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The Roman Empire

Category:  Ancients
Owner:  Kohaku
Last Modified:  4/30/2024
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Slot: Founding of Rome: Romulus and Remus
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - ROMAN REPUBLIC (4th CENT BC - 1st CENT BC) ROMAN REPUBLIC S.Pomp. Fostlus, c.137 BC
Design Description: Roma, Romulus & Remus Denarius
Item Description: AR Denarius she-wolf, twins; fig tree obv Roma. rv shepherd w/
Grade: NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
According to ancient mythology, the Trojan prince Paris presided as judge over which goddess was fairest: Hera, Athena, or Aphrodite? To help Paris choose, each deity paraded nude before him and offered the choice of an enticing bribe: world domination (Hera), military prowess (Athena), or the world’s most beautiful woman (Aphrodite). Paris chose the latter, missing his chance to defy fate and declare a draw. However, as always, there was a catch. The most beautiful woman, namely Helen, was married to the King of Sparta. No matter, Aphrodite helped Paris to win Helen and whisk her away to Troy, earning the wrath of the Spartans and their fellow Greeks who roused a thousand ship fleet in response, not to mention Hera and Athena. The ensuing Trojan War, the subject of Homer’s 8th century BC epic, The Iliad, involved the intrepid machinations of many mortals and deities, and, ultimately, the city’s destruction.

Though his city burned about him, the heroic Aeneas managed to escape, as told by Virgil in The Aeneid, written during Augustus’ time. This highly popular work served as important propaganda for the new Emperor who, through his adoptive father Julius Caesar, claimed descent from the hero who eventually settled Italy, leading to Rome’s founding. Along the way, Aeneas dealt with storms and mythical monsters. Among his many stopovers was Carthage, wherein he left the love-struck Queen Dido despairing to the point she committed suicide. Following these adventures, Aeneas finally arrived at the shores of Italy.

Fourteen generations later, the mythos finally turns to the subject of the twin sons born of Ilia, the niece of usurper Amulius, and daughter of the deposed and imprisoned rightful ruler, King Numitor. To secure his dynasty (or so he thought), Amulius ordered that Ilia join the Vestal Virgins, vowing chastity upon fear of death by live burial. Even so, Ilia succumbed to Mars’ seduction, and the fate of the resulting infants fell into Amulius’ hands. The latter reasoned that killing the pair by his hand might incur the god's wrath. Instead, he planned an overly elaborate and exotic death by natural elements, placing the twins in a basket set afloat in the river Tiber. As it turned out, the situation was easily escapable. Owing to divine guidance, the basket landed safely downstream entangled by a fig tree’s roots. A she-wolf turned up to suckle the twins, which, along with a woodpecker’s beak-feeding, kept the pair alive. Later, the shepherd Faustulus arrived and adopted the boys, naming them Romulus and Remus.

When the brothers came of age, they settled the score against Amulius, restoring their grandfather’s rule. Not satisfied with this success, Romulus and Remus decided to found their own realm on the hilly lands they washed ashore as infants. Romulus started building atop Palantine Hill. Remus preferred Aventine Hill, and mocked his brother’s progress. In a fit of rage, Romulus killed his brother, and then finished building the city, naming it after himself. Afterwards, Romulus expanded his city (there were several more hills to occupy), and added an organization of advisory elders and an elite guard, precursors to the Senate and the Praetorian Guard, respectively. Eventually, Romulus’ reign came to an end when he mysteriously disappeared, probably the casualty of a disaffected Senate.

The various themes woven within the fable of Romulus and Remus – the rise and fall of a usurper, exacting revenge (even decades afterwards), and even murdering one’s own kin – comprise different facets of the Roman psyche. A myriad of alternate, related mythologies exist, most comprising similar elements and suggesting Rome’s founding in mid 8th century BC.

The spirit of Rome was also personified, or rather deified, as Roma. Over time, Roma’s priesthood grew. Only males served such a role, reflecting Rome’s virility. Eventually, Roma evolved to embody the entire Roman state.

Romulus, Remus, and Roma were popular icons among ancient Romans, as evidenced by this denarius, struck around 137 BC in the Roman Republic. The moneyer’s name was Sextus Pompeius Fostlus, who leveraged the opportunity to promote his clan’s claim of descent from Faustulus. The obverse depicts the helmeted head of Roma, to her right the mark of value (X), and to her left the religious symbol of a jug. The reverse depicts all the crucial elements of Rome’s founding myth: the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus; a fig tree, whose roots snagged the twins’ basket ashore; two birds, one vertically perched upon the tree trunk, consistent with a woodpecker’s zygodactyl feet; and the arrival of Faustulus. The entire scene is encircled within the inscription of the moneyer’s name above and ROMA below.

The coin’s design is a marvel of organization and advertising, additional themes consistent with the spirit of ancient Rome.

Coin Details: ROMAN REPUBLIC, Sextus Pompeius Fostlus, 137 BC, AR Denarius (3.90 g, 19 mm), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Helmeted head of Roma right, jug to left, X (value mark) to right, Reverse: She-wolf standing right, head left, suckling Romulus and Remus, fig tree with birds behind, SEX. PO-F OSTLVS, ROMA in exergue, References: Crawford 235/1c; Sydenham 461a; Pompeia 1a.
Slot: Roman Moneyers
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - ROMAN REPUBLIC (4th CENT BC - 1st CENT BC) ROMAN REPUBLIC T.Ma.Mancinus, 111-110 BC
Design Description: Roman Republic Denarius
Item Description: AR Denarius Roma/Victory in triga w/A.C.Pulcher, Q.Urbinius
Grade: NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
This coin was struck in Rome during 111-110 BC. That conclusion is largely based on the initials AP. CL. T.M. QVR, found on the coin's verso in exergue, denoting three men: Appius Claudius Pulcher, T. Manlius Mancinus, and Q. Urbinius. At the time, the trio served as the Republic's moneyers, and, as such, held responsibility not only for this denarius, but all of Rome's contemporaneous coinage.

The ancient Romans defined their moneyers as tresviri auro argento aere flan do feriundo or “the three men for casting and striking of gold, silver and bronze.” The position was usually held for one year early in a Roman noble’s career, although there were exceptions. The moneyers were responsible not only for producing Roman Republican coins, but also for their design.

For this particular denarius, the moneyers chose an obverse design featuring Roma, the female deity who personified the city and state of Rome. On the reverse is winged Victory, the goddess personifying the same (in other words, the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Nike) riding a triga, or three-horse chariot.

The triga was a curious choice for the coin’s design. At the time, the biga and qudriga (i.e., two- and four-horse) were the most common chariot types, particularly at the very popular chariot races. As such, the triga was probably more appropriate for war: a notable example dating from Greek mythology was Achilles’ chariot, drawn by three horses (two of them immortal). Even so, on this coin the triga appears very small and lightweight like a racing chariot, and unlike a war version, which would be much larger and armored. Indeed, Victory appears to be balancing on the axle with very little support or protection, similar to the precarious situation of an actual chariot racer - except without the wings.

Why the moneyers decided on a triga for Victory’s conveyance is unknown. Not only was it uncommon as a racing chariot, it was also rarely depicted on Roman Republican coinage. In fact, this coin is one of only two Roman Republican issues incorporating the triga as a design element.

Coin Details: ROMAN REPUBLIC, Moneyers: Appius Claudius Pulcher, T. Manlius Mancinus, and Q. Urbinius, 111/110 BC, AR Denarius (3.77 g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/4, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Helmeted head of Roma right, quadrangular device to left, Reverse: Victory, holding reins, driving triga right, AP. CL. T.M. QVR in exergue, References: Crawford 299/1a; Sydenham 570; RSC Claudia 2; Sear 176.
Slot: The Roman Republic
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - ROMAN REPUBLIC (4th CENT BC - 1st CENT BC) ROMAN REPUBLIC L.Censorinus, c.82 BC
Design Description: Roman Republic Denarius
Item Description: AR Denarius rv Marsyas at column obv Apollo
Grade: NGC Ch MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Historians define the Roman Republic as beginning in 509 BC with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom and ending in 27 BC with the transformation into an Empire. In between, by conquest and diplomacy the Roman state spread from the Eternal City to hegemony over much of the Mediterranean region.

Neither monarchy (as was the preceding Kingdom), nor democracy (as was Athens), nor aristocracy (as was Sparta), the hierarchical Roman Republic blended all three elements in an unwritten constitution that evolved over time. The government was comprised of legislative assemblies that passed laws, a Senate that ran day-to-day affairs, and two elected term-limited consuls, the highest political office. There was a complex system of checks and balances amongst these three branches. Even so, the system was not absolute, and struggles between the aristocracy and the common people fomented a constitutional crisis in late 2nd century BC, which ultimately led to demise of the Republic and rise of the Empire.

