Marble statue of the emperor Hadrian, in Greek dress

From Cyrene, northern Africa
AD 117-125

The Roman emperor Hadrian is shown here in the himation (a Greek mantle). This unique and well known statue is made up of fragments found in 1861 in the ruins of a temple in the city of Cyrene, in northern Africa.

He is dressed as a Greek, rather than a Roman, in a demonstration of his well-known love of Greek culture. This is often considered to be a defining characteristic of his reign. One ancient source even calls him graeculus, or ‘Greekling’.

However, a recent re-examination of the sculpture by the British Museum has demonstrated that Hadrian’s head almost certainly never belonged on this body.

No other statue of a Roman emperor in Greek civilian dress exists, and investigation by Museum conservators has revealed that the statue consists of several different parts – the body, two separately carved hands, and the head. It is in fact the result of an incorrect restoration in the Victorian period. In order to hold the head in place, restorers applied a thick layer of plaster covering part of the neck and some of the folds of drapery. Originally, the body was probably part of a statue of a local benefactor. The head of Hadrian came from a separate sculpture, which is now lost. Fragments from many different sculptures were mixed up in the ruins of Cyrene.

For the purposes of the Hadrian: Empire and Conflict exhibition at the British Museum (24 July 2008 – 26 October 2008), the head has been temporarily re-attached. Without the plaster fill it is clear that the body and head do not belong together.

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Height: 176.00 cm

Museum number

GR 1861,1127.23

Excavated by Captain R M Smith and Commander E A Porcher


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