THE TWELVE CAESARS
ACTA ACCLA, October 2007
GAIUS JULIUS CAESAR
July 100 BCE - March 44 BCE
Dictator 48 BCE - March 44 BCE
by Kenneth L. Friedman
Gaius Julius Caesar is, arguably, not only the most famous man of antiquity but also the most controversial man of antiquity. His biographers variously depict him as a genius and as a megalomaniac, as a man who understood the limitations and inadequacy of the Roman Republic’s reliance upon quarrelsome egotistic members of a power-elite to govern what had become an empire, or as a man who, to garner power and wealth, sacked and looted Gaul, slaughtering, maiming and enslaving its inhabitants, invaded Britain and then sacrificed an entire generation of his fellow Romans and allies on the altar of civil war to avoid prosecution for abuses of his power as governor of Gaul and violations of the Roman constitution. Indeed, tens of thousands died and millions suffered so that Caesar could avoid what might have been no more than an exile from Rome and a loss of dignitas.
In addition to quarrels over the character of Caesar’s life, there have been some disagreements as to the details of Caesar’s life. Nevertheless, an abbreviated outline of some of the highlights of his “pre-numismatic” life, as generally agreed, follows:1
- Caesar was born in Rome on the 13 day of Quintilas (the month that was later to be re-named July in his honor), probably in the year 100 BCE. Although the scion of an ancient patrician family, he also had connections with more radical elements of Roman society. One of his aunts was the wife of Gaius Marius. Marius had been elected consul for the sixth time in the year of Caesar’s birth and during Caesar’s youth, lead a civil war against the patricians.
- In 84 BCE, Caesar was named flamen dialis, (the priest of the cult of Jupiter, a very ancient and ritual bound position, who was prohibited from handling iron and from seeing corpses, and thus barred from military service).
- In 87 BCE, Caesar married his first wife, Cornelia, the daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna, Gaius Marius’ partner in the aforementioned civil war. Caesar’s daughter, Julia, was subsequently born of this marriage.
- In 81 BCE, Caesar, in flight from the proscriptions of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the victor in the Marian civil war and dictator who attempted to re-establish the traditional Republic, was pardoned by Sulla. Caesar nevertheless defied Sulla’s demand that he divorce Cornelia. Caesar was relieved of the post of flamen dialis (apparently at his own request).
- Freed of the restrictions of being flamen dialis, Caesar entered military service in the Roman legions in Asia in 80 BCE. There he was awarded a corona civica for saving the life of a fellow Roman in battle. (This was important to Caesar not only for its political mileage, but also because it allowed him to wear this wreath of oak leaves at all civic functions which he did, often, to cover his increasing baldness in his middle age.) He continued his military service into 78 BCE also serving in Cilicia. On Sulla’s death in 78 BCE, he returned to Rome.
- In Rome, Caesar embarked on a legal career, prosecuting a former consul in 77 BCE. On his journey to Rhodes in 75 BCE to pursue further studies in rhetoric to enhance his public speaking, Caesar was captured by pirates. After being ransomed, he led a successful raid on the pirate base, fulfilling his promise to crucify his former captors. While he was in the east the war with Mithradates renewed and Caesar again served with the legions in Asia in 74 BCE.
- Shortly after being elected to the office of quaestor in 69 BCE (with this post, Caesar was admitted to the Senate), Caesar delivered an extraordinary funeral oration in praise of his aunt (the widow of the defeated Marius and thus a further act of defiance against the Sullans). Not long thereafter, Cornelia died and Caesar delivered a funeral oration in her honor, too. As Matthias Gelzer wrote: “It had not previously been the custom to honour young women with a public oration, but Caesar had no qualms about setting a precedent, and his moving words met with great approval.”2 Caesar then left for Hispania Ulterior to perform his administrative duties as quaestor.
- In 67 BCE, Caesar married his second wife, Pompeia, supported the Lex Gabinia (the law that gave Pompey extraordinary powers to suppress the Mediterranean pirates) and became the curator of the Via Appia. The following year, 66 BCE, saw Caesar supporting the Lex Manilia (the law giving Pompey command in the Mithradatic War).
- In 65 BCE Caesar advanced upon the cursus honorum by his election to the office of curule aedile. This continued with his co-option, in 64 BCE, to become a judicial officer in the criminal courts as an iudex quaestiones.
- In 63 BCE, Caesar was elected pontifex maximus and in December of that year, he delivered a speech in the Senate opposing the execution, without trial, of arrested Catalinian revolutionaries.
- As the wife of the pontifex maximus, Pompeia hosted the annual rites in honor of Bona Dea in their home, the Regia. The rites were polluted by the illicit presence of a man, Publius Clodius. Although there was no evidence of her participation in this scandal, Caesar divorced Pompeia on the grounds that “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.” That same year, 62 BCE, Caesar was elected to the office of praetor.
- Elected proconsul to serve as governor of Hispania Ulterior in 61 BCE, Caesar led a successful campaign against the Lusitani.
- In 60 BCE Caesar, supported by Pompey and Crassus, succeeded in his campaign for election as consul in the face of fierce opposition from the optimates. Although Pompey and Crassus had been rivals, they reconciled (perhaps because of Caesar’s efforts) and formed a three-way alliance with Caesar.
- In 59 BCE Caesar entered into the office of consul. His daughter, Julia, married Pompey and Caesar married Calpurnia. Notwithstanding the continuing opposition of the optimates, Caesar was awarded, as his provinces, Cisalpine Gaul, Illyricum and Transalpine Gaul.
- In 58 BCE, as proconsul, Caesar led military campaigns against the Helvetii and against the Suebi.
- Caesar’s military activity in Gaul continued, fighting against the Belgae in 57 BCE, and against tribes in Brittany and Normandy, as well as the Aquitani, in 56 BCE. The triumvirate among Caesar, Pompey and Crassus was renewed.
