Saturday, May 17, 2008

New Discoveries at Arles

I am slipping on my classicist's hat today to comment on the exciting new archaeological discovery near Arles: four sculptures, found at the bottom of the Rhone River, including a striking bust thought to be Julius Caesar himself (pictured). Luc Long, the archaeologist supervising the excavation, dates the bust to about 46 B.C. and believes it may have been tossed in the Rhone in the turbulent times after Caesar's assassination in 44 BC. Without an inscription it is difficult to confirm the Caesar identification, but it's definitely likely: Arles (Roman Arlate) was founded at Caesar's direction, and the style of the portrait, with its strong signs of aging and close-cropped hairstyle, puts it squarely in the Republican period. (I'd like to see a profile view to compare to images of Caesar on coins, but nobody's posted one.) Also found were a 5.9 ft statue of Neptune--appropriate deity for a town involved in maritime trade--and two smaller bronze statues, one described as a satyr with hands tied behind his back (likely Marsyas, I'm thinking). The statues will go on display in the fantastic antiquities museum there at Arles (which is definitely worth visiting). They remind modern-day viewers that in Roman times Arles was the greatest city in Gaul and one of the most important cities of the empire.

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