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The Most Famous Ancient Coin of All

The most famous ancient coin in existence, the “Ides of March” silver denarius struck by Julius Caesar’s assassin Marcus Junius Brutus, celebrating the infamous deed, will return to its longtime California home this summer for display before heading to the auction block as part of Heritage Auctions’ September 7 Long Beach Signature World & Ancient Coins Auction at the Long Beach Numismatic Expo, where it is expected to bring US$500,000+.

The coin will be on view at Heritage’s Beverly Hills offices, 9478 West Olympic Blvd., Friday, September 2, with a special Roman-themed reception held on Saturday, September 3, from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM.

The ‘Ides of March’ denarius, struck in 42 BCE, is the only Roman coin to openly celebrate an act of murder, the only Roman coin to mention a specific date and one of the very few ancient coins to enter the popular imagination.

Should the coin reach its pre-auction estimate of $500,000+, it will establish a record price for a Roman silver coin.

Not only is this one of the finest examples known of this historic rarity, this ‘Ides of March’ denarius once resided in the collections of well-known Hollywood producer Sy Weintraub and the actor Peter Weller. It was also in the world-famous Nelson Bunker Hunt Collection, sold in 1990, with an auction pedigree going back to the early 1900s. As an important historic coin with a distinguished pedigree, it is one of the most desirable collectible of any kind that one could ever imagine acquiring.

The event celebrated on the coin, of course, is the assassination of Julius Caesar on the “Ides of March,” March 15, 44 BCE. The dime-sized silver coin depicts the head of Marcus Junius Brutus, one of the ringleaders of the assassination plot, on its obverse. The reverse depicts a dome-shaped liberty cap, flanked by two drawn daggers, and the Latin inscription EID MAR.

Since the early part of the 2000s, the coin has been part of a private Arizona holding, dubbed The Rubicon Collection for Heritage’s September 7 auction.

Marc Antony and Octavian (41 BCE). Gold aureus

All the coins in the Rubicon Collection are of outstanding historical importance and quality. There are, for example, two rare portrait coins of Cleopatra, several of Julius Caesar, and an actual Roman die used to strike silver denarii. The Eid Mar, however, is definitely the star of the show.

In the 21 centuries since the “Ides of March”, Brutus has been hailed as both a champion of liberty and damned as a vile traitor. Born about 85 BCE, Brutus was from a long line of Romans famous for resisting tyranny and defending Republican liberty. He was a close friend and protégé of Julius Caesar, but when Caesar seized power as Dictator in 49 BCE, Brutus joined the Republican forces opposed to him. After the defeat of the Republicans the following year, Caesar pardoned Brutus and gave him every preferment. As Caesar became more megalomaniacal, however, Brutus joined the conspiracy against him and is said to have delivered the fatal dagger thrust, prompting Caesar’s final words (spoken in Greek), “You too, my child?”

The line was made famous, and forever entered popular culture, when Shakespeare later changed it slightly in his masterpiece Julius Caesar, creating the immortal line, “Et tu, Brute?”

Marc Antony and Octavian (41 BCE). Gold aureus
Marc Antony and Octavian (41 BC). Gold aureus

After the murder, the conspirators fled Rome in a rush, barely ahead of a lynch mob. Brutus assembled a pro-Republican power base in Greece where he could wage war against Caesar’s successors, Mark Antony and Octavian. Looting gold and silver from the local population, he began to strike coins to pay his growing army.

His early coinage follows traditional themes, but his final type, the EID MAR issue of mid-42 BCE, breaks the old Republican taboo by placing his own portrait on the obverse, coupled with the pileus or “cap of liberty” (traditionally given to freed slaves) between the daggers that executed Caesar. The choice of types could be seen as a brazen act of defiance as the armies closed for an ultimate clash in northern Greece.

In a final twist of fate, Brutus used the same dagger he had plunged into Caesar to take his own life following final his defeat at the Second Battle of Philippi on October 23, 42 BCE.

The great rarity of Eid Mar denarii today is doubtless because the type was deliberately recalled and melted down by the victors, Mark Antony and Octavian.

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Heritage Auctions
Heritage Auctionshttps://www.ha.com/
Heritage Auction Galleries is one of the world's largest collectibles auctioneers. Besides offering rare and valuable U.S. and world coins and currency, Heritage offers ancient coins, exonumia, antiques, comic books, sports memorabilia, and many other collectibles. The firm is based in Dallas, Texas.

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