In 2020, a rare gold coin sold for a record-breaking $4.2 million at auction. Now, over two years later, officials have returned it to Greece.
Called the “Eid Mar coin”—it’s inscribed with the phrase “EID MAR,” or the “Ides of March”—the rare artifact was minted by Brutus to commemorate the fall of Julius Caesar. It’s one of the most valuable coins in existence.
The coin, however, was actually looted and then fraudulently sold at auction, according to a statement from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. Last month, it was included in a larger repatriation ceremony at the Greek Consulate in New York City. Officials handed over 29 artifacts, some dating as far back as 5000 B.C.E.
“Antiquities trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar business with looters and smugglers turning a profit at the expense of cultural heritage, and Greece—long acknowledged as the cradle of Western civilization—is especially susceptible to this type of criminal enterprise,” says Ivan J. Arvelo, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations in New York, in a statement.
These artifacts, he adds, “were a valued part of life in the ancient world. We are honored to join our partners today in the repatriation of this priceless cultural heritage to the people of Greece.”
The Eid Mar coin was minted in 42 B.C.E., two years after Brutus and a group of senators murdered Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, or March 15. Brutus had the coins made to pay his soldiers after the assassination, according to the district attorney’s office. Brutus died later that year when Mark Antony defeated his forces.
“The image is meant to celebrate the murder as an act by which Rome was liberated from Caesar’s tyranny,” writes the New York Times’ Tom Mashberg.
This particular coin is one of only a few known gold Eid Mar coins that exist today. One side shows twin daggers on either side of a cap and the words “EID MAR.” The other bears Brutus’ profile, with the letters “BRVT IMP” and “L PLAET CEST.” Per the Times, these inscriptions stand for “Brutus, Imperator” and “Lucius Plaetorius Cestianus,” who was a “treasurer of sorts” for Brutus.
The district attorney’s office says the coin appeared on the international art market in 2016, where it was “offered for sale in Munich with no provenance.” Then, it was smuggled into London and sold to a buyer in the United States.
Richard Beale, owner and managing director of Roma Numismatics, a London-based auction house, was arrested in January. According to ARTnews’ Shanti Escalante-De Mattei, Beale admitted to smuggling as part of what was likely a plea deal. The investigation is still ongoing.
The district attorney’s office has returned 950 antiquities worth more than $160 million to 17 countries since Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg Jr. took office in January 2022, according to the statement.
At the ceremony, Konstantinos Konstantinou, Greece’s consul general in New York, applauded the investigators for “striking down the illegal international criminal networks whose activity distorts the identity of peoples, as it cuts off archaeological finds from their context and transforms them from evidence of people’s history into mere works of art,” per the Times.
He said that Greece is actively seeking the return of looted antiquities in “every possible way.”