Posted on 04-04-2010
Filed Under (History, Numismatics) by Rashtrakut

A unique Brutus aureus is on display at the British museum.  See link.  As is evident from the picture the coin commemorates the Ides of March and the assassination of Julius Caesar.  While the silver denarius version of the coin is known, the coin on display at the British museum may be the only authentic gold coin commemorating the assassination in existence today.  See link.  As noted in the articles above, these coins were famous in antiquity and were referenced by the second century historian Cassius Dio.

However, these coins are replete with irony as a few years before minting them Brutus himself would have considered them an act of impiety.  For a long time in the Greco-Roman world it was considered an act of impiety to use the image of a living person on a coin.  Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander created a loophole to get around this.  Philip’s tetradrachms display the image of Zeus and Alexander’s that of Hercules.  However, the gods on the coin just happen to look like the king.  After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy I of Egypt was the first to brazenly use his own image on his coins without resorting to the divine loophole.  With the horse out of the barn, the other Hellenistic states followed.

But the ban remained in place for Roman coinage for another 250 years until it was breached by Julius Caesar (probably one of the items added to his myriad alleged offenses that led to the assassination).  And yet Brutus, that stern defender of the values of the Roman Republic, issued coins with his own image on them.  The likely reason for this apostasy is the fact that after Caesar’s death his successors discovered the propaganda value of using their own images on the coins used to pay their soldiers.  Once again after horse got out of the barn everybody else followed.  And Brutus decided to use his apostasy to glorify the assassination of Caesar, the act primarily associated with his name two millennia later.

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