The Meroë Head of Augustus: statue decapitation as political propaganda

3 days ago marked 2,042 years since Octavian, the heir of Julius Caesar, was given the title of Augustus in 27 BC. The British Museum are commemorating this marvelous occasion with a display, free of charge, in Room 3. If you’re in London with some spare time, it’s bound to be a good way to spend it. You have until the 15th of February, so don’t hang about! I still need to book time in with the main man myself…

British Museum blog

David Francis, Interpretation Officer, British Museum

In his Twelve Caesars, the Roman historian Suetonius describes how the emperor Augustus’ eyes ‘shone with a sort of divine radiance’ and that it gave him profound pleasure ‘if anyone at whom he glanced keenly dropped his head as though dazzled by looking into the sun.’

The Meroë Head. Roman, 27?25 BC (British Museum 1911,0901.1) The Meroë Head. Roman, 27?25 BC (British Museum 1911,0901.1)

The Meroë Head, the only bronze portrait of Augustus to have survived with its original inlaid eyes, perfectly captures the enigmatic gaze of the Roman emperor. Depending on how the light falls, the expression of the head can vary from haughty disdain to melancholic introspection. The whites of the eyes are further emphasised by the dark green sheen of the emperor’s skin and hair. This is a result of the oxidation process that has covered the original bronze surface with a deep marine green patina. This otherworldly…

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