Gold coins were relatively unusual during this period of Roman history. The monetary system of the Republic was centred around the silver denarius, a small silver coin which was worth around a day’s wage for a Roman soldier. Gold coins were usually only issued during times of emergency. At this time, the gold aureus was believed to have been worth around 25 denarii. Caesar, upon returning to Rome following years of military campaigns across the known world, needed to mint the vast quantities of booty into coins. This was, primarily, to pay his soldiers, who by this point had gone without full pay for years. After the colossal sums promised to his troops, which were reportedly 5000 denarii to each of his legionary soldiers, huge sums of money were required. The quickest way to realise these sums was to strike gold.
As well as being an essential means of payment, these coins were also a valuable political tool. They were minted to coincide with an enormous triumph through the streets of Rome in Caesar’s honour. This event took place in April of 46 BC and consisted of four days of parades and celebrations, paying tribute to Caesar’s conquests in Gaul, Egypt and Africa. The apparently short space of time in which these coins were produced is reflected in the array of different artistic styles of portrait. The goddess, Vesta, was a favourite of Caesar’s, and it seems appropriate that her portrait would adorn this series of gold coins. Surrounded by Caesar’s name and titles, some have suggested that the goddess is in fact portrayed with some of the dictator’s facial features. Some styles, including this piece, do appear somewhat manlier in nature than others.
The reverse depicts the emblems of the Pontificate; a lituus, jug and a ceremonial axe. Caesar held the title of Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest of Rome. This was a title held for life, and one he was clearly proud of, as these priestly implements appear on many of his coins.
This gold aureus is a magnificent reminder of a key period in Roman history, and an excellent opportunity to own the most valuable coin minted by Caesar himself.