Move over Richard III, we’ve got Caesar!
Ok so that may be a little bit of a lie, however some of our initial analysis has turned up an item that can be closely linked to the great emperor. (Although perhaps we should try facial reconstruction on one of our Walbrook skulls?!)
Over 500 coins were brought back to the office from site, an amazing collection that has great potential for further study. Amongst the earliest coins are 16 Republican silver denarii, which are likely to have represented pay for Claudius’ invading troops. The legions were paid in silver and these early issues maintained a high percentage of silver. The earliest of them dates to 123–115 BC (at the time of writing the blog!) but one of the most intriguing came to light just last week. Our coin expert Julian Bowsher has been doing a bit of research into it.
The coin itself was minted in 47–46 BC as Caesar was embroiled in the civil war with Pompey. It was probably produced in north Africa by the travelling mint that accompanied Caesar to provide military funds.
The imagery is an unmistakable message of his righteousness towards Rome. The obverse shows the Roman goddess Venus but the reverse shows one of the most potent images of Roman mythology; the hero Aeneas escaping from Troy with his crippled father Anchises on his shoulder and carrying the ‘palladium’, the Trojan cult image later kept in the Temple of Vesta in Rome. The reverse of the coin also carries the name CAESAR, just visible written downwards on the right.
According to Homer and other early writers, Anchises was the king of Dardanus and a cousin of King Priam of Troy. Anchises fell in love with the goddess Aphrodite (known as Venus by the Romans) who bore him their son Aeneas. The union of a mortal with a goddess was frowned on and Anchises was sworn to secrecy about the identity of Aeneas’s mother, but being a typical bloke he got drunk one day and blurted out the story. Aphrodite’s father Zeus was furious and hurled a thunderbolt at Anchises but thanks to her intervention he was crippled rather than killed and she also persuaded Zeus to make Aeneas immortal.
After the Greek sack of Troy, Aeneas led the surviving Trojans carrying his lame father and the palladium. In later versions he was also accompanied by his son Ascanius. After much wandering, including a dalliance with Dido in Carthage, they settled in Italy. Ascanius’ son Iulus was the ancestor of Romulus and Remus, who actually founded Rome, and ultimately – you guessed it – of the Julian clan, Caesar’s family. The story was immortalised and celebrated in Virgil’s Aeneid, commissioned by Augustus, the nephew and adopted son of Caesar, to enhance this family tradition. It might be noted that another descendant of Ascanius, Brutus, was regarded in the middle ages as the ancestor of the legendary kings of Britain.
This coin is fairly common throughout the Roman world; many dies are known, but having made a brief survey of excavation reports none can be found in Britain. There are a number of stray examples recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Other types of Julius Caesar are however known throughout the country, including three from the hoard found on our site in 1958.
So, sorry, we haven’t found Caesar, but we do have part of his fortune! This coin will now be sent to conservation team to be cleaned and conserved. Watch this space though for further numismatic developments, there are bound to be many!