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Ides March

Never have I ever heard of coins been struck to celebrate an assassination!

Recently whilst researching I came across some coins struck by Marcus Brutus in 43-42 BC to celebrate the assassination of Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar, the “dictator for life” of the Roman Empire was murdered by his own senators at a meeting in a hall next to Pompey’s Theatre on 15th March in 44 BC.

The date 15th March corresponds to the ‘Ides of March’ on the Roman calendar. The death of Caesar made the Ides of March a turning point in Roman history, as one of the events that marked the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. The conspiracy against Caesar encompassed as many as sixty noblemen, including Caesar’s own protégé, Marcus Brutus.

Here is a brief history;

‘The die is cast’:

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Julius Caesar is often remembered as one of the greatest military minds in history and credited with laying the foundation for the Roman Empire. He was a Roman statesman, general, and notable author of Latin prose.  Caesar’s victories in the Gallic Wars in 51 BC extended Rome’s territory to the English Channel and the Rhine. Caesar became the first Roman general to cross both when he built a bridge across the Rhine and conducted the first invasion of Britain.

Against the orders of the Roman Senate, led by Pompey, he further crossed the Rubicon with a legion into Roman Italy. This action resulted in a civil war and the ensuing victory put Caesar in an unrivalled position of power and influence. Pompey and many of the Senate fled to the south, despite greatly outnumbering Caesar in a number of legions Pompey did not intend to fight. Caesar defeated the lieutenants of Pompey in Spain and then challenged Pompey in two wars, first in July 48 BC in Illyria and second at Pharsalus, in Greece in which he finally defeated Pompey.

Even after defeating Pompey at Greece, Caesar pursued him into Egypt arriving moments after his assassination. In Egypt, he got involved in the civil war going on between the child Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII and his sister, wife, and co-regent queen, Cleopatra. He sided with Cleopatra and the after the victory installed Cleopatra as the ruler of Egypt. Caesar was then drawn into an affair with Cleopatra in Egypt. Cleopatra bore a son, whom she named Caesarion, claiming that he was the son of Caesar.

‘I came, I saw, I conquered’:

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Julius Caesar and Cleopatra

Caesar’s political ascendancy started from 74 BC when he put together a private army and combated Mithradates VI Eupator, king of Pontus, who had declared war on Rome. In 61-60 BC he served as governor of the Roman province of Spain. In 59 BC Caesar returned to Rome and formed a valuable pact with two of the most prominent Romans of the day, Pompey, the Great and Crassus. This partnership among the three men came to be known as the ‘first triumvirate’.

He goes on to become the Governor of Gaul (present day France and Belgium), he defeats Helvetians, the Germans, Nervii, Britain, Italy, Egypt, and Alexandria.

He first dealt with king Parnaces, the son of Mithridates of Pontus, before returning to Rome and after his victory in Asia Minor (Turkey) he is said to have sent his celebrated message to the senate ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’.

 

‘Dictator for Life’:

Upon his return to Rome, Caesar was made dictator for life and hailed as the Father of his Country. For Caesar and his countrymen, his rule proved instrumental in reforming Rome. Mark Antony was made his Master of the Horse i.e. Second in Command.

And with this a legend was born, a ruler of Rome so great that many rulers to come after bore his name by birth or by adoption!

Caesar led campaigns in Africa and Spain and established his image as a builder and a visionary statesman. His rule proved instrumental in reforming Rome. Caesar greatly transformed the empire. He relieved debt and reformed the Senate by increasing its size and opening it up so that it better represented Romans as a whole. He reformed the Roman calendar, calling it the “Julian Calendar” and reorganized how local government was constructed. He also proved to be a benevolent victor by inviting some of his defeated rivals to join him in the government.

“You too, my child?” :

Despite his generosity and able administration, he failed to win over his senatorial enemies.  Envy and concern over Caesar’s increasing power led to fear among a number of politicians who saw in him an aspiring king. It is said that his affair with Cleopatra also led to much discontent amongst the Roman Senate.

Caesar was preparing to lead a military campaign against the Parthians, who had treacherously killed Crassus; he was set to leave on March 18. Although Caesar was apparently warned of some personal danger, he nevertheless refused a bodyguard.

On the Ides of March (15 March) of 44 BC, Caesar appeared at a session for a last meeting of the Senate before his departure in Pompey’s Theatre. Sixty conspirators, led by Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus, Decimus Brutus Albinus, and Gaius Trebonius, came to the meeting with daggers concealed in their togas and struck Caesar at least 23 times as he stood at the base of Pompey’s statue.

Legend has it that Caesar said in Greek to Brutus, “You, too, my child?”

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Assassination of Caesar

Celebratory coins:

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Brutus issued a series of gold and silver coins commemorating the assassination of Julius Caesar. The Ides of March denarius, struck by Brutus in 43-42 BC, are easily the most famous of Roman Republican coins.

The reverse of the coin bears the images of two daggers, between which is a liberty cap, an ancient symbol of freedom. The inscription reads EID MAR, meaning “Eidibus Martiis” or “the Ides of March.” The message was meant to convey that on the Ides of March, Brutus set the Romans free.

The obverse of the coin features a portrait of Marcus Brutus. The inscription reads BRVT IMP L PLAET CEST, which means Brutus, Imperator, Lucius Plaetorius Cestianus. Imperator means “honoured military commander” and Lucius Plaetorius Cestianus was the ‘moneyer’ who actually managed the mint workers who produced the coin.

These coins are very rare and valuable. Only 60 specimens of Silver Denarius and 2 gold specimens are known to exist.

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Image Editing by friend and colleague Ajay Pake.

 

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