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Will we ever find image of Julius Caesar?

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Alleged bust of Caesar
Image 1. Alleged bust of Caesar | © The Trustees of the British Museum

Will we ever find the image of Julius Caesar? The question may seem strange, but have we ever wondered how we can be sure that the busts of the most famous Roman are actually the image of Caesar?

If so, the answer will be puzzling, because there is no certainty about any of Julius’ busts. A large part of the sculptures included in history textbooks teaching us about antiquity are today considered to be modern forgeries or copies from that period, better or worse reproduced. For example, one of the most famous heads, purchased in 1818, was the most popular image of Caesar in the 20th century, but today it is considered an 18th-century forgery (Image 1).

Image. 2. Portrait of Caesar from Tusculum.

Another bust that has become so embedded in our idea of ​​Caesar that when we imagine it we have this sculpture in mind, it has a controversial past (Image 2). It was found in the 19th century by Lucjan Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. For the first hundred years she was identified as an “old man” or “old philosopher”. Only in 1940, when Mussolini was trying hard to be considered the successor of the Caesars and needed artifacts for this, the Italian archaeologist Maurizio Borda suggested that it could be Caesar, basing his thesis on the visible similarity of the sculpture to images on coins minted in 44 BCE. Today, many still believe that it is a portrait from nature. But despite everything, it is most likely a copy or version of an earlier bronze sculpture.

To sum up, it may turn out that we will never know with 100% certainty the image of one of the greatest people of antiquity, considering that the Romans did not sign their statues depicting their rulers.

Author: Krystian Ławniczak (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Mary Beard, Twelve Caesars

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