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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Culture: Roman
Title: Julius Caesar, denarius (coin)
Date: 49-48 BC
Medium: Silver
Dimensions: Diameter: 1 inch (2.5 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Mark M. and Lottie Salton
Object Number: 2000.175.245
Label Text: BRIEF DESRIPTION
This silver coin was made during the reign of Julius Caesar.

WHERE WAS IT MADE?
This coin was made in Italy, by a mint that traveled with Caesar’s army.

HOW WAS IT MADE?
This coin was made by striking two metal dies, like stamps, onto either side of a heated silver metal blank (a round blank disk of silver). The dies were often made of bronze. The die for the obverse, or front side of the coin, (in this case, the side with the elephant) was set in an anvil. The blank was set on the die, then the die for the reverse side was placed on top and struck with a hammer. This technique can rapidly produce multiple copies.

HOW WAS IT USED?
Just as coins are used today, in ancient Greece they were used to purchase goods. Governments or rulers established the value of different coins based on their weight. From the late 3rd century BC, the standard Roman silver coin was the denarius, worth ten pounds (known as asses).

WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS?
Notice the elephant on the obverse (front) of the coin; he is trampling a dragon (or a snake). Caesar’s name is written below. The coin was made around the time that Caesar was appointed Dictator of the Roman Empire. Although there is some debate over the exact significance of the imagery of the elephant trampling the dragon, it generally seems to allude to victory and the power of Caesar and his armies.

The reverse of the coin shows the implements associated with the Pontificus Maximus, a religious and political position held at one time by Julius Caesar. From left to right they are: a culullus (a ritual cup) an aspergillum (a sprinkler), an axe and an apex (a cap worn by priests).

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.