Rare Coin, Minted by Brutus to Mark Caesar’s Death, Is Returned to Greece

A rare and ancient gold coin that morbidly celebrates the stabbing death of Julius Caesar was returned this week to Greek officials by investigators in New York who had determined it was looted and fraudulently put up for sale at auction in 2020.

The coin, known as the “Eid Mar” and valued at $4.2 million, features the face of Marcus Junius Brutus, the onetime friend and ally of Caesar who, along with other Roman senators, murdered him on the Ides of March in 44 B.C. According to historians and experts, Brutus had the coins minted in gold and silver to applaud Caesar’s downfall and to pay his soldiers during the civil war that followed the killing.

The return Tuesday came at a ceremony attended by officials of the Manhattan district attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, who cooperated on the case.

The coin, one of 29 artifacts returned to Greek officials, was given up earlier this year by an unidentified American billionaire who, investigators said, had bought it in good faith in 2020. The British dealer who helped to arrange the sale was arrested in January, and the coin itself was recovered in February, officials said.

Experts said the coin, minted two years after Caesar’s death, is about the size of a nickel and weighs about 8 grams, and is one of only three known to be in circulation. A silver version of the coin was also minted and about 100 are known to exist. Those can sell for $200,000 to $400,000.

“The Eid Mar is an undisputed masterpiece of ancient coinage,” Mark Salzberg, the chairman of Numismatic Guaranty Corp., which verified the coin but does not research provenances, said in a statement in 2020.

Experts said they believe the coin was likely discovered more than a decade ago in an area of current-day Greece where Brutus and his civil war ally, Gaius Cassius Longinus, were encamped with their army.

The front, or obverse, of the coin features an engraved side view of Brutus and the Latin letters “BRVT IMP” and “L PLAET CEST.” Experts say the former stands for “Brutus, Imperator,” with imperator referring not to emperor but to commander. The latter stands for Lucius Plaetorius Cestianus, who was a treasurer of sorts for Brutus and oversaw the minting and assaying of his coins.

The reverse features two daggers on either side of a cap known as a pileus. The daggers stand for Brutus and Cassius and reflect the manner of Caesar’s death, experts say, while the cap is a symbol of liberty that was worn by freed slaves. Overall, the image is meant to celebrate the murder as an act by which Rome was liberated from Caesar’s tyranny. Beneath the symbols is the Latin inscription “EID MAR,” designating the Ides of March — March 15, 44 B.C. — the fateful day on which the conspirators left Caesar dead on the floor of the Roman Senate.

Historians see irony in the fact that Brutus, who had admonished Caesar before the murder for the self-aggrandizing act of putting his face on Roman coinage, wound up doing the same with his own coins.

Ultimately, the forces who favored the dead Caesar, led by Mark Antony and others, defeated Brutus and his men in October of 42 B.C. at the Second Battle of Philippi, and Brutus and Cassius committed suicide.

A bronze calyx krater, or vessel, dating from 350 B.C., was one of the 29 looted antiquities that investigators in New York returned to Greek officials.Credit…via Manhattan district attorney’s office

According to investigators, the coin is first thought to have come to market between 2013 and 2014. Richard Beale, 38, director of the London-based auction house Roma Numismatics, put it up for sale on his company’s website and over several years shopped it at coin shows in the United States and Europe before it was sold in October 2020. The $4.2 million was the most ever paid for an ancient coin, according to the Numismatic Guaranty Corp.

Mr. Beale is charged with grand larceny in the first degree and several other felonies and was released on his own recognizance. His lawyer, Henry E. Mazurek, declined to comment on the case.

Among the other Greek antiquities repatriated on Tuesday were figurines of people and animals; marble, silver, bronze and clay vessels; and gold and bronze jewelry. Their total value was put at $20 million.

In remarks at the ceremony, Konstantinos Konstantinou, Greece’s consul general in New York, said his country has been hit hard by the illicit trading of antiquities and is seeking their return “in every possible way.”

He praised investigators for “striking down the illegal international criminal networks whose activity distorts the identity of peoples, as it cuts off archaeological finds from their context and transforms them from evidence of people’s history into mere works of art.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *