Intact statue head found at Augustus’ Mausoleum

The intact marble head of a female deity has been discovered during redevelopment works of the Mausoleum of Augustus and the surrounding Piazzale Augusto Imperatore. The life-sized head is finely carved out of Parian marble, a bright white, flawless stone quarried from the Greek island of Paros. Parian marble was highly prized for its fine grain and skin-like semi-translucency; the greatest Greek sculptors of the classical era used Parian marble for their masterpieces. This head therefore keeps illustrious company with the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the statue of Augustus from Prima Porta.

Her wavy hair is tied at the back of her head with a taenia, a flat hair ribbon (and not coincidentally the scientific name for the tapeworm family), that meets in a knot at the top of her head. This hairstyle is frequently seen in statues of Aphrodite. The carving style dates it to the Augustan era (1st c. A.D.)

It was not found in a 1st century context, however. It was discovered in the area surrounding the Mausoleum where crews are currently constructing two cordons leading up to the monument. It had been incorporated into the foundations of a wall from Late Antiquity (ca. 4th-6th c. A.D.). Even parts of elegant statues like this one were used as spolia (old material repurposed for new construction), and in this case the practice is what preserved the head in such good condition even though it was face-down. Her facial features, fragile nose included, are perfectly intact, protected for two millennia in the clay bank the wall was built over.

The head has been removed to a laboratory for cleaning and conservation. When the works on the piazza are completed (scheduled for spring 2024), the head will go on display inside the Mausoleum of Augustus itself, along with the Claudian-era pomerial marker found there in 2021.

2 thoughts on “Intact statue head found at Augustus’ Mausoleum

  1. Is there any resemblance in the face to ‘known’ Julio-Claudian women? (I’m terrible at facial recognition.)

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