Head of the Emperor Tiberius

This image of Tiberius corresponds to the depiction of "imperium maius," a title which was created in 13 AD when Augustus granted Tiberius powers equal to his own. The head, which may have belonged to a complete statue on a large scale, is similar to two other sculptures conserved in the Gregoriano Profano Museum in the Vatican. Both colossal effigies are wearing the civic or civil crown, an encircling branch of oak or holm oak, the distinction given in Ancient Rome to a citizen who saved the life of another in battle. It gave the bearer certain privileges, such as that of being able to hang this crown on the door of his home. This iconography continues in other depictions of Augustus wearing the same element. The Romans did not dare to use crowns of gold due to the aversion of the Senate and the Roman people to kingship. They did not wish to give their emperors such insignias, but rather preferred the use of military insignias of honour and virtue.

The cranium has a triangular form with a rather pointed chin. The thin and rather bony face shows well-defined cheekbones and chin, and a deep, wide forehead. The rather forbidding expression is reinforced by the narrow mouth and pressed lips. The faintly defined hair is short, and with a short fringe in characteristically separated strands over the forehead.

Tiberius (born in 42 BC) became the stepson of Augustus when the emperor married his mother Livia. He won fame for his glorious military career, but it was not until Augustus' appointed successors had died that the aging emperor resigned himself to adopting his stepson and making him his heir in 4 BC.

In AD 13, shortly before Augustus' death, Tiberius was named "imperium maius," a title that made him the emperor's equal by granting him supreme power in religious, legal, military, and civil affairs.

The style of this likeness is typical of portraits from the Augustan period: the influence of Republican portraiture is still present but tempered by idealization with a strongly classicizing tendency. The sculptor's rendering of individual features - wide forehead and bony face - created an obvious resemblance to the future emperor, but this was toned down by the regularity of the face and its rather cold expression.

The portrait has been considered by the most traditional school of historiography as a genre which was typically Roman, either in its prototype in the form of a statue or relief. It must be remembered, however, that both in its idealised and realist facet, the portrait appeared in Rome under late Classical Greek and Hellenistic influence. The commemorative aspect of a Roman representation was intimately connected to funerary practices, as the busts of ancestors were to be found in the interiors of homes, so that they could be paid homage in a private and domestic atmosphere.


- A seated sculpture of the Emperor Tiberius. Marble. Middle of the 1st century AD. Gregoriano Profano Museum, Vatican Museums. Vatican City. Inv. 9961. Origen: Theatre of Caere (Cerveteri), 1840. Until 1963 Letrán Museum (Inv. 350).
- Detail of colossal seated Tiberius. Marble. Gregoriano Profano Museum, Vatican Museums. Vatican City. Inv. 1641.
- Tiberius with the Civil Crown. Marble. National Museum of Archaeology, Naples, Italy. Inv. 6051.


- KERSAUSON, K. Catalogue des portraits romains, I. Paris. 1986. N. 72. p. 156.

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