Mistaken Identities: How to Identify a Roman Emperor

Mistaken Identities: How to Identify a Roman Emperor


[MUSIC] Stanford University.>>My name is Walter Scheidel I’m
the Chair of the Classics Department, and it’s a great pleasure for me to welcome all of you to what I believe
to be the 7th Lawrence Eitner lecture. A lecture series set up
to publicize classics and classical scholarship to a wider audience. It is from that by Peter and
Lindsey Joost, great friends and benefactors of Stanford Classics,
and named in memory and honor of professor of Lawrence Eitner,
who died a few years at the age of 89. He used to run what is now
the Cantor Art Center for decades, from the early 60s til
the earthquake year of 89. He also ran what was then the Department
of Art and Architecture, and was really instrumental in turning the art museum
into a leading regional art facility. Tonight’s speaker is Mary Beard,
without any doubt, one of the best known classicists
currently alive anywhere in the world. A fellow of Newnham College Cambridge,
where she had already been a student she has been teaching classics now for
quite some time. I’m not going to tell them how long,
but for some time. Is currently Professor of
Classics at Cambridge. A fellow of the British Academy. And is, in fact, in the US in part
not just to give this lecture. But to be inducted as
a foreign honorary member into the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences just this coming Saturday. Mary is not your ordinary distinguished
classicist in as much as you can be ordinary and
distinguished at the same time.>>[LAUGH]
>>Because her profile is unusually rich and varied. Of course, as all good academic citizens,
she has produced her fair share of work. In fact, one might say much
more than just her fair share. Most notably 10 books if
I’ve counted correctly so far on various aspects
of ancient civilization. One of her many areas of
expertise is Roman religion. Monumentally on display
in the two volumes, standard reference work religions of Rome,
that she produced with her colleagues, John North and the late Salmon Price. Another focal point, one that Professor
Lawrence Eitner which really would have approved of is her interest
of ancient art and architecture, with three books to date
Classical art from Greece to Rome, the Parthenon and
the Colosseum based on the manuscript left by the late Keith Hopkins, but
really largely written by Mary herself. Other books deal with more
general aspects of Roman history. Her first book Rome in the late republic. And the recent, the Roman triumph of 2007. She also published a book, a biography, a study of her of her famous
pre-colleague at Newnham, Jane Harrison, one of the most distinguished
female classicists of all time. But it’s two other books that
merit special attention here. One is published back in 1995,
classics a very short introduction. So if you have very little time and
you want to know about classics, this is the book to get. It fits almost into your
pocket of your jacket, almost, cuz otherwise I would have brought it. And her most recent book, the Fires
of Vesuvius Pompeii Lost and Found. I’m singling out those two items because
they take us to Mary’s activities beyond the Ivory Tower, for Mary’s
fame is not just among her colleagues, her academic peers, but
also among the educated public. Over the years, she has become one of the most
prominent voices of classics worldwide. For instance the book on Pompeii I just
mentioned led to the creation of a TV series for the BBC, in which Mary provided
an update on what we now know about this very famous site, trying to reconstruct
the daily life of its inhabitants. For almost 20 years now she
has been a classic’s editor of the Time’s Literary Supplement,
a very prominent perch from which to educate the public, all of us,
about developments in our field. In what is now, perhaps,
the most high profile venture, of course, is her famous blog. Named A Don’s Life,
which she publishes several times a week, on the website of the TLS,
the Times Literary Supplement. If you have ever wondered what classic
scholars do, what they think about, this is the place to find out. All of this shows that Mary Beard
is that rare creature, a highly distinguished scholar with an
exceptionally broad and wide public reach. In fact, Mary doesn’t just write the big
books, people actually read them.>>[LAUGH]
>>Which is clearly not the same thing. I just checked and discovered she’s one of the most
frequently cited ancient historians. In the English speaking world, which I guess she didn’t know
till I just mentioned it. Mary doesn’t like me to talk about the
size of her book advance and so the only thing I can say is that her work has been
very, very successful in every respect.>>[LAUGH]
>>And that’s not true of classicists in general. As I learned recently from an interview
on the Cambridge alumni magazine, which featured Mary among the leading
public intellectuals of Britain today, we’re not actually supposed to
call her a public intellectual because that sounds
pretentious to British ears. Luckily within the U.S.,
we can say whatever we like, including the truth,
which is that of course Mary is very much a public Intellectual quintessential
a public intellectual. In this capacity she’s much sought
after and always happy to oblige by maintaining a multimedia presence on the
web from the blog I already mentioned to her Twitter feed,
British radio television and the papers. In fact just this weekend as I
was flying back from New York, I was reading the weekend supplement
of the Wall Street Journal and I thought I could escape Mary’s reach just
for a few minutes doing so, but not so. There she was again in a column entitled
‘Religious Cults in Antiquity’, a top five list of Mary’s favorite
books on Greek and Roman religion. Now I have no doubt that someone who
can persuade the Wall Street Journal to pay attention to
Gods other than Manlin.>>[LAUGH]
>>Is someone who can accomplish anything. And that’s why we are so
lucky to have her amongst our colleagues, and very lucky indeed to be able
to welcome her here tonight. So please join me in extending a very warm welcome to Mary Beard.>>[APPLAUSE]
>>Don’t really know what to say after that,
except I’ll see you afterwards.>>[LAUGH]
>>Now, thank you very much everybody for coming, and thank you for the invitations
I rashly said at dinner last night. I’d come to Stanford whenever anybody
invited me, and so here I am. But to business. I want to start with this recently
discovered celebrity portrait. It was dragged out of
the River Rhone at Earl in 2007, and it has already been the subject of
a National Geographic television show, a French television documentary, and it has been the centerpiece of its
own special exhibition The reason for its fame is that it is supposed to
be a portrait of Julius Caesar. In fact, the underwater archeologist
