Ca. 50 CE.
Height 39.37 cm. Inv. No. 1870,0320.201.London, British Museum
Ca. 50 CE.
Height 39.37 cm.
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, 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.
S. Walker, Roman art, London, 1991, pp. 40—