Eid Mar Coin [Denarius with head of M. Junius Brutus]

Phoebe Segal

This coin, known as the Eid Mar or "Ides of March," is the most historically and politically significant in the MFA’s distinctive collection of more than 8,000 coins. The silver coin (called a denarius in Latin) commemorates the ultimate political act, the assassination of dictator Julius Caesar in 44 BC by Brutus and Cassius. Brutus’s portrait is emblazoned on the front of the coin with the name of L. Plaetorius Cestianus, the moneyer (a position for young elites rising through civic office). On the back is a simple cap flanked by two daggers, one for each assassin. In the Roman Republic, during the ceremony of enfranchisement, a slave was given a pileus (egg-shaped hat) to wear as a public sign of his freedom. The hat became a symbol of liberty and was used on coins minted under the magistracy of families that opposed dictators, like Caesar, and others who had earlier tried to consolidate power, like Pompey or the Gracchi. The hat was later used by Roman emperors as a sign of their commitment to the freedom of their subjects.

While many in Rome celebrated the assassination of Julius Caesar, the daggers on the coin serve as a reminder that violence usually begets violence: in the vacuum of power left by Caesar’s death, a number of other strong men (and a woman—Cleopatra!) emerged to fight battle after battle for more than ten years.

If a powerful political individual were to be assassinated today, how would such an action be communicated?

Update November 8, 2016 7:10 pm

Among the 939 likes and individual comments on this Instagram post, here is a highlight:

alessandrabd @requiredreading this is awesome read the whole caption

requiredreading @alessandrabd very cool. Today it would be commemorated by an inflammatory tweet, no doubt

Phoebe Segal is the Mary Bryce Comstock Curator of Greek and Roman Art.