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Exemplary Elephant

506876. Sold For $4250

The Caesarians. Julius Caesar. April-August 49 BC. AR Denarius (18mm, 3.80 g, 3h). Military mint traveling with Caesar. Elephant advancing right, trampling on horned serpent, CAESAR below / Emblems of the pontificate: simpulum, aspergillum, securis, and apex. Crawford 443/1; CRI 9; Sydenham 1006; RSC 49. EF, lightly toned. An attractive example of this popular issue.

Ex Bill Behnen Collection (Freeman & Sear 17, 15 December 2009), lot 166.

This is the first coinage to bear Julius Caesar's name, commencing after Caesar crossed the Rubicon in January 49 BC and seized control of the bullion stores in the public treasury left behind by the panic-stricken senate and their champion, Pompey the Great. Despite being the most widespread of all Caesar’s coins, the types still are somewhat mysterious. Authorities have even debated which side is which: Crawford describes the elephant as the obverse, but other experts dispute this. The symbolism is commonly held to show the triumph of good (elephant) over evil (serpent or dragon). Alternatively, the “horned serpent” may represent a carnyx, a dragon-shaped horn used by the Celtic tribes in Gaul, whom Caesar had recently overcome in his epic eight-year conquest, in which case the elephant would represent Caesar himself or Rome. Unlike Pompey, Caesar brazenly placed his own name on the coinage without having the constitutional authority to do so, as Sulla had done 33 years before. The reverse depicts the emblems of the Pontifex Maximus, an office Caesar had possessed since 63 BC.