- In 55 BCE Pompey and Crassus, elected consuls for the second time, promoted and passed a law prolonging Caesar’s proconsulship over his provinces for a further five years. Caesar’s military campaigns in Gaul continued. Caesar crossed the Rhine for the first time in 55 BCE and, that same year, he led a first reconnaissance expedition to Britain, followed the next year by a deeper incursion into Britain. Caesar spent the winter of 54 BCE in Gaul suffering some setbacks. The death of Caesar’s daughter, Pompey’s wife, Julia, in childbirth In 54 BCE, marked a rupture in the relationship between Caesar and Pompey. (Any number of explanations can be pointed to for this disintegration of their amity. Certainly each aspired to be the preeminent man in the Roman political world. With Julia gone, the optimates worked hard to drive a wedge between them and return Pompey, who had been a conservative Sullan, back into their camp.)
- In 53 BCE, the campaigns in Gaul proceeded and Caesar made his second incursion across the Rhine. In June, on the other side of the Roman world, in Mesopotamia, the Parthians killed Crassus and defeated his legions in the battle of Carrhae.
- 52 BCE was an eventful year for Caesar. In January, the iconoclastic troublemaker Clodius was murdered in Rome, leading to riots. In February, Pompey was elected “consul without colleague” (a Roman first, avoiding the formal granting to Pompey of the absolute power of dictator but giving him a relatively free hand to deal with the continuing civil unrest, unencumbered by a partner in the consulate). Vercingetorix united the various Gaulish tribes in a general rebellion against Caesar and the Romans. Caesar captured Avaricum, then laid siege to Gergovia, but was forced to abandon that effort. After successes in the area around Dijon , Caesar ran Vercingetorix to ground in Alesia. The Gauls’ attempt to rescue Vercingetorix, besieged in Alesia, with a massive attack failed when Caesar first defeated the would-be relievers then turned his legions back to the siege. In the course of the Romans’ sack of Alesia, Vercingetorix surrendered.
- Caesar subdued those tribes still in revolt in 51 BCE. In Rome, the optimates began efforts to recall Caesar, notwithstanding his continuing imperium as proconsul in Gaul. Caesar published his seven books on the war in Gaul.
- The optimates’ efforts to recall Caesar continued into 50 BCE, but were frustrated by Caesar’s agent, the tribune, Caius Scribonius Curio.
- On January 7, 49 BCE, the Senate ordered Caesar to disband his army. Pompey and other magistrates were granted dictatorial powers under a decree of senatus consultus ultimum, ignoring vetoes of the legislation by the tribunes, Marcus Antonius (Mark Anthony) and Quintus Cassius Longinus. Marcus Antonius and Quintus Cassius Longinus fled Rome to join Caesar in Ravenna (then part of Cisalpine Gaul).
- Three days later, on the night of January 10, 49 BCE, Caesar crossed the Rubicon (the formal boundary between Italy and Cisalpine Gaul), with troops, thereby beginning a Civil War.
Bust in the British Museum
It is at this point in time that Caesar, to finance his incursion into Italy and the war, first minted coins in his own name and our interest in the historical and numismatic Caesar intersect. What follows is focused on the coins issued in Caesar’s name, which, of necessity, made only limited references to the events in Caesar’s life following his decision to cross the Rubicon and commence the civil war. A great number of coins were also issued by his supporters that bear important messages and reflect Caesarean themes for which one cannot recommend a better source than David R. Sear’s The History and Coinage of the Roman Imperators 49-27 BC. The bibliographical notes at the end of this essay list several biographies of Caesar that will provide the many details of his life omitted here (and from the "pre-numismatic" summary above).
In this overview of coinage in the name of Julius Caesar, it is worth remembering Michael Crawford’s comment, "The coinage of Caesar himself is not particularly diverse."3 Doubtlessly this is so because Caesar quite intentionally kept his coinage, and indeed all of his propaganda (including his books), "on message." The repetition, and variation, of themes that we observe tells us a great deal about how Caesar viewed himself and his actions, and even more about how he wanted the Romans to perceive him, his motivations and conduct.
The first coin issued in Caesar’s own name is also the most numerous in its mintage, a denarius (Crawford 443; Sydenham 1006) struck unconstitutionally, without Senate authority, by a military mint moving with Caesar attributed to the years 49-48 BCE. The obverse of this denarius depicts an elephant trampling on a dragon (or a snake) whose head rises up with the name CAESAR in the exergue. The reverse has a simpulum, aespergillum, ax and apex, the implements used by the pontifex maximus. Of this coin, Sear asserts:
"It must remain a matter for conjecture whether this coinage commenced in Gaul, as part of Caesar’s preparations for invasion, or whether it dates from his acquisition of bullion left behind in the public treasury by the panic-stricken Pompeians when they fled Rome. What does seem certain is the production of this type was kept separate from the regular issues of the Roman moneyers, thus emphasizing the extraordinary military nature of this coinage produced at a time of unprecedented crisis in the affairs of the Republic...The types are also of interest, presumably represents Caesar’s personal choice. The symbolism of the obverse can hardly be anything other than the triumph of good over evil, whilst the reverse alludes to Caesar’s possession of the office of pontifex maximus."4
The rate of the Caesarians’ advance through Italy was shockingly swift as city after city opened its doors to the invader. The Pompeians, including most of the Senate, fled south to Brundisium and Caesar seized Rome with its treasury intact. The Pompeians left Brundisium by ship for Greece in a dramatic escape in the midst of Caesar’s siege of that city.
Instead of following Pompey to Greece, Caesar first turned his attention to Spain rapidly overcoming the numerically superior, better supplied forces of his opposition.
His rear secured, Caesar brought legions east and, with a smaller army than the forces of Pompey and the Senate, managed to surround his opponents in Dyrrachium. The Pompeians broke through Caesar’s siege walls in July of 48 BCE, and the following month (August 9) saw the first full-fledged open field battle between the two armies, under their respective generals, at Pharsalus in eastern central Greece. Once again, Caesar’s forces, badly outnumbered (perhaps by as much as seven times his own forces) prevailed. The victory, though decisive, was not complete. Pompey, his sons, Cato and many other Pompeians managed to escape and so the civil war continued.
