The Roman Empire





Coin Details

Design Description: Cassius and Spinther Denarius
Item Description: AR Denarius obv tripod rv jug, lituus legate Lentulus Spinther
Full Grade: NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Owner: Kohaku

Set Details

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

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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