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Aureus of Octavian and Julius Caesar

This week our featured coin from the Robert O. Ebert Collection is an Aureus struck by Octavian Caesar to solidify his succession as the sole ruler of Rome. This coin portrays the two most iconic Romans: Julius Caesar and his heir, the first Emperor Octavian (later Augustus Caesar). Octavian struck this coin in the midst of his meteoric rise to power. Just years before, his great-uncle Julius Caesar staged a coup d’état, twisted the Roman Republic into a form of monarchy and empire, and adopted the young Octavian as his heir. After Caesar’s assassination, Octavian would play the Senate, amass Caesar’s legions to himself, and defeat Caesar’s murderers and even his one-time ally Marc Antony to emerge as the first Emperor of Rome. Octavian had this issue minted in 43 B.C. most likely immediately following the Battle of Mutina (modern day Modena). This battle showed that Octavian was a decisive player in the post-Caesar power struggle.

Out of the potential successors to Julius Caesar’s position, only Octavian could claim to be his adopted and true heir. This stunning gold piece exemplifies Octavian’s familial connection to Julius Caesar. The obverse is a bare headed bust of a young Octavian, with an inscription which reads: ‘C. Caesar’ which is Octavian’s new name after being adopted by Julius Caesar. The reverse shows a laureate right facing bust of Julius Caesar, with an inscription starting with ‘C. Caesar’ as well. The name ‘Octavian’ is what modern historians use; he was cunning and called himself Caesar to stress his connection to Julius Caesar. Octavian’s titles that appear on the obverse in the inscription also help to stress his connection to Julius Caesar, COS (consul) matches with Julius Caesar’s title of DICT. PERP. ‘dictator for life’. Both of these titles show the governmental leadership of these two men. Octavian’s other titles in the inscription also bond him to Julius Caesar’s legacy. ‘PONT. AVG.’ shows that Octavian belongs to the colleges of pontifices and augurs (religious groups). Julius Caesar’s title of PONT. MAX. states his leadership of that group. Another interesting fact about this piece is that it is one of the first portraits of Julius Caesar in gold. Julius Caesar issued some silver coins with his portrait, but no gold. Typically gold coins only depicted deities, although Julius Caesar was deified by Marc Antony shortly after his death. Octavian used these coins as a form of propaganda to his soldiers and anyone else who held them. His message was simply that he was the Divine Julius Caesar’s heir and this connection to divinity strengthened his right to rule the new Roman Empire.

Octavian had these coins minted while on the march with his armies; this piece was struck in Northern Italy around 43 B.C. As was typical for travelling mints the strike is slightly uneven. Despite this unevenness this example from the Robert O. Ebert Collection is better than most, exhibits full legends and distinct portraits, weighs approximately 8.07 grams and is considered Very Fine. Combining wonderful historical value and incredible beauty, this numismatic piece makes a tremendous addition to any collection.

Preview this impressive coin and the entire Robert O. Ebert Collection January 11-12, 2013, at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio Official NYINC Auction, held at The Waldorf Astoria, New York. Earlier viewings are also available by appointment in Irvine, California or New York City. To schedule an appointment, please call 800.458.4646 (West Coast) or 800.566.2580 (East Coast).

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