This coin was minted in the middle of that crisis. On the obverse is the familiar form of Apollo, and on the verso is Marsyas, a tragic figure in Greco-Roman mythology who became an icon of free speech and liberty. According to the original legend, Marsyas was a satyr who picked up the aulos (a double-piped reed wind instrument) tossed aside by its original inventor, Athena. Marsyas became quite proficient with his new flute, so much so he became embroiled in an ancient musical duel with Apollo and his lyre. Marsyas lost, and was tortured and killed for his hubris.

To the common people of Rome, Marsyas was viewed as a symbol of free speech against oppression. Examining the coin closely, one discerns that the figure is old, almost grotesque, nude except for slippers, carrying a full wineskin over his left shoulder (as any proper satyr would), with his legs bent, bearded head thrown back, and right arm lifted high in a defiant looking gesture. He stands in front of a slender column that carries a draped figure, possibly Libertas.

The coin’s reverse was modeled after the Statua Marsyae in the Forum, which at the time was a meeting place for Romans to share their written and oral critical views. Among those Romans was probably Lucius Marcius Censorinus, whose gens Marcia claimed legendary descent from Marsyas, and who was the moneyer responsible for this coin's design and production in 82 BC. That same year, Rome was in the midst of civil war right up to her gates, and the victorious general Lucius Cornelius Sulla was proclaimed dictator. The new dictator and his puppet Senate took exception to the coin’s message, and many anti-Sullan Romans, like Marsyas, were cruelly put to death.

Coin Details: ROMAN REPUBLIC, L. Marcius Censorinus, c. 82 BC, AR Denarius (4.56 g), NGC Grade: Ch MS*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: laureate head of Apollo right, Reverse: Satyr Marsyas, standing left with wine-skin on shoulder, searing slippers, in front of column surmounted by draped figure, L CENSOR, References: Crawford 363; Marcia 24; Sydenham 737.
Slot: Lucius Cornelius Sulla
Design Description: Sulla Denarius
Item Description: AR Denarius Roma/Sulla in quadriga 82 BC. L.Man. Torquatus.
Grade: NGC MS Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Julius Caesar may have been Rome’s most famous dictator, but he certainly wasn’t the first. Dozens held the title in the early Roman Republic, wielding varying degrees of absolute power, up until 202 BC. After that, the title was seemingly abandoned for more than a century, until someone rose up to claim it again - Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138 – 78 BC). Although he re-instated the role of dictator, Sulla did not wish Rome to evolve into an autocracy. In fact, Sulla relinquished his totalitarian power once he thought his actions had secured the Republic’s future. Even so, Sulla’s actions upset Rome’s power structure to an extent that facilitated the ascent of Caesar and his successors. Intentionally or not, Sulla’s turn at dictatorship proved the prelude to Empire.

Sulla hailed from a patrician family, and reportedly spent his youth consorting with Rome’s performance artists. It was not until his thirties that Sulla earned fame for his first significant accomplishment, namely the 107 BC capture of the Numidian usurper Jugurtha. After Sulla turned forty, he distinguished himself as administrator over Cilicia, battling pirates and thwarting a Persian invasion. After that, the rising general returned to Italy, joining the fight against several city-states that were former socii (allies), but now sought separation from Rome. That conflict, known as the Social War (91-88 BC), secured Rome’s mastery over the Italian peninsula and propelled Sulla’s career even further. Sulla managed a series of impressive victories, including one after which the troops awarded him their very highest form of exaltation, namely a corona graminea, or grass crown. Sulla also managed to win the post of consul, Rome’s highest elected political office.

Even while Rome outlasted its enemies in the Social War, another crisis brewed. To the east, Pontic King Mithridates VI planned and plotted his realm’s expansion. In a shocking development, Pontus launched a highly orchestrated massacre of many thousands of Roman men, women, and children residing throughout Asia Minor. Rome sought revenge, and Sulla was the Senate’s logical appointee for the task. However, Sulla’s military and political mentor-turned-rival, Gaius Marius, preferred his own glorification, and managed a popular assembly’s override of the Senate’s decision. The political unrest spawned violent protests and rioting, even within the Forum, the very center of Roman public life. Sulla, who had a long history with Marius, decided that Pontus could wait. He mustered his available forces - six formidable legions - and marched against Rome. It was the first time that a Roman general had ever stormed the Eternal City. The forces supporting Sulla (mostly the optimates, or “best men,” who championed oligarchic rule) battled those favoring Marius (mainly the populares, who preferred power via popular assemblies). Sulla’s battle-hardened forces proved stronger, and Marius barely managed to escape. Sulla proceeded to establish his power over Rome, at least to the extent he re-established the Senate’s authority.

Having stabilized the situation in Rome, Sulla turned his attention to Mithridates in earnest. Merging his traveling army with Rome’s remaining eastern forces, Sulla waged the First Mithridatic War. For further support, Sulla also called upon the realm of Bithynia, whose ruler, King Nicomedes IV, had developed the habit of giving up his throne to Pontus, then seeking Rome’s assistance to regain it. Sulla and his Bithynian allies waged several epic battles against Mithridates’ forces, including a particularly brutal siege of Athens. By 85 BC, Mithridates was forced to surrender his control over Greek territories, not to mention a large portion of his own personal wealth.

Meanwhile back in Rome, Marius re-established his power base and was re-elected co-consul for an unprecedented seventh time. It proved his last; he died just two weeks later. It was enough time, however, to launch a vicious purge of Sulla’s supporters. After Marius’ death, his co-consul, Lucius Cornelius Cinna, continued persecuting the pro-Sulla faction.

With Pontus out of the way, Sulla returned his attention back to Rome and retribution against his domestic enemies. Cinna, perhaps fearing Sulla’s growing popularity, decided that the best course of action was to set forth from Rome with a pre-emptive attack force. Cinna’s men, not eager to engage Sulla’s battle-hardened veterans, decided to murder their leader instead.

Although Marius and Cinna had been eliminated, their numerous followers (referred to as the Marians) still controlled much of Italy. The Marians' resurgence didn't last for long. A highly determined Sulla returned to Rome, and found many of his own local supporters, including future triumvirs Crassus and Pompey. Once again, Sulla waged civil war upon Rome, and achieved his final victory in 82 BC at the monumental Battle of the Colline Gate

Subsequently, the Senate granted Sulla the title dictator legibus faciendis et reipublicae constituendae causa, meaning dictator for the making of laws and for the settling of the constitution. Apparently, no term limit applied, effectively bestowing perpetual, unlimited power. It was now the great imperator’s turn to carry out bloody proscriptions. Sulla reportedly killed thousands of Romans who he deemed had acted against the Republic’s best interests. Escaping the bloodbath was Julius Caesar, a potential target since he happened to be Cinna’s son-in-law. Sulla reportedly lamented his failure to deal with Caesar, foreseeing him as a future threat to Rome’s political system. Besides brutal proscriptions, Sulla issued many reforms to promote economic recovery, as well as renew the power and prestige of the Senate.

Sulla also issued coins, including this well-preserved denarius, probably struck by his own travelling military mint. The obverse features the classic motif of a helmeted Roma, along with the inscription PROQ L MANLI T, indicating Lucius Manlius Torquatus, Sulla’s proquaestor during the Pontic war. On the verso, an exultant figure drives a quadriga (a four-horse chariot), while holding a caduceus (a winged staff), and being crowned by Victory (the Roman goddess personifying the same). Based on the inscription L SVLLA IMP, the scene probably portrays Sulla celebrating a triumphus, or triumph (a public ceremony reserved for Roman military commanders who have achieved a great victory). It is not clear which victory is being represented, and it may be the case that Sulla issued the coin in anticipation of his final victory over the Marians. It is conceivable if not likely that Sulla approved of the design, despite the numismatic tradition that living Romans not be depicted on Rome's coinage.

Even though he had achieved supreme power, Sulla kept his resolve to maintain Rome as a Republic. In 80 BC, he resigned as dictator and restored the Senate's power. After serving as co-consul for a second term, Sulla retired from public life in 79 BC. The following year, Sulla died of natural causes.

Sulla was survived by several children from his five marriages, ensuring the continued political prominence of his clan for decades. More than descendants, precedents define Sulla's legacy: marching on Rome, reigning as dictator, and even issuing coins invoking his own image. These bold moves set the stage for similar actions by Caesar and the Republic’s subsequent transformation to an Empire.