who found it shouted as soon as he got back to the surface and took a better
look, my God, it’s Julius Caesar. Or I think he must have shouted
[FOREIGN] Caesar, right? Oops. It is claimed to be, in other words, one of those holy
grails of Roman portrait iconography. It’s not just a portrait of Julius Caesar,
but actually a portrait of Julius Caesar
carved from life in his own lifetime. Now the fact that he doesn’t actually look
like any other portraits supposed to be of Caesar, I shall come back to. But suffice it to say at this point
that that potentially awkward difficulty has been taken to be a sign of
this statue’s authenticity. Anyway, I start by trailing this
new discovery because directly or indirectly and whether or not you actually
count Julius Cesar as a proper emperor or not, it raises some of the main
themes of the lecture this evening. It highlights our desire to put
a Roman name to a Roman face and, or to put a Roman face to a Roman name. Nobody actually, least of all me,
much likes going into a museum and meeting rows and
rows of people labeled unidentified Roman. So, hence we put a name to them. It also hints as we shall see
that some of the very odd arguments that we resort to in order
to match up a face to a name and the very dodgy methods we
are happy to use to do so. And, as I hope to show,
it opens up a whole history of the naming project which goes back for
centuries and centuries, in all kinds of twists and
turns, re-identifications and gloriously over confident
mis-identifications. Now I should stress right at the beginning
of this lecture that I am not here to correct any mistakes. I’m not suggesting that there is some
magic way to get these identifications right. In a way,
I’m going to be doing the reverse. That’s to say, concentrating largely
on images of Roman emperors and of their partners, I’m going to be
suggesting that the mis-identification of these characters is at least as
important and as culturally and politically productive as
the identification of them. Going back to antiquity,
and right up to now. I’m going to be starting off
with the ancient world, but the second half of the lecture is going to
shift focus to the importance of taking imperial mis-identification seriously in
the history of Renaissance and later art. The hope is, in fact, that putting
ancient sculpture next to versions and adaptations of it by artists
as diverse as Varanasi, Rubens, and
Gerome we’ll pay dividends on both sides. So overall, I’m going to be trying
to celebrate all the glorious and fascinating ways that archaeologists and classicists have got these
identifications so very wrong.>>[LAUGH]
>>Okay? Okay, images of Caesar and indeed the history of rival images of
Caesar set the scene for me quite nicely. As I’ve already said, to find
a portrait sculpture of Caesar carved from life has traditionally been one
big aim of classical art history and of classical art collecting. Now, it is actually not absurd to imagine that such a portrait of Caesar
might have been preserved. Ancient literature makes it
pretty clear that there were lots of portraits of Caesar
done during his lifetime. And there are about 20 statue
bases still surviving, some of them probably
contemporary with Caesar himself. Which according to the words inscribed on
them once supported statues of Caesar. The trouble is that none of their
statues have survived with them. And none of the ancient
images that are claimed to be portraits of Caesar now is ever named. If you want a basic rule of thumb it is if
a bust comes complete with a label saying Julius Caesar, either it or
the label is 16th century or later. No statue named Caesar
could possibly be Roman. Now given that, given the mismatch between
inscription, statues, and all the rest. The basic coordinates for
identifying portraits of Caesar, have always been just two,
one rather more important than the other. First, and least important,
is Suetonius’s description of Caesar, written some 200 years
after his assassination. So let’s see what Suetonius has to say. He was a tall man, of fair complexion,
slender build with a rather full face. Or it what could actually mean
a disproportionately large mouth depending on how you translate the Latin. It doesn’t help when you’re
looking to match it. And lively, dark eyes, and
Suetonius stresses he was bald. A feature he disguised in the time-honored
way by combing his hair forward and wearing a large laurel wreath. Now it has never been easy to match
that description to surviving images, partly actually because of Suetonius’s
emphasis on color more than anything else. But the real problem is that Suetonius’s
remark about the rather full face, if that is what it means,
not the disproportionately large mouth, seems awkwardly at variance
with the second and more important key coordinate for
identification. Which is the images of Caesar that went
onto the coinage during his lifetime. The one most often relied upon, though I have to say there are others that
are rather different in character and usually get sidelined,
the one most often relied upon is this. A memorable coin, struck a few
months before the assassination. And it’s this image in particular
that since the Renaissance has been the favorite touchstone for attempting to
identify images of Caesar in the round. People have honed in on the scraggy neck,
the rather prominent Adam’s apple, the slightly gaunt face,
despite what Suetonius claims. And I guess, here, the cleverly disguised
baldness, cuz he doesn’t look bald. The trouble is though, that even so, there’s been a huge amount of
disagreement about what statues, what apparently portrait statutes
remaining, match up to this image best. Or even I think, underlying disagreement about what
can count as a good resemblance. Between a portrait sculpture in
the round and a miniature coin. So of the almost 200 statues,
and there are just three here, that have been seriously ever proposed
as an ancient image of Caesar. And the best one’s
an ancient image of Caesar, at least going back to
an image made in his lifetime. Of the 200 statues proposed, there is not a single one that has
not also been seriously challenged. Either because there are two
reasons it could be wrong, either because while the sculpture is
ancient, it certainly isn’t Caesar. Or because while it might be intended to
be Caesar, it certainly isn’t ancient. So we’re dealing with,
as well as ancient statues, of course, Renaissance or later copies,
various versions, and outright fakes. So the challenge is that these
statues come in two ways. They come in either it’s the wrong guy or
it’s the wrong date. Now I can’t, this evening, you’ll be
pleased to know, go through more than a tiny proportion of these positive
squadrons of potential Caesar’s. In all their variety, but
what I can do is point to another three, and the last one is the Roman Caesar
from which we started. Which, and
