From Art to Artifact:  Making Sense of Roman Coins

Denarius of M. Junius Brutus

Research Commentary

This silver denarius of M. Junius Brutus comes from a particularly interesting time in the development of Roman portraiture, especially on coins. This coin and the denarius of Q. Pompeius Rufus are the first two Roman coins to depict a portrait of a mortal on each side of the coin. It is unknown which of the two coins came first, but both were minted around 54 BCE and should definitely be considered together: the denarius of Brutus extols the Republican values of his ancestors while the denarius of Rufus supports the powerful rule and potential dictatorship of Pompey. The similarity of the portraits on Brutus’s coin is striking, and raises many questions about Roman portraiture and its uses. Brutus had funeral masks of both L. Junius Brutus and of Ahala in his house in Rome, and these would have been worn during public processions for funerals of other family members. The resemblance of his ancesral portraits and his own image created a powerful visual association between himself and the Republican values for which his ancestors were so well known.