December’s ARCHAEO-Crush is one of my favourite artefacts at the British Museum that comes from the site of Meroe in Sudan.
THE HEAD OF AUGUSTUS FROM MEROE
Type: artefact (statue fragment)
Civilisation: Roman Empire, rule of Augustus, 27 BC – AD 14
Date: 27 BC – 25 BC
ARCHAEO-Crush: I have mentioned elsewhere that I have a soft spot for Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, but I’m not quite sure why. (I mean the guy defeated Cleopatra and Antony at Actium and Egypt became a Roman province. I’m an Egyptologist… I shouldn’t like Augustus!) It might be that I am partial to his statues’ beautiful features–his idealised boyish good looks found in both marble and bronze. And, in this particular case, his eyes! These amazing eyes are the original inlays with glass pupils set in metal rings and irises made of calcite. However, of all the statues of Augustus an archaeologist (or a tourist) will come across, this one is the most amazing in my very humble opinion… Even more so because it was not found in any part of the Roman Empire… it was discovered in Sudan at the Royal City of Meroe!
This story includes the Romans getting their butts kicked by a girl, the great Meroitic Candace Amanirenas (perhaps more on that another day), whose army looted statues of Augustus that were set up at Aswan during the Kushite attack in 25 BC (remember Egypt had become a province of the Empire and there were statues of the emperor all over the place). The booty was taken back home to Meroe, capital of the Kingdom of Kush. Clearly, not all statues were returned after the Romans and the Kushites negotiated a peace treaty because this more than life-size head of Augustus was excavated by John Garstang at Meroe in 1910 (you’ll find great pics here). Interestingly, the bronze head of Augustus was discovered underneath the steps of a temple, metaphorically being trampled by the feet of those entering (needless to say it was deliberately placed there). The lovely head’s fate is a remarkable illustration of the Kushites’ opposition to the Roman rule of Egypt. The Romans never controlled Kush…
Bucket list status: I have seen this fabulous bronze head a few times, but, strangely enough, I photographed it only once–the first time I went to the BM–before I even owned a digital camera. I had been wanting to blog about it, but had wait until I came home for Christmas to scan the picture because the original was at my parents’ house!
Additional information: The accession number for this object is 1911,0901.1 and you can read more about it on the British Museum website. It was featured in the BM’s wonderful series History of the World in 100 Objects as object #35, and you can listen to the entry by clicking on the pink button using the link.