Petworth House is home to a large collection of Roman sculptures, and while most are of unidentified individuals from across the ancient Roman period, several have been identified through their features or have had names attributed to them.
Those identifiable ones are naturally emperors or members of the imperial family figures, or those associated with them, whose image was mass produced and sent out across the Empire. To give you an idea of how many meant by mass-produced, Mary Beard in her recent Twelve Caesars states the current estimate of images of the first emperor Augustus at ‘perhaps between twenty-five thousand and fifty thousand portraits of Augustus in all’. So many images were produced as the emperor had to be easily identified and recognised. In the most remote part of the empire, a portrait of the emperor served to remind the locals of who his presence. There also had to be enough of a difference between each emperor to tell them apart.
The identified Roman busts, portraits and statues in the House are spread out throughout the publicly accessible rooms. This guide will provide brief biographies for the ones who have been identified, or had identities attached to them, moving through the rooms from the Square Dining Room to the North Gallery. The order, so far as possible, is as viewed when walking round not in chronological order.
The Grand Tour evolved during the seventeenth century to become a formative experience for the leaders of British society. Nobles, aristocrats, landed gentry, and politicians all made this rite of passage, men who had been imbued with the classical world though their education. In addition, Britain was forming its Empire and these men were at its heart. The burgeoning British empire was seen as the inheritor of Rome – Roman empire was one for Britain to emulate. J Paul Getty, the American collector adopting the view point of 18th century collectors, who filled their houses with classical statutory, wrote [Getty 2011 p33] on building up his collection of classical statues “the collector can, at will, transport himself back in time and walk and talk with the great Greek philosophers, the emperors of ancient Rome, the people, great and small, of civilisations long dead, but which live again through the objects in his collection.” There was also a more directly personal element. The conceit of equivalence in having a bust of a Roman emperor close to a bust of the owner of the house gravitas to that owner! Above all others, the destination of the Grand Tour was Rome—the crossroads of the ancient and the Christian worlds—and the place that epitomised Western civilisation.
The site of the vestiges of the Roman Republic and Empire, those sources of European law and administration, and of the noble examples of pagan virtue and rectitude that inspired the classical ideals of the gentry and nobility, So, what better or more logical than to collect a few or in some cases an enormous number of appropriate “souvenirs”. There seems to be no over-arching theme as to the “Imperial” collection of the Second Earl Egremont other than the busts are members of or linked to the imperial family. Some of the individuals depicted were in reality most unsavoury characters and are far from being examples of “pagan virtue and rectitude.”
Bust of Antinous
Figure 1: Portrait of Antinous, collection number NT 486364
Born: 27th November, AD 111
Died: Before 30th October, AD 130
Antinous was the Bithynian (north-west area of modern Turkey) youth loved by the Emperor Hadrian (more on him later). In AD 130 during a boat trip along the Nile, Antinous drowned in the river. We will never know if he fell, jumped or was pushed, but Hadrian deified him and ordered the construction of a town, Antinoöpolis, on the site. After his deification, especially in Egypt, Antinous became syncretic with Osiris. Antinous, according to Caroline Vout (Professor of Classics, University of Cambridge), is the third most depicted individual from the Roman period in statuary, behind Augustus and Hadrian, with over 100 busts or statues of him having been discovered and identified.
This is fairly remarkable as they must have been all created between his death in AD 130 and Hadrian’s death in AD 138. The Petworth Antinous is carved from crystalline Parian marble, and while larger than life, isn’t large enough to be considered as Colossal.
Colossal Bust of a Severan Empress
Figure 2: Portrait of Julia Mamaea, collection number NT 486352
Born: 14th or 29th of August, after AD 180
Died: 19th March AD 235
The colossal portrait sits in the corner of the Marble Hall, by the door leading to the Beauty Room, can be identified as being from the Severan period of Imperial Rome by her hairstyle, and the imperial identification comes from it being double life size, a scale reserved for the imperial family and goddesses.
She is currently identified as Julia Mammaea (or Mamaea). Julia M was the mother of Alexander Severus, the last of the Severan dynasty of emperors. According to one source, the historian Herodian, she had quite the sway over the young emperor. He suggests that she may have prevented him marching into enemy territory with the army through her ‘feminine fears or excessive mother love restrained him’. The two of them were murdered by soldiers in AD 235 while on campaign.
One can see an altar dedicated to Alexander and Julia, with their names erased in an act of damnatio memoriae (modern term given to the act of erasing names and statues in the Roman period to damn their memory), at the British Museum. While the wives of the previous dynasty of emperors (Nerva-Antonines) were powerful as empresses, the level of power that the Severan empresses wielded had not been seen since the women of the Julio-Claudian dynasty roughly two centuries earlier. These incredibly powerful Julio-Claudian women included Livia, wife of the first emperor Augustus, and Agrippina Minor, the mother of Nero.