this is being pretty oversimplifying, but which really seemed to
me to be the main ones. That over the last 200 years, have been taken to be
the canonical image of Caesar and have been helped and dethroned in turn. It gives you, I think, a nice snapshot
of how different generations have claimed different Caesars for themselves. We dare start with this guy, I’m calling
the Caesar of the British Museum. This came in to the BM in
1818 as part of a mixed job lot brought from boat from British
collector who said he got it in Italy. It was originally cataloged as,
you guessed it, an unknown Roman, but in 1846, how, or by whom,
we simply haven’t a clue. The museum register was altered,
dated, and altered to identify it
as a statue of Caesar. From then on, for about a century,
this was the Caesar of modernities dreams. And it illustrated almost every biography
study of Caesar that there was. True, one enthusiastic conceded in 1892. The artist seems to have forgotten
the baldness or at least downplayed it. And it may not actually have been done,
absolutely directly, from life. But this writer went on, this statue
was done by a man who knew Caesar well. And had been so deeply impressed by
his personality that he has given us a better portrait of the man than
if he had done it from life.>>[LAUGH]
>>Others chimed in and macho saying, terms,
the bust wrote another fan in 1899. The bust represents the strongest
personality that ever lived. The man looks perfectly unscrupulous, as if most scruple could make him
falter in the pursuit of his aim. Now keep that picture in your mind and
listen to another description of it by another fan
who this time praises the sweet, sad patient smile that-
>>[LAUGH]>>That far off look into the heavens as of one searching the unseen. This is classic 19th century Caesar. There were, however,
always a few residual doubts. As early as the 1860s, the British museum handbook had to admit
that there were alternative views. There are critics it wrote who have
strenuously maintained that this is really a portrait of Cicero.>>[LAUGH]
>>But by the mid 20th century,
doubts of a different sort were growing. This was not Cicero,
it was certainly Caesar, all right, but it was an 18th century fake. And in 1961,
with a kinda final coup de grace, Bernard Ashmole completely
demolished any remaining claims that it might seem to
have had to authenticity. The giveaway, Ashmole argued,
was the texture of the skin, which had clearly been battered. Or distressed, as the technical term is,
to make the sculpture appear old. Now that’s kind of hard to see in this
slide, but I think if you look carefully, can see it’s kind of, it’s got sort
of very bad pock marked texture. As if it had kinda been bashed
with a Brillo pad or something. What Ashmole pointed out, particularly, is that you could see where this
distressing had actually stopped. They hadn’t done it all
completely correctly. That’s quite clear and that’s distressed. And everybody has believed, Ashmole. And, in fact,
his article demolishing Caesar, this Caesar, in 1961,
has never actually, been undermined. And the Caesar itself has now been in
enforced retirement for about 50 years. Though it does make occasional outings to
star in exhibitions of notorious fakes.>>[LAUGH]
>>Conveniently, however, the fortunes of another Caesar
were rising to take its place. This portrait head possibly once
belonging to a full length statue. Was discovered and
excavations conducted by Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon’s younger brother,
at Tuscalin in 1825. Bonaparte rather liked it, and
he took it to his estate near Turin where it was identified as either an old man,
or an elderly philosopher. But by the 1930s, when we have to
remember that Mussolini’s enthusiasm for Roman Emperors made images of
them well worth discovering. It was a subject of a surprise
re-identification by an Italian archaeologist. This, he wrote a few years later, was obviously a Caesar
portrait taken from life. The similarity with the coins was so striking as to require
no words to confirm it. Though he did go on to use
some words to confirm it. Look, for example, he said that the
wrinkled neck, the prominent Adam’s apple. And then the odd bumpy shape of the head,
which was, supposedly, the result, he argued. Of two non life threatening deformities of
the skull cynocephaly and plagiocephaly. Which he now re-retrospectively
diagnosed for Julius Caesar. All this was absolute
confirmation that this was either a portrait taken from life Or
perhaps that even more Holy Grail of Holy Grails might even have been
a portrait taken from Caesar’s death mask. When Caesar’s death mask was done,
I’m not quite sure. But that was the argument. And for much of the 20th century,
this sculpture provoked much the same kind of gushing
as the one in the British Museum. Quotes, the almost imperceptible
movement of the slightly lifted head and the moment
the contraction of the forehead and the mouth tell of a watchful and
superior presence. On has the impression of discerning
a certain aristocratic reserve or irony. That was written by a leading
archeologist not very long ago, and I will not divulge his name. But anybody wants to know and
ask me afterwards, I will tell them. Somebody should have known better. It is anyway a far cry from
the unidentified old man or old philosopher that he
was until the late 1930s. But the winds of change blew here too. Even the sculpture’s most ardent
modern admirers no longer particularly want to claim that this
is a portrait of Caesar from life. And some of them are prepared to admit,
indeed, that the piece itself is
actually relatively crude. Or if not crude originally,
now very badly corroded. And the biggest claim that you find about
it would now be something like this, that it is, like some of the other of
the 200 portraits, so called surviving. But he was a later Roman
copy of some lost bronze statue that was made in Cesar’s lifetime,
the old story. I’ll give you all the story. And I’m pretty certain that sooner or later the identification with Cesar
will be completely challenged. But anyway it no longer matters
very much because the portrait from the Lerone is now poised to take
over as the 21st century Caesar. It is instantly recognizable as Caesar so is claimed from the wrinkled neck and
the Adam’s apple. And as I hinted a few moments ago,
the reason it looks so different from the others that have
been identified as Caesar, is of course, because this is the only one that was
actually made in Caesar’s life time. So if course it looks different from
the feeble imitations that weren’t. It was put up in the town of Ahl,
it was argued, who’s patrons Caesar was. And when Caesar was assassinated, it was hastily chucked in the river,
to be found 2000 years later. Now, who knows,
if my own money it’s some local dignitary who just happened
to end up in the Rhone. Now, in telling this little story, and I shall be coming back