Caesar next struck a pair of matched coins, an aureus and a denarius (respectively, Crawford 452/1 and 452/2; Sydenham 1008 and 1009), again by a traveling military mint. These depict, on the obverse, a female head (identified by some as Clementia, the personification of clemency) wearing an oak-wreath on the obverse with the roman numeral LII behind, and on the reverse, a trophy of Gallic arms (including a helmet, clothing, oval shield and carnyx on a wooden frame) and an ax surmounted by an animal head to the right, with the name CAESAR below. These are dated to the period immediately following the battle of Pharsalus.
The imagery on these coins is further, compelling evidence that coins were a medium of propaganda. They advertise Caesar’s famous mercy to his adversaries (if we accept that the female head is Clementia, and probably we should), and the oak-wreath she wears is the corona civica, awarded for saving the life of a Roman citizen, reminding us not only that Caesar won that award in 80 BCE, but proclaiming that Caesar has saved all Romans by his defeat of the Pompeians (although this is more than a little ironic since Caesar himself bears much of the responsibility for starting this war). Any doubt that this is intended to refer to Caesar himself is dispelled by the number 52, Caesar’s age at the time these coins were first issued (and thus we have the first Roman coin that, in a fashion, is actually dated).
The reverse, too, is an attempt to sway the Roman public, but perhaps more subtly. A trophy is the traditional image employed by a military victor...but rather than depict victory over fellow citizens, Caesar is careful to show only the conquest of the barbarian Gauls.
Related to these aurei and denarii were denarii (Crawford 452/4 and 452/5; Sydenham 1010 and 1011) with the same obverse, but a different (albeit similar) reverse...again a trophy of Gallic arms, but with a captive Gaul, arms tied behind his back, seated below the trophy (on Crawford 425/5 and Sydenham 1011 the captive’s head is turned to look at the trophy), and quinarii (Crawford 452/3; Sydenham 1012) with an obverse of a veiled female head (probably Vesta; as pontifex maximus Caesar was responsible for the supervision of the Vestal virgins in Rome) and the numeral LII, and a reverse with a trophy of Gallic arms, but with a round, rather than an oval, shield to the left, and a sword instead of the carnyx and a figure 8 shaped shield (an ancile usually associated with Mars).
Chasing Pompey to Egypt, Caesar arrived in Alexandria only to find that Pompey had been murdered there. Caesar remained in Egypt long enough to settle, by military intervention, the dispute between Cleopatra VII and her brother over the Egyptian throne, and then traveled to Asia Minor to defeat King Pharnaces II (whence Caesar’s famous veni, vidi, vici quote following his success at the battle of Zela). It was at this time that Caesar issued his next personal coin, an aureus (Crawford 456/1a and 1b; Sydenham 1027), again with a traveling mint, perhaps while en route from Alexandria back to Rome in the autumn of 47 BCE. These coins feature priestly implements, an ax and simpulum between the words CAESAR and DICT on the obverse, and a jug and lituus with the word ITER below, all within a wreath of laurel. Because of their legends, dictator iter (dictator for the second time) we can securely date these coins from between October 48 and October 47 BCE.
Neither the defeat of Pompey’s army at Pharsalus, nor the death of Pompey in Egypt signaled the end of the civil war. Marcus Porcius Cato, Quintus Cecelius Mettelus Pius Scipio and other Pompeians regrouped in northern Africa, in and around Utica, and Caesar gathered his own forces in Sicily and invaded Africa in late 47 BCE. Before Caesar left Sicily one of his lieutenants, Aulus Allienus, issued denarii (Crawford 457/1, Sydenham 1022) in his own, and in Caesar’s, names, jointly. These rare coins have the head of Venus on the obverse, with the legend C CAESAR IMP COS ITER (Caius Caeser Imperator, Consul for the second time).and, on the reverse, Trinacrus standing left with one foot on the prow of a ship, holding a triskales, with the legend A ALLIENVS PRO COS. Because Caesar (and indeed, his entire gens, the Iulii) claimed to be a descendent of Venus, the choice of this goddess is certainly sensible. Trinacrus was a Sicilian deity, a son of Neptune, and the triskeles was a symbol closely, albeit not uniquely, associated with Sicily.
With Caesar’s army in North Africa, a traveling military mint struck a very large run of denarii (Crawford 458/1; Sydenham 1013) during the years 47-46 BCE. On these we find a simple obverse of the head of Venus and, on the reverse, an expansion of the theme of Caesar’s descent from this goddess...a naked Aeneas walking forward carrying the palladium on his right arm and holding his father, Anchises, a prince of Troy, on his left shoulder, with the legend CAESAR downward to the right. The palladium was a statue of Athena. We have a scene of Aeneas’ flight from the sack of Troy, showing his filial piety in the rescue of his father, and his religious piety in his rescue of the sacred statue, on his way to Italy. Sear points out “The type was doubly appropriate for the African campaign because of the relationship between Aeneas and Dido, princess of Tyre, who was the foundress of the Phoenician colony of Carthage.”5
On April 6, 46 BCE, at the battle of Thapsus in North Africa, Caesar once again trounced the Pompeians. Back in near-by Utica, Cato committed suicide rather than allow Caesar to demonstrate his famed clemency (thereby earning a particular celebrity as the embodiment of Republican stoic virtue and the sobriquet Cato Uticensis). Once more, Pompey’s sons and a number of others escaped to rally yet again in Spain.
Upon his return to Rome, Caesar prepared to celebrate his four victories with a not one, but four formal triumphs (one for victory over the Gauls, one for victory in Egypt over Ptolemy XIII, one for victory in Asia Minor against Pharnaces II, and one for victory in North Africa) to run on four separate days. This would entail a massive distribution of coins, perhaps 5,000 denarii for each legionary and double that for each centurion. “The problem was partially solved by Caesar’s decision to authorize the large scale production of gold aurei, each the equivalent of 25 silver denarii, the first mass production of this denomination in the history of the Roman coinage.”6 The veiled female head on the obverse of these aurei may be Vesta is surrounded by the legend C CAESAR COS TER (Gaius Caesar, consul for the third time). On the reverse we find a lituus, jug and ax (our familiar priest’s implements) with the legend A HIRTIVS PR (Aulus Hirtius, praetor). The obverse legend assures us that these coins were issued in the year 45, the year of Caesar’s third consulate. Hirtius had long been an active supporter and close friend, having served as Caesar’s legate in Gaul (he would go on to finish Caesar's incomplete book, the Gallic War, after Caesar’s assassination and is generally believed to be the author of the companion book, The Alexandrian War chronicling the dictator’s actions in Egypt in 48 BCE).
