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The Caesarians. Julius Caesar. April-August 49 BC. AR Denarius (17mm, 3.70 g, 9h). Military mint traveling with Caesar. Elephant advancing right, trampling on horned serpent; CAESAR in exergue / Emblems of the pontificate: simpulum, aspergillum, securis, and apex. Crawford 443/1; CRI 9; Sydenham 1006; RSC 49; BMCRR Gaul 27; RBW 1557. Beautiful iridescent toning. Choice EF. Well struck.

Despite being the most widespread of all Caesar’s coins, the design of this type, the first issue in the dictator’s name, is still somewhat mysterious. Authorities have even debated which side is which: Crawford describes the elephant as the obverse, but other experts dispute this. The symbolism is commonly held to show the triumph of good (elephant) over evil (serpent or dragon). Alternatively, the “horned serpent” may be intended to represent a carnyx, a serpent-shaped horn used by the Celtic tribes in Gaul, whom Caesar had recently overcome in his epic eight-year conquest, in which case the elephant would again represent Caesar himself, or the unstoppable juggernaut of Rome. Unlike Pompey, Caesar brazenly placed his own name on the coinage without having the constitutional authority to do so, as Sulla had done 33 years before. The reverse depicts the emblems of the Pontifex Maximus, an office Caesar had possessed since 63 BC.