Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Julius Caesar, 49-44 BC. AR Denarius, 18mm (3.86 gm). Head of Venus right, diademed, wearing earring and necklace; hair in knot / Aeneas walking left, holding palladium and bearing Anchises on his shoulder, CAESAR to right. Struck 47 BC, North Africa. RSC Julius Caesar 12; RCV I 1402; CRR 1013.

Ah, Julius Caesar, the first and most famous of Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars. Suetonius’ work, De Vita Caesarum (Lives of the Caesars), is a set of twelve biographies that begins with Julius Caesar and follows with the first eleven emperors, from Augustus to Domitian.

Gaius Julius Caesar was born to a patrician family, the Julii, in either 102 or 100 BC. The Julii were not considered politically influential, having only three consuls credited to their family name. This was unfortunate for poor Caesar, as he craved bigger and better things for himself. So young Caesar set upon building the foundation for those ‘bigger and better things’. This foundation included service in the army, where he served under Marcus Minucius Thermus in Asia and Servilius Isauricus in Cilicia. Caesar also tuned his oratory skills, studying under the same orator as that of Cicero.

Caesar’s political career began when he was elected military tribune. From there he was elected quaestor (69 BC), then Pontifex Maximus (63 BC) and finally consul (59 BC). Caesar was now heading down the path he had envisioned for himself.

Virgil’s Aeneid tell us that Aeneas was one of the few Trojans not killed or captured in the battle of Troy. Instead, he is said to have taken his father Anchises and the palladium, a statuette upon which the safety of the city was said to depend, to safety. The reverse of the denarius above depicts this event. Aeneas was the son of Anchises and the goddess Venus. The obverse of the coin above depicts Venus, so we have a coin that depicts mother (Venus), father (Anchises) and son (Aeneas).

Julius Caesar claimed to be a descendant of Aeneas, making Romulus and Remus (the founders of Rome) and the first kings of Rome his ancestors. Caesar makes this claim with this denarius. This connection to the progenitor of Rome, Aeneas, is important as it establishes legitimacy for Caesar in his rule over Rome.

This coin, and the story it tells, is one of the reasons I enjoy collecting ancient coins… especially those of the Twelve Caesars. If you haven’t done so already, read The Twelve Caesars, as translated by Robert Graves. If you do, I think you’ll find collecting coins of the Twelve Caesars as interesting as I do!

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