Statue of Nero Identified

One of the benefits — if there are any — of falling behind in one’s usual blogging schedule is that one tends to get a lot more coverage and the followups of stories ‘all at once’, as it were. A case in point is this story from a couple of weeks ago about a smashed statue head found quite a while ago at Fishbourne Palace which was to undergo tests to confirm or refute suggestions that the original image was of a young Nero:

Telegraph photo
Telegraph photo

The coverage from the Telegraph claims the only two statues of Nero known to exist are currently in the Italian National Museum of Antiquities in Parma and the Louvre (not sure if that photo is Nero). The Science Daily coverage seems more accurate:

Two of the best-known examples of the teenage Nero are preserved in the Museo Nazionale d’Antichita in Parma and the Musee du Louvre in Paris. Both representations are thought to have been created as part of the official recognition that Nero was on his way to becoming chief heir of Claudius.

The example from Parma seems a good one for comparison to the fragment. Other than that, here’s a bit from the early Telegraph coverage:

The latest find was actually discovered in 1964 but until recently it was always believed to be that of a king called Togidubnes or a member of his family.

Now similarities have been found between the Fishbourne statue and the only others in Italy and France.

The rounded cheeks, full, curving lips, rounded lower face, slightly protruding ears, curling locks of hair and almond-shaped eyes are all very similar.

As a man, the Roman historian Suetonius described Nero as “about the average height, his body marked with spots and malodorous, his hair light blond, his features regular rather than attractive, his eyes blue and somewhat weak, his neck over thick, his belly prominent, and his legs very slender”.

Although this would only be the third statue of him, busts and coins bearing his image are more common.

Dr Rob Symmons, curator of archaeology at Fishbourne, will work with Bournemouth University lecturers Dr Miles Russell and Harry Manley to produce 3D scans of the head.

I’ll admit having my usual knee-jerk skepticism about this one — I really didn’t think there was enough there to establish anything. We should also note that this wasn’t a ‘new’ theory … it has been around for quite a while and was the focus of an article in British Archaeology a couple of years ago (which seems to be the background info for much of the press coverage). Whatever the case, the results of the laser scans are done and the BBC seems to be the first off the mark with the coverage (excerpts):

Experts say they have proved a statue fragment found in West Sussex depicts the Roman emperor Nero as a young man.

Scientists from Bournemouth University have spent the day at Fishbourne Roman Palace using a 3D laser scanner to make a full head image from the fragment.


Dr Miles Russell, from Bournemouth University, said: “It is a very well executed piece, it is extremely lifelike and made out of Italian marble which had been imported here.

“It is a very expensive artefact, which has been smashed into pieces before being buried in foundation rubble.”

The digital image produced by the scanner was compared with the known depictions of Nero in Parma and Paris.

Dr Russell said he was 100% confident they matched.

“He has that very distinctive hair over his ears and very distinctive almond eyes,” he said.

The BBC item also has a short video report (which includes the important detail that the fragment is Italian marble):

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “BBC NEWS | UK | England | Sussex | St…“, posted with vodpod

It seems to be a reasonable conclusion, but after seeing the process — which does not seem to have involved scanning the comparative pieces in Parma or Paris — I can’t help but wonder what the point of the scanning actually was. The bottom line seems to be the distinctive hair and eyes, which was something apparent prior to the scanning, no? And if it’s just hair and (fragmentary) eyes, can we be sure it isn’t Britannicus?

Earlier coverage:

Post-test coverage:


One thought on “Statue of Nero Identified

  1. We’re lucky there are even fragmented figures and heads, considering the lengths the mob went to to destroy as many as possible. If the Romans were not so diligent at record-keeping, they might have tried to expunge him, as the Egyptians did Ay.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s