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LONG BEACH, Calif. – The most famous ancient coin in existence, the “Ides of March” silver denarius struck by Julius Caesar’s assassin, Marcus Brutus, will return to its longtime California home Sept. 2-3, before heading to the auction block. It is being offered as part of Heritage Auctions’ Sept. 7 auction at the Long Beach Numismatic Expo. The coin will be on view at Heritage’s Beverly Hills offices, 9478 West Olympic Blvd., Sept. 2, with a special Roman-themed reception Sept. 3, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
|Marcus Junius Brutus, Assassin of Caesar (44-42 BC). Silver denarius, Northern Greece, 42 BC. Crawford 508/3. CRI 216. Struck in choice metal and nearly Extremely Fine.|
“The ‘Ides of March’ denarius, struck in 42 B.C., is the only Roman coin to openly celebrate an act of murder,” said David S. Michaels, director of Ancient Coins for Heritage, “the only Roman coin to mention a specific date and one of the very few ancient coins to enter the popular imagination.”
Should the coin reach its estimate of $500,000, it will set a record for a Roman silver coin. “Not only is this one of the finest examples known of this historic rarity, this ‘Ides of March’ denarius once resided in the collections of well-known Hollywood producer Sy Weintraub and the actor Peter Weller,” said Michaels.
The event celebrated on the coin is the assassination of Julius Caesar on the “Ides of March,” March 15, 44 BC. The dime-sized silver coin depicts the head of Marcus Junius Brutus, one of the ringleaders of the assassination plot, on its obverse. The reverse depicts a dome-shaped liberty cap, flanked by two drawn daggers, and the Latin inscription EID MAR.
In the 21 centuries since the “Ides of March,” Brutus has been hailed as both a champion of liberty and damned as a vile traitor. Born about 85 BC, Brutus was from a long line of Romans famous for resisting tyranny and defending Republican liberty. He was a close friend and protégé of Julius Caesar, but when Caesar seized power as Dictator in 49 BC, Brutus joined the Republican forces opposed to him.
After the defeat of the Republicans the following year, Caesar pardoned Brutus and gave him every preferment. As Caesar became more megalomaniacal, however, Brutus joined the conspiracy against him and is said to have delivered the fatal daggerthrust, prompting Caesar’s final words (spoken in Greek), “You too, my child?” The line was made famous, and forever entered popular culture, when Shakespeare later changed it slightly in his masterpiece Julius Caesar, creating the immortal line, “Et tu, Brute?”
After the murder, the conspirators fled Rome in a rush, barely ahead of a lynch mob. Brutus assembled a pro-Republican power base in Greece where he could wage war against Caesar’s successors, Mark Antony and Octavian. Looting gold and silver from the local population, he began to strike coins to pay his growing army.
His early coinage follows traditional themes, but his final type, the EID MAR issue of mid-42 BC, breaks the old Republican taboo by placing his own portrait on the obverse, coupled with the pileus or “cap of liberty” (traditionally given to freed slaves) between the daggers that executed Caesar. The choice of types could be seen as a brazen act of defiance as the armies closed for an ultimate clash in northern Greece.
In a final twist of fate, Brutus used the same dagger he had plunged into Caesar to take his own life following his final defeat at the second battle of Philippi on October 23, 42 BC.
The great rarity of Eid Mar denarii today is doubtless because the type was deliberately recalled and melted down by the victors, Mark Antony and Octavian.
For more information visit Heritage Auctions.
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