World Coins

Silver denarius of Augustus shows celestial event

A silver denarius of Caesar Augustus depicts the so-called Julian Star on the reverse.

Coin images courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles.

A famous celestial event of antiquity was recorded on an ancient coin.

A silver denarius of Augustus (also known as Caesar Augustus), issued circa 19 to 18 B.C., depicts the so-called Julian star. An example of this coin was offered in Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles’ June 12 and 13 auction in California. The coin realized $1,860, including buyer’s fee, against an estimate of $1,500 and up. 

1806 Mint reportInside Coin World: About those 1805 silver dollars Although an 1806 Mint document claims 321 silver dollar were made in 1805, no such coins are known today. It took a later book to explain the reference.

The wreathed head of Augustus graces the obverse. 

The reverse of the coin shows the “Julian Star,” a bright comet that appeared in the heavens during the summer of 44 B.C., a few months after the assassination of Julius Caesar (March 15, 44 B.C.).

Based on eyewitness descriptions, the comet was clearly visible in the daytime, making it one of the brightest comets on record, the auction firm said. It has never reappeared and may have been destroyed on a suicidal dive into the sun. 

“The ancients did not understand the nature of comets as celestial ice balls moving within our Solar System, and the apparition was held to signal the ascension of Caesar’s soul to the heavens,” according to the catalog. “This proved quite useful in Octavian’s effort to get the Senate to deify his adoptive father. During his later reign as Augustus, he made extensive use of the comet in state propaganda.”

The coin weighs 3.89 grams (between a Roosevelt dime and a Jefferson nickel). It is “well struck on a nice large flan and lightly toned,” and in Extremely Fine condition, the firm said.

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