Friday, April 6, 2012

Augustus or Julius Caesar? Ostia head another puzzle

Lately, I've been working on images I took of the Roman remains of the ancient port of Ostia.  I went to the official website of the archaeological site of Ostia to look through their images to help me identify some of the sculptures I photographed there and stumbled across an image of a head labeled as Augustus:

The notes accompanying the image says it was found on the Street of the Vigiles, the firefighters and watchmen of the city.  I realize Augustus is credited with establishing the vigiles in 6 CE after levying a 4% tax on the sale of slaves to fund the new force.  But this portrait head looks more like heads I have seen of Julius Caesar rather than Augustus.  I realize the damage to the frontal part of the forehead makes it difficult to determine the hairline but the hair appears much more sparse and combed forward rather than Augustus' thick locks almost always depicted in a slightly longer, more casual style:

Augustus as Pontifex Maximus photographed
at the Palazzo Massimo in Rome by Mary Harrsch.

I wish I knew if there was any accompanying epigraphic evidence discovered with the head.

I also noticed a portrait head of Hadrian found in a lime kiln:

Head of the Emperor Hadrian found in a lime kiln
 in the Caseggiato del Serapide in Ostia.

It pains me to think of all of the exquisite sculpture that was unceremoniously rendered down to make plaster in the Middle Ages.  What a tragic loss to our cultural heritage!


MjH said...

Hi Mary - good blog entry. The damaged head doesn't really look like the traditional or stereotypical look of Augustus so I am inclined to agree with you. But given Mary Beard's recent talk on roman sculptures and assigning them quite loosely to historic figures (, I'm left wondering if this head is really Julius Caesar...or not!

Mary Harrsch said...

I agree that it may not be Julius Caesar but some unknown magistrate for all we know. But I just meant to point out that in my opinion it seems to resemble other portrait heads other people have tentatively identified as Caesar.

I read somewhere that portraits of Augustus were strictly controlled and expected to resemble an official ideal. To be fair, though, Augustus was in his forties by then and maybe he allowed a more realistic portrait to be made.

One other thing that bothers me about the head is that the jawline does not seem to be as angular as that of the statue of Augustus in the Palazzo Massimo either and bone structure usually does not change with age.

I'm also wondering if the head was identified as Augustus merely because it is obviously a Julio-Claudian type and was found in the vicinity of the vigiles barracks. The excavators, knowing that Augustus founded the vigiles, naturally assumed it was him.

We also need to keep in mind that even average citizens had a habit of mimicking the reigning emperor's hairstyle.

Mary Harrsch said...

Correction - Augustus was in his late sixties when the vigiles was founded in Rome and the vigiles were extended to Ostia some time after that. Sorry.

The Road of Discoveries said...

Hi Mary! wow - what a fantastic website! are you a historian/archeologist?

Mary Harrsch said...

I have read extensively and taken archaeology classes but I am simply a self-taught scholar who is just passionately interested in Roman culture. Before my retirement I was a director of information technology for the College of Education at the University of Oregon. Now I try to use my technology experience to share information about the ancient world with others. This includes my blogs, my Twitter posts, my Facebook posts and an image archive on Flickr licensed with Creative Commons to encourage others to use the images as illustrations in the classroom and in their own writings and research about the ancient world. I also recently began to use Pinterest, creating shared bulletin boards based on specific topics like favorite photography equipment, photography techniques and educational technology applications.

Several tips said...

Nice blog is this