Like many figures of ancient Rome, Sulla's personal history is complex and subject to interpretation. His brilliant, yet brutal, tactics were enacted not merely for personal glory, but also out of a deeply-rooted patriotism and his own sense of justice. Sulla is perhaps best epitomized by his purported epitaph: "No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full."

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, died 79 BC, AR Denarius (3.94g), NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Helmeted head of Roma right, L. MANLI. PROQ (L. Manlius Torquatus, proconsul), Reverse: Triumphator Sulla, crowned by flying Victory, in quadriga right, holding reins and caduceus; in exergue, L. SVLLA IMP, References: RRC 757; Crawford 367/5.
Slot: Mithradates VI
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) PONTIC KINGDOM Mithradates VI, 120-63 BC
Design Description: Pontic Kingdom Stater
Item Description: AV Stater Pontic Kingdom Alexander III/Athena Callatis. Lysimachus type
Grade: NGC Ch MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
In early 3rd century BC, Mithradates I established rule over lands in northern Asia Minor near Pontos Euxeinos, the Black Sea. His Kingdom was comprised of Greek coastal cities to the north, abounding in fish and home to capital of Sinope, and Persian and native Anatolian communities south of the Pontic mountains, where lands were rich in natural resources such as woods, minerals, and metals.

For the next two centuries, the fertile Pontic Kingdom expanded under Mithradates’ successors, who frequently battled amongst themselves for power. During one such struggle around 120 BC, the young Mithradates VI (134-63 BC) went into hiding after his father was assassinated by poisoning. Endeavoring to avoid his father's fate, the prince spent his hiatus intentionally ingesting sub-lethal doses of various toxins, surmising that the effort would promote immunity. Satisfied with his improved tolerance, Mithradates returned to the political scene. He declared himself rightful heir to the throne, imprisoned his ruling mother and brother, and married his sister Leodice, the first of his (at least) six wives, not to mention concubines and mistresses.

Prolific in many ways - fluent in over 20 languages, and siring at least as many offspring - he earned the name Mithradates Eupator (the Great), and portrayed himself as protector of the Greek kingdoms against the barbarians of Rome. Such propaganda is consistent with this gold stater, modeled after the design of Lysimachus, a bodyguard of Alexander the Great who ruled Asia Minor in late 4th century BC. The obverse depicts the diademed head of Alexander, whose facial features resemble the Pontic King. The likeness reflects Mithradates’ claimed ancestry (the list of famous forebears spans from Cyrus the Great to the later Seleucid kings). The coin’s verso, also mimicking Lysimachus' designs, presents an enthroned Athena, holding Nike, with shield propped against her throne and spear over her shoulder. The details of both obverse and reverse reflect Hellenistic sensibilities, contrasting contemporary coins struck by the Romans.

Like Lysimachus two centuries earlier, Mithradates VI ruled not only most of Asia Minor, but also exerted influence over much of its surrounding demesnes. Inevitably, Pontus clashed with another growing superpower, i.e., the Roman Republic. For decades, Mithradates VI bitterly battled the Romans in several mighty wars, the details of which are well worth further study. In the end, the Romans were not to be denied, even if the effort drained their coffers. Finally defeated by the great Roman general Pompey the Great, the Pontic King tried to commit suicide via poison, but the effort failed due to his immunity. Mithradates was not, however, immune to the sword of his bodyguard, under orders to finish the deed.

Coin Details: PONTIC KINGDOM, Mithradates VI, 120-63 BC, AV Stater (8.34 g), Callatis, Lysimachos type, 88-86 BC, NGC Grade: Ch MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Diademed head of deified Alexander III right, Reverse: Athena enthroned left, holding Nike, shield propped against throne, transverse spear in background, HP monogram to inner left, ornamented trident in exergue, Reference: Müller 226.
Slot: Nicomedes IV
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) BITHYNIAN KINGDOM Nicomedes IV, c.94-74 BC
Design Description: Bithynia Tetradrachm
Item Description: AR Tetradrachm Bithynian Kingdom eagle on fulmen. Yr.208. rv Zeus w/wreath+scepter;
Grade: NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
The location of ancient Bithynia was highly strategic - northwestern Asia Minor, bordering Paphlagonia to the east, Mysia to the west, and Phyrgia to the south. Bithynia's rugged, mountainous interior descended into fertile coastlines providing access to the Propontis (Sea of Marmara) and the Pontos Euxeinos (Black Sea), as well as the important waterway connecting them, namely the Bosporus Strait. As such, the realm repeatedly came under diplomatic and military scrutiny of other ancient states. In mid 6th century BC, Bithynia fell under the sway of King Croesus and his Lydian Kingdom. The Bithynians eventually regained independence, and managed to retain it, even against the late 4th century BC marauding Macedonians led by Alexander the Great. Bithynia continued to prosper under its distinguished rulers, notably King Nicomedes I, who founded the great city of Nicomedia in mid-3rd century BC.

Around the turn of 1st century BC, the influential and strategic Bithynia came under pressure from its rapidly growing rival, the Pontic Kingdom. In 90 BC, Pontic King Mithradates VI supported an uprising that forced Bithynian King Nicomedes IV to flee his court and seek protection within the Roman Republic. The Romans, who considered Mithradates VI their greatest enemy and valued Bithynia's strategic nexus, restored Nicomedes IV to his throne. Nicomedes IV tried to return the favor by warring against Mithradates VI, only to face defeat and seek Italy's refuge once again. Several years later, Nicomedes IV was re-restored to the Bithynian throne, in accordance with negotiations between Rome and Pontus.

Within this tumultuous period, probably 90-89 BC, unknown Bithynian artisans struck this interesting tetradrachm. The obverse presents an unusual, whimsical portrait of Nicomedes IV that is somehow best appreciated at the coin's actual scale. The King's lips form a sly smile beneath his prominent proboscis, his flowing hair barely contained beneath a diadem. In contrast, the reverse motif is portrayed in traditional, classical style: Zeus Stephanophorus, attended by an eagle perched on a thunderbolt, accompanied by an inscription to provide pedigree. Both obverse and verso employ very fine Hellenistic details that emerge upon further contemplation.

Like this coin's obverse, Nicomedes IV apparently had an eclectic side. In 80 BC, he hosted the visit of an ambitious young Roman named Julius Caesar, who was interested in raising a fleet and promoting his future political career. During his stay (and at least one additional sojourn), Caesar enjoyed Nicomedes IV's hospitality such that rumors surfaced of an affair with his Hellenistic host. Although bisexuality among Romans was acceptable and even commonplace, there were rules; allegedly, Rome's future dictator played the submissive role in the relationship, normally reserved for slaves, prostitutes, and entertainers. The rumors grew into elaborate stories wherein Caesar donned enticing nightgowns and powdered and perfumed himself like a courtesan. Caesar became the butt of his enemy’s jokes, for example he was disparagingly hailed as “Queen of Bithynia.” Such wild accounts were likely exaggerations, and perhaps even complete fabrications. Expectedly, Caesar denied the specific accusations, although he certainly established a lasting bond with the Bithynian royal family, and acted as their supporter in Rome.

Although the exact details of the relationship remain uncertain, Nicomedes IV thought fondly of Caesar and Rome, even to his deathbed. With his final royal act in 74 BC, he bequeathed them his entire Bithynian Kingdom.

Coin Details: BITHYNIAN KINGDOM, Nikomedes IV Philopator, 94-74 BC, AR Tetradrachm (31.5 mm, 16.55 g, 12h), Dated 208 BE (90/89 BC), NGC Grade: Ch AU, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Diademed head right, Reverse: Zeus Stephanophoros standing left, to inner left, eagle standing on thunderbolt above monogram above HE (date), References: Callatay p. 63; RG 40; HGC 6, 646; DCA 445.
Slot: Tigranes II The Great
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) KINGS OF ARMENIA Tigranes II, 95-56 BC
Design Description: Tigranes II the Great Hemichalkon
Item Description: AE15 Kings Of Armenia rv filleted cornucopia
Grade: NGC Ch VF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Tigranes II (140 – 55 BC) ruled ancient Armenia from early to mid 1st century BC. He was the son-in-law and supporter of Mithradates VI Eupator, one of Rome’s all-time greatest enemies. Tigranes' accomplishments are somewhat difficult to evaluate, considering the negative bias of surviving, pro-Roman histories. Undisputedly, Tigranes grew Armenia into a powerful realm, even rivaling his mighty contemporaries to the north (Pontus), the east (the Parthians), and the west (the Romans).

