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Saturday, 27 December 2014

British Museum and the Head of Augustus

I recently attended the small British Museum exhibition on the Meroe Head of Augustus.  It is not very big, taking up the Asahi Shimbun Displays room just to the right of the main entrance, but it is fascinating for two reasons.

Firstly, it is a rare example of ancient sculpture that retains the extremely realistic eyes of the original.  Ancient sculpture was commonly painted, but almost always this decoration has worn off, giving us moderns a very different vision to what the original audience must have seen.  The head of Meroe has been preserved.

Secondly, it is a reminder of how politicised these statues could be.  Augustus sent this sort of stock image all over the Empire, as a reminder of how important he was.  The Africans who hacked it off buried it under the entrance of a building so that they could ritually walk over the might of Rome on a regular basis.  The exhibition runs to 15 February.

Bronze head from a statue of the Roman emperor Augustus

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