World Coins

Eid Mar denarius offered in two-coin auction

An EID MAR silver denarius of Brutus is the marquee lot in Bruun Rasmussen’s March 15 Brutus and Cleopatra auction, offering just two coins.

All images courtesy of Bruun Rasmussen.

Few coins are notable enough to make it onto the cover of an auction catalog. Still fewer are notable enough to carry an auction.

Danish auction house Bruun Rasmussen is offering two coins in one auction March 15 appropriately titled Brutus and Cleopatra.

The star of the show is a silver example of one of the most famous ancient coins of all time, a coin most certainly important enough around which to build an auction.

The circa late fall 42 B.C. silver denarius is known as the Eid Mar or “Ides of March” coin for the Latin legend EID MAR on the reverse. The reference is to the assassination of Caesar two years earlier, on March 15, 44 B.C.

The coin is famous for the act it commemorates, as well as the irony of the image on its obverse.

The background of the coin

In 44 B.C., M. Junius Brutus and C. Cassius Longinus led the charge in the Roman senate to topple the rule of Julius Caesar, who had been proclaimed dictator for life and ruled with absolute authority.

Three months before he was assassinated, Caesar placed his own image on Roman coinage, upending tradition and decorum — never before had a living ruler’s portrait appeared on Roman coinage. Civil war broke out in the months after the assassination, and the conspirators were sent fleeing from Rome, to join forces in early 42 B.C. as war loomed.

The conspirators faced off with the armies of Octavian and Mark Antony (who were among those leading the empire), first with the Battle of Philippi on Oct. 3 and 20 days later with the final showdown.

Brutus beat back the forces of Octavian in the first battle, but Cassius and his legions were routed by Antony. Hearing (incorrectly) that Brutus had been defeated and killed, Cassius committed suicide.

Brutus led all the forces in the second battle but was overmatched. After being soundly defeated, he, too, committed suicide.

The coins were to pay Brutus’s troops and other expenses.

In addition to the famous legend (noting when the republic was freed from Caesar’s tyranny), the reverse depicts the pileus, or cap of liberty traditionally given to slaves when they were freed, between daggers representing the death of Caesar.

Given that Roman coinage was generally a vehicle of propaganda, it is only natural that Brutus would boast of his involvement in overthrowing Caesar.

The fact that Brutus placed his own image on the obverse, however, is somewhat ironic, even given that the triumvirs ruling Rome at the time were also adopting the practice that had been roundly condemned when Julius Caesar did it.

Provenance of the example in the Bruun Rasmussen auction dates back to at least 1959, according to the auction house.

The coin measures 19 millimeters in diameter and weighs 3.48 grams. The auction house did not assign it a grade.

The coin’s estimate is 3 million to 3.5 million Danish krone ($425,435 to $496,346 U.S.).

Cleopatra bronze coin

The second lot in the auction, a circa 36 to 35 B.C. bronze coin of Cleopatra VII Philopator, has “an excellent portrait of one of the most famous women in history.”

The Cleopatra coin exhibits dark green patina.

This Cleopatra was the queen of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt often linked to the aforementioned Mark Antony.

The Cleopatra coin is not assigned a grade either. It was formerly offered in Classical Numismatic Group’s Triton XIII auction Jan. 4, 2010, where it was described as Very Fine, and realized a hammer price of $1,600 U.S.

In this auction 13 years later, its estimate is 50,000 Danish krone ($7,089 U.S.).

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