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Venus, Aeneas and Julius Caesar’s African Campaign


Curtisimo

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I am pretty happy to have added this coin that I have had on my want list for a while.  Below is the coin and a few of my notes on the type.

Caesar_DenariusL.jpeg.dda6b40085ac4f89a0b4e0fc72dcf613.jpeg
Julius Caesar 
AR Denarius, African mint, 47-46 BC
Dia.: 19 mm, 6h
Wt.: 3.83 g
Obv.: Diademed head of Venus to right
Rev.: Aeneas advancing to left, carrying palladium and Anchises on shoulder; CAESAR downwards to right. 
Ref.: Crawford 458/1; CRI 55; BMCRR East 31; RSC 12

Background

After Caesar defeated Pompey at the battle of Pharsalus, most of the remaining Optimates with a will to fight fled to Africa to regroup.  Caesar followed them there in 47 BC. With characteristic boldness he crossed into North Africa during December of 47 BC with only 6 legions.  A storm scattered his fleet and Caesar was forced to fight on a defensive footing for much of the campaign while he regathered his legions and waited for reinforcements.  He fought an indecisive battle outside the city of Ruspina and then delivered a crushing defeat to the Optimates at the Battle of Thapsus on April 6th, 46 BC.  In the aftermath, Cato and Scipio committed suicide while the remaining few holdouts fled to Hispania.

These Venus / Aeneas coins were struck at a military mint travelling with Caesar on this campaign in order to pay the soldiers.  The design references part of the mythological story that Virgil would write about in the Aeneid a few decades later. In my opinion, these types are the most interesting of all of Caesar’s coin issues.

The Reverse: Aeneas carrying Anchises

The reverse shows the Trojan hero Aeneas carrying his father Anchises (and the Palladium) out of the city of Troy as it is being sacked by the Greeks.  This scene must have been well known among the Romans because it would later be an episode in Virgil’s Aeneid.

“Haste, father, on these bending shoulders climb!
This back is ready, and the burden light;
one peril smites us both, whate'er befall;
one rescue both shall find. Close at my side
let young Iulus run,… in thy hands
bring, sire, our household gods, and sanctifies.”
[1]

This scene is important for Caesar because the gens Julia (i.e. IVLIA) claim to traced their decent from Iulus, son of Aeneas, who is mentioned in the above passage. Claiming decedent from the hero Aeneas would be honor enough for most families, but we will see below that Caesar goes even farther by claiming a divine lineage.

The Obverse: Venus as the Ancestor of Julius Caesar

The obverse of this coin shows a portrait of Venus (Greek Aphrodite). As we discussed above, Julius Caesar was highlighting his claimed ancestry from Aeneas. All of the earliest sources agree (The Iliad of Homer, Theogony of Hesiod, and the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite) that Aeneas was the son of Aphrodite (Venus) and Anchises. The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite has the fullest account of the story. In it, Zeus becomes angry at Aphrodite for making him lst after mortal women and so he strikes her with a desire for Anchises. Aphrodite lies to Anchises and tells him she is a mortal and that Hermes has brought her to be his bride. The next day she reveals herself and tells him that she will give birth to Aeneas, and threatens that if he reveals to anyone that she is the boy’s mother then Anchises will come to serious harm. Of course, we know that Anchises did reveal that Aphrodite was the mother of Aeneas. In various versions of the story he is either struck blind, killed or made lame by a thunderbolt. Such an injury is perhaps why he needed to be carried by Aeneas in the early Greek versions of the story.

Caesar’s decision to highlight this episode from mythology to boast about his own divine ancestry makes this one of my favorite coin types. The theme has been a continuously popular subject in art from Ancient Greece down to the present day.

IMG_4155.jpeg.e6596cc73c1d024fd88c26e649c93f0e.jpeg

Attic vase showing Aeneas carrying Anchises (ca. 500 BC). Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

IMG_4221.jpeg.684e9515d12c48827fc5e1ff10c26fee.jpeg

Aeneas and His Family Fleeing Troy by Simon Vouet, Oil of Canvas, ca. 1635-40. San Diego Museum of Art (Author’s photo)

References

[1] https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0055%3Abook%3D2%3Acard%3D692

 

Please share your Julius Caesar coins, Roman Civil War coins, Trojan War myth coins or anything else you feel is relevant.