In addition to these aurei, an enormous number of denarii were also minted for Caesar’s quadruple triumph (Crawford 467/1a-1b: Sydenham 1023-1024). These feature the corn-wreathed head of Ceres on the obverse with the legend DICT ITER COS TERT (dictator for the second time, consul for the third). The reverse legend AVGVR and PONT MAX above and below, respectively, the simpulum, aspergillum, jug and lituus, the implements of the offices of augur and the pontifex. These coins come in two very slightly different varieties. Some have a small letter D to the right on the reverse, the others have an M. These are usually held to stand for donum or donativum (largess) and munus (gift). Of these coins, Sear wrote:
"Curiously, these inscriptions on these coins omit the actual name of the dictator and neither is there any mention of a lieutenant acting on behalf of the commander-in-chief in his absence. However the titles clearly refer to Caesar — his dictatorships, his consulships, and his possession of various priestly offices. The head of Ceres, goddess of agriculture, is symbolic of grain-producing wealth of Africa, the supply of which to Rome had been interrupted by the civil war."7
Caesar must have been terribly frustrated that yet again a decisive defeat of the Pompeians, this time at Thapsus, did not end their opposition to his dictatorship. Once again, those loyal to the deceased Pompey, under the leadership of his two sons, Gnaeus and Sextus, as well as Caesar’s former lieutenant from the Gallic war, Titus Labienus, and Attius Varus, reassembled, although not all the Pompeians who survived Thapsus were successful in fleeing to Spain (Scipio, among others, was killed en route). Caesar returned to Spain to lead what would become the final battle of the civil war (although Sextus would survive and continue his resistence, finally succumbing in Sicily to Agrippa, the friend and chief general of Caesar’s heir, Augustus).
Once more, Caesar needed to strike a massive number of coins to finance this new campaign producing two types of denarii, each with the head of Venus on the obverse, each with a trophy of Gallic arms, dividing two captives, back to back, below, and each with the simple inscription CAESAR in the exergue of the reverse. These were struck in late 46 to early 45 BCE by a traveling mint in Spain. The more common of these two types (Crawford 468/1, Sydenham 1014) has Venus facing to the right with a tiny cupid by her shoulder behind the bust. On this coin, the captive to the bottom left of the trophy, facing left, is a woman with an arm bent to support her presumably weeping head, while the captive to bottom right, facing to the right, is a bearded man with his hands bound behind him. The obverse of the other coin (Crawford 468/2, Sydenham 1015) features the bust of Venus facing left, with a tiny cupid by her shoulder before her, a star in the bun of her hair, a scepter behind her and a lituus before. This second type also varies from the reverse of the first type in that the female captive is to the right, the male to the left with one leg bent, almost in a kneeling position. In discussing these two coins, Sear writes:
"...the obverse is occupied by a head of Venus, ancestress of the gens Julia, this time accompanied by a small Cupid identifying her as Venus Generix to whom Caesar had lately dedicated a temple in the Forum Julium. The reverses revert to the old theme of Caesar’s victories in Gaul. Doubtless, they were intended to revive memories of ‘the good old days’ in the hearts of his seasoned veterans who were now being called upon to face the Pompeian threat for the third time in only two and a half years. Their patience was probably wearing thin with this persistent foe and Caesar may have been concerned over the question of maintaining discipline during a protracted campaign."8
On March 17, 45 BCE, at the battle of Munda, Caesar and his legions prevailed once again against the Pompeians. This time, the Pompeians’ numeric superiority was modest (perhaps a 13-8 advantage in infantry, but Caesar’s 8,000 cavalry outnumbered, and were of better quality than, the Pompeian cavalry), but the outcome was not certain and it is reported that the Caesarians were losing ground in fierce combat when the Dictator, himself, mounted a horse and took a shield to ride to the front lines and rally his troops turning the tide. Gelzer states that 30,000 Pompeians lay dead on the battle field at the end of the day.
"Although his victory at Munda had been achieved against Roman adversaries, Caesar nevertheless did not hesitate to celebrate a triumph on his return to Rome and even granted a like honour to his lieutenants Pedius and Fabius. This was contrary to normal precedent, and even though a segment of the quadruple triumph in the preceding year had been devoted to a celebration of the victory over the Pompeians at Thapsus this had been advertised as the defeat of an African enemy, king Juba of Numidia. Clearly, the dictator’s patience with opposition was close to being exhausted and he was no longer prepared to show deference to the sensibilities of the Roman aristocracy. Although Caesar held the Spanish war to have been the quelling of rebellion, many citizens must have given deep thought to the true reality of this sinister development in the affairs of Rome. For if this were rebellion against whom was it directed? Certainly not against the legitimate governing body of the state, the Senate. Rather, it was against the authority of one man who had seized power more than four years before and was showing no inclination whatsoever to relinquish it. In fact, this episode may well have been a significant contributory factor in the genesis of the plot against the dictator’s life which was to lead to his assassination before another year had passed."9
Of course, another Caesarian triumph meant another enormous expenditure and once again Caesar minted gold coins to meet this need in 45 BCE (Crawford dates these to early in the year...Sear to the autumn). These aurei and half-aurei were issued in the joint name of Caesar and one of the Praefecti Urbani, Lucius Plancus.
One of the aurei minted for this triumph (Crawford 475/1c , Sydenham 1019a) features, on the obverse, a bust of Victory facing right with the top of a wing behind her shoulder and the legend C.CAES (behind) and DIC.TER (before) while its reverse has a one handled jug (a capis) with the legend L.PLANC PRAEF.VRB (partly ligatured). Related is a second type of aureus (Crawford 475/1b, Sydenham 1019b) with more or less the same obverse and reverse, but with an abbreviated reverse legend (L PLANC PR. VR). Finally, half-aureii (also referred to as gold quinarii) (Crawford 475/2, Sydenham 1020) of this type were concurrently issued (with the PRAEF VRB version of the reverse legend).
