From Art to Artifact:  Making Sense of Roman Coins

Denarius of Julius Caesar

Research Commentary

The denarius of Julius Caesar combines an assertion of his divine ancestry with the historical myth of Rome’s founding by Aeneas. The lynchpin of this combined myth is Venus. The coin uses Venus on the obverse to claim Caesar’s divine ancestry . However, as an ancestor of Caesar, Venus also connects Caesar with the reverse, which depicts her son and mythical founder of Rome, Aeneas .

The denarius of Julius Caesar also teaches us several important uses of symbols on coiange. First, it shows us that the symbols used on Roman coinage were drawn from a variety of different sources. Symbols could come from well-known myths like Aeneas’ escape from Troy or from prior numismatic tradition as in Caesar‘s apprpriation of Sulla’s depiction of Venus. This denarius also illustrates how the meaning of these symbols on Republican coinage was constantly changing. Julius Caesar appropriated the image of Venus from Sulla’s coin to illustrate his own divine lineage. Subsquenty, Octavian appropriated his father’s type of Aeneas and Anchises to show his pietas for his dead father.