After 83 years, the bust of Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian Augustus – the first Roman emperor and founder of Pax Romana – has returned to the place of its discovery: the Sicilian town of Centuripe.
Originally discovered in 1938 by a road laborer during excavation work, the bust of Augustus has been described as “the most beautiful portrait of the emperor ever found in Sicily.” Experts tell us that the bust is similar to the statue of Augustus found in the villa of his wife Livia in Prima Porta, and now in the Vatican Museums.
The sculpture is the classic, stylized representation of Augustus, designed to symbolize his power, reach, and presence in the lives of everyday citizens of the Empire.
An iconic symbol of leadership and stability, the bust depicts Augustus with the tell-tale feature of his hairstyle, the “swallow-tail” – distinctive forked locks of hair on his forehead. Remarkably, the bust was discovered during a period of celebration marking the two thousandth anniversary of the reign of Augustus.
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About Caesar Augustus
Caesar Augustus (23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14),also known as Octavian, was the first Roman emperor, reigning from 27 BC until his death in AD 14.
Originally named Gaius Octavius, he was born into an old and wealthy equestrian branch of the plebeian gens Octavia. His maternal great-uncle Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC and Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir; as a result, he inherited Caesar’s name, estate, and the loyalty of his legions. Along with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, Augustus formed the Second Triumvirate to defeat the assassins of Caesar. Following their victory at the Battle of Philippi (42 BC),the Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves and ruled as de facto dictators.
After the demise of the Second Triumvirate, Augustus restored the outward façade of the free Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, the executive magistrates and the legislative assemblies, yet maintained autocratic authority by having the Senate grant him lifetime tenure as commander-in-chief, tribune and censor. A similar ambiguity is seen in his chosen names, the implied rejection of monarchical titles whereby he called himself Princeps Civitatis (First Citizen) juxtaposed with his adoption of the ancient title Augustus. He endeared himself to Roman citizens with his perceived frugality and modesty.
Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire, annexing Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum and Raetia, expanding possessions in Africa, and completing the conquest of Hispania, but suffered a major setback in Germania. Beyond the frontiers, he secured the Empire with a buffer region of client states and made peace with the Parthian Empire through diplomacy. He reformed the Roman system of taxation, developed networks of roads with an official courier system, established a standing army, established the Praetorian Guard, official police and fire-fighting services for Rome, and rebuilt much of the city during his reign. Augustus died in AD 14 at the age of 75, probably from natural causes, although there were claims he was poisoned by his wife Livia. He was succeeded as emperor by his adopted son Tiberius, Livia’s son and also former husband of Augustus’ only biological daughter Julia.
Upon his death, Augustus was proclaimed by the Senate to be a Roman god.
Barbara Dal Corso works at the intersection of art and technology. She is the co-founder of ARTficial, the maker of the world’s first officially-licensed artclones.