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Basalt bust of Germanicus

 

Height: 17.500 inches

Gift of the Reverend Greville J. Chester

GR 1872.6-5.1 (Sculpture 1883)

Room 70: Roman Empire

    Basalt bust of Germanicus

    Roman, about AD 14-20
    Probably made in Egypt

    This bust shows the Roman general Germanicus (15 BC - AD 19) in military dress. Germanicus was the nephew and adopted son of Tiberius (reigned AD 14-37), the second emperor of Rome. He commanded the eight Roman legions on the Rhine frontier, apparently with some distinction, recovering two of the legionary standards lost after a military disaster in the Teutoberg forest (AD 9). However, it was mainly among the Roman people, rather than the army, that he commanded most affection. The Roman biographer Suetonius in his Life of Caligula III describes Germanicus' '... unexampled kindliness, and a remarkable desire and capacity for winning men's regard and inspiring their affection.' After his untimely death through illness at Antioch in AD 19 he was elevated to god-like status.

    The polished surface of the stone is extremely smooth and glass-like, but this emphasizes the areas of damage on the chest and around the nose. While the latter may have been accidentally damaged, intentional mutilation is visible on the forehead, where a cross has been carved between the brows. Such mutilation, done largely by Christians in late antiquity, often took the form of crosses or random gouges on the brow, eyes or lips of statues. Religious fanatics thought that such marks were the only means of keeping at bay the demons which they believed to haunt the statues.

    Basalt is commonly found in Egypt and it is quite likely that this bust was made there.

    A.H. Smith, A catalogue of sculpture in -1, vol. 2 (London, British Museum, 1900)

    S. Walker, Roman art (London, 1991)

    C. Scarre, Chronicle of the Roman emperor (London, Thames & Hudson, 1997)

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