The Roman Empire
King Juba II of Mauretania

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Coin Details

Origin/Country: ANCIENT - GREEK EMPIRES (6th CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) KINGDOM OF MAURETANIA Juba II, 25 BC-AD 23/24
Design Description: Juba II Denarius
Item Description: AR Denarius rv cornucopia & scepter
Full Grade: NGC AU Strike: 4/5 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:

Juba II (~50 BC – 23 AD) hailed from a royal family in northern Africa. His father, King Juba I of Numidia, supported the Roman general Pompey in the Roman civil war against Julius Caesar. The elder Juba was defeated, and his heir brought back to Rome as part of Caesar’s triumphal procession. Recognizing an opportunity, Caesar took responsibility for the young African prince. Under the aegis of gens Iulia (most likely Octavia, Caesar’s grand niece) Juba was raised in Rome and had access to its finest teachers. Juba proved a brilliant student, and retained a fascination for the arts and sciences his entire life. On the ideas of March 44 BC, Caesar was famously assassinated, and his heir, namely Octavian, took responsibility for completing Juba's training. For example, Octavian provided Juba some valuable on-the-job military experience at battles marking the end of the Roman Republic. The two men harbored a lifelong friendship.

Around the time Octavian received the title of Augustus, he restored Juba as Numidia’s monarch, and arranged a suitable Queen, namely Cleopatra Selene II, the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. The pair seemed destined for one another given a shared pathos: orphaned, taken as prisoners on triumphal parade, pardoned, and fostered by Rome. The newlywed royal couple moved to Mauretania, renaming their capital Caesarea to honor their benefactor. The city and its demesnes grew into a cultural hub of mixed Egyptian, Greek, and Roman influences. Juba and Cleopatra Selene enthusiastically promoted the performing arts and sciences, in particular research related to natural history.

This coin was struck in Caesarea during the height of Juba’s reign, probably around 16-17 AD. The obverse diademed bust suggests Roman sensibilities, and the epithet of REX IVBA (King Juba) reflects Mauritania's status as a client kingdom. The reverse has a more Egyptian flair, depicting a filleted cornucopia before a transverse scepter, with a crescent in the upper right field. Such iconography was popular among the Ptolemaic dynasts.

The image of the cornucopia reflected not only Cleopatra Selene’s heritage, but also the prosperity of Juba’s realm, which became an important Mediterranean trading center. Among its exports was an exquisitely valuable purple dye manufactured from the Murex shellfish, via a process Juba borrowed from the ancient Phoenicians. The confluence of relative prosperity and stability allowed for advancement of the arts and sciences, which Juba and Cleopatra Selene enthusiastically promoted. Juba himself amassed an impressive library, and authored dozens of treatises on learned topics ranging from history to painting to classical theatre. During his lifetime, Juba most renowned tome was his guide to Arabia. Juba’s favorite subject was natural history. He sponsored and engaged in research and expeditions, including a journey to the Canary Islands (reportedly named by Juba based on its population of ferocious-looking dogs).

Juba remained Rome’s loyal and powerful ally until his death around 23 AD. His son Ptolemy ascended Mauretania's throne, maintaining his father’s legacy of supporting the arts and sciences, and remaining faithful to Rome’s interests. In 40 AD, Ptolemy was summoned to Caligula’s court, and after an appropriately warm welcome, the capricious Emperor had his royal guest imprisoned and subsequently slain. This shocking act may have been precipitated by Caligula’s jealousy regarding Ptolemy’s couture, colored with Mauretania’s famous Murex dye. Regardless of the exact motive, the golden age of Roman client kings in Mauretania came to an abrupt end.

Additional Reading: D W Roller, “Scholarly Kings: The Writings of Juba II of Mauretania, Archelaos of Kappadokia, Herod the Great, and the Emperor Claudius,” 2004.

Coin Details: KINGDOM OF MAURETANIA, Juba II, 25 BC-AD 23/24, AR denarius (17 mm 3.1 g), Caesarea, ca. 16-17 AD, NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Diademed head right, REX IVBA before, Reverse: Filleted cornucopia before transverse scepter, crescent in upper right field, References: SNG Copenhagen 593-594.

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