A silver denarius of Gaius Julius Caesar
Author: Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists   -   Wednesday April 12, 2017

A silver denarius of Gaius Julius Caesar struck at an uncertain mint in Spain during his second campaign there in 46 and 45 BC. The obverse consists of the head of the Venus wearing a diadem and facing right. Behind her head and to the lower left is the god Cupid. The reverse has in legend CAESAR in the exergue. Above is a trophy with an oval shield and carnyx (a type of wind instrument used by the Iron Age Celts) in each hand. Below on the left is a seated captive resting head on right hand while on the right is a bearded captive seated with hands tied behind his back. Both of these figures are presumed to represent captive Gauls from Caesar’s earlier conquests.

This coin was struck sometime between early December 46 and the summer of 45 when he from Spain to Rome during the civil war between Caesar and the coalition first headed by Pompey the Great. The campaign in Spain brought to an end this conflict. By December 46 Caesar had defeated the pro-Pompeian forces through most of the Mediterranean region. The last holdouts were confined to the Iberian peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal). They were lead by Pompey’s sons Gnaeus Pompeius and Sextus Pompeius as well as Titus Labienus a general who had been Caesar’s lieutenant in Gaul but who had chosen to side with Pompey early in the war. Caesar defeated their army on 17 March 45 at the Battle of Munda. The battle was a bloody engagement in which thousands were killed and all the commanders personally fought in the front ranks at times. Labienus was killed in the fighting. Both of Pompey’s sons escaped . However, Gnaeus Pompeius was wounded and eventually was tracked down and killed at the Battle of Lauro later that year. Sextus Pompeius took to the sea and as a quasi-pirate commander remain a thorn in the side of the Caesareans for years after Caesar’s death.

This coin is a typical Caesarean issue. The obverse depiction of Venus is meant to emphasis Caesar’s family claim to be descended from the goddess. The reverse illustrates his military victories. In this instance the Gallic Wars, but contemporaries would be well aware of those in Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt and Africa.

Further Reading:

M.H. Crawford, Roman Republican Coinage, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1974).
Coinage and Money Under the Roman Republic. Italy and the Mediterranean Economy (Los Angeles, 1985).
M. Gelzer, Caesar. Politician and Statesman (Cambridge MA, 1968). The classic biography of the 20th century.
A. Goldsworthy, Caesar. Life of a Colossus (London, 2006). The best biography of the 21st century (so far).
D.B. Hollander, Money in the Later Roman Republic (Leiden, 2007).
A. Meadows and J. Williams, 'Moneta and the monuments: Coinage and politics in Republican Rome,' Journal of Roman Studies 91 (2001), pp. 27-49.
W.B. Tyrrell, A Biography of Titus Labienus, Caesar’s Lieutenant in Gaul (unpublished MA dissertation, Michigan State University, 1970).
K. Welch, Magnus Pius. Sextus Pompeius and the Transformation of the Roman Republic (Swansea, 2012).
B. Woytek, Arma et Nummi. Forschungen romischen Finanzgeschichte und Munzprragung der Jahre 49 bis 42 v. Chr. (Wein, 2003).

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