Like Julius Caesar, Tigranes achieved greatness and fame relatively late in life, at least by ancient standards. In 95 BC, the 45 year-old descendent of Artaxias secured his release from Parthian imprisonment in exchange for a ransom of “seventy valleys.” He then ascended the Armenian throne, and soon consolidated power by reuniting his territory with the adjacent southwestern kingdom of Sophene, previously split off under rule of the rapidly waning Seleucid Kingdom.

Tigranes allied with Pontus against Bithynia and the great Roman general Sulla during the first Mithradatic War. Initially, Tigranes did little, if anything, to directly confront Rome, instead taking advantage of the regional power vacuum to expand his Kingdom from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Seas. Eventually, his campaigns resulted in dominion over portions of Commagene, Cilicia, and Cappadocia to the north and Mesopotamia and Syria to the south. Having regained his seventy valleys (and then some), Tigranes earned epithets such as “The Great” and “King of Kings.”

Tigranes needed a new, centrally located capital. To this end, the great city of Tigranakert was constructed, reportedly with outer walls several hundred feet high, and grand buildings including a royal palace replete with hunting grounds and fish ponds. It was arguably the apex of Hellenization, which Armenia shared with Pontus and the neighboring states of the Near East. However, the Armenian Kingdom had spread so rapidly that its diversification was now a liability. By the time of the third and final war between Mithradates and Rome, Armenia was fully embroiled in the conflict. This time, the Romans, now led by Pompey the Great, eliminated Mithradates and his Pontic Kingdom. The Romans also managed to sack Tigranakert, and Armenia's King had no other choice but to surrender as well.

The account of Tigranes' surrender provides an interesting insight into the ancient Romans and their quest for glory. The 75-year old Tigranes approached the Roman camp on horseback, dismounted, removed his crown, and prostrated himself before Pompey. Reportedly, the great Roman general was so moved he took his adversary by the hand, lifted him up, replaced his crown, and proceeded to discuss peace terms. In the end, Tigranes agreed to pay an enormous sum of 6,000 talents and indeed retained his crown, although his Kingdom was shrunk back to its previously modest borders. Importantly, Tigranes established himself as Rome’s ally, thus protecting Armenian lands against potential Parthian encroachment.

Tigranes continued his reign for another decade, during which this particular coin was struck in Tigranakert. On the observe portrait, Tigranes wears his Armenian tiara, replete with a star and two eagles. It is proposed that this star, often portrayed with a curved tail, may represent the passage of Halley’s comet, which was visible in 87 BC. It is reasonable that Tigranes would exploit such a dramatic occurrence as divine affirmation of his power. Indeed, Tigranes was renown for pomp and circumstance, from his famous tiara to his stately purple garments to the constant presence of his four vassal kings. The theme of glorifying Tigranes continues on the coin’s reverse - a filleted cornucopia and a Greek epithet confirming his status as King of Kings.

After Tigranes’ death in 55 BC, Armenia continued its allegiance as Rome’s protectorate, and once, if only briefly, held the status of a province. Owing its strategic location, the region was frequently contested between the Romans and the Parthians, and, after the latter waned, the Sassanids. Although internal autonomy often prevailed, Armenia would never again reach prominence such as that achieved by its great King of Kings.

Coin Details: KINGS of ARMENIA, Tigranes II ‘the Great’, 95-56 BC, Æ Hemichalkon (15.5mm, 2.72 g, 1h), Tigranakert mint, Struck circa 69-55 BC, NGC Grade: Ch VF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Draped bust right, wearing tiara with star and eagles, Reverse: Filleted cornucopia, [B]AΣIΛEΩΣ BAΣIΛEΩN [T]IΓPANOY, References: M&D 47; CAA 105 corr. (no letter in field); AC 96; Sunrise –.
Slot: Celtic Tribes
Design Description: Celtic Drachm imitating Massalia
Item Description: AR Drachm Celts, Northern Italy types of Massalia or Northern Italy(?)
Grade: NGC MS Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Before the advent of the Romans, there thrived throughout Europe an ethnolinguistic society collectively referred to as the Celts. The earliest relevant records date to 6th century BC and the Greek explorers who settled Massalia (modern Marseille, France). The colonists made a strong impression on the Celts, who imitated Hellenistic culture and customs, including the striking of coinage.

As an example, consider this silver drachm, struck by the Salluvii (or Salyes) sometime during 2nd or 1st century BC in Galia Cisalpina (northern Italy). Over that period, a relatively large number of these coins circulated, evidence of Salluvii dominance over the region. Consequently, the Salluvii were among the first transalpine tribes viewed as a serious threat, and subsequently subdued, by the ancient Romans.

This Celtic coin’s design mimics Greek drachms struck several centuries earlier in Massalia. The obverse depicts the head of a nymph, and the reverse portrays a stylized lion sometimes referred to as a “lion-scorpion.” On the original Massalian drachm, the lion was struck in realistic fashion; over time, the Celtic interpretation became progressively more impressionistic. Interestingly, the lion’s evolution occurred concomitantly with a decrease in the drachm’s silver content, foreshadowing the debasement later employed by the Romans.

Besides the Salluvii, numerous other Celtic tribes came into increasing contact, and often conflict, with the growing Roman Republic. By the time Julius Caesar decided to conquer Gaul, Celtic communities existed throughout much of Europe. From about 58 to 50 BC, Caesar encountered many different peoples, as documented in his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars. Caesar referred to those he encountered as Gauls, and classified them according to various regions: Celtica (central Gaul), Narbonensis (southeastern Gaul), Aquitania (southwestern Gaul), Gallia Cisalpina (Northern Italy on the Roman side of the Alps), Gallia Transalpina, (Italy north of the Alps), Belgica (northern Gaul along the modern day English Channel), and Britannia.

Caesar began his conquests by halting the Helvetii, who were planning a mass migration westward from their base in modern-day Switzerland. Along the way, Caesar defeated the Sequani, who threatened another Celtic tribe, the Aedui, who happened to be Rome's allies. Caesar then proceeded to conquer the Belgae, including peoples known as the Nervii, the Menapii, and the Treveri. This resulted in a wedge between central Gaul and Germania that remained strategically important for centuries. Subsequently, Caesar crossed over to Britannia – twice – and, surviving dangerous tides and storms, conquered rebellious tribes therein, notably the Catuvellauni. Although Caesar did not directly claim any Britannic lands for Rome, he left his allies, the Trinovantes, to rule over the defeated eastern Britannic tribes.

Caesar's most notorious Celtic adversary was the Arverni chieftain Vercingetorix, who rallied several other Gallic clans to stand with him against Rome. Vercingetorix won an initial battle (at Gergovia), only to later suffer defeat (at Alesia), but only after Caesar personally stepped in to lead Rome’s last reserves. The Celtic chieftain gave himself up to Caesar, reportedly to save his remaining men. By late 50 BC, Caesar had completed his conquest over Gaul, and returned to Rome, sparking a civil war that raged for years. Rome's newest dictator apparently held his famous prisoner until the optimal occasion for political gain. In 46 BC, Rome celebrated Caesar's accomplishments with an elaborate quadruple Triumph, wherein Vercingetorix served as an impressive war trophy.

Such events promoted Caesar’s rise and the Republic’s subsequent transition into an Empire, just one illustration of the Celts' influence on ancient Rome’s history.

Further reading: J. Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic Wars.

Further reading: J Corsi et al., Pre-Roman coins from Northern Italy: Characterization with Neutron Diffrcation Analysis and First Results, VIII Congresso Nazionale di Archeometria Scienze e Beni Culturali, Bologna 5-7 February 2014.

Coin Details: CELTS, SOUTHERN GAUL (OR NORTHERN ITALY, Lombard Plain), 2nd - 1st century BC, AR drachm (2.54 g), Imitating Massalia, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Head of nymph right, wreathed in grain, wearing triple pendant earring, Reverse: "Lion-scorpion" with gaping mouth walking right atop double exergual line, ΜΛΣΣΛΛ (blundered version of Greek legend), References: BMC Celtic II 3-17, S5-34; De La Tour 2126.
Slot: Deiotarus
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) KINGDOM OF GALATIA Deiotarus, c.62-40 BC
Design Description: Deiotarus AE18
Item Description: AE18 Kingdom Of Galatia fulmen; royal monogram. obv Zeus. rv eagle on
Grade: NGC VF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
In 3rd century BC, a conglomeration of Celtic tribes migrated from Europe into central Asia Minor, eventually founding their own realm of Galatia, the “land of the Gauls.” Due to their central location, the Galatians often found themselves in the way of Rome's territorial ambitions. The situation brought both opportunities and consequences.

