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Sulla, Marius and an Anonymous denarius

In a previous post, I shared a coin from Brutus, that celebrated his family history of tyrannicide. This week, a much humbler coin, linked in time to an equally compelling story (and to Julius Caesar). This coin is an anonymous denarius which also has variants that are signed by Gargonius, Ogulnius and Vergilius.

Anonymous issue, 86 BC, AR Denarius

Obv: Laureate head of Apollo right, thunderbolt below, border of dots.

Rev: Jupiter in quadriga right hurling thunderbolt, border of dots.

Ref: Crawford 350A/2; RSC 226; Syd 723

Size: 3.85g, 19.4mm

This relatively affordable, and common coin, is easily ignored or dismissed. To me it is always surprising how readily available a 2000+ year old coin can be from Rome from a storied time of social unrest and civil war, linked to Marius, Sulla, Cinna, the young Julius Caesar, and others.

After the first Social War, in which Sulla distinguished himself as a general, he became consul in 88 BC. He was awarded the prized assignment of suppressing the revolt of Mithradates VI of Pontus, however, political maneuvers transferred the assignment to Caius Marius. Sulla then took the unprecedented step of turning his army against Rome, captured it, and reclaimed his command. Sulla declared his older rival Marius an enemy of the people, Marius fled, and Sulla left Rome to fight Mithradates in Pontus.

While Sulla was away, Marius, who had survived by fleeing to Africa, returned to Rome, overturned Sulla’s reforms, exiled Sulla and was elected consul for the seventh time in 86 BC with Lucius Cornelius Cinna. An interesting turn-around for Lucius Cinna, who had taken an oath to faithfully support Sulla and his policies: praying that if he did not maintain his goodwill towards Sulla, he might be cast out of the city.

In 86 BC Julius Caesar was a young man of about 15 or 16 when this coin was issued. At 16, he married Cornelia, the daughter of consul Lucius Cinna, and was serving as Flamen Dialis. Caesar's marriage to Cornelia would eventually result in a confrontation with Sulla, when he returned to Rome, but that is another story, and another coin. (Continued: Sulla & Mithridates)

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