BERK-E24C84: Roman bust: Bust of Marcus Aurelius (front)

Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
CC License:

Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
CC License:

Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
CC License:

Image use policy

Our images can be used under a CC BY attribution licence (unless stated otherwise).


Unique ID: BERK-E24C84

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Awaiting validation Find awaiting validation

A very unusual portrait head and neck of a bearded male, cast in statuary bronze using the hollow wax technique. It is 162mm high, has a maximum width of 115mm, is 99mm wide from ear to ear and weighs 2.1kg. The base of the neck is flat, with an external base diameter of 80-86mm and the thickness of the base edge is 5-6mm. The head is portrayed in a provincial style, exhibiting a fusion of classical and native traits. It has a narrow face, a low brow framed by a fringe of seven gently twisted curls. The full hair on the crown and back of the head is cast in low relief and consists of a richly textured style of swirls of three-strand curls, with curls of six or seven strands of hair extending to the nape of the neck. The small ears (34mm long) are not realistically rendered and depict only the lobe and outer frame. The nose is also small (32mm long) and has a straight bridge and no nostrils. No eyebrows are depicted. The beard and moustache are extremely stylised. The terminals of the relatively long moustache curve upwards very slightly and do not join the beard. The moustache follows the line of the sketchily treated down-turned mouth which is indicated by a single groove, giving a lugubrious effect. The short, curled beard is forked, with each conical 'prong' represented by a neat twist, formed by three coils of hair. Beneath the lower jaw, additional detail on the forked beard is defined with a cold-worked, narrow single groove. Similarly striking is the treatment of the eyes. The large, almond-shaped eyes are 31mm wide and are slightly slanted, framed by a moulded ridge and the pupils consist of discs of blue glass set flush to the eye's surface. There is slight damage to the glass pupil in the left eye. On the back of the head there are a small number of small (≤ 5 mm) dents or flat areas where the detail of the hair curls appears interrupted. These are interpreted as evidence for the spacers or pins that would have pierced the wax model and connected the outer clay mould and the core. On the top of the head is a small (~ 10 mm) patch of brown corrosion where XRF analysis revealed highly increased levels of iron. There is a similar corresponding dark patch on the inner surface which suggests that a small iron rod was used here as a spacer.

A number of analyses were carried out on the metal surface without any preparation or removal of corrosion products using a handheld XRF spectrometer, Innov-X Systems Model Alpha 4000.[i] The analytical results for the neck and base consistently clustered around the composition of 75% copper, 8% zinc, 8% tin and 8% lead, in addition to traces of iron, nickel and titanium. More corroded areas of the head and the hair yielded more variable results, typically with higher concentrations of lead, probably resulting from the precipitation of lead oxide on the patina. Unfortunately, due to the relatively high thickness and density of the object, the radiography did not reveal any further information regarding these features. The chemical composition of the blue glass settings in the eyes cannot be quantified, given that the analyses were performed in air, and thus the concentration of light compounds such as soda, silica and lime (i.e. the main constituents of Roman glass) cannot be detected reliably. More significant was the detection of small concentrations of antimony and manganese, both of which are known to have been employed as glass decolorants as well as traces of cobalt, the element responsible for the deep blue colouration of the glass.

This head represents the 16th portrait-like head executed in similar provincial style currently known from Britain. This small group of bronze statuary includes heads or busts representing emperors and deities from Willingham Fen, Cambs., Duston, Northants., Felmingham Hall, Norfolk, Icklingham, Suffolk and the female head with almond-shaped eyes inset with black pebbles, probably from Silkstead, near Otterbourne, Hants. [ii] The small number of heads or busts cast in bronze and found in Britain share characteristics such as slanting eyes and the textured patterning of the hair identifies them as the products of a provincial Romano-British workshop. The Brackley head can be dated to the mid-late second century AD by its resemblance to images of Antonine emperors, especially Marcus Aurelius. It may perhaps be inappropriate to suggest that the head from Brackley represents the local rendering of an imperial portrait, but a profile image on a coin portrait of Marcus Aurelius might have been its inspirations. [iii] .