to it at the very end. I’m not simply trying to pour cold water on generations of pretty
careful art historical work. And in case anybody wonders,
I do actually think still, that it is important to try to workout
which Imperial images are Roman and which are modern versions or fakes. And if we’re honest, I think we
probably do all share a bit of that visceral drive to identify
these nameless heads. So I’m happy to accept that. But the point that I want to make,
or the first point I want to make, is that, right or wrong,
what’s interesting is that the methods we use to make these
identifications from the BN in 1846 to the Rhone in 2007 the methods we
use haven’t changed for centuries. Within the art history of Roman
portraiture, there is no new scientific magic bullet, all art historians
do is compare and contrast. And in a sense, I think gratifyingly, ancient art history just goes
on doing what it’s always done. Looks very hard at the objects and chooses the key diagnostic elements for
identification. The reason you get different
answers is because people pick different key diagnostic
features on which to focus. For Caesar, is it the Adam’s Apple,
is it the wrinkled neck, is it the overall appearance,
which sort of matches the coin, or what? And I think interestingly too,
in this process, we are not necessarily
becoming anymore skeptical or rigorous about who we find to
put the name of Caesar on. It’s not a question,
as I think we often like to think, of some poor old gullible
scholars in the 18th century being overtaken by their hard-headed
21st century successors. If anything, the reverse is the case. Winkleman, for example,
quoted Cardinal Albani, as doubting that any genuine
heads of Caesar had survived. Now whatever Albani
meant by genuine heads, I very much doubt that he would have
been much impressed by this one. Is the first point. There’s also, I think, something
wonderfully kind of anachronic, or if your a Walt Ruffin,
you’d say circular, all right, about the whole process of
identification that’s going on here. As different versions of Caesar,
modern ones, as well as ancient ones, combine to determine our vision of him and combine in turn to make some
ancient images look more plausible to us than others
as images of the great man. And that’s one reason why I’m
sure that when we come to think properly about Imperial portraits. We always have to take ancient images,
misidentified or not, together with modern images because they’re all
part of the same kind of feedback loop. To put it simply in relation to these
images here, even the most rigorous art historian, at least art historian
brought up in the United Kingdom meant, Caesar first of all, as the image
on the bottom right from asterisks, long before they ever looked
at a portrait sculpture. In some ways, how we think Caesar is, is determined not only by art
historical high ground method, but it’s also determined by all
the ways we’ve seen Caesar and be made to think of him ever since
we first capable of reading a book. Now, the very end, I want to come
back into that British Museum Caesar. But what I want to do now with Caesar as
the back drop, is to move on first of all, to some portrait images of the Imperial
family in the first hundred years or so of the empire. Looking to start with ancient images
as identified by modern historians. And then move on to modern images
based on our ancient ones. I shall be looking at
the Emperor Vitellius and finally, at the Agrippina’s both elder and
younger. My point is That the fluidity
of identifications, the kind of palincest of recognition and misrecognition, was crucially
important in antiquity itself. And that the history of
misidentifications of Roman Emperors and their women has been more than
a simple series of errors, but has actually been a marvelous cultural
driver over the last 500 years or so. Put simply, I think by and large we’d
been much too preoccupied with getting things right rather than seeing how
important the interesting mistakes are. Okay, so if we moved beyond Caesar to
Julia-Claudian emperors that followed him, the good news in a way is the situation
becomes quite a lot clearer. The Julia-Claudian has lasted a lot longer
than Caesar’s brief years in power and there are a few cases where
you can more or less marry up a name on a statue base where the statue
that might have stood on top of it. And it’s also generally easy, I think, to identify the portraits of some of the
key imperial figures within the dynasty. I think you’d have to be even
more skeptical than I am to start to deny that this was intended as
a vision of the emperor Augustus. Now, vision or image, I don’t mean
Augustus looked like that, but that the intention behind that image
was to create a portrait of Augustus. The detailed similarities,
particularly in the hairstyles, between some of the images of
individual members of the ruling house from Augustus on,
images that are found all over the Roman world has strongly suggested that there
were clay or wax models of authorized portrait types of imperial family
members disseminated from the center. Those of the assumptions that have guided,
by and large, have the last 50 years, at least we have looked at these portraits
that there were authorized types whose details were recoverable and
distinguishable and identifiable. Now that’s not entirely untrue. But I think it isn’t quite the end of the
story as much as it’s often taken to be. And in fact, although the position
with the Julian-Claudian emperor’s is a bit different than Julius Cesar, it isn’t as different as what
might appear at first sight. For a start beyond the particular
similarities that there are between different statues, there is
absolutely no evidence whatsoever for the supposed models sent
out from the center to the periphery guiding
the portrait type. And there is no evidence at all for the imperial infrastructure that
might have disseminated them. Goes without saying that we know all
kinds of things about the Roman imperial palatial hierarchy and infrastructure
from the hairdressers to the secretaries. There is no trace of the department
of visual propaganda at all. And there is certainly no evidence for
something that is also claimed that sometimes a new image of
the emperor was specially commissioned to coincide with
an important imperial event. Emperor becomes council for
the third time and a new authorized image with a slightly
different hairstyle is sent out. No evidence whatsoever. So I think one has to be
careful about the model idea. Secondly, the stress on these authorized
portraits of the Imperial family has had an extremely narrowing effect on our
view of Imperial portraiture in general. Now, look at this one. This is not Roman, by the way. It’s by the Papua New Guinean
artist Mathais Kauage and it is a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. In fact, it’s in the royal