Statue of Nero as a Young Boy
Figure 3: Statue of Nero as a Young Boy, collection number NT 486361
Born: 15th December AD 37
Died: 9th June AD 68
Petworth’s statue of Nero as a Young Boy is only one of 3 identified in the world (the others being in the Louvre and in the Archaeological Museum at Parma). One of the “worst” Roman emperors, Nero was the last of the Julio- Claudians and ruled from AD 54-68. The sculpture itself looks slightly off, like the neck is too long and the head is a slightly different colour and too narrow. This might, of course, be due to restorations and modern fixings. Nero’s reign oversaw the creation of the Great Fire of Rome, and the construction of the Domus Aurea (Golden House). A section of the Domus Aurea can still be visited on the Oppian Hill today.
Despite the recent British Museum exhibition to rehabilitate opinion of Nero, it is not controversial to state that he is still not received overly positively. He was accused by later sources of murdering his step-brother Britannicus, his mother Agrippina Minor, his first wife Claudia Octavia, and his second wife Poppaea Sabina. Nero was adopted by the emperor Claudius when he married Agrippina Minor (who happened to be Claudius’ niece), after Claudius had divorced his 3rd wife Valeria Messalina, Britannicus’ mother.
Bust of Antoninus Pius
Figure 4: Bust of Antoninus Pius, collection number NT 486383
Born: 19th September, AD 86
Died: 7th March AD 161
The fourth of Edward Gibbons’ Five Good Emperors, Antoninus Pius was adopted by the emperor Hadrian and at the same time adopted Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, ensuring the dynastic succession of the imperial power. There are several theories as to why he received the ‘Pius’ part of his name, one being that he fought the Senate for the deification of Hadrian. Antoninus oversaw a relatively peaceful reign of just over 22 years.
He was born in Lanuvium, south of Rome, and his family hailed from Nemausus in the south of France (modern Nîmes). He married Faustina Major (more on her later) and, after death in AD 141, had her deified and constructed a temple dedicated to her in the Roman Forum, which was then edited to included him after his death in AD 161. It was under his reign that the Antonine Wall was constructed between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde. Antoninus precedes his adopted father in the line of busts along the wall of the Carved Room.
Bust of Hadrian
Figure 5: Bustof Hadrian, collection number NT 486384
Born: 24th January, AD 76
Died: 10th July, AD 138
Another of Gibbons’ Five Good Emperors, Hadrian was the adopted son of Trajan (though there is still some debate around the legitimacy of the adoption). Ruling the empire from AD 117 until 138, Hadrian was a great Hellenophile (a lover of all things Greek). He was given the nickname Graeculus in his youth, meaning Greekling due to his enthusiasm for Greek literature and culture.
He was also an avid traveller, going across the empire to visit the provinces and assess the troops. It was Hadrian who brought beards back into everyday Roman style, and, of course, he built the wall which runs between Carlisle and Wallsend in the north of England. Hadrian was married to Vibia Sabina but the Bithynian youth Antinous became his favourite companion until he drowned in AD 130. If you are in Rome, then the colossal temple of
Venus and Roma, as well as the core of the Castel Sant’Angelo are Hadrianic constructions, as is the Villa Adriana, about an hour away from Rome in modern Tivoli.
Bust of Septimius Severus
Figure 6: Bust of Septimius Severus, collection number NT 486382
Born: 11th April, AD 145
Died: 4th February AD 211
The winner of the Year of the Five Emperors, Septimius Severus was the first of the Severan dynasty which ruled Rome in the late 2nd – early 3rd Century AD. Septimius himself ruled from AD 193-211. As emperor Septimius lavished his city of birth (Leptis Magna) with wealth and construction projects, but certainly also paid great expense in Rome, with additions to the Imperial Palace on the Palatine Hill, the Septizodium at the base of the hill near the Circus Maximus, beginning the Baths of Caracalla on the Via Appia, and his Triumphal Arch in the Roman Forum.
At Petworth there is another bust of Septimius in the North Gallery, close to a portrait of his Year of the Five Emperor’s Rival and short term second-in-command, Clodius Albinus.
Bust of Valerian II or Saloninus
Figure 7: Bust of Valerian II or Saloninus, collection number NT 486357
Born: Unknown (Valerian II), AD 242 (Saloninus)
Died: AD 248 (Valerian II), AD 260 (Saloninus)
Identified on the National Trust Collections online database as one of the sons of the emperor Gallienus, this bust sits amongst the other Roman child busts on the interior wall of the Carved Room. Neither of the sons of Gallienus held any kind of imperial power for long, Valerian II died under suspicious circumstances in Illyria, and Saloninus was murdered by soldiers of the usurper emperor Postumus at Cologne.
The dynasty started by the grandfather Valerian I saw the fracturing of the empire after Valerian I was defeated and captured at the Battle of Edessa in AD 260. Valerian II was made Caesar by Gallienus in AD 256 and then died in AD 258, upon which his younger brother Saloninus was promoted to Caesar. During a standoff with the troops of Postumus over some raided treasure, Saloninus, his Praetorian Prefect Silvanus, and some loyal troops fled to Cologne where they were besieged by the troops of the Usurper Postumus. The troops of Saloninus declared him emperor, but this did not stop him being handed over to Postumus and killed.
