Roman Marble Head of Domitian

SKU AM.0236

1st Century AD


10″ (25.4cm) high x 6.2″ (15.7cm) wide





Gallery Location



This imperial portrait head originates from one of the North African provinces of the Roman Empire. From the time of Augustus onwards the imperial family and its circle monopolised official public statuary. Imperial portraits were displayed in sebasteia, or temples of the imperial cult. Along with coins, sculpture was the preferred means of disseminating the emperor’s image. Scholars believe that official portraits were created in the capital city of Rome and disseminated across the empire to serve as prototypes for local workshops. Despite this attempt at uniformity, local stylistic traits could not be suppressed and there was great regional variety across the empire.

This head represents the Roman Emperor Domitian, a member of the Flavian dynasty who ruled between 81-86 A.D. The son of Vespasian and the brother of Titus he came from an illustrious Roman family. Historians, including the biographer Suetonius, have traditionally regarded Domitian as tyrannical and unjust. Comparisons have included the notoriously corrupt Emperor Nero. More recently his reputation has been undergone a positive reassessment, stressing his efficiency and beneficial economic policies.

The sculpture depicts a mature, middle-aged ruler with thick-set features. The gaze is directed towards the viewer’s left. The impression is one of an experienced statesman with great authority. Small snail-shell like curls frame the forehead and the head is carved almost entirely in the round.

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