collection at Buckingham Palace. Now, it’s this kind of out rider that
is literally not seen in a canonical approach to Roman portraiture,
because we’re preoccupied with the idea the authorized centralized version,
we simply don’t see the outriders. So actually this is one of the few named
portraits of Augustus that there is. And it’s actually in pharaonic
guise from an Egyptian temple. But third and this in sense is the main point that
guides the rest of what I got to say. No matter how hard you
study these portraits, how carefully you look at
these blasted locks of hair, which is supposed to brand the members of
the early Imperial house distinctively. You still do not get a firm identity and a consistent set of
answers about who is who. I just wanna give you
a couple of examples of this. Here’s a quite simple one,
another statue in the British museum and Scholars following pretty
much the same methodology, one with the other,
have labeled this sculpture completely differently over
the last couple of decades. He’s been labeled as Augustus himself. He’s been labeled as Caligula. He’s been labeled as
Augustus’ grandson Gaius. And of course,
he’s labeled as Gaius’s brother, Lucius. Four imperial contenders in one statue. Slightly more complicated
version is on the screen now. Somewhat puzzling
sculpture from the Vatican, which shows clear signs actually of
having been altered in antiquity, the back on the hair on
the far right is very odd. This has had even more identifications
in the last half century. He’s been called Augustus, he’s been
called Caligula, he’s been called Nero, he’s been called a statue of Augustus
reworked into a statue of Nero. And he’s also been called a statue of
Nero reworked into an Augustus and he’s been a statue of Augustus’ grandson
Gaius reworked into a statute of Nero. Now, who knows. And it’s not even a question
that people have been very clear about whether
the statues they see were or were not even members
of the Imperial family. This is a nice pair of figures,
one male and one female, from a building next to
the forum in Pompeii. They have been identified in numerous
different ways over the last century. As Augustus’ sister Octavia and her son,
or as Augustus’ wife Olivia and her son Druses, or perhaps the woman
that’s meant to be Nero’s mum, Agrippina. Or maybe as one common view now is,
they’re not members of the Imperial family at all, but they’re local burgers
of the tiny town of Pompeii, modeling themselves on a certain
style of Imperial image making. We still do not know. Now, over the last 20 years or so, there has been a truly
prodigious amount of work. Trying to draw yet finer and finer distinction Between these
different portrait images. As I said, focusing particularly on the
precise layout of the locks of the hair. At its most extreme,
almost denying any other general physiognomical
resemblance is all relevant. As long as it’s got the right hairstyle,
no matter what his face looks like, it’s the guy with that hairstyle. And the basic assumptions I’ve
said is that there was some official prototype for these. And the each emperor or prince would
have his own particular model portrait, and particular authorized hairstyle
transmitted through the clay or wax models sent out from the center. Now, quite a lot of this work has
been extremely and keenly observant. But it does seem to me to miss
one crushingly obvious point, particularly as the princes and the emperors of the Julio-Claudian
house is concerned. This is dynastic art and
these portraits are intentionally trading on similarity as much if not more
as they’re trading on difference. So you might even say that there was
a kind of perverse academic skill at work here. I mean, that’s to say we’re dealing
with a whole group of sculptures whose overwhelming characteristic is they
all look very like each other. And for centuries, the whole effort of scholarship has been
to try to show us how different they are. Now, seems to me that we need
to think about the similarity and what the similarity and
the intense and wonderful potential for confusion is actually doing. And that obviously means
thinking back to the succession problems of this imperial house. If you imagine a world in
which there were no rules for the hierarchy of succession, Augustus and
Livia have no children together and that their chosen heirs keep dying off
inconveniently early all over the place. You very quickly see that visual images
have a very key role to play here. They’re not just, as we’re often told,
forcing the image of the emperor into the field of vision of his subjects. They’re also crucially mechanisms for
parading and legitimating succession. What they’re doing is making
the heir look the part and looking the part means looking
like even if not quiet identical to the ruling emperor
whom you want to succeed. And they’re making every ruling
emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty look very like Augustus, to whom
ultimately the right to rule was traced. We find it hard to distinguish them,
and certainly the ancient observer would have too if there hadn’t been
a convenient inscription underneath. And indeed they’re
supposed to find it hard. We also should find it hard to tell
these apart, that is their point. There is really what’s going on I
suppose is a trade off between some elements of individuality but
crucially the identical brand image of the Julio-Claudian prince which means
that they’re all meant to look the same. Modern scholarship, in other words,
has got this project wrong. It concentrates on looking for
difference in imagery. But what is the key factor, is the elusive
identification, the similarity, and the constructive blurring of
dynasty that underlies them all. So, crucially important to see
these imperial busts look the same. Now, let’s fast forward a millennium and
a half and see some of the impact
of that kind of illusive identification or false certainties
about which emperor is which, working for
us in even more intriguing ways. It has an ancient root, but we can also
put this to work in interesting ways. So my point now, final point really,
is a related one to what I’ve been saying, But
in a sense taking it further. That is to say that in looking at
the long dura of ancient imperial image making ,we need to pay attention to and to enjoy the wrong identifications
as much as the possibly right ones. And I’m going to start from
a deceptively simple example which concerns the short-lived
emperor Vitellius, who you see here [LAUGH]
having his life shortened. Who briefly ruled in 69,
renowned for brutality and gluttony before he in turn is brutally
murdered and chucked in the Tiber. This is a different world from
Julio-Claudian dynastic continuity. Now, key image. Portrait on the screen here was supposed
to have been unearthed in Rome, in excavations and building work sponsored
