Thursday, March 15, 2007


Sic Semper Tyrannus!
44 BC
Coin struck by Brutus and Cassius, celebrating the death (assassination) of the "tyrant" (Julius Caesar) on the Ides of March:

It was already pointed out by flavian (from Sweden, so get out that translator program!) that the Ides of March should be observed on the 23rd because of the change of calendars from the Julian to the Gregorian. I knew that, but it loses something in translation. It would be like celebrating the 4th of July on the 15th. However. we have made the adjustments to the 'old style' ('OS' is indicated on Thomas Jefferson's obelisk grave marker) dates. If one were to look up the birth dates of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. they are eleven days earlier than the days we celebrate.
As I commented to flavian, "Details, details!"

So getting back to the business at hand: My original post was going to cover commemorative coins and the gruesomeness of celebrating an assassination!

However, like my blog mentor-mom elementaryschoolteacher, sometimes our research takes us to other threads far more interesting or germane to our blog. This is the case here.

The posting is about the Phrygian Cap

A Phrygian is also referred to as a Liberty Cap. It's roots are in antiquity and was most notably used as a sign in ancient Rome of a freedman - a slave who gained his/her freedom.

First, I shall present the official explanation of the coin from the people who possess it: The Fitzwilliam Museum:

The Ides of March denarius, struck by Brutus in 43/2 BC, is easily the most famous of Roman Republican coins. It was famous in antiquity -- one of the few coin types mentioned in an ancient author (Dio Cassius), and imitated a century after its issue to celebrate the murder of Nero.

The reverse is the more striking face with the plain reference to Caesar's assassination -- the legend EID MAR with two daggers --, and the meaning of the assassination -- the liberty cap, worn by slaves on the day of their manumission. The importance of the cap here derives from the Republican claim that Caesar was aiming at the kingship, since in Roman political terms the relation of king to subject was that of master to slave. The murder of Caesar has set the Roman people free; and the multiplicity of the heroic murderers is indicated by the daggers which are always unalike. When the type was copied after the murder of Nero the legend read LIBERTAS RESTITVTA.

But the later coin bore the head of Libertas on the obverse, where here we have a portrait of Brutus himself. This is a great surprise, since the head of a living Roman had never appeared on coinage until Caesar introduced himself in 44 b.c., and then it was connected with his assumption of supreme power as Dictator Perpetuus. What is Brutus up to? A famous assassination of a kingly pretender had been achieved by one of his ancestors, who was portrayed (ideally) on Brutus' own coin when he had been a mint official in Rome. Here he presumably equates himself with that great forebear, but the implied reference to Caesar is very insensitive.

This example in the Fitzwilliam Museum (Hart collection) is one of finest known of this uncommon issue.

Classical Influences: The Phyrgian Cap, Close to Home
The flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Great Seal of Virginia:

The Phyrgian Cap can also be seen on the Virginia Commonwealth Flag. It's central seal was designed by George Wythe in 1776 Wythe (pronounced, Whith) who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as the tutor and mentor in law for several future US luminaries including Thomas Jefferson and the father of our modern judicial system, Chief Justice John Marshall. His aim was to emphasize Virginia's independence from Britain.
The seal shows Virtus (Virtue) wearing the Phyrgian cap, with one foot on the dead body of Tyranny, whose crown has fallen off. When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, this seal was used in the flag. In 1930, the seal was revised to the one shown below. The Commonwealth mottos is: Sic Semper Tyrannus (thus always to tyrants). Naturally during the War Between the States it referenced the Union.

The Statue of Freedom
The Phyrgian Cap can also be seen on the allegorical Statue of Freedom atop the United States Capitol. In Politics: The Agendas Behind the Monuments, the entire story of the clash amongst the sculptor, Thomas Crawford; the person in charge of the construction, Senator Jefferson Davis; and the engineer Montgomery C. Meigs (Remember Meigs from my post Bringing Cemeteries to Life?) is told in great detail. The cap is disguised by a cluster of feathers which gives the Statue of Freedom the appearance of a Native American. This statue is the tallest piece of sculpture in Washington, DC at 19 1/2 feet and weighs approximately 7 1/2 tons. (The statues of the standing Jefferson and the seated Lincoln at their respective memorials are both 19 feet tall.) Thomas Crawford did not live to see his sculpture atop the US Capitol; he died in London in 1857.


Jarod said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Flavian said...

According to the Julian Calendar today is not Idus Martiae. According to the ancient calendar today is the second of March and Idus Martiae will be on March the 28:th if expressed in terms of the Gregorian Calendar.

But certainly today is idus martiae according to the Gregorian Calendar.

However, that calendar was not in use at that time.

The Tour Marm said...

To Flavian,

Details, details!

Hey! I'm having enough problems adjusting to daylight savings time!

Thanks for visiting - and tonight I'll attach the posting about the cap as reflected on the coin, my Commonwealth flag, and the Statue of freedom.

The Tour Marm said...

Note: The deleted comment contained personal contact information.

scribbit said...

Didn't John Wilkes booth quote "sic semper tyrannus" after he shot Lincoln? My memory isn't terrific, but I'm trying to remember where else I've seen the quote.

The Tour Marm said...

Hi scribbit!


Keep in mind that 'Jack' Booth was a Shakespearian actor and was classically educated.

Booth, a Southern sympathizer (the only one in his illustrious acting family) was incensed that Lincoln would not allow a prisoner trade towards the end of the War, (He had a litany of transgressions against the President)

He, with his 'conspirators', had previously tried to kidnap the President, but obviously that fell through.

One of the best introductions (although there are several historical errors) is Jim Bishop's, The Day Lincoln Was Shot. There is also a TNT made for Tv movie about it which stars Rob Morrow (Northern Exposure and Numb3rs),

Your comment was truly appreciated and I shall be posting something about the assassination at a later date.