Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Oldest Bust" of Julius Caesar Found in France?

Updated 15 May 2008: Bust is probably not that of Caesar, see comments at the end of the post.

While I am abroad, remains my primary source of news. This morning I saw an interesting headline: "Divers find marble bust of Caesar that may date to 64 B.C." Upon reading this article it is clear that "64 B.C.," which indeed would be a very early bust for Caesar, is meant to be "46 B.C." - just two years before his assassination on the Ides of March in 44 B.C. Apart from the coins, I believe virtually every known portrait of Caesar is dated posthumously - but I don't have my references on sculpture and portraiture at hand, so that statement needs to be checked.

The bust was recovered from the Rhône River by underwater archaeologists near the town of Arles, which was founded by Caesar in 46 B.C. At present French authorities seem to be dating the bust to the foundation in 46 B.C., making it the oldest known bust of Caesar, but it is unclear on what material evidence they are dating it to the foundation. Hopefully, future publication will clarify the context of the bust and provide more detailed information.

According to the CNN report, the bust was recovered along with a life-size statue of Neptune from the third century AD and two small bronze statues, one of which is described as "a satyr with his hands tied behind his back, 'doubtless' originat[ing] in Hellenic Greece," according the French Culture Ministry. Unfortunately, there are no photographs of the other finds at this time. I wonder if the bound satyr statue is a variant of one of many representations of the "Punishment of Marsyas" [link to Wikipedia article - 'buyer beware']. Sculptural representations of these mythological scenes were widely produced by Hellenistic sculptors, but also copied by the Romans. It is unclear to me whether the statement, attributed to the French Culture Ministry, implies the sculpture itself came from Greece or if the type simply comes from Hellenistic Greece.

Hopefully future publication will provide more information on these important finds. One important question archaeologists are trying to determine is the context in which the group of statues were put into the river.

(AP Photo from CNN article)


Mary Jane said...

This is surely not a bust of Julius Caesar. Caesar was not even the founder of the colony, he was the "pater" (cf. the colony's name: Colonia IULIA PATERNA Arelate Sextanorum). The founder (creator, ktistes) of the colony in 46 BC (on Caesar's orders) was Caesar's quaestor Tiberius Claudius Nero (ca. 85-33 BC):

If you look at the only undisputed portrait of Caesar from his lifetime, the so-called "Tusculum Caesar", it seems highly improbable that the Arles bust represents Caesar. Three links to the Aeria image library:

Furthermore there are contemporary portraits of Caesar on coins. See google image search:

There is hardly any resemblance to the Arles bust. On this bust:

1. there is no saddle behind the vertex of the head
2. the eyes are too close together
3. the eyes are too small/thin
4. the eyes are too deep in their sockets
5. the nose is too large and broad
6. the overall appearance is too massive and sturdy
7. the expression is too dull and not open/friendly
8. there are large wrinkles between the eyebrows and on the forehead, which are not known from the Tusculum Caesar
9. the neck is too short and too wide and is missing the aged character of Caesar's lifetime portraits (wrinkles, vulture-like neck etc.)
10. the mouth does not have the slight ironic smirk and is rather neutral, maybe even a little bitter
11. the wrinkles around the mouth reach too far down
12. the ears are too protruding
13. the head doesn't have the typical V-form of the Tusculum Caesar and the Corinth Caesar (v.i.)
and especially
14. there is simply too much hair (and it's too thick) to be a portrait of the living Caesar.

There is another Caesar bust from Corinth, which might also be a portrait from his lifetime. If it's not from his lifetime, it was made shortly after his death (cp. the Caesarian V-form of the head):

No resemblances either. So it's nearly impossible that the Arles bust represents Caesar. This was probably just propagated to create attention in the media. (Something very similar—including a member of a governmental department pressing ahead with a preliminary conclusion—happened a few months ago with the cave of Romulus in Rome.) But maybe the bust found in Arles depicts the colony's creator Tiberius Claudius Nero.

Mary Jane said...

On the bound satyr as Marsyas… a little theory:

One can construct some sense around a statue of Marsyas being on display in a Caesarian colony, because Marsyas has an indirect connection to Decimus Iunius Brutus, one of the conspirators against Caesar. Caesar's adopted son, the later emperor Augustus, was often affiliated with the god Apollo, especially because a legend said that Apollo was actually his divine father. (Furthermore, Julius Caesar himself had been born on the principle day of the ludi Apollinaris: July 13th 100 BC.) So in a very general sense, the duo Apollo-Marsyas could stand for the young Caesar (former Gaius Octavius) and Decimus, the latter representing the conspirators, who were fiercely persecuted by Rome's new ruler.