When the First Mithradatic War began around 88 BC, Galatia allied itself with Pontus against Rome. However, Pontic King Mithradates VI doubted Galatia’s loyalty, and increasing paranoia led to drastic action. Mithradates hosted Galatia’s leaders at a grand banquet, and took the opportunity to slaughter his guests. Among the handful of Galatia’s royalty absent, and thus fortuitously surviving the pogrom, was a prince named Deiotarus, the “divine bull.”

Seeking retribution and possessing innate leadership and military skills, Deiotarus mustered an army that expelled Pontus from Galatia. Next, he challenged Mithradates’ forces in nearby Phrygia and Cilicia. As Fortuna would have it, he now shared a common goal with Rome. Over the next couple decades, the Galatians supported the Romans in a series of wars against Mithradates and his Armenian ally, Tigranes the Great. Eventually, Deiotarus achieved his revenge; Mithradates and his Pontic Kingdom were terminated.

For his efforts, Deiotarus was acknowledged as King of an expanded Galatian realm. To celebrate and advertise his status, Deiotarus issued coins, such as this extremely rare bronze struck sometime in mid first century BC. Unlike the abstract artistry employed by many other contemporary Celts, Galatian designs reflect Hellenistic influence. On this coin, the obverse depicts a laureate Zeus, and the reverse an eagle standing on a thunderbolt. The eagle was also an important symbol to the Romans; for example, each Roman Legion bore a standard displaying the raptor's image, known as the Aquila. It is interesting to note that Deiotarus’ forces eventually formed Rome’s Legio Vigesima Secunda Deiotariana (the 22nd Deiotaran Legion). In addition to the eagle, the coin’s reverse also depicts Deiotarus’ monogram, completing the association of the Galatian leader, his forces, and their loyalty to Rome.

Despite his track record supporting Rome, Deiotarus’ situation turned precarious when the Republic plunged into civil war. In particular, the Galatian King was renown as friend to Pompey the Great, who ultimately opposed Caesar as Rome’s dictator. After Pompey's demise, Deiotarus was summoned and brought before Julius Caesar on accusations of a murder plot. Luckily for Deiotarus, coming to his defense was none other than Marcus Tullius Cicero, one of Rome’s all-time greatest lawyers and orators. Circero presented a brilliant speech that provides fascinating reading, as illustrated in the following excerpt.

Pardon Deiotarus, pardon him, I entreat you, O Caesar, if he, though a king, yielded to the authority of that man whom we all followed, and on whom both gods and men had heaped every sort of distinction, and on whom you yourself had conferred the most numerous and most important honors of all. Nor, indeed, does it follow that, because your exploits have thrown a cloud over the praises of others, we have, therefore, entirely lost all recollection of Cnaeus Pompeius. Who is there who is ignorant how great the name of that man was, how great his influence, how great his renown in every description of war, how great were the honors paid him by the Roman people, and by the Senate, and by you yourself? He had surpassed all his predecessors in glory as much as you have surpassed all the world. Therefore, we used to count up with admiration the wars and the victories, and the triumphs, and the consulships, of Cnaeus Pompeius. But yours we are wholly unable to reckon.

True to his reputation, Cicero successfully defended Galatia’s King, stressing that the alignment with Pompey was to protect the authority of the Senate, the freedom of the people of Rome, and the dignity of the Republic (not to mention the savvy Cicero simultaneously managed to flatter Pompey and Caesar). Interestingly, Caesar invoked these same traditional Roman values as he launched the civil war that led to his establishment as Rome’s strongest dictator ever.

On the ides of March 44 BC, Caesar was famously murdered, and Deiotarus became embroiled in the tumultuous aftermath. Deiotarus ensured his continued rule with a reportedly large bribe to Caesar’s ally, Mark Antony. Afterwards, Deiotarus provided support to the forces of Caesar's murders, Brutus and Cassius. However, after the latter duo fell at the Battle of Philippi, Galatia changed its allegiance in favor of Caesar’s heir, Octavian.

This time, Deiotarus' loyalty stuck. He ruled over Galatia until his death, sometime around 40 BC. A quindecennium later, Octavian incorporated Deiotarus' Kingdom as a Province, and, for the next several centuries, the Galatians steadfastly strove for the glory of Rome.

Additional Reading: M T Cicero “Speech in Behalf of King Deiotarus,” 45 BC.

Coin Details: KINGDOM OF GALATIA, Deiotarus, Circa 62-40 BC, Æ (18-19 mm, 6.2 g), NGC Grade: VF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Laureate head of Zeus facing right, Reverse: Eagle standing left, head right, on thunderbolt; monogram to left, References: E.T. Newell, Un monnayage de bronze de Déjotarus 2; SNG France -; RPC I p. 356, 2.
Slot: Julius Caesar and the Roman Civil War
Design Description: Julius Caesar Elephant Denarius
Item Description: AR Denarius & snake. rv implements. c.49-48 BC. obv elephant
Grade: NGC Ch AU Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Ancient coins provide a solid link to a specific time and place in history. Their diverse and interesting iconography often epitomizes the setting within they were struck. More than a means for exchanging goods and services, they also served to publicize - and perhaps even influence – historical events. A notable example is this famous denarius, struck by Julius Caesar soon after he triggered the Great Roman Civil War.

Caesar probably struck this marvel of self-promotion in mid 49 BC, a crossroads in ancient history. Caesar had recently led his troops across the Rubicon, and arrived in a Rome deserted by his political enemies. He addressed the remaining Senators, and, with his growing political power and extraordinary charisma, managed to procure vast quantities of public precious metals. This silver and gold was used for striking coins, such as this so-called elephant denarius, the first coin directly attested to the Caesarian side during the civil war. These coins were struck by Caesar’s military mint in the millions - without formal Senate approval – to advertise both his own achievements and the shortcomings of his opponents.

The obverse depicts religious implements associated with Caesar’s office of Pontifex Maximus: a culullus (a ritual cap), an aspergillum (a brush used to sprinkle holy water), a securis (a single-bladed, double-handed, and animal-headed axe), and a simpulum (a long-handled ladle used at sacrifices, for example to share libations). These religious symbols emphasize Caesar’s religious post as well as provide a reminder of his claimed relationship with the gods, such as Venus. The verso portrays an elephant facing right, with its trunk defiantly raised upwards, about to trample what appears to be a horned serpent, and, in exergue, the simple, yet striking, legend of CAESAR.

This extraordinary imagery (the only instance Caesar employed an elephant) still draws attention today, the subject of intense debate among historians and numismatists alike. Interpretations range from a representation of good over evil to a play on the Punic term for pachyderm. However, the most satisfying explanation involves Caesar’s clever attack against his political opponents, notably Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey the Great.

The elephant motif as a numismatic device was employed on earlier Roman Republican and Hellenistic coinage. Importantly, the large and powerful elephant had become associated with Alexander the Great, even though the Macedonian marauder did not actually employ them in battle. It was no coincidence that Pompey, wishing his reputation to be comparable to Alexander’s, encouraged his own association with elephants. During his first Triumph in 81 BC, the great imperator attempted to impress the populace by driving his elephant-drawn chariot through Rome’s gates. Unfortunately for Pompey, the entrance was not large enough, forcing the chagrined hero to improvise a more mundane entrance. Pompey also employed elephants in the extravagant games for his theatre’s opening in 55 BC. Embarrassingly, the scene rallied the crowds’ sympathies against Pompey.

If anything, Pompey had earned embarrassment for his attempts to exploit elephants. Of course, Caesar knew this, as he strove to promote himself above his ally-turned-enemy. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to theorize that Caesar’s elephant denarius was intended to mock Pompey.

Regarding the snake, explanatory theories abound, including those positing an allegorical battle between good and evil. Interestingly, some Romans considered the snake and elephant as natural enemies. For instance, Pliny the Elder recounted their perpetual discordia in a tale of battle wherein the snake eventually kills the elephant, only to be crushed under the weight of its falling foe. While impossible to divine Caesar’s true intent, the possibility remains that Caesar was invoking the ancient rivalry between the two animals, presumably identifying himself with the elephant, whose figure dominates the coin’s flan. Intriguingly, the coin depicts the very moment before engagement; the final outcome of bestial battle, just like the Great Roman Civil War itself, is to be determined.