Perhaps related to these gold coins were orichalcum coins (probably dupondii) issued in the joint names of Caesar and Caius Clovius (or Cluvius). On these coins (Crawford 476/1a-b, Sydenham 1025) we find a bust of Victory facing right with the top of her wing behind her shoulder (and sometimes a star in the field above the wing) and the legend CAESAR DIC TER on the obverse. On the reverse, Minerva walks to the left holding a trophy over her right shoulder, spears in her left hand together with a shield decorated with Medusa’s head on her left shoulder, with an erect snake at her feet. The reverse legend is C CLOVI PRAEF. Sear argues that these were also issued for distribution at Caesar’s Spanish triumph. Michael Grant considered the source of these coins in doubt, considering the “interpretation of Minerva’s trappings as Spanish” as “inconclusive” and therefore has “removed all cause for attribution to that peninsula” but also considered the other proposed attributions as unconvincing, ultimately concluding that the probable mint was in Mediolanum (modern Milan) in Cisalpine Gaul. Nevertheless, he argued "In any case, Clovius cannot be a praefectus urbis..."10 Sear, however, argues:
"This issue would seem to be closely associated with the gold aurei and quinarii of L. Plancus and there appears to be no compelling reason to regard it as anything other than a complementary coinage produced in Rome for distribution at Caesar’s Spanish triumph. The issue of aes at this time was a great novelty as regular production [of bronze coinage] had ceased four decades before and was not destined to be resumed until the Augustan reform of c. 19-18 BCE. The idea probably originated with the Pompeian coinage of asses issued in Spain prior to the battle of Munda... These, however were of the traditional type for this denomination (Janus head/prow) and conformed to the old uncial weight standard of about 22 grams. Caesar’s coinage, however, was of totally novel design and struck in orichalcum (brass), the first time this metal had been used for currency in the West. This makes the denomination difficult to determine, but an approximate weight standard of 15 grams would seem to indicate a dupondius. The bust of Victory and the warlike figure of Minerva convey a clear message that this was a special coinage issued for the celebration of a military success. Not a great deal is known of C. Clovius (or Cluvius), the prefect entrusted with the production of this most unusual coinage. We are not even sure of the precise nature of his prefectship, though it is tempting to assume he was another of the six praefecti Urbi appointed by Caesar before he set out for Spain. In 44 BCE we find him as governor in Cisalpine Gaul and there appear to be later references to him in the age of Augustus."11
After five years the Civil War was over. The Senate voted Caesar multiple honors, many of them without any precedent in the Republic. Gelzer lists them as “a festival of thanksgiving of forty days’ duration for his victory, the dictatorship for ten years, seventy-two lictors for his triumphs, control over morals for three years (an enhancement of one of the powers belonging to the censors), the right of designating even extraordinary magistrates for popular election, and in the Senate the right of sitting on the curule chair between the two consuls at all meetings and of speaking first on all questions. Further, he was to give the signal at all games, and his name was to replace that of Catulus on the Capitoline Temple. Inside the temple, a triumphal chariot was set up on which stood a statue of Caesar with the globe at its feet and an inscription, later removed on the dictator’s orders, recalling his descent from Venus and Anchises describing him as a demigod.”12
Rather than disband his legions, Caesar kept them under the eagles planning an invasion of Parthia to revenge his former co-triumvir, Crassus and to recover the captured military standards. While these preparations were underway, Caesar engaged in a storm of activity. Declared consul for the fifth (and third consecutive) time and dictator in perpetuity (for life), he appointed governors for provinces and legates and attended meetings of the Senate. All of this had to be more than disappointing to those aristocrats hoping for a restoration of Republican institutions and a return to its traditions. Whatever hopes they may have harbored must have been finally extinguished when the four members of the Caesar-appointed college of moneyers each minted denarii featuring the portrait of the living dictator. Never before had denarii minted in Rome displayed the head of a living Roman.13 Each of these four moneyers continued to issue coins, including denarii, quinarii and sestertii of various types, following Caesar’s death, but these are beyond the scope of this survey.
Some of the coins of the moneyer Marcus Mettius (Crawford 480/2a-c, Sydenham 1057), dated by Sear to January 44 BCE, feature the wreathed head of Caesar right, lituus behind and the inscription CAESAR DICT QVART on the obverse and Juno Sospita in a biga galloping right, holding a spear and a shield with the inscription M METTIVS either in the exergue or above the exergue, below the horses, on the reverse.
Other denarii of Marcus Mettius (Crawford 480/3, Sydenham 1056) have a similar obverse depicting the wreathed head of Caesar, with a lituus and simpulum behind and the legend CAESAR IMP on the obverse, with a reverse of Venus standing left, holding Victory in an extended hand and a scepter in her other hand which rests on a shield set upon a a globe with the legend M METTIVS with a control letter. Sear dates these from January to February 44 BCE. Of these coins, Sear writes, “The small globe beneath her shield on this type represents world dominion, most appropriate symbolism for the coinage of a great military dictator.”14
The last type of denarii of Marcus Mettius (Crawford 480/17, Sydenham 1055) are dated by Sear to March-April of 44 BCE. These depict, yet again, the wreathed head of Caesar facing right with the legend CAESAR IMPER on the obverse and a reverse with the same Venus standing left, holding Victory in an extended hand and a scepter in her other hand which rests on a shield set upon a a globe with the legend M METTIVS with a control letter (except that instead of G, H, I, K or L, as in the prior issue, here the control letters are A through E).
The second moneyer of 44 BCE, Lucius Aemilius Buca, also minted several related types of coins with lifetime portraits of Caesar.
The first of these (Crawford 480/4, Sydenham 1060) have the wreathed head of Caesar facing right, with a crescent moon dividing the legend CAESAR IM P M on the obverse and Venus standing left holding Victory in her outstretched hand and resting on a scepter held in her left hand, with the legend, L AEMILIVS BVCA on the reverse. Sear dates these to January-February 44 BCE.
