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tin | 19 mm
Struck in 43 and 42 BC.
OBV: BRVT IMP L. PLAET. CEST his bare head right.
R: Cap of Liberty between two daggers EID . MAR below.
Note: As a silver coin, the denarius is one of the most highly sought in all Roman numismatics, with 56 examples being noted. In gold there are but two.
"And also on the coins, which he caused to be struck, he exhibited a likeness of himself, and a cap and two daggers ....." So wrote Dio Cassius in the second century A.D. on the striking of one of the most historically important and evocative of all coins ever issued.
Perhaps no coin of antiquity is as familiar, or as important, as the ‘eid mar’ denarius of Brutus: its dagger-flanked liberty cap and explicit inscription are a simple and direct monument of one of the great moments in western history. So remarkable is the type that it elicited commentary from an ancient historian Dio Cassius (XLVII.25). The murder of the dictator Julius Caesar in the Senate House on the Ides of March, 44 B.C., is one of the major turning points in western history. It is impossible to know how history would have changed had Caesar not been murdered on that day, but the prospect certainly taxes one’s imagination. The designs are worth visiting in detail. The reverse testifies to the murder of Caesar by naming the date, by showing daggers as the instruments of delivery, and by showcasing the pileus, or freedman’s cap, as the fruit of the assassins’ undertaking. Though dozens of men were involved in the plot against Caesar, all are represented by only two daggers – a clear allusion to Brutus and Cassius as leaders of the coup and, subsequently, of the armed opposition to Antony and Octavian. Caesar was a populist, and an opportunist, bent upon dismantling the traditional arrangement of senatorial authority, which was based on the concentration of power within the hands of the ancient and elite families. In the minds of Brutus and his fellow conspirators, this was a struggle to maintain their traditional hold on power, and with that aim they struck down Caesar. This class struggle was couched in the terms of the ancient form of Republican government, and of Rome’s hatred for kings and autocrats; thus it comes as no surprise that the two daggers – indeed the two leaders Brutus and Cassius – follow the twin-symmetry of the two consuls, and even of Castor and Pollux, the mythical saviours of Rome.
The portrait is also of great interest and importance. The only securely identifiable portraits of Brutus occur on coins naming him imperator: the ‘eid mar’ denarii of Plaetorius Cestianus and the aurei of Servilius Casca and Pedanius Costa. Indeed, all other portraits on coins or other media are identified based upon these three issues, inscribed BRVTVS IMP on the aurei, and BRVT IMP on the denarii. Careful study has been made of the ‘eid mar’ series from the numismatic perspective by H. A. Cahn, and from the art-historical view by S. Nodelman. The latter has convincingly divided Brutus’ inscribed coin portraits into three main categories: a ‘baroque’ style portrait on the aurei of his co-conspirator Casca, a ‘neoclassical’ style on the aurei of his legatus Costa, and a ‘realistic’ style on the ‘eid mar’ denarii of Cestianus. Nodelman describes the ‘eid mar’ portraits as ”the soberest and most precise” of all. Further, he divides the ‘eid mar’ portraits into two distinct categories – ‘plastic’ and ‘linear’ – and suggests both were derived from the same sculptural prototype. The portrait on this particular coin belongs to Nodelman’s ‘plastic’ group, as it perfectly exemplifies the “stability and simplicity of shape” that characterize this category.
This is the most interesting of all the coins of Brutus as it not only provides a portrait but also relates to the Assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March (EID MAR). Marcus Junius Brutus (85 BC - 42 BC) or Quintus Servilius Caepio Brutus was a Roman senator of the late Roman Republic. He is best known in modern times for taking a leading role in the assassination conspiracy against the dictator Julius Caesar. Brutus was the son of Marcus Iunius Brutus a legate to Pompey the Great and Servilia Caepionis the half-sister of Cato the Younger and mistress of Julius Caesar. Some sources refer to the possibility of Caesar being his real father but this is unlikely since Caesar was fifteen years old at the time of Brutus' birth and the affair with his mother started some ten years later. Brutus' uncle Quintus Servilius Caepio adopted him when he was a young man and Brutus was known as Q. Servilius Caepio Brutus for an unknown period of time.
Just as Marcus Junius Brutus' name has become synonymous with treachery for the part he took in the assassination of Julius Caesar, his manufacture of this coin must be considered an astonishing act of hubris. Brutus' message on this coin is succinct. As one of the leading conspirators he proudly identifies himself on the obverse and marks the reason for the murder, (the pileus [the Cap of Liberty]), the means (the two daggers), and the date (EID MAR [the Ides of March]) on its reverse. By having the coin bear his image Brutus once again belies his so-called beliefs. Prior to Julius Caesar, no Roman coin had borne the image of a living Roman. The Senate, after bitter debate, granted Julius Caesar this special dispensation. Brutus had been one of those who had vehemently opposed this issue.
As an historical document there are few coins which can compare with the 'Ides of March' issue. Though there are many coins which have been struck to commemorate great events in history, there are none so unequivocally direct nor so brutally personal.