The coin that celebrates Caesar's murder
In this extract from the HistoryExtra podcast series Caesar: Death of a Dictator, Dr Volker Heuchert explains the fascinating story behind a rare EID MAR coin, minted two years after the death of Roman dictator Julius Caesar
Please note: the below transcript has been lightly edited for clarity
This is an image of the EID MAR denarius. On one side of the coin, we can see the head of Brutus. In contrast to coins showing Julius Caesar, Brutus is not wearing a laurel wreath. But the most remarkable thing is that we have Brutus's portrait on this coin at all – it was minted only two years after the scandal Caesar caused by putting his portrait on his coin.
On this coin Brutus looks a bit younger than Caesar, which reflects historical reality.
I think the portrait would be considered reasonably realistic because the people who would have handled these coins – and who the coins were aimed at – were Brutus's soldiers. Being able to recognise their leader might have been a good thing to ensure they knew who their allegiance was pledged to. You can also see Brutus' name on the coin as well.
The iconic reverse image of the denarius shows the cap of liberty, which was worn by slaves who were set free. It represents the setting free of the state by the assassination of the tyrant ruler Caesar, which happened violently – hence the two daggers.
As for the two daggers, they make it clear that Caesar's assassination occurred because of various people. People have interpreted them as references to Brutus himself and to Cassius as the two leading conspirators. But it also might be the two references to Brutus – the current one and his mythical ancestor in the sixth century BC.
Having the two daggers also produces a more pleasing design. Then have the inscription, EID MAR, which references the Ides of March in the Roman calendar and refers to the day on which Caesar was assassinated.
So this is very much an ‘in your face’ coin design which makes it as clear what has happened to Caesar; it commemorates his assassination and is a rallying call for the Republic.
Dr Volker Heuchert is curator of Greek and Roman Provincial Coins at the the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Oxford. He is an expert on episode five of the HistoryExtra podcast series Caesar: Death of a Dictator. Listen to him on the podcast here