A remarkable artifact from the final days of a decaying Roman Republic is going on auction in Zurich, Switzerland on May 30th 2022. It is expected to be sold for an impressive amount of money, possibly as much as $2 million (£1.5 million) if current estimates are correct. The item in question is an ultra-rare gold coin that was minted in 42 BC, just two years after the assassination of the legendary Roman leader Julius Caesar . In fact, this coin was minted specifically to celebrate this infamous act, on the orders of the individuals responsible for hatching the conspiracy that led to Caesar’s demise.
“It’s priceless, but it still has a price tag,” Arturo Russo, managing director of the Numismatica Ars Classica auction house, told Bloomberg back in March after his employer first agreed to list the coin. “To have a coin that commemorates such a well-known event, such a famous event, an event that has changed completely the course of history is quite extraordinary.”
The Death of Caesar by Jean-Léon Gérôme. ( Public domain )
Just Three Coins Remain Celebrating the Assassination of Julius Caesar
This highly coveted golden artifact is known as an Eid Mar or Ides of March coin, and it is one of only three of its type that is known to exist anywhere in the world. One of the other two Eid Mar gold coins sold two years ago in London for the stunning price of $3.5 million (£2.78 million), which shows just how valuable these artifacts are to collectors fascinated by the culture and history of ancient Rome.
The Roman coin about to be auctioned in Switzerland has been on display at the British Museum for the last 10 years, after being loaned to them by a private collector. That individual has now decided to put the coin up for sale on the international antiquities market, which is perhaps not surprising given the premium price that such an item can presently demand.
The head side of Eid Mar coins feature a portrait of Brutus (Marcus Junius Brutus), the Roman Senator who was one of the of the two primary organizers of the murder plot that resulted in assassination of Julius Caesar. On the reverse or tail side, there are engravings of two daggers that represent Brutus and the other main organizer of the assassination plan, Cassius (Gaius Cassius Longinus).
This side also features the image of a pileus, which is a felt cap that was worn by freed slaves in Roman times. This was supposed to represent the liberation of the Roman people from the authoritarian rule of the would-be-emperor Caesar, who shortly before he was killed had declared himself “Dictator for Life.”
The coins were manufactured in a most interesting way. Rather than being minted by an established government minting facility at a fixed location, they were instead made by a traveling minting authority that accompanied Brutus and Cassius as they led their armies into battle during the civil war that broke out after Julius Caesar’s assassination.
The coin had a tiny hole drilled into its top, which revealed it to have been a medallion that would have been worn around someone’s neck. Historians speculate it might even have been worn by Brutus or Cassius, to express their pride in what they considered a necessary act to protect the Roman Republic against the illegitimate designs of a power-hungry tyrant.
One side features a portrait of Brutus, and the other two daggers, on the famed gold Ides of March coin. ( Numismatica Ars Classica )
Assassins of Julius Caesar and their Inevitable Downfall
The assassination of Julius Caesar by a contingent of more than 60 Roman Senators is regarded as the most notorious act of political treachery in the history of western civilization. But those who participated in Caesar’s murder were apparently convinced that they were doing the right thing, and that they were acting in accordance with the wishes of the Roman people.
But the people did not welcome their supposed liberation from tyranny. For the most part the Roman public despised the Senators for what they’d done. The lower classes in particular had placed great trust in Caesar, who was considered a man of the people, despite his apparent interest in absolute power. He was certainly much more trusted and respected than the wealthy elites who conspired to kill him. It should be noted that Roman senators were not popularly elected, but assumed their positions based on their aristocratic status.
The Republic was quickly embroiled in chaos and turmoil following the death of its leader, and the rivalry between the treacherous Senators and Caesar’s main political allies was so intense that it led to civil war. Between 44 and 42 BC a huge army under the command of Brutus and Cassius battled the forces of the Second Triumvirate , an influential coalition consisting of three important individuals who remained loyal to the memory of the deceased Julius Caesar: the Roman generals Mark Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and Caesar’s great nephew (and posthumously adopted son) Gaius Octavius ( Octavian). The latter was Caesar’s choice to become his successor, as he detailed in his will.
Brutus and Cassius had access to immense military power. But they and their co-conspirators had misjudged the popular will, and their army ultimately proved to be no match for the highly motivated forces that fought to avenge Caesar’s memory and return political authority to the Caesarian Party. Octavian and Mark Antony later fought for control of Rome during yet another civil war, and following his decisive victory in that conflict Octavian became Rome’s first true emperor (under the name Augustus Caesar ) in 27 BC.
The Death of Caesar by Jean-Léon Gérôme. ( Public domain )
The Golden Folly of Brutus and Cassius
The assassination plot hatched by Brutus and Cassius, and their subsequent military campaign to seize control of the Roman Republic, proved to be acts of futility. They did not achieve their goals, which were conceived based on a misunderstanding of Roman public opinion and an overestimation of their own capacity to influence the course of future events.
Nevertheless, the two men and their co-conspirators clearly believed they’d acted righteously, and that history would judge them as true liberators and heroes. It was in this context that they ordered the minting of the coins that commemorated their assassination of Julius Caesar , no doubt thinking those coins would be highly valued for decades if not centuries. This was a false and delusional hope, and if the coins are coveted now, it is only because of their connection to one of history’s most disreputable deeds.
Top image: The gold Ides of March coin going on auction which was minted to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar. Source: Numismatica Ars Classica
By Nathan Falde