Caesar’s ultimate fate, famously murdered by enemies nervous of his powers, parallels Pliny’s outcome for the serpent, rather than the elephant.

Additional Reading: “Turning Points in Roman History: The Case of Caesar’s Elephant Denarius,” D. L. Nousek, Phoenix, 2008, 62:290-307.

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, Julius Caesar, April-August 49 BC, AR Denarius (19mm, 3.87 g, 3h), Military mint traveling with Caesar, NGC Grade: Ch AU*, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Elephant advancing right, trampling on horned serpent, CAESAR, Reverse: Emblems of the pontificate (simpulum, aspergillum, securis, and culullus), References: Crawford 443/1; CRI 9; Sydenham 1006; RSC 49.
Slot: Julius Caesar, Reign as Dictator
Design Description: Julius Caesar Denarius
Item Description: AR Denarius rv Aeneas w/Anchises c.47-46 BC. obv Venus.
Grade: NGC MS Strike: 3/5 Surface: 5/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Julius Caesar (July 13, 100 BC – March 15, 44 BC) is one of the most important figures in history, as famous for his love affairs as for his military prowess. He is remembered not only for his life’s achievements, but also for his death’s betrayal. Claiming to be descended of the gods, he used his charisma and gift for oratory to help forge critical political alliances, such as the Triumvirate with the influential Pompey and the enormously wealthy Crassus. In 60 BC, Caesar was elected Consul, Rome’s highest political office. Caesar used strong-arm tactics to achieve his ends, including granting himself a five-year term as Gaul proconsul, which was later renewed.

Over that decade, Caesar extended Rome’s territories over most of central Europe, and campaigned even further, including forays into Britannia and Germanic lands. Meanwhile, the Triumvirate dissolved; Crassus died in battle, and Pompey and other Senators tried revoking Caesar’s command.

In 49 BC, Caesar famously crossed the Rubicon, marking his return to Italy and start of the next Roman civil war. He arrived in Rome, prompting Pompey and many Senators to flee. Subsequently, Caesar was appointed Dictator, a title he soon resigned in favor of Consul for a second time. Leaving Rome under Marc Antony’s leadership, Caesar pursued Pompey to Egypt. When he arrived, his adversary was already killed, and Caesar helped Cleopatra prevail in an Egyptian civil war (and, of course, also had a famous love affair with her).

Caesar continued eliminating his opposition in North Africa, Spain, and Greece. In 48 BC, he was again appointed a one-year term as Dictator. Along the way, Caesar minted coins with the intent of promoting himself. This denarius, produced by a travelling military mint sometime in 47 to 46 BC, is a clear example of such political propaganda. On the obverse is the wreathed Venus Genetrix, the goddess Caesar claimed was his protector and ally. Moreover, Caesar’s clan maintained they were the goddess’ descendants. The verso depicts the Trojan hero Aeneas, son of Venus, as he escaped from his falling city. Aeneas valiantly carries his father Anchises on his left shoulder and holds in his right hand the Palladium, the wooden statue of Pallus Athena (Minerva), which strongly resembles a figure of Nike (Victory). According to legend, Aeneas’ offspring and the Palladium would make Rome their new home. Thus, the coin’s design is a powerful allusion not only to Caesar's claimed decent from Venus and Aeneas, but also to the aid in battle bestowed by the goddess.

Shortly after this coin was minted, Caesar was appointed Dictator for ten years, and in 44 BC, the term was extended for life (not to mention he was making a habit of being elected Consul every year). Caesar used his powers to embark on improvement projects, for example establishing the first public library, granting Roman citizenship to the provinces, and formalizing a new calendar, wherein Quintilis was renamed July in his own tribute. He bestowed many other titles and honors upon himself. He consolidated his power by making himself non-impeachable, and giving himself censorial control and veto power over the Senate.

By this time, Caesar’s growing power fostered many enemies in Rome, leading to his famous murder on the ides of March in 44 BC. The conspiracy involved dozens, mostly aristocrats. Notable among them were Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus. Brutus was Caesar’s former opponent, then converted ally, then finally, betrayer. Moreover, Brutus’ mother, Servilia, had been Caesar’s lover; some historians speculate that Brutus was Caesar’s illegitimate son.

Caesar did have an official, adoptive heir, namely Octavian (later known as Augustus), who, along with Mark Antony, struggled in civil wars for several years with Brutus and Cassius. Ironically, Caesar’s murder did not liberate the Republic, but instead triggered events that resulted in Rome’s transformation into an Empire.

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, Julius Caesar, d. 44 BC, AR Denarius (3.76 g), Struck 47-46 BC, Military mint traveling with Julius Caesar in North Africa, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 3/5, Surface: 5/5, Obverse: Diademed bust of Venus right, Reverse: Aeneas advancing left, carrying palladium in right hand and Anchises on left shoulder, CAESAR to right, References: Julia 10; Crawford 458/1; Sydenham 1013; Sear 55.
Slot: Julius Caesar, Reign as Dictator for Life
Design Description: The Coin That Killed Caesar
Item Description: AR Denarius rv Venus hldg. Victory 44 BC. P.Sepullius Macer.
Grade: NGC AU Strike: 3/5 Surface: 4/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
The Coin That Killed Caesar is the dramatic epithet attached to denarii, such as this example, featuring a lifetime portrait of Julius Caesar. Before that time, Rome’s coinage had never portrayed the unambiguous face of a living Roman. Beyond breaking from numismatic tradition, these coins also proclaimed Caesar as dictator-for-life. It was a tipping point that plausibly comprised the final straw that compelled anti-Caesarians to take matters into their own hands.

Given Caesar’s obvious political savvy, it is curious that he did not foresee his growing peril. Previously, he introduced propagandist masterpieces such as his elephant denarius and his Venus/Aeneas denarius, both featured in this NGC Ancients Custom Set. Interestingly, Caesar was not directly responsible for his lifetime portrait coinage. The quattuorviri monetales produced them. Those four men (whose numbers had recently been increased from the traditional three) were moneyers responsible for supervising Rome’s coinage.

One of those moneyers was P. Sepullius Macer, the issuer of this historically important coin. Like much of Caesar’s lifetime portrait denarii, this coin’s strike is slightly weak and off center, suggesting haste and urgency in its production. The obverse infamously features the veiled head of Julius Cesar, depicted in a highly veristic style, consistent with Caesar’s actual age and literary descriptions of his appearance. Caesar’s veiled visage has led to some speculation that this coin was struck posthumously. However, the obverse inscription, CAESAR DICT•PERPETVO, strongly suggests that the strike occurred the last month of Caesar’s life. In this case, Caesar’s veil probably reflects his position as Rome’s highest pontiff (Pontifex Maximus).

The verso artistically returns to a more traditional Caesarian theme, featuring Rome’s counterpart of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. That goddess, who Caesar claimed as forebear, was Venus, representing various related aspects such as love, beauty, sexuality, fertility, prosperity, and victory. Specifically portrayed in this coin’s reverse is the goddess’ latter aspect, namely Venus Victrix. She stands above a shield on the ground, with Victory (the divine embodiment of the same) in her extended right hand and a vertical scepter in her left. The inscription P SEPVLLIVS MACER encircles and completes the scene.

Ironically, the very coins that celebrated Caesar's perpetual power hastened his downfall. These coins served as a rallying point for Caesar's assassins, who considered the move a blatant overreach and a symbol of his tyrannical ambitions. Just one month after this coin was struck, dozens of Rome's senators stabbed Caesar to death. The assassins, led by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, believed they were defending the Roman Republic from turning into a monarchy.

Instead, the turmoil following Caesar's death pushed Rome down the path to empire. While the extent it bears responsibility is uncertain, the Coin that Killed Caesar is an important historical artifact embodying Caesar's ambition, the anxieties of the Roman elite, and the events that led to his assassination. By studying this coin, we gain a deeper understanding of a pivotal moment in history, and the delicate balance between power and tradition in the Roman world.

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, The Caesarians, Julius Caesar, February-March 44 BC, AR Denarius (17mm, 3.92 g, 3h), Lifetime issue, Rome mint; P. Sepullius Macer, moneyer, NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 3/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Laureate and veiled head of Caesar right, CAE[SAR DICT•PE]RPETVO, Reverse: Venus Victrix standing left, holding Victory in extended right hand and vertical scepter in left; shield set on ground to right, [P SEPVLLIVS] MACER, References: Crawford 480/13; Alföldi Type IX, 40 (A3/R28); CRI 107d; Sydenham 1074; RSC 39; RBW 1685.
Slot: The Pompeians
Origin/Country: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL Sextus Pompey, d.35 BC
Design Description: Pompeians AE As
Item Description: AE As Pompey Mag. janiform/prow Sicilian mint, c.43-36 BC
Grade: NGC Ch VF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
To appreciate ancient Rome's ferocious military machine, consider the firsthand account by historian Josephus: “…as if born ready armed they never have a truce from training…no indiscipline dislodges them from their regular formation, no panic incapacitates them, no toil wears them out…victory over men not so trained follows as a matter of course.” Indeed, ancient Rome's war machine excelled in many aspects, including its size, weaponry, training, communications, and engineering.

