The Most Valuable Coin of the Ancient Roman World | by Erik Brown | May 2022

The story of the Brutus coin celebrating the assassination of Julius Caesar and its lesson for our times

Golden Eid Mar From Roma Numismatics Auction XX — Via coinweekly.com

“And in this way he was stabbed with twenty-three blows, not uttering a word, but merely a moan at the first blow, although some have written that when Marcus Brutus rushed at him, he said in Greek: ‘You too, my child?'”

Life and Death of Julius Caesar (Act I, Scene II), William Shakespeare

October 30, 2020 may not have been a memorable day for most. But for the world of numismatics, it was the one that would enter the record books. At the sound of the hammer, it was decided. A certain gold Roman coin must have been transferred for the incredible sum of 2.7 million pounds ($3.3 million).

That’s enough to make you wince a little. So much for one room? What could make someone pay so much for a single piece under a quarter? Although in gold, its value goes beyond the metal. To truly understand its value, one must delve into the what, why, and who of the coin.

Called the “Eid Marchis a time machine that dates back to one of the most chaotic periods of ancient Rome, the transfer from republic to empire. But the medal represents another side. This is the version that is rarely told, as the faction telling the story lost the conflict.

The man depicted on the coin is Marcus Junius Brutus. More, Eid March (Eidibus Martiis) is short for the Ides of March, or the day Julius Caesar died. Also notice the daggers. So this piece is a celebration of one of the most important events in Roman history, on the opposite side of the aisle – the pro-Republican side that wanted Julius Caesar dead.

According to Arthur Russian, managing director of the Roma Numisimatics auction house, “It’s priceless, but it still has a price. To have a coin that commemorates such a well-known event, such a famous event, an event that completely changed the course of history, is quite extraordinary.

Beyond being a means of money, money can also be a window on a society. In many ways it is a direct reflection on what is valued. the Eid march is a stunning example.

But before we get to that final lesson, we need to examine the coin itself and the amazing period of history surrounding it before we can truly understand its value to our times.

“On the ides of March, I gave my own life to my country, and since then, for its sake, I have lived another life of freedom and glory.

— Marcus Brutus via Plutarch, Brutus’ life

According to Professor James Grout, the reverse of the coin is the ultimate use of symbolism in defense of the assassination of Caesar by pro-Republican conspirators. For example, the hat represents the cap given to a freed slave. Grout notes that one of the assassins wore such a cap to advertise their deed.

The cap was a sign that the Roman people were free from a tyrant.

Eid Mar Denarius (Silver) – By Classic Numismatic Group via Wikimedia Commons

Grout also explains in Greek that the word dagger is often interchangeable with sword. However, swords are more celebrated as a soldier’s tool, while daggers are hidden. In many ancient documents on assassination, the words dagger and sword are used interchangeably.

One wonders if the conspirators also used this language trick to make their deed nobler.

The teacher also notes a line down the center of the blade, showing additional strength. So, not a common blade; one wielded with power. The different hilts may also mean that they are representations of the actual daggers used to kill Caesar.

The front of the coin shows a depiction of Marcus Brutus, along with the name of the official who minted the coin. An “IMP”, which stands for imperator or commander, is also clearly visible. Eid march the coins were both minted in money (denarii) and gold (aurei).

The coins themselves were created to pay soldiers fighting for Brutus and his allies against Mark Antony and Octavian. The imperator earned gold and silver by plundering the provinces of their funds destined for Rome.

While the silver coins were used to pay private soldiers, the gold versions were awarded to prestigious officers. Thus, fewer aurei survived. Author Barry Straus in his book The war that made the Roman Empire says despite having more funds, troops and provisions, Brutus lost the civil war.

Since the coins depicted Caesar’s loser and murderer, Octavian and Antony melted down the coins. This makes them even rarer. But there is something else very remarkable about the coin besides its rarity.

While your eyes may be drawn to the back showing the daggers depicting the murder of a famous historical figure, the front is just as important. It represents a radical change in Roman society.

According to Professor Grout, Julius Caesar was the first living person to put their face on a Roman coin. Traditionally in the republic, this was considered inappropriate. Power had to be distributed among the people. Caesar’s enemies used this currency as fuel to convince the Roman public that they wanted the power of a king.

Strangely, the man representing the virtues of the republic, Brutus, also saw fit to put his face on a coin. Soon after, it became much more common. Straus notes that Mark Antony later minted coins depicting him and his ally/girlfriend Cleopatra. Octavian also made his own coins.

It was as if Caesar flipped a switch and suddenly certain things were kosher. The living could put their faces on coins without incurring public ire. Caesar himself might smile posthumously to find that Brutus also took part in the practice.

Moreover, power could be concentrated in the hands of a single person. Suddenly, a king wasn’t so terrible anymore.

But there was more. Not only was governance concentrated in the hands of one man and celebrated over coinage, but another power was also placed in the hands of an emperor – the value of coinage itself.

Denarius of Octave and Mark Anthony 41 BC J.-C. Byzantium565 Going through Wikimedia Commons

Ursula Kampmann at Money Museum tells the interesting story of the Roman denarius coin. It was first minted around 211 BC during the time of the Republic. The coin weighed just over four ounces and was ninety-eight percent silver.

As power became concentrated and the empire expanded, it developed greater expenditures. When expenses exceeded income, the emperor could either tax the public or sell his own property to cover expenses. Neither were attractive.

However, being emperor gave a leader certain privileges with currency, such as degradation. If every coin contained a little less than ninety-eight percent silver, who would know. It would also allow you to mint more money.

After all, the emperor was all powerful, they could make the rules.

Over time, each emperor used his privilege, just a little at a time. In AD 260, well within Imperial Rome, the denarius was only five percent silver. Although the government issued the coin, Rome would not accept it for payment of taxes. The penny was worth nothing.

The coin was so degraded that Rome had to exchange it for a gold-based one. You could think of Eid Mar as a start for all of this. But it is also much more than a rare old piece, it is a lesson for our current era.

United States Money Supply (M1 1960-Present) – Via St. Louis Federal Reserve

I mentioned earlier, coins and currency can be an interesting window into what a society values. Our times are no different. The average price of diesel fuel in my state is much higher six dollars a gallon. Shoplifting is also rising due to the dramatic increase in food prices.

But there is a question we need to answer. Are our prices really going up or is our money worth less? The ancient Romans lived in this world, and now we do too.

Although we don’t have the faces of living people on our money…yet we have more concentration of power in the hands of a president. Then there is also the mysterious organization called the Federal Reserve, which can print money at will and depreciate our denarius whenever the mood takes it.

But the dollar is not the only window into our times, as is cryptocurrency. Digital currency and NFTs, suddenly invisible, are more attractive than hard currency for a good part of the population. Then there are also collectibles, like the three million dollars Eid March.

The faces on the coins and the decreasing silver content should have been a warning to the Romans. Likewise, the thefts in our supermarkets and the exorbitant prices to move the trucks and ships that transport our goods should alert us.

So you could say that the Eid March appeared at the right time. At least in my opinion, I see why it’s worth the staggering price tag on many levels.

While Brutus may have had blood on his hands and was ultimately the loser, his coin is a stark reminder of what happens when we devalue what should be valuable. And no emperor, president or obscure organization with a printing press can change that.

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David C. Barham