The second type of denarii issued by this moneyer (Crawford 480/6, Sydenhan 1063) features the wreathed head of Caesar surrounded by the inscription CAESAR DICT PERPETVO, on the obverse, and fasces and a winged caduceus in saltire (that is, crossed). In the four angles formed by this device we find clasped hands, a globe, an ax and the legend L BVCA. Sear dates these to February-March 44 BCE, supported by Caesar’s assumption of the title dictator perpetuus (dictator for life) on February 15, BCE.
The third and fourth types of Buca’s denarii (Crawford 480/7a-b, Sydenham 1062) have the same obverse as the preceding coin (except only that on Crawford 480/7b, the obverse legend splits the legend a bit differently), but have, on the reverse, Venus seated to the right, holding Victory in her outstretched right hand and a long scepter, leaning on her left shoulder, with a reverse legend of L BVCA. These are also dated to February-March 44 BCE.
The fifth and final type of denarius issued by Buca (Crawford 480/8, Sydenham 1061) are, essentially, a combination of his types...having the obverse of Crawford 480/7b, and the reverse of Crawford 480/4 (Venus standing left, with Victory on her extended right hand, resting, with her left hand, upon a long scepter), but with the simplified reverse inscription, L BVCA. These, too, are dated to February-March 44, BCE.
The coins of the third moneyer of college of 44 BCE, Publius Sepullius Macer, adhere to these themes and images.
On the first of his denarii, we find the wreathed head of Caesar facing right, a reasonably large star of either 6 rays (Crawford 480/5a, Sydenham 1071a) or 8 rays (Crawford 480/5b, Sydenham 1071) behind and the legend CAESAR IMP on the obverse. On these we find, on the reverse, our now familiar Venus standing left, holding Victory on her extended right hand, holding in her left hand, and resting upon, a long scepter (with a star at the scepter’s base on Crawford 480/5b, Sydenham 1071), and a legend of P SEPVLLIVS MACER. Sear dates these types to January-February 44 BCE.
On the obverse of Macer’s second and third type of denarius (Crawford 480/9-10, Sydenham 1073a and 1073), we have the wreathed head of Caesar (without either star or crescent and star) and with the legend CAESAR DICT PERPETVO. On the reverse we find Venus standing right, holding Victory in her outstretched right hand, a long scepter in her left and on which she rests, with a shield on the ground leaning upon the scepter. The reverse legend P SEPVLLIVS MACER (MACER reads downwards on Crawford 480/10, Sydenham 1073). Sear dates these to February-March 44 BCE.
The fourth type of Macer denarius (Crawford 480/11, Sydenham 1072), also dated to February-March 44 BCE, is the same as those just described with MACER reading downwards but with no shield leaning on the scepter (and usually with a star at the base of the scepter).
Macer’s last Caesar lifetime denarii (Crawford 480/12-14, Sydenham 1074 and 1074a) all have Caesar’s head not only wreathed but also veiled and the obverse legend CAESAR DICT PERPETVO and thus are dated to February-March 44 BCE. Two of these (Crawford 480/12 and 12, Sydenham 1074) “return” to the reverse types with the shield leaning on Venus’ scepter and the MACER on the reverse legend respectively upwards and downwards. The third (Crawford 480/14, Sydenham 1074a) has no shield on the reverse and again Venus’ scepter rests on a star.
Sear remarks, "The large number of variations on this type are indicative of the volume of the coinage, all the more remarkable in view of its brief period of issue (mid-February to mid-March)...The reason for this must be sought in Caesar's projected Parthian War for which large quantities of coinage would have been required to pay the army."15
The fourth moneyer of this Caesar appointed college was Gaius Cossutius Maridianus, only began to issue coins in the “second” period, that is mid-February to mid-March of 44 BCE. His denarii all have the wreathed and veiled head of Ceasar facing right
The first of his types (Crawford 480/16; Sydenham 1067) have an obverse legend of CAESAR DICT PERPETVO. On the reverse we again have Venus standing left with victory in her extended right hand, but no scepter. Rather, she rests her left forearm on a large shield which is set upon a globe. The reverse legend is C MARIDIANUS.
The second of his types (Crawford 480/15; Sydenham 1068) is identical to the one last described except only that the obverse legend is CAESAR DICT IN PERPETVO.
Maridianus' third type (Crawford 480/19; Sydenham 1069) has a small lituus below Caesar’s chin and a small apex behind his head. The obverse legend is CAESAR PARENS PATRIAE. The reverse has the moneyer's name in the form of a cross with COSSVTIVS dividing MARID and IANUS. In the four angles formed by the crossed name we have A A A F.F which is an abbreviated form of his formal title, “quattruorvir aere argento auro flando feriundo” which translates roughly as "the college of four men charged with the casting and striking of bronze, silver and gold."
