The Roman Empire
Julius Caesar, Reign as Dictator for Life





Coin Details

Design Description: The Coin That Killed Caesar
Item Description: AR Denarius rv Venus hldg. Victory 44 BC. P.Sepullius Macer.
Full Grade: NGC AU Strike: 3/5 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 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.

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