Julius Caesar v. Pompeians
Updated: Jan 23
Here are a few North African coins from Caesar's Civil War. Even in 68/9 BC, Julius Caesar, circa 31 years old, did not have any doubt about his importance in the world: a descendant of gods & kings. Giving a eulogy to his Aunt Julia at her funeral, he describes his family's ancestry. Julia was the wife of Marius and sister to Caesar's father.
"The family of my aunt Julia is descended by her mother from the kings, and on her father's side is akin to the immortal Gods; for the Marcii Reges (her mother's family name) go back to Ancus Marcius, and the Julii, the family of which ours is a branch, to Venus. Our stock therefore has at once the sanctity of kings, whose power is supreme among mortal men, and the claim to reverence which attaches to the Gods, who hold sway over kings themselves."
- Seutonius, The Life of Julius Caesar, 6.1
According to Plutarch, Pompey worried about Caesar's divine roots the night before he faced him in battle at the Battle of Pharsalus in North Africa (9-Aug-48 BC by the calendar at the time).
"That night Pompey dreamed that as he entered his theater the people clapped their hands, and that he decorated a temple of Venus Victrix with many spoils. On some accounts he was encouraged, but on others depressed, by the dream; he feared lest the race of Caesar, which went back to Venus, was to receive glory and splendour through him; and certain panic tumults which went rushing through the camp roused him from sleep."
-Plutarch, Pompey, 68.2
At the center of Pompey's forces was Metellus Scipio. Pompey was married to Scipio's daughter Cornelia, who was ~30 years younger than him. The marriage was another sign of the break between Pompey and Caesar.
"The centre of Pompey's formation was commanded by his father-in-law, Scipio, the left wing by Domitius Ahenobarbus, and the right by Lentulus. Afranius and Pompey guarded the camp. On Cæsar's side the commanders were P. Sulla, Antony, and Cn. Domitius. Cæsar took a convenient place in the tenth legion, as was his custom."
- Appian, The Civil Wars, Book II 11.76
Pompey was defeated by Caesar and assassinated in Egypt soon afterwards. This first coin celebrates Caesar's victory over Pompey and his family heritage, with Venus on the obverse and Aeneas, son of Venus, carrying his father, Anchises, and the Palladium of Troy at the end of the Trojan War. Aeneas, went on to found Lavinium in Italy, and in the mythology of Rome is an ancestor to Romulus and Remus - worth noting that there are competing and conflicting versions of this chronology.
Julius Caesar, 47-46 BC, AR Denarius, 19mm, 3.6g, North Africa mint
Obv:Diademed head of Venus facing right.
Rev:CAESAR, Aeneas advancing left, carrying his father Anchises on left shoulder and palladium
Ref: Crawford 458/1
After the defeat at Pharsalus and the death of Pompey in Egypt, opposition to Caesar continued in Africa under Metellus Scipio. Scipio held that prophesy ensured his success in Africa. Crawford writes, "The coinage of Metellus Scipio is pathetically true to its author's belief in the felix et invictum Scipionum nomen (Seutonius Caes. 59)" - the Scipios being blessed and invincible. For this reason Seutonius tells us that Caesar brought a relative of Scipio's as a mascot to counter this divine support and invincibility, or at least to give courage to his troops.
"Furthermore, to make the prophecies ridiculous which declared that the stock of the Scipios was fated to be fortunate and invincible in that province, he kept with him in camp a contemptible fellow belonging to the Cornelian family, to whom the nickname Salvito had been given as a reproach for his manner of life."
The Pompeians, Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio, 47 BC - Spring 46 BC, AR denarius, African mint
Obv: Q•METEL PIVS, laureate head of Jupiter right
Rev: African elephant walking right, SCIPIO above, IMP below
Ref: Crawford 459/1
This RR denarius is my most recent addition:
The Pompeians, Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio, AR Denarius, military mint travelling with Scipio in Africa, 47-46 BC. Eppius, legate
Obv: Head of Africa right, wearing elephant skin headdress; grain ear before, plough below, Q•METELL downwards to right, SCIPIO•IMP upwards to left
Rev: Hercules standing facing, right hand on hip, leaning on club draped with lion skin and set on rock; LEG•F•C upwards to left, EPPIVS downwards to right
Ref: Crawford 461/1
Metellus Scipio was born the son of Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica a family which had produced multiple Roman consuls. He was adopted into the Caecillius-Metellus family as an adult by Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius (QCMP coins and notes) who was a key supporter of Sulla in the civil wars of 88-80 BC and was elected consul with Sulla in 80 BC. Elephants are the symbol of the Caecillius-Metellus family, recognizing the battle of Panormous, in 250 BC. During the First Punic War between Carthage and Rome at Panormous, Caecilius Metellus (cos. 25I BC) defeated Carthaginian general Hasdrubal, son of Hanno, and captured his elephants.
Metellus Scipio met his end after the February 6, 46 BC Battle of Thapsus (a Carthaginian and Roman port city near the modern city of Bakalta, Tunisia).
Rowan C. (2019). From Caesar to Augustus (c. 49 BC - AD 14). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Nousek, D. (2008). TURNING POINTS IN ROMAN HISTORY: THE CASE OF CAESAR'S ELEPHANT DENARIUS. Phoenix, 62(3/4), 290-307.
J.Linderski, Roman Questions II, Stuttgart 2007
Plutarch. Plutarch's Lives. with an English Translation by. Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1917.
C. Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, The Life of Julius Caesar, Loeb Classical Library, 1913.
Mommsen, T. (1908). The History of the Roman republic. C. Scribner's Sons, NY, NY.
Appianus of Alexandria, Civil Wars, Translated by Horace White, 1899