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Fighting for Liberty

In 27 BC, the Roman Senate granted Octavian the title of "Augustus" and he became the first Roman Emperor, effectively ending the Roman Republic and beginning the Roman Empire. Augustus then went on to establish a new form of government, known as the Principate, which concentrated political power in the hands of the emperor.

This transition is summarized in the opening "The Annals of Tacitus":

"When the killing of Brutus and Cassius had disarmed the Republic; when Pompey had been crushed in Sicily,​ and, with Lepidus thrown aside and Antony slain, even the Julian party was leaderless but for the Caesar; after laying down his triumviral title and proclaiming himself a simple consul content with tribunician authority to safeguard the commons, he first conciliated the army by gratuities, the populace by cheapened grain, the world by the amenities of peace, then step by step began to make his ascent and to unite in his own person the functions of the senate, the magistracy, and the legislature. Opposition there was none: the boldest spirits had succumbed on stricken fields or by proscription-lists; while the rest of the nobility found a cheerful acceptance of slavery the smoothest road to wealth and office, and, as they had thrived on revolution, stood now for the new order and safety in preference to the old order and adventure."
-Tacitus, Annals 2.1 

The Roman republic struggled throughout the 1st century BC with a fight for LIBERTAS - a common personification on the coins of the Roman republic. Authoritarian powers were taken by both nobles and populists over the decades and the republic ended with the aftermath of the martyrdom of Julius Caesar, a populist dictator.

Rome 54 BC

This coin issued by Brutus, a friend of Julius Caesar and a key conspirator in his assassination.

Q. Servilius Caepio (M. Junius) Brutus AR Denarius. Rome, 54 BC. Libertas depicted on the obverse.

England AD 1649

Coins from these struggles for the ideal of libertas are found across centuries. This one from the short lived Commonwealth of England. King Charles I was overthrown in a military coup, executed on January 30th, 1649, and the monarchy abolished by decree of the Rump Parliament. What followed was an unsettled period, Commonwealth of England (1649-1660). Attempts to achieve stable government ultimately failed. The monarchy was restored under Charles II, son of Charles I, in 1660, however it would not be long before a Bill of Rights would limit the powers of the king and establish a constitutional monarchy.

Commonwealth, 1649-1660, AR Penny (14mm, 0.44g), Tower mint

Obv: Coat-of-arms of England within wreath

Rev: Coat-of-arms of Ireland

France AD 1800

This coin from year 8 of liberty in France i.e. after the establishment of the French First Republic in September 1792. Ironically this could also be described as the year that liberty was lost again, as Napoleon overthrew the Directorate (le Directoire) on 9 November 1799 and the new constitution of Year VIII, adopted 24 December 1799, made Napoleon the "First Consul" of three (the "First Consul" held all the power) and established autocratic rule with a veneer of democracy much like the Roman Republic of Augustus.

France, Premier République, Directoire, 1795-1799, CU 1 Centimes, Paris; dated L’An 8 (AD 1799/1800)

Obv: Draped bust of Liberty left, wearing phrygian cap, Dupre below bust

Rev: UN / CENTIME / L'AN / 8 / A, date and denomination within wreath

Naples AD 1799

I received this coin as a gift which at first I put aside with only a glance. With a second glance it stirred some curiosity: "Republica Napolitana" with a liberty cap? And on the reverse "Anno Settimo della Liberta"? "Year 7 of Liberty" - what liberty? from whom?

Republic of Naples, AE 6 tornesi, Year 7 (1799; 14.96g ; 34 mm

Obv: REPUBLICA NAPOLITANA, fasces with liberty cap

Rev: ANNO SETTIMO DELLA LIBERTA / TOR-NESI SEI (value) in an oak wreath

Note: Year 1 = 1793 after the establishment of the French First Republic in September 1792 (and the execution of Louis XVI in January 1793)

This was a short-lived rebellion against the Bourbon King Ferdinand IV by the people of Naples. This was one of the last revolutions in the wake of the French revolution. They were supported by the French who occupied the city January 22, 1799, a day after they declared independence and supported the setup of a provisional government. This was short lived as the French left in April and the city surrendered in June to counter-revolutionary forces led by Cardinal Ruffo, and then Lord Nelson was implicated in violating the treaty of surrender with more than 100 executions and hundreds of imprisonments with the restoration of the Bourbon King.

Cartagena AD 1811

The next coin from early 19th century comes from the new world and after the declaration of independence of the province of Cartagena (Colombia), November 11, 1811. Cartagena was the first city to rebel against Spain.

Cartagena’s Declaration of Independence. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The signers of this declaration pledged their "lives" and "last drop of blood" to the success of their independence from Spanish rule: "and for the greater firmness and validity of this declaration we solemnly pledge our lives and property, swearing to shed the last drop of our blood rather than fail to fulfill such a sacred commitment."

(for the original in Spanish see WikiSource Acta de Independencia de Cartagena)

State of Cartagena, Copper 1/2 Real, war-for-Independence provisional coinage, date 1812 (possibly 1813). ESTADO DE CARTA-GENA.

Spain recaptured the city in 1815, but Simón Bolívar would defeat the Spanish and form a new republic of Gran Colombia in 1821 with Simón Bolívar as president. Instability continued over decades after this.

Mexico, 1813

Self-portrait of Jose Maria Morelos in 1813, who led the Mexican War of Independence from Spain. Public Domain image via wikipedia.

Morelos was a talented strategist, and one of the greatest revolutionary military commanders in Mexico's War of Independence, and a national hero.

He was executed by firing squad and the war continued under his lieutenant Vincent Guerero.

The Execution of Morelos, Unknown artist, public domain image via wikipedia.

On 28 December 1836, Spain recognized an independent Mexico. This coin was issued in Oaxaca in 1813 during the Guerra de Independencia de México (16 September 1810 – 27 September 1821) under Morelos.

Oaxaca. Republic 8 Reales 1813

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