It was on March 15th, 44 BC–the Ides of March–that Julius Caesar was killed, stabbed to death by a group of senators, many his friends. This is well-known from Shakespeare, of course, as is the fact that it was his good friend, Marcus Junius Brutus, who was at the head of the conspiracy. Pictured below is a coin issued by Brutus soon after the Ides which sold recently for $546,250!
On the reverse it says “Eid. Mar.,” an abbreviation for Ides of March. Above the inscription is pictured a pilleus, or “freedman’s cap,” which was placed on the head of an emancipated slave by his master, and so came to stand for Liberty generally. On either side of the pileus are the swords the conspirators brandished just after the assassination, at Brutus’ urging. As Shakespeare has him say (Julius Caesar 3.1),
Stoop, Romans, stoop,
And let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood
Up to the elbows, and besmear our swords:
Then walk we forth, even to the market-place,
And, waving our red weapons o’er our heads,
Let’s all cry ‘Peace, freedom and liberty!’
The juxtaposition of the Liberty cap and the display of the weapons with which liberty was secured is not unfamiliar to modern Americans. On the U.S. Department of the Army’s emblem the pileus rests upon a sword between a lance and bayonet.
Two years after the Ides, Caesar’s avengers would defeat the disorganized conspirators at the Battle of Philippi. Brutus and Cassius quarrelled, not least over the money necessary for paying the troops. In Shakepeare’s Julius Caesar (4.3), Brutus urges Cassius to “Remember March, the Ides of March remember,” but soon is hounding him about money:
I did send to you
For certain sums of gold, which you denied me:
For I can raise no money by vile means:
By heaven, I had rather coin my heart,
And drop my blood for drachmas, than to wring
From the hard hands of peasants their vile trash
By any indirection: I did send
To you for gold to pay my legions,
Which you denied me.
I don’t know about you, but I’m still thinking about the $500K+ Brutus’ Ides of March coin fetched at auction. In politics there is a place for high-minded talk, true enough, but there is also a place for cold, hard cash (to coin a phrase).