Coin of the Moment

The Ides of March, 15 March 44 BC

The Ides of March denarius, struck by Brutus in 43/2 BC, is easily the most famous of Roman Republican coins. It was famous in antiquity -- one of the few coin types mentioned in an ancient author (Dio Cassius), and imitated a century after its issue to celebrate the murder of Nero.

The reverse is the more striking face with the plain reference to Caesar's assassination -- the legend EID MAR with two daggers --, and the meaning of the assassination -- the liberty cap, worn by slaves on the day of their manumission. The importance of the cap here derives from the Republican claim that Caesar was aiming at the kingship, since in Roman political terms the relation of king to subject was that of master to slave. The murder of Caesar has set the Roman people free; and the multiplicity of the heroic murderers is indicated by the daggers which are always unalike. When the type was copied after the murder of Nero the legend read LIBERTAS RESTITVTA.

But the later coin bore the head of Libertas on the obverse, where here we have a portrait of Brutus himself. This is a great surprise, since the head of a living Roman had never appeared on coinage until Caesar introduced himself in 44 b.c., and then it was connected with his assumption of supreme power as Dictator Perpetuus. What is Brutus up to? A famous assassination of a kingly pretender had been achieved by one of his ancestors, who was portrayed (ideally) on Brutus' own coin when he had been a mint official in Rome. Here he presumably equates himself with that great forebear, but the implied reference to Caesar is very insensitive.

This example in the Fitzwilliam Museum (Hart collection) is one of finest known of this uncommon issue.