Nero and Agrippina Minor. Relief from the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias.
54—58 CE.
Aphrodisias, Archaeological MuseumPhoto by Egisto Sani

Nero and Agrippina Minor. Relief from the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias.

54—58 CE.

Aphrodisias, Archaeological Museum.

The relief represents Agrippina the Younger (Minor) crowning her son Nero with a laurel wreath. Agrippina carries a cornucopia, and Nero, in military dress, held a spear in his right hand and probably an orb in his left. Both figures are clearly identifiable by portrait type, and the dramatic date or the date to which the composition refers is A.D. 54, Nero’s accession to the throne.

Nero looks to his left and out of the relief, while Agrippina’s head is turned more, to look at him. The mother is senior and therefore slightly taller; she bestows the wreath on her son, who already has political and military imperium, symbolized by his spear and probably an orb. What is represented, then, is Nero’s promotion from heir to emperor (for which there was no Roman ritual or coronation), portrayed in the symbolic terms of the crowning of a military victor. Such a task could be performed only by a notionally superior authority, either a deity like the Genius of Senate or People or a senior member of the imperial family as here.

The wreath is already firmly on Nero’s head, as it would be on a statue or bust. It has a plain central medallion and is composed of a triple tier of well-worked laurel leaves. He wears a plain moulded cuirass with the normal band (cingulum) tied round the waist, and a short-sleeved tunic beneath the cuirass. Fringed leather arm-straps are shown at each shoulder, and there are seven armoured flaps below the cuirass, four of which are decorated in low relief. Below these hangs the usual skirt of fringed leather straps.

On his feet, Nero wears shoes with “toe-caps” and straps crossing the top of the feet to be wrapped three times round the ankles and tied at the front. These are a clear representation of the patrician calcei worn by Roman senators.

Agrippina wears a thin chiton, belted under the breasts with a narrow twisted band. The dress is of fine material and clings close to the lower torso, revealing the navel. A himation is draped in the normal manner, over her left shoulder, round the opposite hip, and wrapped over the left forearm. In her hair she wears a stephane which is decorated with a small, central, leaf motif in low relief. She holds a large cornucopia in her left hand. The horn contains a central pomegranate.

Both portrait heads were clearly based on official types of Nero and Agrippina that we know well. In both heads, the hair arrangement is a quite detailed and particular rendering, while the face is more generalized.

R. R. R. Smith (1987)
(cc) 2014. Photo, text: Egisto Sani (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
© 1987. Description: Smith R. R. R., “The Imperial Reliefs from the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias”, The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 77 (1987).
Keywords: απεικόνιση portrait portraiture ritratto ritrattistica porträtmalerei porträt of a woman female femminile donna weibliches frau de femme relief reliefs rilievo sollievo porträtrelief man male maschile uomo männliches mann masculin un homme roman romana römisches romain αυτοκρατορικό imperial imperiale kaiserliches impérial ιουλιο-κλαυδιανή δυναστεία iulio-claudia iulii-claudii julii-claudii the julio-claudian dynasty dinastia giulio-claudia julisch-claudische dynastie famille julio-claudienne julio-claudiens ιουλία αγριππίνα η νεότερη julia iulia agrippina minor re556 empress younger imperatrice giulia minore römische kaiserin die jüngere impératrice romaine agrippine la jeune ρωμαίος αυτοκράτορας νέρων νέρωνας imperator nero emperor imperatore romano nerone römischer kaiser empereur néron γλυπτική sculptura sculpture sculptural scultura skulptur ρωμαϊκό romani römisch römischen romains romaines ανακούφιση ἀφροδισιάς αφροδισιάδα augusteum sebasteion at aphrodisias afrodisia des sebasteions le sébasteion sébastéion d’aphrodisias marble marmo marmor marbre μάρμαρο dress clothes clothing garment abbigliamento damenbekleidung vêtements pour femmes γυναικεία ρούχα hairdo hairstyle pettinatura acconciatura weibliche frisur coiffure féminine θηλυκό χτένισμα footwear footgear calzatura männerschuhe chaussures hommes ανδρικά παπούτσια frauenschuhe cornucopia horn plenty cornucòpia füllhorn corne d’abondance cornu copiae αμαλθείας κέρας laurel wreath corona di alloro laureata lorbeerkranz couronne lauriers laurea δάφνινο στεφάνι armour armor armatura rüstung armure πανοπλία crest crested helmet elmo crestato kammhelm casque à crête crista κράνος λοφίο κρωβύλος κρώβυλος pterigi ptéryge pteruges pteryges ptуryges πτέρυγες reef knot nodo piano kreuzknoten heraklesknoten herkulesknoten nœud plat military cloak mantello militare militärischer mantel manteau militaire στρατιωτικό μανδύα sandal sandals sandalo sandali sandale solea πέδιλα σάμβαλα σάνδᾰλον σανδάλια σανδάλι chitone chiton khiton χιτών paludamentum tunic tunika tunique tunica anatomical cuirass muscular corazza anatomica muskelpanzer cuirasse musculaire musclée héroïque lorica musculata medallion medaillon medaglione médaillon tondo calceo calcei patricii mullei calceus patricius mulleus balteus senatorii senatori senatorius shoe-lace tie cinturino da scarpe schuhriemen sangle chaussure corrigia corrigiae shoulder-strap straps shoulder guard guards shoulderguard shoulderguards achselklappe achselklappen fringe leather flap flaps lederklappen klappen bunch grapes grappolo d’uva weintraube wein traube grappe raisin uva botrys botrus τσαμπί σταφύλια fimbria frangia franse frange fimbriae crowns crowned incorona coronato krönt gekrönt couronnes couronné κορώνες στέκει εστεμμένος crown krone stephane στέφανος στεφάνη pomegranate melograno granatapfel grenade punica granatum ροδιά high-girded belt alta cinto cintura fascia altocinto hymation himation