by Cardinal Grimani in the 16th century. And was given by him to
the city of Venice in 1523, where it still is in
the Archeological Museum. Straight away,
it seemed a perfect match for some of Vitellius’ coins and it quickly
became known as the Grimani Vitellius. No, modern scholarship has entirely
denied that identification. For us this is certainly not
a portrait of Vitellius, though opinion is divided on what it is. Either a portrait of somebody in
the second century, identity unknown. Or a 16th century pastiche never
actually dug up like Grimani claimed, but confected to look Roman. But as one of the most famous
misidentications of sculpture of all time, it stood for
Vitellius in the cultural imagination for centuries and centuries. You find him absolutely everywhere. A misidentification or not, if you
follow its implications through you find an awful lot more at stake in this face
of Vitellius than you might think. Wrong as it is, a lot hangs on
the Vitellius signifier here. Just want to give you
a few examples of that. He has actually a cameo role, you might
not spot him yet, in this vast and famous canvas by Thomas Couture called
Romans in the Decadence of the Empire. It’s about 15 by 25 ft this canvas. And it’s a complex and
rich reflection on Roman Imperial vice, as well as being as almost every critic
hammered home in the 19th century, a scarcely disguised allegory for the
corruption of contemporary French society. But for the moment, I simply want to
pinpoint the Vitellius figure who is not actually hard to spot
There he is about to fall into a drunken sleep next to the slightly
icy maiden who is not looking at him. If you could see this in really big
detail, you’ll see instantly it is the Grimani Vitellius,
reworked here in painting. Now up to a point, what’s going
on here is a simple little bit of artistic borrowing, but
it is more than that I think. Seems to me that
the misidentified Vitellius here is steering how we read this scene. Because Vitellius is not merely
a libertine and so, not merely the kind of figure that you’d expect to find
in a picture of an Imperial orgy. We also know that Vitellius
suffered terrible punishment for his immorality as we’ve seen. So here in this painting, seems to me that he’s operating as
a kind of a glimpse of the future. He’s here as a guarantee of
what’s going to happen next. That the decadents that couture
was conjuring up will indeed be horribly punished. Something may also be, similarly,
at stake in this painting. This is one of Jerome’s famous
gladiatorial scenes and it’s now unusually entitled Hail Caesar,
Those About to Die. But in the 19th century
the painting was normally called Gladiators in Front of Vitellius. And that’s because the tiny
figure of the Emperor in his box, you only just see,
is again the Grimani Vitellius. Now, actually, as Jerome well knew,
the Colosseum, which is what the building clearly is, was certainly not
built by the reign of Vitellius. So why does Jerome flout the chronology? Why did he make the mistake? Well maybe because he was just
putting a pastiche together in which such incongruities
didn’t really matter. Maybe Jerome was being
uncharacteristically sloppy. Or perhaps, and this is what I would
rather see, by using the figure of this instantly identifiable,
even if misidentified Vitellius, he is helping us to read the moral dynamics
of the scene that we are witnessing. But appearances of Vitellius get even
more intriguing in paintings that take us outside the classical world
In the normal sense of the term. Now here on the screen is one of
the Veronese’s most famous and controversial paintings. It’s done in Venice for the refectory
of a Venetian religious order. And what has prompted
most discussion about it Is the fact that it was originally, almost
certainly, painted as a last supper, but then was strategically renamed by
Veronese after the inquisition had objected to several features
of it that they deemed unsuitable. And rather than change the painting,
Veronese changed the name. It was to be called after another biblical
banquet, The Feast at the House of Levi, which is how it is now known. Now, the figure I’m
interested in is this one. The large servant in the foreground who’s
often picked out in analysis of this painting, because he’s looking directly
at Jesus as if he were transfixed. And many people have seen that this
it makes it in some ways a scene of conversion. The servant is looking directly at Jesus,
and it looks as if what’s going
on is the light is dawning. If you look closer at him,
you will also see that the servant has the face of the Grimani Vitellius. So why does he here? Well, I think there’s surely
an interesting and edgy engagement between the painting and the historical
resonance of Vitellius himself. Here we’ve got the most luxurious and
extravagant glutton among the Roman Emperors paraded here as
a servant at a Christian banquet. The reversal is a pointed one, but it’s also one that’s intensified
in the Veronese by enacting, as it were, the very conversion
of Rome’s imperial monster and Venice’s best known Roman statue
right in the foreground of it. This is really big,
ideological lodging of this printing. The fact that we know that
this isn’t Vitellius Is immaterial to that reading of it. But let’s just quickly look at some
ladies who got rather missed out of this. I want to turn to the last example, to the figure of Agrippina, or
rather the two Agrippina’s. First of all, the elder Agrippina
who was the wife of Germanicus. The one who grieved nobly for
her dead husband and brought his ashes back to Rome. The woman who took widowly virtue
to the point of being actual frightful pain in the butt, and was exiled
by Tiberius and starved herself to death. Agrippina number one, and
Agrippina number two. Then her daughter, the younger Agrippina,
the wife of Claudius, whom she supposedly murdered and the mother and lover, and
eventually victim of the Emperor Nero. Now, issues of Agrippina’s identity,
contested and mistaken, come to the fore
all over the place. There are hundreds of possible Agrippinas
in Roman sculpture looking even more indistinguishable, as women tend
to do, than the Imperial princes. But the issues particularly hit home In relation to this Roman statue in
the Capital Art Museums at Rome. It’s been on display there
since the 17th Century, and it is now thought to be either an unknown
lady at the second century AD or a fourth Century AD statue of
the Emperor Constantine’s mother. But leave those aside. Through the 18th and 19th century,
she was Agrippina, and she was one of the highlights
of the tourist trail to Rome. Problem was, however, it was never
quite clear, which Agrippina she was. And visitor reactions to
her varied enormously according to which
Agrippina they had in mind. Either they see in her face the long signs
of suffering virtue as she planned to starve herself to death, or the quotes,
