Torso of a statue of the emperor Hadrian wearing a cuirass

From Cyrene, northern Africa
AD 130-141

This torso belonged to a statue of the Roman emperor Hadrian and was found in the city of Cyrene in northern Africa.

In ancient Rome, the dedication of public statues was governed by rules concerning location, material and iconography. This was even more important when it concerned imperial images. As hundreds of surviving imperial statues show us, there were only three ways in which the emperor could officially be represented: in the battle dress of a general; in a toga, the Roman state civilian costume; or nude, likened to a god. These formats powerfully and effectively evoked the emperor’s role as commander-in-chief, magistrate or priest, and finally as the ultimate embodiment of divine providence.

Official portraits were an extremely important way for Roman emperors to reach out to their subjects and their public image was defined by them. In this statue we see Hadrian presented as the commander-in-chief.

We know from ancient literary sources that Hadrian was particularly keen to project a strong military image:

‘On taking possession of the imperial power, Hadrian at once resumed the policy of the early emperors, and devoted his attention to maintaining peace throughout the world.’

Historia Augusta, Hadrian 5,1

The city of Cyrene had been devastated during a massive rebellion of its Jewish population late in his predecessor Trajan’s reign. Many Greeks and Romans were killed during this uprising, before it was brutally quashed by the Roman army. This statue was set up when Hadrian re-built the city.

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Height: 137.00 cm 

Museum number

GR 1861,1127.35

Excavated by Captain R M Smith and Commander E A Porcher 


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