Beyond the repeated theme of Venus and Victory in the majority of these moneyer’s types, the one consistent image in all of their coins is the wreathed head of Caesar (sometimes with, and sometimes without, a veil). Of the wreath, Crawford wrote:
"There is no doubt that the wreath worn by Caesar differs markedly from the laurel-wreath on contemporary and earlier Republican issues...and it is tempting to identify it with the golden wreath worn by Caesar at the Lupercalia in 44 [during the course of which Caesar assumed the title dictator perpetuus]...; but I can see no close resemblance to the Etruscan wreaths cited by Kraft — the latter consist of a simple band at the back of the head with ornament only at the front, Caesar’s wreath is ornamented at back and front. This wreath is presumably the triumphal corana aurea also voted to Pompey...; just as ordinary laurel-wreaths of the type portrayed there have no bands when worn..., so the corona aurea has no bands when worn by Caesar. Although the corona aurea of the triumphator of course derived from Etruria and from the regal period of Roman history and although to wear it when not a triumphator was to depart dramatically from normal Republican practice, to argue with Kraft that Caesar was deliberately modeling himself on a Roman king is to succumb to the temptation of believing that there is a key to the understanding of the last period of Caesar’s life; there is nothing to suggest that the triumphal associations of the corona aurea were not uppermost in Caesar’s mind when he wore it; apart from one gem of uncertain identification all the evidence...suggests that the Romans did not think of their kings as wearing the corona aurea of the triumphator."16
It is a matter of speculation as to which drop over-filled the barrel, but drops there were in abundance: Caesar’s taking on the power of dictator in perpetuity; his arrogation of the right of appointment of magistrates and his presiding over the Senate; the extraordinary and unprecedented honors bestowed upon him by the Senate including his acceptance of status as a demigod; his assumption of the ancient royal right to appoint patricians; his failure to restore the old Republican constitution with its cursus honorem of competition for the honor and glory of public election; economies, at home and in the provinces, devastated by the years of warfare, neglect of farms and roads and crushing debt; resentment over the civil war generally and even resentment of Caesar’s famous clemency, not only by those loyalists who saw their former adversaries forgiven and advanced to positions of honor, but also by the beneficiaries of this clemency; the dictator’s experimentation with kingship (one story has Marcus Antonius presenting Caesar, then dressed in regal garb, with a royal crown at the Lupercalia, only to be refused by Caesar with much ostentation, announcing Jupiter Optimus Maximum alone is king of the Romans, although Plutarch claims that Caesar did this only because the people did not applaud Marcus Antonius’ offer); his failure to demobilize the legions and to release the veterans who had served far longer than custom dictated; the excesses and abuses of his appointed representatives in Italy and Spain; the publication of his “Anticato” in response to Cicero’s “long memorial necrologue to this champion of the republic” and Brutus’ own essay in praise of Cato17; his dalliance and affiliation with Cleopatra VII of Egypt and the rumor that he intended to recognize Caesarion, his son by her, as his heir and potentially master of Rome; resentment by the army at the amount being distributed in entertainments and food for the people of Rome (diminishing the amount of the legions’ donatives); resentment by the people over Caesar’s reduction, by more than one-half, of the number of citizen’s entitled to free grain.
The barrel did, indeed, overflow, and a conspiracy of approximately sixty men, all, or mostly, aristocrats, formed to liberate Rome from the tyrant and to restore the Republic. Led by four men who “were all politicians who enjoyed Caesar’s highest favor,”18 Quintus Caepio Brutus, Gaius Cassius, Decimus Brutus and Gaius Trebonius, on March 15, 44 BCE, Caesar was assassinated, fittingly, or ironically, at the feet of a statue of Pompey.
Although coins continued to be minted in the name of Caesar after his death, influenced in their imagery by the policies and propaganda of the late dictator, a fascinating study in themselves, here, with the death of Caesar, this little biographic sketch ends. In looking back at his coinage, we see a consistency in themes and images: his dignitas reflected in his offices as augur, pontifex maximus, consul, dictator and imperator and in his descent from Venus and the very founder of Rome, Aeneas; his virtues of courage, piety and clemency reflected in his wreath, his veil and Clementia; his power in the images of Victory, scepters, globes, trophies and bound and weeping Gauls. The Republic had died even before Caesar’s death and could not be resurrected. The coinage of the liberators and of Caesar’s would-be successors and his heir, Octavian, were markedly different from those of the Republic and although a few emperors did issue “restoration” issues mirroring types from the Republic, Rome and her coinage were never to truly return to the types, variety and, perhaps, the creativity of that which preceded Caesar's.
SOME NOTES ON BIOGRAPHIES
In a sense, every life that is recounted is offered as an example; we write in order to attack or to defend a view of the universe, and to set forth a system of conduct which is our own.
She was, of course, absolutely correct. A very great number of biographies of Caesar exist and each deeply reflects the interests of the author and the concerns of his time. What follows is a very superficial description of a very few of the many texts available.
Theodore Ayrault Dodge’s Caesar, published in 1892 as part of his 12 volume History of the Art of War, (the series was written between 1890 and 1907) is a good example. Dodge had been an officer in the American Civil War, rising to the rank of brevet lieutenant colonel. Although he lost a leg in that conflict (at the Battle of Gettysburg), he continued in a military career, retiring in 1870. He spent a great deal of time in Europe studying the terrain of famous ancient battles, even trying to identify Hannibal’s route through the Alps. Although his biography of Caesar is a military history, focusing often on logistics and strategy, his view, including the political aspects, cannot help but be refracted through the lens of his own civil warfare experiences. Dodge’s book remains in publication and is available in paperback from Da Capo Press and still makes for a good read.
A more recent biographer, Matthias Gelzer, wrote Caesar - Politician and Statesman (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 1968) in the late 1950s in the time of the great postwar leaders, De Gaulle, Adenauer and not long before the election of John F. Kennedy. Gelzer’s book written in a world when power was shifting and ideology was paramount, as we would expect from its title and its times, emphasizes the political machinations far more than the military exploits.
Still more recent is Christian Meier’s Caesar - A Biography written in 1982, near the end of the Cold War. Meier, too, is a product of his own generation. Meier is among the biographers more critical of Julius Caesar. We may not be far off the mark if we see in this as a looking back to the “Great Men” of the first half of the 20th Century, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, to seek the havoc such ambition can wreak on mankind.
(I haven’t yet read Pat Southern’s book, Julius Caesar, although it has been recommended. It is out of print and a bit harder to get.)
Of course, we see similar trends among the ancient authors.
Caesar’s own works necessarily seek to justify his actions and minimize his errors. These are readily available in paperback editions (e.g., The Conquest of Gaul (New York: Penguin Classics 1982) and The Civil War (New York: Penguin Classics 1967) and are fascinating to read.
Cicero’s letters, perhaps most accessible in several volumes of the Loeb Classics editions published by Harvard University Press, while not a biography, contain many references to Julius Caesar and tell us a great deal not only about the events of the time, but also how Caesar was perceived by (some) of his contemporaries. That Cicero had his own ax to grind is beyond any question and his leanings are well understood.
