Arles portrait bust

Arles portrait bust

In the Rhone River near Arles, southern France, divers from the French Department of Subaquatic Archaeological Research, headed by Michel L'Hour, discovered in September-October 2007 a life-sized marble bust showing an aging man with wrinkles, deep naso-labial creases and hollows in his face. [During the same campaign, divers also recovered smaller statues of Marsyas in Hellenistic style and a life-size marble sculpture of Neptune dating, from its style, to the third century CE. ] The uncompromising realism of the portrait places it in the tradition of late Republican portrait and genre sculptures. The immediate reaction was that this was a portrait of Julius Caesar and that it should be given a date range of about 46 BC/BCE.

After Caesar's assassination in 44 BCE, portraits of him would have been discreetly disposed of, as politically dangerous possessions. ["I suspect the bust was thrown in the river after he was assassinated because it would not have been good at that time to be considered a follower of his," said French archaeologist Luc Long, quoted by Agence France Presse at the time the discovery was revealed ( [ Bust from riverbed reveals face of Julius Caesar: archeologist] ).]

France's Minister of Culture Christine Albanel reported on May 13, 2008, that the bust would be the oldest representation of Caesar known today. [ [ Original communique] (May 13, 2008); [ second communique] (May 20, 2008); [ report] (May 20, 2008)]


The story was picked up by all larger media. [E.g. [, "Divers find marble bust of Caesar that may date to 46 B.C."] , CNN-Online "et al."; [ Video (QuickTime)] on the archaeological find (France 3)]

The identification as Caesar was immediately disputed, apparently on the basis of photographs, by Mary Beard in the "Times Literary Supplement". [ [ Mary Beard, "The face of Julius Caesar? Come off it!", "TLS" 14 May 2008, on-line] ] Other historians and archaeologists not affiliated with the French administration, among them the archaeologist and expert on Caesar and Augustus Paul Zanker, were also quick to deny that the portrait bust is of Caesar. [Paul Zanker, [,ra16m1/wissen/special/67/174544/index.html/wissen/artikel/74/176540/article.html "Der Echte war energischer, distanzierter, ironischer"] , "Sueddeutsche Zeitung", May 25, 2008, on-line; Nathan T. Elkins, [ 'Oldest Bust' of Julius Caesar found in France?] , May 14, 2008, on-line] Many noted the lack of resemblances to Caesar's likenesses issued on coins during the last years of the dictator's life, and to the "Tusculum bust" of Caesar, [ [ "Tusculan bust"] : image at the "AERIA" library.] which depicts Julius Caesar in his lifetime, either as a so-called "zeitgesicht" or as a direct portrait. After a further stylistic assessment Zanker dated the Arles bust to the Augustan period. Elkins pointed out the third century CE as the outside "terminus post quem" for the deposition of the statues, thereby refuting the claim that the bust was thrown away due to feared repercussions from Caesar's assassination in 44 BCE. [A different approach was presented by Mary Beard in that members of a military Caesarian colony would not have discarded portraits of Caesar, whom they worshipped as god, although statues were in fact destroyed by the Anti-Caesarians in the city of Rome after Caesar's assassination (Appian, "BC" III.1.9).]

The argument by the French archaeologists that Caesar had founded the colony in 46 BCE shows to be incorrect, as the colony was founded by Caesar's former quaestor Tiberius Claudius Nero on the dictator's orders in his absence. [Konrat Ziegler and Walther Sontheimer (eds.), "Arelate", in "Der Kleine Pauly: Lexikon der Antike", Vol. 1, col. 525, Munich 1979; in 46 BCE Caesar himself was campaigning in Africa, before returning to Rome.]

Mary Beard has accused the persons involved in the find to have wilfully invented their claims for publicity reasons. The French ministry of culture has not yet responded to the criticism and negative reviews.


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