Seeing Caesar's Symbols

Roberta Stewart, "PDF iconSeeing Caesar's Symbols: Religious Implements on the Coins of Julius Caesar and His Successors," in Concordia Disciplinarum: Essays in ancient coinage, history, and archaeology in honor of William E. Metcalf. Edited by Nathan T. Elkins and J. DeRose Evans. Numsimatic Studies, vol. 38. (American Numismatic Society, 2018) 107-119.

This chapter explores the civil war coinage of Julius Caesar and the re-use of his designs by his successors and the republican leaders who assassinated him. The argument develops an idea about a pattern in numismatic iconography that I saw when I had the privilege to study with Bill Metcalf at the American Numismatic Society summer seminar.
When Caesar invaded the Italian peninsula in 49 BC and then engaged with Pompeian and senatorial forces in Italy, Gaul, Spain, Greece, and Africa, he issued coins that made extensive use of religious iconography. His successors and his assassins copied and adapted those assemblages
of religious symbols. The usual explanation of the assemblages is that they provided visual shorthand for Caesar’s office as pontifex maximus.1 I argue that this mistakes the character of the assemblages as a conscious selection, and also the nature of symbols that carry multiple particular resonances. 2 Several symbols, e.g., the ancile, or shield, of the Salian priests, do not correlate or correlate badly with Caesar’s offices and with the careers of those who re-used the types.3 Even if and when the symbols correlate with a priesthood, the equation of a variety of different symbols and assemblages to a single meaning—religious office—produces a reductive banality. The coins of Julius Caesar, his successors, and his assassins have the potential to bring us into the historical moment and offer tantalizing evidence for the competing discourses during the civil wars of the 40s.