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Rare Coin Market Update

Rare Coin Market Update #18 (Archives)

An Ancient Coins Storied Past of Betrayal and Revenge
Ancient Coins Allow Us To See Into The Past

by Staff 2013-04-23 18:52:23



"Et tu, Brute?" ("Even you, Brutus?") A Lartin phrase often used poetically to represent the last words of Roman dictator Julius Caesar to his friend Marcus Brutus at the time of the assassination  Immortalized by Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the quotation is widely used in as an embodiment of betrayal.

The ancient Roman gold stater was issued for Marcus Brutus, the infamous murderer of Julius Caesar in the Roman Senate house on the Ides of March in 44BC.  Brutus's contemporaries admired him for his political integrity and intellectual and literary attainments. Brutus thought of himself as a defender of the Roman Republic, so he killed Caesar to prevent the dictator from toppling the Roman system of government that had allowed Rome to prosper for centuries. 

This (pure gold, and about the size of the U.S. $2.50 gold piece) AV stater coin was made soon following Caesar’s death after Brutus and Cassius fled to the eastern empire.  Brutus and Cassius (the two main conspirators of the murder, also known as the Liberatores) had left Italy and taken control of all Eastern provinces (from Greece and Macedonia toSyria) to raise a huge army of 17 legions to fight the combined armies of Marc Antony and Octavian (later known as Caesar Augustus). 

 In Rome the three main Caesarian leaders (Antony, Octavian and Marcus Lepidus), who controlled almost all the Roman army in the west, had crushed the opposition of the senate and established the second triumvirate. One of their first tasks was to destroy the Liberators’ forces, not only to get full control of the Roman world, but also to avenge Caesar’s death.

It is believed a Thracian king named Koson (who was allied with the Republican legions led by Brutus) provided the gold that Brutus used to mint this coin.  The staters were most likely struck quickly to pay soldiers involved in the coming military campaign, normally one gold stater per month per man.   Brutus and Cassius concentrated their forces in the area of Macedonia and Thrace.

The Liberators' civil war was started by the Second Triumvirate to avenge Julius Caesar's murder. The war was fought by the forces of Mark Antony and Octavian (the Second Triumvirate members) against the forces of Caesar's assassins Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus in 42 BC. Antony and Octavian crushed Brutus and his ally Cassius at the battle of Phillipi in Greece in 42BC.  Brutus decided to commit suicide a few days later.  Despite Brutus’s murder of Caesar, the Republic quickly came to an end when the Roman Senate ushered in the Imperial era by declaring Octavian as Emperor Augustus.

Roman generals carried massive amounts of coins because the legionaries expected to be paid immediately after a battle.  The treasury chests full of gold and silver were buried before a battle to prevent the enemy from capturing it in the event of a defeat.  This coin is believed to have been among the treasury chests Brutus used to pay his legions.   After the battle the chests would be dug up and the soldiers would be paid, but since Brutus’s army was destroyed the chest containing this coin was left undisturbed underground for 2000 years.  That is why these specimens were able to survive in such immaculate condition for two millennia!

The design of the coin reflects Brutus’ propaganda of the historic fight against tyranny. The obverse features one of Brutus’ heroic ancestors (Lucius Junius Brutus who overthrew the last kings of Rome in 509BC and established the Republic) flanked by two lictors (bodyguards) carrying fasces, which are symbolic axes showing the wielder has the authority to punish people.  The reverse features a Roman eagle standing on a scepter and holding a wreath of victory.