Head of Augustus

Bronze head of Augustus, c27-25 BC, from Meroë, Sudan

 

On display

Head of Augustus

Sudan, about 27-25 BC

Head of Augustus

Download this video to watch in your favourite media player, or to view this video online please enable javascript.

Using this on a mobile device? Tap the image to watch.
On desktop, requires Flash player or click image to download.


Watch more BSL video descriptions

This head once formed part of a statue of the emperor Augustus (ruled 27 BC-AD 14).


In 31 BC he defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium and took possession of Egypt, which became a Roman province. The writer Strabo tells us that statues of Augustus were erected in Egyptian towns near the first cataract of the Nile at Aswan and that an invading Kushite army looted many of them in 25 BC.

Although Roman counter-attackers reclaimed many of the statues, they did not reach Meroë, where this head was buried beneath the steps of a native temple dedicated to Victory. It seems likely that the head, having been cut from its statue, was placed there deliberately so as to be permanently below the feet of its Meroitic captors.

The head of Augustus appears larger than life, with perfect proportions based upon Classical Greek notions of ideal human form. His calm distant gaze, emphasised with inset eyes of glass and stone, give him an air of quiet, assured strength.

Coins and statues were the main media for propagating the image of the Roman emperor. This statue, like many others throughout the Empire, was made as a continuous reminder of the all-embracing power of Rome and its emperor.


Augustus Caesar

Octavian, as Augustus was known before becoming emperor, was adopted by Julius Caesar as his son and heir. After Caesar's assassination in 44 BC, Augustus fought to avenge his death.

Augustus

Roman emperor (31 BC - AD 14)

After the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Augustus became undisputed master of Rome and its territories.

Read the full article


Ancient Rome

Portland

In legend Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus, its first king.

Ancient Rome world culture

Related products

Book

A History of the World in 100 objects

 
By Neil MacGregor

Accompanies the BBC Radio 4 series


Object details

From Meroë, Sudan, Roman


Height: 46.2 cm
Width: 26.5 cm
Depth: 29.4 cm

 

GR 1911.9-1.1

Room 70: Roman Empire

     

    Excavated by Professor John Garstang.

    Donated by the Sudan Excavation Committee and acquired with the assistance of The Art Fund.

    References

    P.C. Roberts, Romans, a pocket treasury (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)

    S. Walker, Greek and Roman portraits (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

    S. Walker, Roman art (London, 1991)

    L. Burn, The British Museum book of Greek and Roman Art, revised edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    W. Eck, Age of Augustus (London, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007)

    K. Galinsky, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005)

    J. Osgood, Caesar's Legacy: Civil War and the Emergence of the Roman Empire (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006)

    P. Southern, Augustus (New York, Routledge, 1998)