Biblical Archaeology Review 35:1, January/February 2009

Strata: The True Face of Julius Caesar?

A new marble bust found in the silty depths of the Rhone River in southern France may be the oldest depiction of Julius Caesar yet discovered (see photo). Surprisingly, the realistic portrait shows the face of a middle-aged man who looks, well, unexpectedly normal.

The bust was discovered in the fall of 2007 by a team of French underwater archaeologists working along the Rhone River near the town of Arles, the site of an ancient Roman colony established by Caesar. According to researchers, the sculpture dates to between 49 and 46 B.C., making it not only the oldest known bust of Caesar but also one of only a handful of busts known to have been crafted during the lifetime of the Roman ruler (100–44 B.C.).

Most sculptures of Caesar were carved years after his assassination in 44 B.C., by which time the features of Caesar’s face had become idealized and fixed by tradition.

Michel L’Hour of France’s Department for Underwater and Undersea Research, who helped organize the excavation that recovered the bust, believes the sculpture likely was tossed in the Rhone shortly after Caesar’s death.

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