The following are thanked for their comments: S. Walker, B. Smith, M. Vickers, J. Wilkes, M. Fulford, A. Bowman, M. Millett, R. Jackson, R. Hobbs, R. Bland, J. Williams, L. Burn, I. Jenkins, T. Opper, A. Macgreor, J. Bayley, D. Hook, S. La Niece, P. Craddock, J. Price, J. Casey, P. Stewart and especially M.Henig.

[i] XRF analysis conducted by M. Martinon Torres, Institute of Archaeology, UCL and D. Hook, British Museum..

[ii] J. M. C. Toynbee, Art in Roman Britain (1962), 124, 126, 146, 148-9, plates 2-5, 7, 47, 52; M. Henig 1984, 142-143, 64; A. Kaufmann-Heinimann, Götter und Lararien aus Augusta Raurica : Herstellung, Fundzusammenhänge und sakrale Funktion figürlicher Bronzen in einer römischen StadtForschungen in Augst 26 (1998), 231, GF6, Abb. 180; G. Denford, Britannia (1992), 37, 39-40, fig. 9.

[iii] S. Moorhead, pers. comm; H. Mattingly, Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum Volume IV Antoninus Pius to Commodus (1968), pl. 82, no. 1 and no. 10; P. Zanker, Provinzielle Kaiserportraits Zur Rezeption der Selbstdarstellung dec Princeps, (1983), Tafel 22/2.

Find of note status

This is a find of note and has been designated: National importance

Subsequent actions

Current location of find: Ashmolean Museum
Subsequent action after recording: Acquired by a museum - not a Treasure case


Broad period: ROMAN
Period from: ROMAN
Date from: Circa AD 100
Date to: Circa AD 200

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 160.4 mm
Width: 120.7 mm
Thickness: 4.2 mm
Weight: 2500 g
Diameter: 78.5 mm

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Thursday 15th April 1976

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Miss Anni Byard
Identified by: Miss Anni Byard
Secondary identifier: Ms Sally Worrell

Materials and construction

Primary material: Copper alloy
Secondary material: Glass
Manufacture method: Cast
Completeness: Complete

Spatial metadata

Region: East Midlands (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Northamptonshire (County)
District: South Northamptonshire (District)
To be known as: Brackley

Spatial coordinates

Grid reference source: From a paper map
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 100 metre square.

Discovery metadata

Method of discovery: Agricultural or drainage work
Discovery circumstances: Brought up after deep cross-ploughing
Current location: Ashmolean Museum
General landuse: Cultivated land

References cited

No references cited so far.

Similar objects

Find number: NMS-8B3A40
Object type: FIGURINE
Broadperiod: ROMAN
Material: Garnet Height: 20mm, width: 17mm, weight: 14.5g Condition: Fracture on the dome of the head with several cracks and small chips…
Workflow: PublishedFind published

Find number: WILT-ECCBB4
Object type: FIGURINE
Broadperiod: ROMAN
Roman copper alloy figurine fragment, consisting of the head of Jupiter, hollow cast with an ancient break at the top of the neck. The head …
Workflow: Awaiting validationFind awaiting validation

Find number: LIN-E78777
Object type: CLAY PIPE (SMOKING)
Broadperiod: MODERN
An elaborate 'French figural' clay pipe bowl depicting the artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). The face closely resembles Rubens as seen in…
Workflow: Awaiting validationFind awaiting validation

Timeline of associated dates

Report a mistake

1 comment

  • Tim Padley wrote @ 10:08:34 on the 23rd July 2012. Th forked beard was a characteristic of portraits of the Emperor Septimius Severus. He also visited Britin to lead his army against the Caledonians. If it is an imperial portrait, perhaps it is of him rather than Marcus Aurelius?

Audit data

Recording Institution: BERK
Created: 9 years ago
Updated: 4 years ago

Other formats: this page is available as qrcode json xml geojson pdf rdf representations.