mild, pathetic, deep despair of the woman who was about to be murdered by
her son and lover, the Emperor Nero, okay? Touristic ambivalence,
however, was one thing, but it actually became a strongly politicized
ambivalence in the early 19th century when Canova was commissioned to sculpt
a portrait of Napoleon’s mother, and the model he chose was
the Agrippina of the Capitoline. Now, this proved to be
controversial in almost every way. First, because the fine line
between creative imitation and sheer plagiarism was rather
finer than usual here. And most critics, I’m afraid,
thought Canova’s work was a cheap copy. But even more to the point was
the question of which Agrippina it was. And so to which Agrippina Letizia
Bonaparte was being likened And critics again played fast and loose, largely according to their political
alignment with the bona partise. Was Letizia to be seen, as no doubt she
wanted, as the virtuous elder Agrippina? Or was she being satirized as
a new Agrippina the younger? Her strange relations with Napoleon
giving that option a particular piconsy. Of course, the real joke or
the real insult reflected on the son. Cuz if there was an honorable option for
Letizia here, in seeing her as Agrippina the Elder, there certainly
wasn’t one for Napoleon himself. For the one thing that both Agrippinas,
good and bad, had in common was
their truly terrible sons. The mad Caligula in the case
of Agrippina the elder, and the mad Nero in the case
of Agrippina the younger. And there were not a few critics and commentators, who felt indeed
that that was the point. That [INAUDIBLE] was using Agrippina
as a way of getting at Napoleon. And that is a fairly well known story and the sheer ambivalence of
the identification is its point. But in this one final example,
I want to focus on a work of art in which the chain of ambiguities has not,
in my view, ever been recognized, and has prevented us seeing
what the painting is about. I’m talking about this famous Reubens
in the National Gallery in Washington, which is currently labeled Germanicus and
Agrippina. Implying that it is the virtuous,
elder Agrippina with a husband of hers who was killed,
probably at Tiberius’ instigation. Now, this is actually a common pose for
ancient couples, and Reubens, certainly, I think, had some ancient model in mind,
so where is the problem? Well, simply, the earliest identification
of this painting is not Germanicus and Agrippina at all. But it’s Tiberius and Agrippina, and that
is how it entered the National Gallery. And that is the title it’s given in 1710,
in the earliest catalogue entry of it in
a collection in Vienna. It was re-identified in the 1960s, unofficially renamed Germanicus and
Agrippina. There were various reasons for
this, and in fact, actually, the ancient iconography of Tiberius and
Agrippina is difficult to distinguish. But the bottom line for the reason for
re-identifying it was that, to the modern eye, the pair of Tiberius and
Agrippina just didn’t seem to work at all. That’s to say, what on Earth,
if this is the elder Agrippina, what on earth was she doing
in side-by-side marital pose with the emperor Tiberius,
who forced her to suicide? Well, there is an answer which involves
an even further case of mistaken identity. What I’ve not reminded you of,
or confessed, is that there were not just two
Agrippinas, there were three Agrippinas. If you look at the family tree,
you’ll remember or see that Agrippina the elder had
a half-sister, called Vipsania Agrippina. Now we normally call
this Agrippina Vipsania, simply in order to cut down the number
of bloody Agrippinas we’re dealing with-
>>[LAUGH]>>And so not to get confused, but in Roman writers, and
through to the 18th century, this Vipsania Agrippina was also known, like the other two,
as Agrippina, and who was she? She was, of course, the first wife of
Tiberius, so who is this painting of? Well, it could be Germanicus and
the elder Agrippina, as the current identification has it, and that would
certainly be the more standard pairing. But I think you get a very powerful
reading of the painting if you think, along with the earliest catalog entry, that it is Agrippina number three,
Vipsania Agrippina. Let me just explain, Tiberius as Emperor
is usually portrayed as a morose, hypocritical, and vengeful old bastard.>>[LAUGH]
>>True, right, but according to Suetonius,
there was just one woman he really loved, it was his wife, Vipsania Agrippina. He loved her devotedly, but was forced
by his stepfather, the emperor Augustus, to divorce her. And to marry Augustus’ own daughter,
for reasons of dynastic convenience. He had no choice but to do what Augustus
said, but he never got over the divorce. According to Suetonius, on one occasion, he caught sight of his Vipsania Agrippina
in the street, and followed her, weeping, and his henchmen made sure
he never caught sight of her again. My question is, could there be a better
image to capture the relationship between Tiberius and
she who we call Vipsania than this one? This, in other words,
is a story about identification, misidentification, naming,
and modern renaming. And it’s a nice reminder
that current certainties and current names of who is who in
the imperial family are not necessarily better than the dismissed certainties
of two or three centuries ago. It is a bit of a game of smoke and mirrors, and the same is true for
ancient marble busts too. And just as a final coda, I want to go back to one of the images
of Caesar that I started from. This one in the British Museum, now
dismissed without much thought as a fake. Earlier this year, I went to have
a careful look at him in the museum, and certainly, one sees what Ashmel saw. He’s got distressed skin, and he certainly doesn’t look like an image
of Caesar from 1st century BC. But when I turned him round,
that is what I found behind his ears, what it appears to be is
unfinished drill work. Looks like the ear’s in that awkward
bit for a sculptural disaster, of the bit of space you have to
put between the ear and the head. The sculptor has just made
the drill holes, but has not yet finished actually finally
kind of freeing the ear. Now, it is possible that
that is still a fake, either just as some ancient sculptures are
unfinished, so some fakes are unfinished. Or even it could be a kind
of faking double bluff. But the likelihood is that that
bit of unfinished drill work, which Ashmel barely mentions when he’s so concerned to tell us about
the distressed face. Looks to me as if that
unfinished ear makes it quite, not overwhelmingly, but strongly likely that that portrait,
even if it isn’t Caesar, is not actually the fake
that Ashmel thought it was. In a sense, what it reminds us is
that issues of identification, whether they’re mistaken or not,
are never in this game finals, it’s always work in progress, thank you.>>[APPLAUSE]
>>For more, please visit us at Stanford.edu.

