Archive for March 15th, 2010

The Ides of March at the British Museum

Monday, March 15th, 2010

In 42 B.C., Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, aka the Liberatores, the lead conspirators in the assassination of Julius Caesar 2 years before, had military control of the Eastern provinces, including Greece and Macedonia. In Macedonia, Brutus even kept a handy little portable mint with him, which he used to issue a silver denarius celebrating the assassination of Caesar on the Ides of March (March 15).

The denarius has a portrait of Brutus on the obverse, with on the reverse a liberty cap flanked by two daggers over the inscription EID(ibus) MAR(tiis). The liberty cap was the garment given to a manumitted slave to indicate his free status, so the reverse side symbolizes Brutus and Cassius liberating Rome with their daggers.

Their are 60 or so known copies of the silver denarius including several in the British Museum collection, but there are only 2 copies of a gold version, known as Aurei, and one of them has recently been adjudicated a fake.

That means there is only one genuine Eid Mar Aureo, and it’s going on display at the British museum today, in honor of the 2,054th anniversary of Julius Caesar’s assassination.

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. […]

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.

Brutus Eid Mar coin, gold

The inscription on the obverse side of the coin is BRVT(us) IMP(erator) L(ucius) PLAET(orius) CEST(ianus), so for Brutus, acclaimed “imperator” by his troops, and for Lucius Plaetorius Cestianus, the man who actually made the coins and ran Brutus’ mobile mint.

That could have been hanging around Brutus’ or Cassius’ neck while they were in Macedonia, still thinking they had a chance. They didn’t, though. In October of 42 B.C., just months after the coin was struck, Brutus and Cassius were routed by Marc Anthony and Octavian’s forces and died in the Battles of Philippi.

It’s a shame that such a powerful connection to these history-defining events has been in hiding for 80 years. There’s no information on the private collector who loaned the coin to the British Museum. Now that the other gold coin has been declared a fake, its market value is off the charts. If the British Museum couldn’t afford it in 1932, it’s not likely to be able to afford it now, should it ever go on sale.

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