September 01, 2013

Denarius showing the temple of Divus Julius, 36 BC (RRC 540/2)

(Coin of the Month, December 2012)

This denarius was struck in 36 BC, crawford_540.jpgand depicts a mournful Octavian on the obverse, and the unfinished temple of Divus Julius on the reverse, and is a great example of the propaganda-tactics Augustus employed to get into a position of such power. This coin is a homage to Augustus’ relationship with the late Julius Caesar, and a display of his divine heritage. The obverse shows a young Augustus – the youthful image that would remain of him past his death, a contrast to previous realistic and less flattering portraits. He is shown here as bearded, which tells us that he is still in mourning, though his adoptive father died eight years previously in 44 BC. The legend reads ‘Imperator Caesar, Son of the Deified, Triumvir for the establishment of the Commonwealth for a second time’, and here the DIVI F (Son of the Deified) is emphatic above his head, and links very well to the reverse. The reverse shows the temple of the Divine Julius, which though begun in 42 BC (upon the spot of Caesar’s cremation), was not inaugurated until 29 BC. The legend ‘Divine Julius’ upon the temple is bold and eye catching.

This emphasis shows just how eager Augustus was to forge a link between himself and his divine heritage through the promise of a temple. The veiled figure is holding an augur’s staff, and must be a statue of Julius Caesar.The star on the pediment has specific significance; it is the special sidus Iulium, and is yet another sign of Augustus’ divine parentage. A short few months after the infamous death of Julius Caesar, Octavian hosted the Ludi Victoriae Caesaris, which was a daring political move in his rivalry against Mark Antony. The Games were held from 20th – 28th July 44 BC, alongside a festival to honour Venus Genetrix, Caesar’s patron deity, and are famous for the star of Caesar incarnate. Octavian claimed that the comet was the deified Julius Caesar, and this was proof that he was indeed the son of a god. Suetonius tells us that the comet shone for seven successive days, and that everyone believed it was the soul of Caesar after Octavian had shouted out. Octavian wasted little time, and used this imagery of the star on coins and every statue of Caesar as a reminder of his divine right to rule. The star appears in much literature too, including Virgil’s ninth Eclogue, and the entire transformation is detailed in Ovid Metamorphoses book fifteen.


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This month’s coin was chosen by Laura Christofis, a final year Classics undergraduate. Her dissertation focuses on the place of invective poems in Catullus, looking in particular at sexual and political poems.


(Coin image above reproduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, www.cngcoins.com).


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