a photo of the coin itself (British Museum via the Guardian):

British Museum via the Guardian

Just to make things a bit more interesting, the Fitzwilliam has a very nice silver version of this coin in their collection and their description runs thusly:

The Ides of March denarius, struck by Brutus in 43/2 BC, is easily the most famous of Roman Republican coins. It was famous in antiquity — one of the few coin types mentioned in an ancient author (Dio Cassius), and imitated a century after its issue to celebrate the murder of Nero.

The reverse is the more striking face with the plain reference to Caesar’s assassination — the legend EID MAR with two daggers –, and the meaning of the assassination — the liberty cap, worn by slaves on the day of their manumission. The importance of the cap here derives from the Republican claim that Caesar was aiming at the kingship, since in Roman political terms the relation of king to subject was that of master to slave. The murder of Caesar has set the Roman people free; and the multiplicity of the heroic murderers is indicated by the daggers which are always unalike. When the type was copied after the murder of Nero the legend read LIBERTAS RESTITVTA.

But the later coin bore the head of Libertas on the obverse, where here we have a portrait of Brutus himself…

If you didn’t know there was a coin issued celebrating the assassination of Nero … here’s a photo via the Roman Numismatic Gallery (which is definitely worth checking out if you’ve never poked around there before):

from the Roman Numismatic Gallery

I’ve seen the coin credited to Galba and/or to the senate during the ‘interregnum’ …

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