65 thoughts on “Mistaken Identities: How to Identify a Roman Emperor

  1. @Techylicious

    ay man i was just kidding, seriously congrats on on 1st view first like, envy is slim because it doesn't eat it bites

  2. Mary is a lovely and warm person and although I was never taught by her I know people who were. she is informal and natural and brings history to life infectiously.

  3. Like Mary, but agree with perhaps 50% of what she says on things like the Rhone Ceasar, and maybe 5% of what she says on politics ! But she gets a lot of discraceful stick on Twitter

  4. I question any and all history of the Roman Emperors, for the reason that all we know has been handed down to us in manuscripts copied and re copied for centuries by Christian monks. I do believe with conviction that these writing are biased and mostly propaganda designed to show them in a negative light. An empire as complicated and successful as Rome could not have been governed by the likes of a Caligula or Nero.

  5. Very interesting, as usual with Mary Beard. However the only conclusion I could make is that …now…I am not completely sure she was really Mary Beard. :p
    Thanks for uploading the video.

  6. One could argue that under bi-sexual pagan polytheist emperors the Roman Empire reached it's height of wealth and power. Under heterosexual monotheist Christian emperors the Roman empire declined and fell.

  7. Of course we do not know if Cesar´s bust is a fake or not. But it looks like Vladimir Putin…..

  8. I wonder why Stanford is so amateurish in their presentation. Mary isn't a homely woman, but if she is showing slides, I would rather look at her slides than her or at least have her slides or her face as insets. Frustrating to have her describing images that the audience in the auditorium obviously can see since she often looks towards her left-hand side. Not surprised though, since professors I have had seldom even showed slides, rather thought we would all be excited by looking at them when they described, in detail, a scene or image that a relatively simple slide would have been much appreciated. You know what they say; a picture is worth a thousand words.

    All that said, after watching the whole presentation, I think Mary, despite her international reputation, would do well to join Toastmasters Intl. One or two months attending meetings and I think she might be an enjoyable speaker. The subject matter was very interesting, but she is dry and a lousy presenter and Stanford didn't help by just showing her read her text to us.

  9. I love her! I love the way she makes these ancient humans come alive for me and i love the way she connects artworks and people and politics into stories.

  10. I'd love to have gone to see "Mel Brook's History of the World Pt1:Brooks, 1981" with Ms Beard and hear her take on the Roman section.

  11. 17:17 I learnt something new today – the collective noun for a number of Caesars – a "squadron of Caesars"

  12. One of the exegetical methods of studying the Bible specifically the Book of Revelation is to understand the Hebrews relationship with Rome. Thank you for bringing ancient Rome to life.

  13. Unless my eyesight is failing me, all of the sculptural representations of Julius Caesar cited in her lecture are very similar and  obviously based on the appearance of the same man. We should remember that sculpture in the ancient world was similar to photography in ours, and not always a form of propaganda.

  14. @8:23: The discoverer might've actually instead yelled: "Juste ciel, c'est Jules César!"…(Good heavens, it's Julius Caesar!)
    because it would have flowed more with the slight rhyme.

  15. Hollywood's traditional characterization of the fat luxuriant decadent caesar was created by Charles Lawton, who clearly is using Vitellius as a model. Many times Bugs Bunny, in one adventure or another, also used the Charles Lawton/Vitellius image for caesar as in 'Roman Legion-Hare', 1955.

  16. Cesar has been dead for ages, what difference does it make if we don't know what he actually looked like…give us our images back.

  17. Retarded! She's trying to convolute into a big deal what would otherwise be common sense for anybody with half a mind.
    I guess when you specialize in something for too long, your mind just goes bananas and the peel comes off…

  18. Mary Beard enjoys Mary Beard a hell of a lot more than I do. This is history for the "Masses"
    designed to entertain more than educate, plus they F/U on the slides. Stanford ===c minus

  19. Very interesting. I’d taken the identifications for granted up to now. The last bit about there being three Agrippinas was fascinating.

  20. when, at 15:00 or so, she is talking about a coin that she obviously has on screen to her left where she keeps looking as she speaks, why aren't we, the internet audience, shown said coin? I mean, it is supposed to be the best sure likeness we have of Caesar. This hurts me.

  21. Don't believe what this woman says, or rather view it through a filter. She's a leftist to the core and clearly has an agenda.

  22. How could Stanford University an allegedly upscale University have on such a hack an absolute buffoon who lies through her teeth in order to black-wash history such as Mary beard. Mary beard is politicizing history with today's slant and degenerate Neo trotskyist politics. She should be laughed out the door at every of her lectures. She is a far far far Neo Bolshevik left lunatic masquerading as a professor.

  23. Introduction is kinda… thank You… enough (listen it thou) !!! But all the lecture… or representation is just most enjoyable! It is most true way to see most loved Mary Beard in her element (and out of it… but been so most lovely, and knowing about subject, she is talking about). She is truly wonderful! She is inspirational! Thank You for the video!!

  24. Worlds most widely known bag lady….Mary Beard….
    Her basketball boots are famous in the academic world….they pong a bit.
    Mary is flavour of the month helped by her politically correct view of history.
    It's sort of like academia in former Iron Curtain countries…..FIRST you had to be proven to have the "right" political outlook BEFORE your knowledge of historical events…..
    Western academia is gradually shifting to the communist model but rather than the state being the primary Guardian of ideology….it is the students themselves!…….its serious and must be resisted.
    Like invading armies pulling down statues of leaders…..students are doing this in universities…..these immature pricks see history through PC glasses…..So it is possible that Alexander the Great would be called a sexist or racist!!.

  25. Her mannerisms are so distracting I find myself waatching to see what she will scratch next rather than paying attention to the lecture.

  26. I would surmise that there is a strong possibility that a real bust of Caesar and or other Emperors will be found in either, Pompeii or Herculaneum, eventually.

  27. The speaker who gives the introduction, speaks with a German accent; but not just a German accent; he speaks with a Bavarian accent. Bavaria is an important place in the cultural history of Europe.

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