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Mars the Avenger


Civil War. AD 68-69. AR Denarius (17.5mm, 3.05 g, 6h). Uncertain mint in Gaul. MARS VLTOR, Mars, naked but for helmet, advancing right, brandishing javelin in right hand and holding round shield in left; parazonium at left side / S P • Q R within oak wreath. RIC I 54 var. (obv. legend placement); AM 71; RSC 414; BMCRE 23-4; BN 22-3. Toned, a few surface marks and light scratches. VF. Very rare.

Ex Peter J. Merani Collection; Viggo Collection (Triton XXII, 8 January 2019), lot 1031; Aureo & Calicó 241 (8 February 2012), lot 33.

The civil wars at the end of Nero’s reign began with the revolt of the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, Gaius Julius Vindex, probably around the beginning of March of AD 68. Although he had no Roman legionaries under his command, Vindex had a sizable force of native auxiliary troops, leading Nero to accuse him of plotting to break Gaul free from Rome. Vindex rejected this claim, and instead offered to support Servius Sulpicius Galba, a Roman aristocrat and governor of Spain, as the next emperor. But Lucius Verginius Rufus, governor of Upper Germany, remained loyal to Nero and marched into Gaul at the head of a veteran force of legionaries. The two armies clashed at Vesontio in May of AD 68, and Vindex's auxiliary army was crushed. Vindex either died in battle or took his own life at its conclusion. In the meantime, however, Nero's mental state had deteriorated to the point where, on 9 June, he committed suicide, thus making the battle for Gaul a tragically unnecessary episode.

Coinage, of course, was needed during these precarious months of revolt and without an emperor to strike in the name of (save for that in honor Divus Augustus) the coinage was struck with messages suiting the political climate. The coinage under Vindex, including this piece, possesses a martial air that underscores the militant nature of his revolt. Here, “Mars the Avenger” strides forth to battle Nero’s regime, while the reverse claims to be acting in the name of Senatus Populesque Romanus, the Senate and People of Rome.