Bust of Trajan
Roman work. Ca. 108—117 CE.
Height 75 cm.
Inv. No. 1805,0703.93.London, British Museum

Bust of Trajan.

Roman work. Ca. 108—117 CE.
Height 75 cm.
Inv. No. 1805,0703.93.

London, British Museum.

Found near Rome. From the Charles Townley collection. Purchased from Edward Towneley, 1805.

In the style of a Hellenistic ruler

The bust, one of many issued to commemorate the emperor Trajan’s Decennalia (tenth anniversary of his accession — he reigned AD 98—117), shows him in the style of a Hellenistic ruler, with his upper body bared and his head slightly turned. Trajan was born at Italica near Seville in modern Spain, and was the first non-Italian emperor, reflecting the political and economic shifts taking place within the Roman empire.

Under Trajan the empire reached its greatest extent, with the conquests of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), and Dacia (modern Romania). The latter was celebrated on Trajan’s Column in Rome, which carries the history of the two Dacian wars in a 200 metre long frieze spiralling up the shaft. The column was only one element of an immense complex of forum, basilica (law-court), libraries, shops, and housing built with the proceeds of his conquests. Trajan, however, was not only a very capable commander, but was also renowned for his fairness, good government and wisdom. Elements of these are preserved in his correspondence with the younger Pliny, one of his ablest provincial governors, notably on the subject of early Christian communities. This reputation endured for centuries, and it is this perceived piety which earned Trajan, rather than Augustus, Hadrian or Constantine, a place in the Paradiso of Dante Alighieri (1265—1321).

Gross (1940), pp. 85—86. Cook 2013, nr. 148:

Townley’s description; “A Bust of Trajan, the size of large life, the breast naked. It was found by Mr Gavin Hamilton in an excavation made 1776 at … when it was added to this collection” (1804 Parlour Catalogue, park drawing room 19). Here as elsewhere (TY 12/3, Parlour Catalogue owned by Simon Towneley, and TY 12/5) Townley recorded the date of discovery wrongly. It was offered to him by Hamilton on 10 May 1775 with the comment “I think it unnecessary to ask you if you will have this precious morsel” (TY 7/588), and it duly appeared on Hamilton’s account of 27 May at £100 (TY 8/110), the price confirmed in Townley’s records (TY 10/5—7; TY 12/1; TY 10/3 (fo. 33); “Union Catalogue”, fo. 21r). By 5 July the bust was crated without being seen by Visconti (TY 7/592). Townley may have asked where it was found, for on 7 October Hamilton wrote that he might in time reveal this to Townley but “for the present it must remain in suspence” (TY 7/596). It seems that Hamilton never did reveal the exact findspot, and Townley had to be content with “near Rome” (The first Townley inventory, Bust 8 and TY 12/3, park drawing room 15), and “the Roman Campagna” (TY 12/5 and Notes on the dispositions of marbles in CT’s house). Townley was delighted with the bust, describing it as “one of the best I have seen of that Emperor” (copy of a letter dated 30 October 1775, TY 7/597/2).

This is one of the items listed in an account from Hamilton dated 27 May 1775 (TY 8/110). Also included are the “Egeria or sleeping nymph” at £150 and a “Collossal head of Faustina the Elder” at £60. Neither was accepted by Townley, and the joint total of £210 was deducted from Hamilton’s next account dated 11 October 1775 (TY 8/111). The “Egeria” was eventually sold to the Duke of Dorset and is now at Knole.

Date: 1st half of II AD (Hinks); one of a number of portraits made to celebrate the 10th year of his reign in AD 108 (Gross); after 115 (West).

Synopsis of the Contents of the British Museum (1808) IV. 1.
Ancient Marbles of the British Museum, III, pl. 1.
A Guide to the Graeco-Roman Sculptures in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities (Synopsis of the Contents of the British Museum) (2 vols., London 1874 [2nd ed. 1879] and 1876), I, no. 15.
A. H. Smith, A Catalogue of Sculpture in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum, Vol. III (London 1904), 155—156, no. 1893.
R. P. Hinks, Greek and Roman Portrait Sculpture (London 1935), 28, pl. 34.
W. H. Gross, Bildnisse Traians (Das römische Herrscherbild, II. 2, Berlin 1940), 85, 127—128, no. 30, pl. 15.
R. West, Römische Porträt-Plastik (Munich 1941), II, 69 no. 15.
Donald Strong, Roman Art (1976), 89, pl. 95.
B. F. Cook, Greek and Roman Art in the British Museum (London 1976), 183 fig. 145.
B. F. Cook, The Townley Marbles (London 1985), 20, 22 fig. 20.
Susan Walker, Greek and Roman Portraits (London 1995), 90, fig. 63.
(cc) 2019. Photo, text: The British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).
Keywords: απεικόνιση portrait portraiture ritratto ritrattistica porträtmalerei porträt of a man male maschile uomo männliches mann masculin un homme porträtbüste roman romana römisches romain αυτοκρατορικό imperial imperiale kaiserliches impérial antonine dynasty adoptive emperors dinastia degli antonini imperatori adottivi d’adozione antoninische dynastie adoptivkaiser antonins ρωμαίος αυτοκράτορας μάρκος ούλπιος τραϊανός imperator marcus ulpius traianus emperor trajan traian imperatore romano marco ulpio traiano römischer kaiser empereur γλυπτική sculptura sculpture sculptural scultura skulptur ρωμαϊκό romani römisch römische römischen romaine romains romaines προτομή bust busto büste buste marble marmo marmor marbre μάρμαρο from the townley collection collezione sammlung gavin hamilton inv no 1805 0703 93