World Coins

Ides of March coin from Hunt collection comes to auction

An example of the greatest ancient coin type, the EID MAR silver denarius, is crossing the auction block on May 3.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

An example of the most famous ancient coin is coming to auction, again.

Heritage Auctions on May 3 is offering a silver example of the circa late fall 42 B.C. silver denarius 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.

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 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.

The coin is graded Extremely Fine by Numismatic Guaranty Co. Heritage previously sold this example in 2011 for $546,250, including the 15% buyer’s fee.

This example was once part of the Nelson Bunker Hunt Collection.

The auction house assigns an estimate of $450,000 to $550,000. At press time April 18, bidding had reached $260,000 (or, $312,000 after the buyer’s fee).

EID MAR in the news

Another example, offered March 15 by Bruun Rasmussen, failed to sell at the opening bid of 2.8 million Danish kroner (then about $397,073 U.S.).

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

A gold version, one of just three known, was also in the news earlier this year, as the director of the auction house that sold the coin in 2020 was arrested and charged with creating a fake provenance for that coin. Officials returned the coin to Greece.

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