Of course, Rome also boasted many eminent generals. Among the most talented was Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, who supported Sulla’s rise to become Rome’s first dictator in over a century. Pompey pursued his anti-Sullan foes into Africa, where he also subdued the Numidians. For these efforts, Pompey earned the honorific cognomen Magnus, i.e., the Great, and his first Triumphus, i.e., Triumph. A Triumph was an elaborate religious and political celebration to publically advertise a Roman military commander’s achievement. Shrouded in pomp and circumstance, Triumphs were reserved for particularly epic occasions. (Even so, the Fasti Triumphales published in 12 BC listed well over 200 instances.) On this occasion, Pompey was eager to make an unprecedentedly grand appearance, entering Rome on a chariot powered by no less than four elephants. To the imperator’s chagrin, the pachyderms did not fit through the city gates! Subsequently, a far less impressive entrance was improvised.

Over the following decade, Pompey racked up further military achievements, for example victories over rebel forces in Spain. He returned to Italy, and aided his imperatorial rival Crassus defeat a widespread slave revolt led by the celebrated former gladiator, Sparticus. Pompey participated in his second Triumph (this time, without elephants).

Even greater victories were in store for Pompey. In 67 BC, he took to the Mediterranean Sea to stamp out a growing piracy problem. Afterwards, he was given command over forces warring against Rome’s eastern nemesis, namely Mithradates VI. In a few years, Pompey managed to eliminate the Pontic King. He also took the liberty to transform lands such as Pontus, Cilicia, and Syria into Roman Provinces, and appoint client Kings in lands such as Armenia, Cappadocia, Galatia, and Judaea. For expanding Rome’s influence in the east, Pompey earned his third (and what turned out to be his final) Triumph.

By 60 BC, Pompey took part in the ill-fated faction known as the Triumvirs, joining with Crassus and another, increasingly famous imperator, Julius Caesar. The arrangement lasted for a time, but ultimately disintegrated due to competing ambitions, egos, and jealousies. Caesar took command over Gaul, and racked up impressive victories over the next decade. Meanwhile, Crassus warred against the up and coming Parthians, and was killed in the attempt. It was now down to Pompey and Caesar, and after the latter's famous Rubicon crossing the alliance was over, and the pair clashed. Their final battle was waged at the Greek city of Pharsalus. Although favorably positioned to outlast his foe, Pompey followed the Senate’s directive to attack. The results were disastrous. One of Rome’s all-time greatest generals met an ignominious end; disguised, Pompey fled the losing battle and disembarked in Egypt, only to be decapitated by King Ptolemy XIII.

Continuing the conflict with Caesar were Pompey’s sons, Pompey Jr. and Sextus Pompey. The former met his death by Caesar in 45 BC, but Sextus managed to escape to Sicily. The following year, Caesar was famously murdered by a group of Roman aristocrats including Brutus and Cassius. Three of Caesar's successors, namely Octavian, Marc Antony, and Lepidus, formed a new Triumvirate to pursue those responsible. Eventually, Brutus and Cassius were defeated at the battle of Philippi. Meanwhile, the situation provided Sextus Pompey an opportunity to consolidate his position.

While growing his forces in Sicily (42-38 BC), Sextus Pompey struck this interesting bronze coin. The obverse depicts Janus, the two-headed Roman god of beginnings, transitions, and endings. A uniquely Roman concept without Hellenistic equivalent, Janus was associated with gates, doors, and passageways. He manifested two faces, one looking ahead to the future, the other reflecting back to the past; the month of January was named in his honor. Importantly, Janus presided over the start and end of conflict, hence, war and peace. At his temple in the Roman Forum, the doors were closed during peaceful times, and opened - quite often, and with great fanfare - when Rome warred. Along with Jupiter, Janus was one of the most powerful of all Roman Gods. On this coin, the janiform portraits resemble Pompey the Great. Further invitation to associate god and imperator is provided by the inscription MAGN.

The coin’s reverse features a galley, a type of Roman naval ship associated with many of the Pompeians’ military successes. The galley’s details include a corvus (a Roman-developed boarding bridge), an acrostolium (the curved end of the prow, typically fashioned to resemble an animal), and an apotropaic device known as the Eye of Horus, thought to promote safe passage.

Galleys similar to the one depicted herein formed a crucial component of Sextus Pompey’s Silician forces that, at least for a time, successfully defended against the second generation of Triumvirs. In 39 BC, the parties agreed to a truce, but it didn’t last, and Sextus Pompey and his navy were finally defeated around 36 BC. The last son of Pompey the Great was caught the following year in Miletus, and, like his father before him, ignominiously executed without a trial.

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, POMPEIANS, Sextus Pompeius Magnus Pius, As (31 mm, 24.6 gm), Sicily circa 42-38, NGC Grade: Ch VF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Laureate Janiform head of Pompey the Great, MAGN, Reverse: Prow, PIVS, IMP in exergue, References: Babelon Pompeia 20 C 6; Sydenham 1044; Sear Imperators 336; Woytek Arma et Nummi page 558; Crawford 479/1.
Slot: Brutus
Origin/Country: ANCIENT - ROMAN IMPERATORIAL Brutus, d. 42 BC
Design Description: Brutus (Koson) Stater, Type without Monogram, possibly Dacian or Thracian
Item Description: ROMAN-BRUTUS (44-42 BC) AV STATER (8.52GM)
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
Marcus Junius Brutus (85 – 42 BC) was the son of Brutus the Elder and Servilia Caepionis. Servilia was also mistress to Julius Caesar, prompting uncertainty regarding Brutus’ true biological father. The young Brutus started his career working for his uncle, Cato the Younger. He later held important political posts and made a fortune moneylending in the provinces, subsequently becoming one of Rome’s most influential Senators.

In 49 BC when Caesar started a Roman civil war, Brutus initially aligned with Pompey (even though the pair were former enemies). After Pompey’s defeat, Brutus switched sides, and Caesar accepted him into his inner circle, even making him governor of Gaul. While Brutus appreciated Caesar’s confidence, he was troubled by colleague’s obsession with controlling Rome. He became even more disturbed as Caesar made himself non-impeachable, and gained censorial control and veto power over the Senate. In 44 BC when Caesar earned the title of dictator perpetuo, the though of Rome ruled by a perpetual dictator alarmed Brutus to the point he took drastic action.

Brutus was not alone. Many of Rome’s elite were keen to act against Caesar, probably acting more in their own interests rather than Rome's. On the Ides of March 44 AD, the tenure of Rome's Dictator for Life's abruptly ended. Caesar was stabbed by death by Brutus and probably dozens of other aristocrats led by Gaius Cassius Longinus.

After the assassination, Brutus fled Rome, and soon became embroiled in civil war against Caesar’s co-consul, Marc Antony, and heir, Octavian, later known as Augustus. In October 42 BC at Philippi, Rome’s latest civil war reached its climax. Brutus and his ally Cassius agreed beforehand that if victory escaped them, the best course of action would be to take their own lives. As it turned out, that suicide pact sealed their fate. As the epic Battle of Philippi unfolded, Brutus managed the upper hand against Octavian, at least to the extent he took the latter’s camp; Octavian managed to escape, according to one account by hiding himself in a marsh. Unfortunately for Cassius, he was unaware of Brutus’ achievement, and, even worse, he mistakenly thought that Brutus’ camp had fallen. Consequently, Cassius, fearing the worst, responded by dutifully committing suicide. Brutus managed to rally Cassius’ remaining forces, and fought a second battle weeks later. As it turned out, Brutus’ men were defeated, and he fled the battlefield. Realizing he would soon be captured, Brutus committed suicide.

This gold stater was struck in Thrace or Dacia concurrent with these historic events. The obverse depicts three men wearing togas, walking to the left, two of them carrying objects over their shoulders. The figures are Roman lictors (bodyguards) carrying fasces (axe-like weapons), and the motif bears striking resemblance to coins issued by Brutus a decade earlier. In exergue is the enigmatic epithet KOSON. On the verso, an eagle stands on a scepter, facing to the left, its right claw raised, holding a wreath. This design also resembles earlier Roman Republican coins.

