This wonderful denarius was struck amidst the Perusine War of 41-40 BC, in which Octavian besieged Mark Antony’s wife Fulvia and his brother Lucius in Perusia. After the fall of the city, Octavian pardoned Fulvia and Lucius, but he had the city council and more than 300 senators and equites executed on 15 March 40 on the altar of Divus Julius Caesar. According to a famous passage in Sueton’s De vita Caesarum, the wrathful triumvir drily answered every attempt to beg for pardon of one of the doomed men with just two words: moriendum esse = ‘You/he must die’ (Suet. Aug. 15).
In 40 BC when this coin was struck, upon learning of the defeat of his brother Lucius and wife Fulvia in the Perusine War, Marc Antony set sail for Italy with a small army and two hundred ships which he had built in Asia. Arriving at Athens, Antony was met by his wife Fulvia and his mother Julia, who had taken refuge with Sextus and been sent by him with warships from Sicily. She was accompanied by some leading Pompeians whose aim was to bring Antony and Sextus into alliance against Octavian. Antony’s response to the embassy was to offer alliance in case of war and reconciliation in case of peace, suggesting that Antony believed that a lasting partnership with Octavian was still possible. These new lines of communication with Sextus provided an avenue by which former supporters of the liberators could find their way back from exile; the most prominent of these was Ahenobarbus, who met Antony at sea with his whole army and fleet; this combined force moved together to Brundisium, which was refused entry to the harbour by Octavian’s commander.
Despite initially laying siege to Brundisium, the triumvirs were able to negotiate a settlement that provided for a continued peace between them. The Treaty of Brundisium confirmed the de facto state of affairs, while further binding Octavian and Antony through the ill-fated marriage of Octavian’s sister Octavia to Antony. Antony furthermore received legions for his planned invasion of Parthia and Octavian received warships to counter the ongoing threat posed by Sextus Pompey. This denarius depicts the now deified Caesar on the obverse with a lituus, an augur’s staff representing his membership to the priestly college of augurs. Octavian’s possession of the augurship was also made clear on an issue with his portrait struck by the same moneyer (CRI 330) emphasising his relationship to Caesar, a propaganda tool also employed by Marc Antony (see CRI 253-5, 257-8). It is well attested how Octavian capitalised tremendously on his posthumous adoption by Caesar; in truth he owed everything he eventually achieved to this twist of fate. Octavian used Caesar’s reflected but undimmed prestige to legitimise himself and his ascent to power in the eyes of the Roman people and more importantly the legions, and thus the continuation of (often idealised) Caesar portrait issues at the Roman mint under Octavian’s control is hardly surprising.
This denarius, struck by Q. Voconius Vitulus, a partisan of Octavian of whom nothing else is known, features a purely personal reverse type with a punning allusion to his cognomen which translates as cow or calf. It was to be one of the last within the long tradition of the college of moneyers stretching back almost two and a half centuries, for the institution was abolished by the Triumvirate and state coinage placed under the direct control of the either the eastern of western Triumvir.
Laureate head of Julius Caesar, right; lituus behind
Bull-calf walking left
Q•VOCONIVS above / VITVLVS in ex
A perfect choice for Numismatists, Historians, Military Veterans, Collectors.