Born nearly 100 years after the death of Julius Caesar, the Greek historian and moralist, Plutarch, pairs Caesar’s biography with that of Alexander the Great. The reader who only reads selected biographies of Romans or Greeks in Plutarch is missing the original structure of the work which pairs a Greek and a Roman (the selections themselves are fascinating) and then attempts to compare them and draw insights from the contrast. Even an old translation, like that of the English poet, John Dryden (still available in a two volume paperback edition from The Modern Library Classics, republished in 2001) is preferable (to this reader) to those editions that separate out the lives between Greek and Romans (ala the Penguin Classics edition).
Suetonius writing more than century after the tyrannicides/liberators struck down the dictator devotes a chapter of The Twelve Caesars to Julius with his usual eye for gossip. Many editions of his works are available, including a Penguin Classics paperback featuring a Robert Graves translation and revisions and an introduction by Michael Grant.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention Lucan’s marvelous epic poem the Civil War. Neither a biography nor a historical work, this work paints vivid pictures of the event war from the perspective of only a century after this tragic war. Paperback editions of this work are readily available including one from Oxford Word’s Classics with a new translation by Susan H. Braund. Appian’s The Civil Wars, is a more historical account, although written almost about two centuries later.
As for numismatic works, Crawford and Sear mentioned frequently in the essay and in the Endnotes are the leading texts. Crawford’s book, Roman Republican Coinage, covers the whole of Roman Republican coinage with a breathtaking advance in the dating and scholarship, as well as many insightful speculations about the coinage of this fascinating time. Only a few new coins have since been identified and only “tweaks” (albeit important ones) to his dating have been proposed (although many believe there remains much work to be done to advance the understanding of the early, mostly anonymous coinage as well as “provincial” coins minted in the areas dominated by Rome before Octavian became Augustus in 27 BCE.).
Sear’s book, The History and Coinage of the Roman Imperators 49-27 BC, is more limited in scope, covering less than a sixth of the period covered by Crawford, but it discusses them with pleasing and informative depth. Arranged chronologically in chapters that tie to the events of the tumultuous quarter century, it is a far cry from a dry catalogue of coins.
Michael Grant’s From Imperium to Auctoritas focuses almost entirely upon the coinage of Octavius/Augustus but important glimpses into some Caesarean coins (notably the orichalcum coin discussed in my essay, as well as discussion of some of Caesar’s foundations of colonies) are relevant.
For a good bibliography of books on the coinage of the Roman Republic, the reader is directed to Andrew McCabe’s excellent and rather comprehensive Books on Roman Republican Coins.
1. The chronological summary appearing in my text has been taken, albeit liberally revised and adapted, from a Chronology that may be found in Matthias Gelzer, Caesar - Politician and Statesman, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968) 335-337.
2. Ibid., pp. 31-32.
3. Michael H. Crawford, Roman Republican Coinage, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1974) 735.
4. David R. Sear, The History and Coinage of the Roman Imperators 49-27 BC, (London: Spink, 1988) 9. See also Crawford, op. cit., p. 735 who, in a footnote, addresses, and disposes of, some earlier attempts to associate the Berber word for elephant with the name Caesar, to treat the snake/dragon as a symbol for Africa and to associate Caesar with a Punic word.
5. Ibid, p. 38.
6. Ibid, pp. 38-39.
7. Ibid, p. 40.
8. Ibid, p. 40.
9. Ibid, p. 41.
10. Michael Grant, From Imperium to Auctoritas, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1946) 8.
11. Sear, op. cit, p. 44 (his footnote omitted here). The traditional metal for aes coinage in Rome had been bronze, an alloy of copper, tin and lead, for more than two centuries. Orichalcum, an alloy of copper and zinc, had a golden appearance. It is likely that Caesar, in order to stretch out the resources of the public treasury and his personal fortune (which were more or less the same thing at this point in time) profited from the use of this unusual metal. Grant wrote "Indeed, it is clear that Caesar could and did attach entirely fictitious values to this alloy, of which he possessed considerable quantities and controlled the market." (Michael Grant, op cit, p. 88) This issue and the use of this "deceptive" metal gives us some further insight both as to Caesar’s financial straits and into his, and his inner circle of advisors’, creativity and willingness to transcend the traditions of the Roman Republic.
12. Matthias Gelzer, op. cit., p. 278.
13. It is possible that coins minted by Romans outside of Rome, Flaminius in Greece and perhaps Scipio in Spain, “violated” this Roman tradition. Certainly coins minted in Spain by the Pompeians did have the portrait of Pompey, only recently killed in Egypt, but this was not inconsistent with the occasional practice of a moneyer displaying the image of an important ancestor on his denarii, albeit with a much shorter interval between the death and the monetary honor than ever before. Also, the attribution of these four coins to a date before Caesar’s assassination, and the exclusion of others, is not free from doubt. As Sear writes, “One of the principal difficulties is the classification of Caesar's portrait denarii of 44 BCE is the differentiation between issues made before and after the Ides of March. Crawford places those issues inscribed CAESAR DICT QVART, CAESAR IMP, CAESAR IM P M, CAESAR DICT PERPETVO and CAESAR DICT IN PERPETVO during the period of the dictator’s lifetime and those with CAESAR IMPER and CAESAR PARENS PATRIAE after the assassination. This chronology has been adhered to in the following listing.” (The History and Coinage of the Roman Imperators 49-27 BC, pp. 70-71) That chronology is also followed here, however one should note the problem of the control letters on the denarii of Mettius, discussed by Sear on p. 72: the Mettius denarii dated to January-February 44 have control letters G, H, I, K or L, while those of his denarii dated to March-April 44 BCE have control letters A, B, C, D or E.
14. Sear, op. cit., p. 72.
15. Sear, op. cit., p. 74.
16. Crawford, op cit., p.488 (footnote 1).
17. Christian Meier, Caesar - A Biography, (New York: Basic Books, 1982) 454. Meier describes the Anticato as “a positively obscene composition, a virulent attack on the man who until 49 had enjoyed supreme moral authority in the Roman republic.” p. 454-455.
18. Gelzer, op. cit., p. 324.
SUGGESTED WEB RESOURCES ON JULIUS CAESAR