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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Extraordinary Portrait of Julius Caesar
Ex Haeberlin Collection

Triton XXI, Lot: 669. Estimate $40000.
Sold for $30000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

The Caesarians. Julius Caesar. 41 BC. AR Denarius (19mm, 4.09 g, 1h). Rome mint; L. Flaminius Chilo, moneyer. Wreathed head of Caesar right / Goddess (Pax or Venus?) standing left, holding caduceus in right hand and scepter in left; L • FLAMINIVS downward to right, III • VIR upward to left. Crawford 485/1; CRI 113; Sydenham 1089; RSC 26; RBW –. EF, toned, light banker’s mark in obverse field. A portrait of extraordinary quality.

Ex Ernst Julius Haeberlin Collection (Cahn 75, 30 May 1932), lot 770.

While this coin derives its general type from those issues struck at Rome in the month prior to Caesar’s assassination in March 44 BC, its anepigraphic obverse now shows a head of Caesar that is no longer veiled, while on the reverse, Venus Genetrix holds a caduceus in place of the traditional Victory. The idealized portrait of Julius Caesar, with its definite impression of divinity, is not an individual die-engraver’s attempt at artistic fancy, but must have been influenced by Octavian’s consciously conceived program of manipulating public images (including that of Caesar) at Rome. On 1 January 42 BC, the Senate recognized Caesar’s new divine status as the Divus Julius and constructed a temple on the site of his cremation in the Forum. The Venus Genetrix on the reverse shows a similar manipulation. Deriving from the Greek Aphrodite Ourania, or heavenly Aphrodite, Venus Genetrix became not only the divine patroness of Rome through her son Aeneas, but also the ancestor of the gens Julia, through Aeneas’ son, Ascanius (Iulus). On the night before Pharsalus in 48 BC, Caesar vowed to construct a temple in her honor in Rome if he was successful against Pompey. Once completed, this temple, which housed a statue of the goddess, then became the centerpiece of his new forum in Rome. There are marked differences, however, between the statue (evidenced by several extant copies) and her depiction on the denarii struck in the month before his assassination. While the statue emphasized her procreative powers, the coins show her in a more martial and political context: holding a Victory in her right hand and a scepter in her left, either surrounded by weaponry (sometime set on a globe), or with the scepter set on a star (a sign of divinity). While these attributes may shift from one to another, they emphasize not only the divine assistance in Caesar’s military and political victories, but also allude tentatively to his semi-divinity. The Venus of this coin, however, minimizes her connection to earlier associations; instead, she now presents an image of Felicitas (Good Fortune), by replacing the Victory with a caduceus. It is not the Venus Genetrix of Julius Caesar, then, but now Venus Felix of all Rome who is at work. Thus, through the assistance of the two transformed divine agencies – the impending one of the Divus Julius, and that of Venus – that Octavian was able to take his first few steps toward political ascendancy.