Attribution of this issue has been the subject of lively numismatic debate. According to one hypothesis (which has fallen out of favor over time) Brutus struck coins like this one after he fled from Rome to Greece, tapping into his enormous personal wealth combined with funds from sympathetic Senators. An alternate theory (which has gained favor over time) attributes a Thracian or Dacian King named Koson, who imitated Roman designs. According to this scenario, Brutus was not involved in the coins’ production besides providing numismatic inspiration.

Adding to the perplexity, two versions of the coin exist, those with a mysterious BR monogram on the obverse, and those without. It has been postulated that the BR refers to Brutus. An alternate view is that the letters relates to BA(sileus), i.e, king, as in King Koson. Curiously, no other records mention a monarch by that name (although there was a King Kotison). Many modern scholars espouse the view that there was a local King Koson; perhaps he was Brutus’ ally. It is interesting to note that since ancient times, several large hoards of coins inscribed KOSON have been discovered in the land formerly known as Dacia. The largest group, comprising thousands of gold coins and other gold objects, was discovered in 1543. If there was indeed a Dacian King Koson, he apparently had access to vast wealth (adding to the mystery of his historical anonymity).

Recently, both monogrammed and non-monogrammed versions of so-called Koson staters were examined for their composition. These studies provided a highly sensitive elemental fingerprint for each coin. It was found that all coins without the monogram were made from native alluvial gold, (i.e., had trace amounts of tin) the same composition found for other Dacian gold artifacts (i.e., bracelets) that were made at the time. In contrast, all the coins with the BR monogram lacked tin, and were of highly purified gold. This finding leads to an intriguing possibility – BR-monogrammed coins were produced by Brutus using highly refined gold, and non-monogrammed coins were imitations by Thracians or Dacians using their own methods and local alluvial gold.

This particular coin is the non-monogrammed type. At the time it was graded by NGC Ancients, its was attributed according to the Brutus origin theory. An example of the monogrammed counterpart – which, perhaps ironically, was attributed to Thrace or Dacia – is present in another NGC Custom Set, The Ancient World Collection. Whether Brutus took part of the production of either, or neither, coin remains uncertain, illustrating the fascination and intrigue of ancient coin collecting.

Additional Reading: B Constantinescu, D Cristea-Stan, A Vasilescu, R Simon, D Ceccato, “Archaeometallurgical Characterization of Ancient Gold Artifacts from Romanian Museums using XRF, Micro-PIXE and Micro-SR-XRF Methods,” Proc Romanian Acad 13:19-26, 2012.

Coin Details: ROMAN – BRUTUS, 44-42 BC, AV Stater (8.52 g), NGC Grade: Choice Uncirculated, Obverse: Roman Consul with two Lictors, KOSON in exergue, Reverse: Eagle on scepter, holding wreath, References: RPC 1701B; BMC Thrace pg. 208, 2; BMCRR II pg. 475, 50.
Slot: Cassius
Design Description: Cassius and Spinther Denarius
Item Description: AR Denarius obv tripod rv jug, lituus legate Lentulus Spinther
Grade: NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Research: View Coin
Owner Comments
The murder of Julius Caesar involved several, if not dozens, of Rome’s elite Republicans (also referred to as Liberators), i.e., those vehemently supporting the current governmental structure and opposing totalitarian control. Top of mind among these perpetrators is Brutus, thanks in no small part to Shakespeare’s famous recordation of Caesar’s last words, “…et tu Brute?” Shakespeare portrayed Caesar’s dying words based on contemporary popular lexicon, dating to the writings of Suetonius, who suggested Caesar viewed his protégé as his son, at least in a figurative, if not biological, sense. While Brutus certainly played his traitorous part, it is widely postulated that the primary mastermind behind Caesar’s murder was Gaius Cassius Longinus (85 – 42 BC).

Cassius forged a highly distinguished career in the Roman military. In 53 BC, he fought valiantly against the Parthians while serving under Crassus, a member of Rome’s first Triumvirate that also included Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great. After Crassus’ demise, the first Triumvirate disintegrated, and Cassius joined Pompey in the civil war against Caesar. After Caesar defeated Pompey at the famous Battle of Pharsalus, he pardoned Cassius, even bestowing him the second highest command in the city of Rome (praetor peregrinus). Cassius now found himself serving alongside Rome’ highest-ranking official (praetor urbanus), none other than his own brother-in-law, Brutus. Evidently, Caesar strove to win the hearts and minds of allies and former enemies alike, in order to unite Rome under his dictatorial rule. What Caesar apparently did not foresee was treachery lurking amidst those he so graciously exonerated.

Caesar’s power grew, as did wariness and resentment among many Romans. On February 14, 44 BC, Caesar was granted the title of dictator perpetuo, or dictator in perpetuity; the unprecedented abandonment of any term restriction bore the trappings of monarchy. The very next day at the pagan feast of Lupercalia, Caesar thrice rejected a golden diadem offered to him by Marc Antony. Caesar’s refusal of this royal symbol was public assurance that he did not intend to serve as Rome’s king. Even so, Caesar’s opponents were riled, and became even more so when their perpetual dictator audaciously struck coins bearing his own image, another unprecedented action invoking kingly comparisons.

One month later, on the ides of March, 44 BC, dozens of Rome’s elite led by Cassius and Brutus famously stabbed Caesar to death in Pompey’s Theatre. Despite their treachery, the perpetrators were once again granted amnesty, this time by Marc Antony, although others (notably Lepidus) desired revenge. Cassius eventually fled to the eastern territories, and in early 42 BC met up with Brutus at the strategic Anatolian port of Smyrna. The duo united once again, this time against a second Triumvirate comprised of Marc Antony, Lepidus and Caesar’s heir, Octavian.

It was in Smyrna where Cassius’ military mint struck this denarius in the spring of 44 BC. These coins were struck both to pay soldiers under Cassius’ command, as well as to promote his political cause against perceived tyranny. The obverse depicts a cortina (or cauldron) perched on a tripod, decorated with laurel leaves, an apparatus commonly employed in pagan religious ceremonies. The motif continues on the verso, with representations of a praefericulum (a tall, handled vase) and a lituus (the augur’s staff). Such motifs mirror those found on Caesar’s (and later Octavian’s) coinage. Rather than promoting himself as god-like (as did Caesar), Cassius’ imagery was intended to indicate defiance against Caesarian tyranny.

The obverse epithet C CASSI IMP boldly declares Cassius the imperator. In the days of the Roman Republic, this title was akin to a general. Ironically, Cassius’ claimed title would become a cognomen for Rome’s future dictators. The coin’s reverse bears the inscription LENTVLVS SPINT, in reference to Publius Cornelius Lentulus Spinther, an important supporter of Cassius and Brutus in the fight against the Triumvirs. Spinther was following in the footsteps of his father who, like Cassius and Brutus, initially supported Julius Caesar but changed sides as Rome plunged into civil war, allying with Pompey instead. Dissimilar to the fate of Brutus and Cassius, Spinther’s father was apparently executed, rather than pardoned, after losing in battle to Caesar.

In October 43 AD at Philippi, Cassius and Brutus waged their final battle against Octavian and Marc Antony. The pair of Liberators agreed beforehand that if victory escaped them, the best course of action would be to take their own lives. As it turned out, that suicide pact sealed their fate. As the epic Battle of Philippi unfolded, Brutus managed the upper hand against Octavian, at least to the extent he took the latter’s camp. Octavian managed to escape, according to one account by hiding himself in a marsh. The situation was reversed for Cassius, forced to abandon his camp in the face of Antony’s onslaught. Unfortunately for Cassius, he was not aware of Brutus’ achievement. Moreover, he mistakenly thought that Brutus’ camp had also fallen, perhaps deceived by a false report. In any case, Cassius responded by dutifully committing suicide, leaving Brutus with the painful task of burying his old comrade, whom he affectionately described as “Last of the Romans.”

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, C. Cassius Longinus and Lentulus Spinther, AR Denarius (18mm, 3.82 g, 6h), Military mint, probably at Smyrna, probably travelling with Brutus and Cassius, 43-42 AD, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Filleted tripod surmounted by a corina (cauldron) and laurel branches, CASSI IMP, Reverse: Praefericulum and lituus, LENTVLVS / SPINT, References: Crawford 500/1; CRI 219; Sydenham 1308; RSC 7.
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