The Roman Empire
The Roman Republic





Coin Details

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
Full Grade: NGC Ch MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 5/5
Owner: Kohaku

Set Details

Custom Sets: The Ancient World Collection
The Roman Empire
Competitive Sets: This coin is not competing in any sets.
Research: NGC Coin Price Guide

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.

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