Edited by Curtisimo
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Great addition.

jcport.jpeg.be431a9871bbd27639c46f9c435ee520.jpeg

Julius Caesar (February-March 44 B.C)
AR Denarius
Lifetime Issue
O: Wreathed head of Caesar right; CAESAR downward to right, DICT PERPETVO upward to left.
R: Venus Victrix standing left, holding Victory in outstretched right hand and vertical scepter in left; L • BVC[A] downwards to right. L. Aemilius Buca, moneyer.
Rome Mint
3.92g
17mm
Crawford 480/8; Alföldi Type XIV, 62–3, 67, and 69 (A13/R22); CRI 105; Sydenham 1061; RSC 23; RBW 1683.

 

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A wonderful coin! 

I argued at length on Coin Talk a couple of years ago that this Roman Republican denarius issued by M. Herennius was also intended to depict Aeneas and Anchises escaping from Troy on the reverse, rather than the traditional interpretation that it's supposed to represent one of the two Catanaean brothers carrying one of their parents away from Mount Etna. See https://www.cointalk.com/threads/roman-republican-no-55-aeneas-or-catanaean-brothers.380718/#post-7568886 :

Roman Republic, M. Herennius, AR Denarius, Rome Mint, 108-107 BCE. Obv. Diademed head of Pietas right, wearing single drop earring and pearl necklace, PIETAS (TA ligate) downward to left / Rev. Aeneas running right and carrying his father Anchises on his shoulder to escape from defeated Troy, with his father looking back towards Troy and raising his right hand (or, one of the Catanaean brothers, Amphinomous or Anapias, carrying his father on his shoulder to escape from erupting Mt. Etna); M • HERENNI (HE ligate) downward to left, Control-mark • above C in lower right field.* Crawford 308/1b, RSC I Herennia 1a, Sear RCV I 185 (ill.), BMCRR 1258-1285 [No. 1261 has same control-mark], Sydenham 567a, RBW Collection 1149. 19mm, 4.0g, 7h. Purchased at JAZ Numismatics Auction # 181, Lot 6, April 2021; ex Frederick B. Shore; ex Stack’s Public Auction Sale, “A Collection of Ancient Roman Coins,” June 14-15, 1971, Lot 127, at p. 16 [not illustrated in plates].** [Footnotes omitted here; see link to Coin Talk thread.]

image.png.98ae62d583cdba1402b45598eff902e6.png

 

Edited by DonnaML
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16 hours ago, Kali said:

Great addition.

jcport.jpeg.be431a9871bbd27639c46f9c435ee520.jpeg

Julius Caesar (February-March 44 B.C)
AR Denarius
Lifetime Issue
O: Wreathed head of Caesar right; CAESAR downward to right, DICT PERPETVO upward to left.
R: Venus Victrix standing left, holding Victory in outstretched right hand and vertical scepter in left; L • BVC[A] downwards to right. L. Aemilius Buca, moneyer.
Rome Mint
3.92g
17mm
Crawford 480/8; Alföldi Type XIV, 62–3, 67, and 69 (A13/R22); CRI 105; Sydenham 1061; RSC 23; RBW 1683.

 

Very cool lifetime issue. One of these is still high up on my want list.

14 hours ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

Very nice!  It's certainly a coin worthy of a fine collection.

My portrait Caesar is too ghastly to share.  My walking elephant one isn't bad, but isn't photographed.

Thank you @Nerosmyfavorite68. I’m sure your Caesar portrait is better than mine 😉 I don’t have one yet! 🙂 

I look forward to seeing either or both of your Caesars.

13 hours ago, DonnaML said:

A wonderful coin! 

I argued at length on Coin Talk a couple of years ago that this Roman Republican denarius issued by M. Herennius was also intended to depict Aeneas and Anchises escaping from Troy on the reverse, rather than the traditional interpretation that it's supposed to represent one of the two Catanaean brothers carrying one of their parents away from Mount Etna. See https://www.cointalk.com/threads/roman-republican-no-55-aeneas-or-catanaean-brothers.380718/#post-7568886 :

Roman Republic, M. Herennius, AR Denarius, Rome Mint, 108-107 BCE. Obv. Diademed head of Pietas right, wearing single drop earring and pearl necklace, PIETAS (TA ligate) downward to left / Rev. Aeneas running right and carrying his father Anchises on his shoulder to escape from defeated Troy, with his father looking back towards Troy and raising his right hand (or, one of the Catanaean brothers, Amphinomous or Anapias, carrying his father on his shoulder to escape from erupting Mt. Etna); M • HERENNI (HE ligate) downward to left, Control-mark • above C in lower right field.* Crawford 308/1b, RSC I Herennia 1a, Sear RCV I 185 (ill.), BMCRR 1258-1285 [No. 1261 has same control-mark], Sydenham 567a, RBW Collection 1149. 19mm, 4.0g, 7h. Purchased at JAZ Numismatics Auction # 181, Lot 6, April 2021; ex Frederick B. Shore; ex Stack’s Public Auction Sale, “A Collection of Ancient Roman Coins,” June 14-15, 1971, Lot 127, at p. 16 [not illustrated in plates].** [Footnotes omitted here; see link to Coin Talk thread.]

image.png.98ae62d583cdba1402b45598eff902e6.png

 

Very interesting. I have seen this type before but didn’t know the story of it.

