The Caesar's Comet
Lotto 435:
Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD). AR Denarius, 17 BC. Coinage of M. Sanquinius. Obv. AVGVSTVS DIVI F. Bare head of Augustus right. Rev. M. SANQVINIVS III VIR. Youthful head, laureate, right (Julius Caesar deified); above, comet showing four rays and tail. RIC I (2nd ed.) 338. AR. 3.56 g. 19.00 mm. RR. Very rare. Graffito (X) on reverse. Lightly toned with golden hues. VF. A fascinating and historically intriguing issue. The comet immortalized by the magistrate M. Sanquinius on the reverse of this denarius, struck during the Secular Games of 17 BC, is the so called “Comet of Caesar” (Sidus Iulium or Caesaris astrum : numerical designation C/-43k1) widely considered the most famous of antiquity; this comet shone in the skies of Rome following the assassination of Julius Caesar and was interpreted by Romans as a sign of the deification of the dictator.
Suetonius (Divus Julius, 88) writes :
(Julius Caesar) periit sexto et quinquagensimo aetatis anno atque in deorum numerum relatus est, non ore modo decernentium sed et persuasione volgi. Siquidem ludis, quos primos consecratos ei heres Augustus edebat, stella crinita per septem continuos dies fulsit exoriens circa undecimam horam, creditumque est animam esse Caesaris in caelum recepti; et hac de causa simulacro eius in vertice additur stella.
(He died in the fifty-sixth year of his age, and was ranked amongst the Gods, not only by a formal decree, but in the belief of the populace. For during the first games which Augustus, his heir, consecrated to his memory, a comet blazed for seven days, rising always about eleventh hour (five pm o'clock); and it was credited to be the soul of Caesar, now received into heaven: for which reason he is, likewise, represented on his statue with a star on his brow)
Many centuries later, Shakespeare may also have made oblique reference to it in the play Julius Caesar. However Shakespeare was mistaken about the time of its appareance or he took artistic license with history, as he had the comet appearing prior to Caesar's murder. In fact, in the second scene of Act II, Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, warns her husband of a portentous event which she interprets as an ill omen for him.
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