Numismatica Ars Classica Zurich

Auction 132  –  30 - 31 May 2022

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Numismatica Ars Classica Zurich, Auction 132

Greek, Roman and Byzantine Coins

Part 1: Mo, 30.05.2022, from 6:30 PM CEST
Part 2: Tu, 31.05.2022, from 2:00 PM CEST
Pre bids are accepted until:
Part 1: Mo, 30.05.2022, until 12:30 PM CEST
Part 2: Tu, 31.05.2022, until 8:00 AM CEST

Description

M. Junius Brutus with L. Plaetorius Caestianus. Aureus, mint moving with Brutus in Northern Greece 43-42, AV 7.84 g. BRVT IMP – L·PLAET·CEST Bare head of M. Junius Brutus r. Rev. Pileus between two daggers; below, EID·MAR. Babelon –. Sydenham –. Sear Imperators 215. H. Cahn, Actes du Congrès International de Numismatique, Paris 1953, p. 213 (this coin) = H. Cahn, Q. Tic 18, 1989, 24a (this coin). Calicó 58 (this coin). RBW –. Crawford –. Biaggi 39 (this coin). Of the highest rarity, only three specimens known, of which this is the only one with a documented provenance prior to World War II. A coin of tremendous fascination and one of the most important objects to have reached us from antiquity. A scratch on reverse field and carefully pierced at twelve o’clock, possibly to be worn by a supporter of Brutus, otherwise very fine Ex NAC 27, 2004, 282 and NAC 45, Barry Feirstein, 42 sales. From the Biaggi collection (privately purchased from Cahn in February 1952). This coin has been on display at the British Museum in London from 2010 to 2021 Every collector of ancient coins knows that the silver EID MAR denarius struck by M. Junius Brutus to celebrate the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March is the king (or rather, king-slayer) of Roman Republican coins. Due to the history that drips from them like the blood of the murdered dictator, such coins are highly sought after and invite great competition by collectors. This gold EID MAR aureus, however, is on another level entirely. While the denarius is a rarity, the aureus is spectacularly rare, known from only three specimens. The present aureus has been known since at least 1932, when it was offered to the British Museum by Oscar Ravel, but the deleterious economic effects of the Great Depression and the recent end of the gold standard in Great Britain prevented its purchase by the museum at that time. This is well documented by a cast of the coin conserved at the museum. In 1953, Herbert Cahn discussed the coin in his presentation of ”The Aureus of Brutus with EID MAR” at the Paris International Numismatic Congress. He also included it (Cahn 24a) in the corpus of 52 EID MAR coins published in Quaderni ticinesi in 1989 although Michael Crawford had questioned its authenticity in Roman Republican Coinage (1975). In the intervening years, any doubts have faded and even Michael Crawford confirmed its authenticity. The coin has been publicly displayed at the British Museum in the main gallery from 2010 to 2021. The long-term loan of the coin to the museum to some extent assuaged the wound of the missed opportunity in 1932 and the discovery that the only EID MAR aureus in the BM collection (donated by King George IV in 1825) is actually a forgery. Over the more than a decade that the present EID MAR aureus has spent under the care of the British Museum, it has also taken up an acting career. It appears in a filmed version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in which Brutus speaks his soliloquy through the coin. Alas, there is no category for ”Best Coin” in the Academy Awards. Like the silver EID MAR denarius, the matching gold aureus is believed to have been struck by a mobile military mint travelling with Brutus and his army as he marched from Asia Minor into Macedonia in the autumn and early summer of 42 BC. Earlier in the year he had joined his fellow assassin L. Cassius Longinus at Smyrna and together set about campaigning and plundering in order to raise funds and attract soldiers for the imminent showdown with Octavian and Mark Antony, the heirs of Caesar. The coins were struck from the gold and silver looted from the cities and temples of Asia Minor in preparation for the coming Battle of Philippi (3 and 23 October 42 BC) that would settle the fate of the Republic once and for all and set the trajectory of European and wider Mediterranean history for centuries to come. While the silver denarius was the standard coin in which soldiers expected to be paid in the late Roman Republican period, the gold aureus was special. Under the Roman Republic gold was not struck to be used as regular coinage but was produced either to meet emergency (usually military) expenses or as a special gift or bonus given to military commanders. Under the Roman Empire the distribution of gold coins as donativa by the emperors became commonplace to affirm the loyalty of the army. The EID MAR aurei had a similar purpose and may have been distributed by Brutus himself to his commanders as both a reminder of what they were fighting for and as a means of cementing their loyalty. The hole pierced through the present EID MAR aureus just above the head of Brutus indicates that it was worn as a pendant and the British Museum in its press release suggested that it might have been given to a commander who survived the Liberators’ defeat at Philippi, but continued to cherish the memory of Brutus and what he stood for even after the victory of the Triumvirate was complete. One can almost imagine the owner secretly wearing the coin on a necklace hidden under his tunic to remain mindful of Brutus and the ideals he stood for as the Republic continued its death throes and lurched ever closer to the tyranny of Empire. It is more than a little ironic that at the same time Brutus celebrates the murder of the dictator on the EID MAR coinage, he also features his own portrait on the obverse. Julius Caesar was in fact the first Roman leader to break the old Republican custom of never depicting the image of a living person on the coinage. Ruler portraits on coins were previously deemed to be the stuff of kings and were anathema to republican principles. Thus, the reverse of the EID MAR coinage