Editor's note: this is the second part of a story exploring some of
the various coins that have "something" special about
them. The original feature appears in the September monthly issue of
as the Greeks had a signature silver coin, the Roman denarius (plural:
denarii) was the centerpiece of the Roman currency system.
small silver coin was first minted about 211 B.C. during the Second
Punic War, and became the most common coin produced for circulation,
remaining useful long after memories of the war had faded.
centuries, the coin’s weight and silver content diminished until being
replaced by the double denarius, called the antoninianus, early in the
third century A.D.
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worth 10 bronze asses, the denarius coins were redenominated to 16
asses in 145 B.C., a value that was fixed until the final denarii were
struck in the 240s A.D.
denarii feature the head of Roma, patroness of the city, on the
obverse. The reverse features the Dioscuri, known individually as
Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus and Leda. These young gods
became widely popular as protectors in a moment of crisis, and a
temple was built in their honor.
the decades passed, designs for the denomination made way for the
political realities of a world where the moneyers (those who struck
the coins) and later the rulers themselves, highlighted their own
achievements, relationships, or both.
pinnacle of self-promotion via numismatic means in ancient Roman
times, however, was the Eid Mar silver denarius.
circa late autumn 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 the megalomaniacal dictator
Julius Caesar two years earlier, on March 15, 44 B.C.
dime-sized coin is famous for the image of its issuer, one of the
assassins, Marcus Junius Brutus, on the obverse.
coin is ranked No. 1 in a survey of experts for the book 100
Greatest Ancient Coins by Harlan J. Berk.
was one of two chief co-conspirators leading a cabal of Roman senators
that surrounded and stabbed Caesar during a Senate proceeding. The
conspirators, fearful of a tyranny ushered in by Caesar, expected to
be hailed as liberators, but the Roman populace was horrified by
Caesar’s murder and wanted the assassins punished. Brutus fled and
soon waged war against Caesar’s successors.
being proclaimed imperator, Brutus began issuing coins to pay his
army. The Eid Mar coins of mid-42 B.C., with the pileus or cap of
liberty between the daggers that executed Caesar, is Brutus’ final
coinage type. The design is notable for the irony of its use of a
portrait of Brutus.
a mere two years earlier, had been the first Roman to place his own
portrait on Roman coins, and that was just the sort of monarchial
innovation for which he had been assassinated,” Berk wrote.
Mar denarii were deliberately recalled and melted down by the victors
of the second battle of Philippi on Oct. 23, 42 B.C., Mark Antony and Octavian.
these coins regularly trade for hundreds of thousands of dollars. An
estimated population of some 80 examples was known in 2008 when Berk’s
book was published, “but many more than 80 people want one of these
coins and can afford the $100,000-plus price tag.”
size, weight and silver purity of the denarius declined from the reign
of Nero (54 to 68 A.D.) until its content was about 50 percent circa
193 to 211 during the reign of Septimius Severus.
antoninianus was introduced in 215 to spark more interest in the
silver coinage of Rome, but it didn’t work, and the last true denarii
were struck in the 240s, “and attempts to reestablish the coin later
in the third century met with no success,” according to Richard Doty
in The MacMillan Encyclopedic Dictionary of Numismatics.
name, however, survived, inspiring the medieval coinage known as the
denier, denar, denaro and so on, including the medieval silver penny
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