Enigmatic coins that clearly had some specific unknown meaning are some of my favorites.

I’ll have to check out your write up on it.

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Talk about a striking portrait of Venus! Thanks for sharing the new beauty and excellent write up. Way to go Curtis🤩

Though, a fourée and badly in need on upgrade I don't plan on upgrading mine. It was a gift from my dad and my first coin of the Republic:

IMG_0616(1).JPG.f37ee8d7b9c071038db489c7b865e0e2.jpeg.fc98ac94507e357e9ce3726271502430.jpeg

Julius Caesar

Denarius fouree, Africa, 47-46 BCE. AR 2.8 g. 18mm, Diademed head of Venus r. Rev. CAESAR Aeneas running l., carrying his father Anchises on his l. shoulder, holding palladium on his outstretched r. hand. This coin represents Caesar’s war coinage for the protracted campaign against the Pompians in Africa culminating in the battle of Thapsus.Cr. 458/1. Syd. 1013

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I'm always fond of your wrietups about coins, Curtis, and this one is no exception (I allowed myself to copy part of it as a private comment for my own example of the type). A very pleasant specimen you show here of fine style, and better than usual preservation on the reverse. I like it !

Mine :

abd5e80acaa442fc8ed90e5d908d48ea.jpg

 

My three other Caesar denarii :

7a480e37bf9a484ebbdee95683fbcaee.jpg

0fb60247d9d542c99c0387a575fb107f.jpg

35205a8c0e1747b2af21d41e25978c7a.jpg

Q

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7 hours ago, Ryro said:

Talk about a striking portrait of Venus! Thanks for sharing the new beauty and excellent write up. Way to go Curtis🤩

Though, a fourée and badly in need on upgrade I don't plan on upgrading mine. It was a gift from my dad and my first coin of the Republic:

IMG_0616(1).JPG.f37ee8d7b9c071038db489c7b865e0e2.jpeg.fc98ac94507e357e9ce3726271502430.jpeg

Julius Caesar

Denarius fouree, Africa, 47-46 BCE. AR 2.8 g. 18mm, Diademed head of Venus r. Rev. CAESAR Aeneas running l., carrying his father Anchises on his l. shoulder, holding palladium on his outstretched r. hand. This coin represents Caesar’s war coinage for the protracted campaign against the Pompians in Africa culminating in the battle of Thapsus.Cr. 458/1. Syd. 1013

Lovely coin and a great family connection. Your collection has a bit of everything! 🙂

From the photo alone I would not have known it was a fouree. Did you have to do a specific gravity test on it?

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7 hours ago, Qcumbor said:

I'm always fond of your wrietups about coins, Curtis, and this one is no exception (I allowed myself to copy part of it as a private comment for my own example of the type). A very pleasant specimen you show here of fine style, and better than usual preservation on the reverse. I like it !

Mine :

abd5e80acaa442fc8ed90e5d908d48ea.jpg

 

My three other Caesar denarii :

7a480e37bf9a484ebbdee95683fbcaee.jpg

0fb60247d9d542c99c0387a575fb107f.jpg

35205a8c0e1747b2af21d41e25978c7a.jpg

Q

What an amazing Caesar collection! Your Marc Antony / Caesar is especially nice.

Thanks for the kind words my friend  I’m honored you used part of my write up in your notes. 🙂 

 

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20 hours ago, Edessa said:

Ahh, one of my favorite coins. Ex Silenos from 2001.

image.jpeg.65af37314fcfac63cb4257359b79e8cd.jpeg

Fantastic coin @Edessa! Thanks for sharing.

19 hours ago, jdmKY said:

This was one of my first Imperatorials. Thanks for the write up @Curtisimo!

IMG_0195.jpeg.98d887938c1ec00bd8fbbc2a1a486303.jpegIMG_0196.jpeg.adbe656abe814a56c72285bf412023d7.jpeg

Beautiful toning on this example and a wonderful reverse especially.