simultaneously recalls the killing blows that seemed to offer the salvation of the Republic from Caesar while the obverse portrait pressed its own dagger into the heart of Roman Republican tradition. Despite what Brutus and his fellow conspirators may have hoped, there really was no possibility of returning to the good old days. From an art historical perspective, the portrait on the EID MAR coinage is also important as it is one of the only securely identifiable images of the great liberator that we have. His only other certain portraits occur on the far less famous aurei struck by Servilius Casca and Pedanius Costa (Crawford 506/1 and 507/1). His image on the EID MAR coinage is notable for the light beard that Brutus wears—a feature absent from his portrait on the Casca and Costa issues. It has sometimes been suggested that this beard was a sign of mourning for the Republic, but this seems unlikely since until he believed himself defeated at the battle of Philippi, there is no indication in the ancient sources that he thought it was truly dead. More probable, the beard is the outward sign of a vow taken to defeat the heirs of Caesar and restore the Roman Republic. Unfortunately, Brutus did not live to fulfil the vow and take up his razor. The beautiful simplicity of the EID MAR reverse served to encapsulate and advertise the ultimate cause for which Brutus and the Liberators were fighting on the very eve of the Battle of Philippi. Presumably it was hoped that such iconography and the unambiguous legend would serve to rally the army before the fateful battle. A single pileus—the symbol of freedom from slavery worn by freedmen in Rome and the regular attribute of the goddess Libertas—stands in the centre of the type flanked by two daggers. The latter obviously refer to the murder of Caesar that made possible the liberty represented by the pileus, but the fact that there are two daggers had led to the suggestion that each weapon was intended to represent Brutus and Cassius. The daggers have also been thought to represent the restoration of the power of the traditional Roman consulship, which placed power in the hands of two men, in opposition to the monarchical dictatorship of Caesar. The crystal clarity of meaning of the EID MAR reverse type was very powerful and continued to exert its influence under the Roman Empire and down to modern times. The type was resurrected by Galba in Spain at the beginning of his revolt against Nero in the spring of 68 AD (RIC 24). In this case it did not advertise a fait accompli as had Brutus’ original, but rather served as a call to arms against the debauched emperor and a promise of liberation from tyranny. Evidently Galba had glossed over the fate of Brutus after Caesar was dead. Following his defeat at Philippi, Brutus gave up hope of continuing the struggle against the Triumvirate and fell on his sword. Brutus’ type was still known in the early third century AD, when the historian Cassius Dio described it for readers of his Roman History—one of the very few times when a specific coin is mentioned in ancient literature. He noted that, ”Brutus stamped upon the coins which were being minted his own likeness and a cap and two daggers, indicating by this and by the inscription that he and Cassius had liberated the fatherland.” (47.25.3). To provide such detail Dio must have seen one himself or had access to an earlier source written by someone who had seen one. Although the memory of Brutus’ famous type may have faded with the fall of Rome and the coming of the Middle Ages, it was remembered again with the flowering of the Renaissance and the new interest in Roman coins that came with it. In the sixteenth century the EID MAR type was reused for bronze medallions struck to commemorate Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco (Attwood 891). In 1537, his grandson Lorenzino plotted the murder of his cousin, Duke Alessandro de’ Medici of Florence, in the empty hope of restoring the Florentine Republic. Like Brutus centuries before, Lorenzino was forced to flee and was ultimately killed. Like Galba before him, he seems to have fallen under the spell of the coin type and the image of the Liberator that it evoked without paying close attention to the conclusion of Brutus’ story. The EID MAR type was also invoked in the context of the French Revolution (1789-1799). An article discussing the bonnet rouge worn by the Revolutionaries in issue no. 141 of Révolutions de Paris (17-24 March 1792) directly connects the French liberty cap with the pileus of Brutus’ type seen on a ”superb gold coin” in the cabinet of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève. The aureus in question seems to have disappeared after the collection was nationalized and dispersed by the Revolutionary government in 1791. The purpose of the author seems to have been to associate the emblem of French freedom more closely with tyrannicide, although at the time of publication Louis XVI still lived and France maintained a tenuous constitutional monarchy. There was no French Brutus until 1793, when the National Convention convicted the king of treason and ordered his execution. In addition to his subtly radicalizing use of the EID MAR type in the pages of Révolutions de Paris, the author of the article also points out the extreme rarity of the EID MAR aureus by noting that even the personal collection of Louis XVI lacked such a coin. The power and influence of Brutus’ EID MAR type, especially as found on the gold aureus, cannot be overestimated. It is a type for all time that has spoken, and continues to speak, to the hearts of many in ages when people have felt oppressed and longed for freedom. The coin is more than a physical memorial of the tumultuous act undertaken by Brutus and his colleagues on the Ides of March, 44 BC, and its doomed sequel at Philippi two years later. It encapsulates the dream of liberty that reverberates in modern times just as much as it did over 2,000 years ago. Is it any wonder that its original Roman owner desired to wear it close to his heart?

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