Portrait of Julius Caesar
Ca. 50 CE.
Height 39.37 cm.
Inv. No. 1870,0320.201.London, British Museum

Portrait of Julius Caesar.

Ca. 50 CE.
Height 39.37 cm.
Inv. No. 1870,0320.201.

London, British Museum.

The head was found, along with other pieces of sculpture, including a head of Claudius, on the floor of the cella (main cult room) of the Temple of Athena Polias, during excavations in 1868/9 in Priene (modern Turkey). Donated by Society of Dilettanti Charitable Trust, 1870.
The head has been burnt and is badly damaged, with the proper right side and back of the head missing. The features of the portrait, in particular the hair and the profile, correspond very closely to those on other images of Julius Caesar. Caesar, one of Rome’s most capable generals, as demonstrated by his conquest of Gaul in the 50s BC, became embroiled in the civil strife that accompanied the disintegration of the Roman Republic. In 48 BC he crossed the River Rubicon, took Rome and effectively became the first citizen. His presumed desire to abandon the Republic as a form of government and return to monarchy led to his assassination in 44 BC. The ensuing civil wars culminated in the defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra by Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son, who as Augustus ushered in the Empire.

The head was found, along with other pieces of sculpture, including a head of Claudius, on the floor of the cella (main cult room) of the Temple of Athena, during excavations in 1868/9. The sanctuary was dedicated to Athena — specifically to Athena Polias, literally “the guardian of the city”. An inscription commemorating the dedication of the temple by Alexander the Great is preserved in The British Museum, as are fragments of the colossal cult statue of the goddess. In the Roman period the sanctuary was rededicated to Athena Polias and Augustus, reflecting the new importance of the imperial cult throughout the empire. Special buildings were erected or, as here at Priene, existing sanctuaries and temples were adapted to accommodate the statues and busts of the emperor, his family and ancestors. Caesar’s family claimed direct descent from Venus through Ascanius (Iulius) the son of Aeneas, the Trojan prince who brought his people to Italy. The worship of the imperial family was fundamental to the new imperial order, and it was the unwillingness of the Christians and Jews to comply in this which led to their persecution.

F. N. Pryce, A. H. Smith, Catalogue of Greek Sculpture in the British Museum, I—III, London, The British Museum Press, 1892, 1152.
S. Walker, Roman art, London, 1991, pp. 40—41, fig. 44.
(cc) 2019. Photo, text: The British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).
Keywords: γλυπτική sculptura sculpture sculptural scultura skulptur ρωμαϊκό roman romana romano romani römisch römische römisches römischen römischer romain romaine romains romaines man uomo mann homme δικτάτορα γάιος ιούλιος καίσαρ dictator gaius julius caesar caius iulius dittatore gaio giulio cesare diktator cäsar dictateur jules césar of a men male maschile männliches masculin un απεικόνιση portrait portraiture ritratto ritrattistica porträtmalerei porträt κεφάλι κεφαλή head testa kopf tête προτομή bust busto büste buste porträtbüste portraitkopf marble marmo marmor marbre μάρμαρο inv no 1870 0320 201