17 hours ago, Hrefn said:

My only Imperatorial coin.  

image.jpeg.7b024aa8220eaf82b91a8086e8a12b89.jpegimage.jpeg.6144ce32e8c1d584ed566f0d081434e2.jpeg

Great coin @Hrefn. This is a great portrait and a great reverse. Thanks for sharing. 

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Nice write-up on an attractive coin from a crucial moment in history!

Your Venus and my elephant share a crescent-shaped banker's mark. Such banker's marks, at least in my eyes, aren't flaws but tend to make coins more interesting:

RomischeRepublikRRC4431DenarJuliusCaesarElephant.png.b026da1c018a5d68be215b1614b7b806.png

Roman Republic, Imperatorial Coinage, Julius Caesar, AR denarius, 49–48 BC, military mint moving with Caesar. Obv: [CA]ESAR; elephant walking r., trampling snake. Rev: priestly implements: culullus, aspergillum, axe, apex. 20mm, 3.70g. Ref: RRC 443/1.

Here is a reverse which, as @DonnaML mentioned above, probably depicts Aeneas, too:

RomischeRepublikRRC3081bDenarHerenniusCataneanu.Pietas(neu).png.0dd362b2dade2c89cd34690e871fda62.png

Roman Republic, moneyer: M. Herennius, AR denarius, 108–107 BC, Rome mint. Obv: PIETAS; head of Pietas r. Rev: M HERENNI; Aeneas or one of the Catanean brothers Amphinomos and Anapias carrying his father r. 19mm, 3.94g. Ref: RRC 308/1b.

Edited by Ursus
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441_crawf458-1.jpg.957825ae420f8c01029c50bc9d32801e.jpg

Gaius Iulius Caesar
Denarius of the Roman Republic Period 47/46 BC; Material: Silver; Diameter: 19mm; Weight: 3.84g; Mint: Military mint in North Africa; Reference: Crawford RRC 458/1; Obverse: Head of Venus, right, wearing diadem. Border of dots; Reverse: Aeneas, left, carrying palladium in right hand and Anchises on left shoulder. Border of dots. The Inscription reads: CAESAR for Caesar ([Gaius Iulius] Caesar).

  

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 6/30/2023 at 7:49 AM, Ursus said:

Nice write-up on an attractive coin from a crucial moment in history!

Your Venus and my elephant share a crescent-shaped banker's mark. Such banker's marks, at least in my eyes, aren't flaws but tend to make coins more interesting:

RomischeRepublikRRC4431DenarJuliusCaesarElephant.png.b026da1c018a5d68be215b1614b7b806.png

Roman Republic, Imperatorial Coinage, Julius Caesar, AR denarius, 49–48 BC, military mint moving with Caesar. Obv: [CA]ESAR; elephant walking r., trampling snake. Rev: priestly implements: culullus, aspergillum, axe, apex. 20mm, 3.70g. Ref: RRC 443/1.

Here is a reverse which, as @DonnaML mentioned above, probably depicts Aeneas, too:

RomischeRepublikRRC3081bDenarHerenniusCataneanu.Pietas(neu).png.0dd362b2dade2c89cd34690e871fda62.png

Roman Republic, moneyer: M. Herennius, AR denarius, 108–107 BC, Rome mint. Obv: PIETAS; head of Pietas r. Rev: M HERENNI; Aeneas or one of the Catanean brothers Amphinomos and Anapias carrying his father r. 19mm, 3.94g. Ref: RRC 308/1b.

I agree with you. The bankers mark shows how utilitarian these coins were to the people who used them.

Perhaps in 1000 years US state quarters will be as interesting to people as Hadrian’s travel series is to us!

Wonderful coins btw!

On 6/30/2023 at 8:00 AM, Prieure de Sion said:

441_crawf458-1.jpg.957825ae420f8c01029c50bc9d32801e.jpg

Gaius Iulius Caesar
Denarius of the Roman Republic Period 47/46 BC; Material: Silver; Diameter: 19mm; Weight: 3.84g; Mint: Military mint in North Africa; Reference: Crawford RRC 458/1; Obverse: Head of Venus, right, wearing diadem. Border of dots; Reverse: Aeneas, left, carrying palladium in right hand and Anchises on left shoulder. Border of dots. The Inscription reads: CAESAR for Caesar ([Gaius Iulius] Caesar).

  

That reverse is stunning!!! Great coin @Prieure de Sion! Both of your examples are wonderful actually. Thanks for sharing.

 

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