Mike Markowitz published a CoinWeek article on the Ancient Coins of Pompey the Great. Here's an excerpt - see the complete article online.
ROMAN ARISTOCRAT AND general Gnaeus Pompeius (better known to English speakers as
Pompey) was a pivotal figure in the events that led to the collapse of the Roman Republic. Coins issued in his name, or by his sons and supporters, document and illustrate a dramatic period of Roman history.
Born September 29, 106 BCE in the Italian province of Picenum, he was the son of Pompeius Strabo, a rich landowner who became a Roman senator and eventually consul in 89 BCE. At the age of 16, young Pompey accompanied his father on campaign in the Social War.
In the bloody and protracted civil wars that wracked the dying decades of the Roman republic, young Pompey sided with the dictator Sulla, raising and training an army at his own expense. In recognition of Pompey's victories, Sulla awarded him the honorific title of Magnus (
the Great) which appears on the coins in place of his given name. In 67 BCE, he was voted extraordinary powers to suppress the Cilician pirates, who had paralyzed Mediterranean trade and were threatening Rome's vital imported grain supply. Public confidence in Pompey was so great that the price of bread dropped on the day he was appointed. Within three months, he swept the pirates from the seas. In 60 BCE, he formed a political alliance, the
First Triumvirate, with Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest man in Rome, and Gaius Julius Caesar, an ambitious up-and-coming politician. Their political enemies called it the
three-headed monster. Pompey cemented his alliance with Julius Caesar by marrying Caesar's daughter, Julia. Pompey was elected consul three times; in 70, 55, and 52 BCE; on the first occasion, he was not even a Senator, which was unprecedented.
The first coin attributed to Pompey is an extremely rare gold aureus, probably issued at Rome on the occasion of his triumph in 71 BCE, although some sources question this date (Kopij, 111). Only five examples of this coin are known, all but one in museums. The best-known published example is in the British Museum, purchased in 1867 from French collector Louis Duc de Blacas (1815-1868).
The aureus, valued at 25 silver denarii (a month's pay for a mercenary soldier) was not a regular part of the currency at this time; it was only issued on special occasions. On the obverse, the head of a female wearing an elephant headdress and surrounded by a laurel wreath represents Africa, where Pompey won some of his victories. The inscription is simply MAGNVS (
the Great). On the reverse, Pompey stands in a triumphal quadriga (a parade chariot drawn by four horses); a small figure riding the lead horse may be Pompey's young son, Cnaeus. The inscription PRO•COS abbreviates another of his titles, Proconsul.
To read the complete article, see:
The Ancient Coins of Pompey the Great
Wayne Homren, Editor
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