The statue of Marsyas in the city of Rome was (in Caesar's times) in the middle of Forum Romanum, near the ficus Ruminalis tree. Nearby was the columna Maenia, where Caesar's assassins had also stood. There is a Roman coin by Censorinus: which shows Marsyas near the columna Maenia on the Forum Romanum:

The columna Maenia "was used in the time of Cicero for public posting of the names of delinquent debtors by their creditors", and it is well known that Decimus Iunius Brutus had enormous amounts of debt. But the main aspect would be Marsyas, the free peasant, dying on the fig tree, which is one of the main symbols representing Rome, paralleled by Decimus Brutus, the "liberator" (as Caesar's assassin's called themselves), being brought to death by the forces of the new Rome, i.e. Julius Caesar's heir.


Thank you for your comments. I believe you are correct in your assessment that it is not Caesar. I thought the bust looked a bit atypical for Caesar and after the CNN story circulated in my department, others were also as skeptical as you. One suggested looking at Jocelyn Toynbee's book on portraits of Caesar and after flipping through it at the library, there doesn't seem to be anything quite comparable.

Certainly media reports have sensationalized certain finds in the past. In addition to the "Cave of Romulus" you mentioned, I also remember Carandini claimed to have found the
"Palace of Romulus"
a few years ago (for readers who are unfamiliar with Carandini, he is a famous Italian archaeologist who believes that Romulus was a real historical figure).

Unfortunately, it looks like the report of this bust as Caesar is likely wishful thinking, but I do look forward to reading more about the group of finds when it is more thoroughly published in a peer-reviewed forum.


Someone pointed out that the last line of the CNN article refers to Julius Caesar as an "emperor." I didn't notice this error on my first read.

Mary Jane said...

Well, if you interpret "emperor" as the translation of "imperator", the CNN article would then be correct… in a way. (^_^) But it should of course read "general", "commander", "high-commander" etc.

It's interesting though that one reads the "emperor Caesar"-thing a lot. It shows his historical importance, which is probably also why the French minister proclaimed without thinking that the bust from Arles represents Julius Caesar. Caesar's name shines brighter than those of all the "real" emperors, who succeeded him.


I also think there is absolutely no reason to think this person is Caesar. And Mary Jane's comments have been of much interest, specially her pointing to that only lifetime bust of Caesar, that has not the slightest similitude.

Another interesting piece of info is in the original post: the bust was recovered along with a life-size statue of Neptune from the third century AD. I guess this mean that all the objects arrived at the river after that date, what may well mean that the bust itself is of later age and may represent just a governor or a local landowner.

Wonder if they could have been thrown to the river at the time of the Bagaudae - or the subsequent Germanic invasions maybe.



Thank you for your comments. If the Neptune dates to the third century (which I presume is a stylistic attribution), then you are right that it would establish a terminus post quem in the third century for the deposition of the statues into the river, assuming they were all thrown in together.

There does seem to be consensus here in this discussion and elsewhere that the bust is probably not that of Caesar, but I would think a late Republican or early Imperial date is appropriate based on its veristic style. Yes, there are some resurgences of verism in later periods, but this particular bust does have a bit of Claudian appearance to it in my opinion. I add the caveat that although I have studied ancient sculpture before, I would not consider myself an expert in sculpture. "Mary Jane" has speculated that it could be the Tiberius Claudius Nero (c. 85-33 BC), who served as Caesar's quaestor. It may also be some local official who was in office during the principates of Tiberius or Claudius, for example.

I found
this discussion
online as well, which may be of interest.


That other blog that you link to suggests that this well-finished realistic style of sculpture was used in Rome for several centuries (until Christian-impelled change of portray ideals, that preluded Medieval iconography, I guess). Instead it contrasts clearly with the Tusculum Caesar's style that is less well finished.

I am no sculpture expert certainly but from the above I would think it could be from any date between the early Empire and Constantine.

For me the main differences are in cheeks (fleshier in all classical representations of Caesar, including the Tusculum and the coins) and nose (with a higher less depressed root and rather narrow also in all other examples). The Arles man has a much broader nose that is also twisted to the side (the nostrils are horizontal but that face is not). Also the sides of the jaw are different, and the Arles man has a lower face (or larger forehead).

Strangely enough, the more I look at both images, displayed side by side as in the Heresy Corner, some similitudes do appear: the eyes area but specially neck and lips are strangely alike. But overall the differences are way too many, so I wonder if the Arles man could be a relative of Caesar, maybe a brother, nephew or grandson? (He only had a daughter, at least legitimately).

What is clear is that, if the discoverer had no doubts about this man being Caesar, many others have them.

Anonymous said...

Excellent Post MJ:

This is surely not a bust of Julius Caesar. Caesar was not even the founder of the colony, he was the "pater" (cf. the colony's name: Colonia IULIA PATERNA Arelate Sextanorum). The founder (creator, ktistes) of the colony in 46 BC (on Caesar's orders) was Caesar's quaestor Tiberius Claudius Nero

I took one look at that face and knew it wasn't Caesar, definitely Claudian features, Drusus didn't live long enough to look like that but it's a spitting image of Emperor Claudius.


Pictures of Julius Caesar bust discovered in Arles France in 2007 on this website:

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