Bust of Clodius Albinus
Figure 8: Bust of Clodius Albinus, collection number NT 486345
Born: circa AD 150
Died: 19th February, AD 197
One of the claimants to the imperial power during the Year of the Five Emperors, Clodius was Governor of Britannia when he made the claim.
The Year of the Five Emperors was what ancient historians call the year AD 193, when five separate men claimed the title of emperor (Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Pescennius Niger, Clodius Albinus and Septimius Severus). Clodius aligned with Septimius Severus, serving as his Caesar (by this time not just a name but title meaning heir apparent) in the fight against the other claimants Didius Julianus and Pescennius Niger.
Septimius would eventually decide to turn on Clodius, leading to a massive battle at Lugdunum (Lyon). The two identified depictions of Clodius in the North Gallery are two of only seven that I am aware of worldwide, the others can be found in the Musei Capitolini in Rome, The Museo del Prado in Madrid, the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid the Cordoba Archaeological Museum, and the Saalburg Museum in Germany.
Statue of Agrippina Minor
Figure 9: Statue of Agrippina Minor as Ceres, collection number NT 486309
Born: 6th November, AD 15
Died: 23rd March, AD 59
One of the most influential and important women from the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Agrippina Minor may come just behind Livia, wife of Augustus, in the power she wielded. Agrippina Minor was the granddaughter of Augustus, daughter of Germanicus, sister of Caligula, fourth wife and niece of Claudius, and the mother of Nero. Outlasting a lot of the other members of the Julio-Claudian line she marries Claudius and becomes his empress on the 1st of January AD 49. She became a trusted advisor to her husband and one of our sources claims that “As soon as Agrippina had come to live in the palace she gained complete control over Claudius”.
Once Claudius died in AD 54, possibly through her poisoning him, she held sway over Nero’s early reign, listening in on meetings of both the Senate and foreign dignitaries. As the AD 50s went on, Nero started to find her presence overbearing, so she was forced out of Rome in AD 58, and lived in Misenum in the Bay of Naples. Nero then tries to kill her, most famously with a boat rigged to collapse and drown her, though she survives, so he gives up the theatrics and sends an assassin to stab her. In the statue here, she is depicted as Ceres, a popular motif for the imperial women.
Bust of Faustina Major
Figure 10: Bust of Faustina Major, collection number NT 486366
Born: 16th February, circa AD 100
Died: October or November, AD 140
Faustina Major was the wife (married circa AD 110-115) and empress of Antoninus Pius, she was also the niece of Hadrian’s wife Vibia Sabina. She gave birth to two sons and two daughters while married to Antoninus, though only Faustina Minor would live to adulthood and see her parents become emperor and empress.
The elder Faustina was only empress for two years before she died in AD 140, though she was seemingly a popular empress, with her hairstyle being widely emulated, a company of couriers in Ephesus naming themselves after her, and a company of clapper-players in Puteoli dedicating an altar to her. A letter between Antoninus and Fronto (tutor to Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus) states how much he loves her.
When Faustina died in AD 140, Antoninus had the Temple in the Forum dedicated to her constructed. There is a second bust of Faustina Major in the Carved Room, though according to the collections online, this is a Renaissance bust.
Head of Emperor Gallienus on body of a Seated Man
Figure 11: Head of Gallienus on the body of a Seated Man, collection number NT 486321
Born: AD 218
Died: September AD 268
The emperor Gallienus is the central point of the 3rd Century Crisis (the modern term for the highly unstable period of the Roman empire between AD 235-284). His father, the emperor Valerian, is beaten and taken prisoner by Shapur I (the second Sasanian King of Kings of Iran) at the Battle of Edessa. This left Gallienus to deal with the revolts and wars in both the eastern part and the western parts of the empire.
This included multiple attempted usurpations, some of which Gallienus successfully dealt with, some he did not. As mentioned in the section on Valerian II/Saloninus, the revolt of Postumus in this period sees the formation of the breakaway Gallic Empire, this is made worse when the city of Palmyra also revolts, led by king Odaenathus and queen Zenobia in AD 263.
Though the later emperor Aurelian would recapture both the Gallic and Palmyrene territories for the Roman Empire, the loss of such territory has not shone a favourable light on Gallienus. If you are ever in Rome, you can find the Arch of Gallienus, formerly the Porta Esquilina, near the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
Bust of Marcus Aurelius as a Young Man
Figure 12: Bust of Marcus Aurelius as a Boy, collection number NT 486341.
Born: 26th April AD 121
Died: 17th March AD 180
Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher emperor, known as much for his stoic beliefs as his ruling of the Roman Empire. His Meditations are still widely read today. The portraits of the Antonine emperors as youths are fairly common, and the one in our collection may have been carved before his adoption by Antoninus Pius at the age of 17 in January AD 138.
Even as a young man we can see there is a certain seriousness on display in the portrait. This may indicate that it is Marcus around 17 years of age when he was adopted. As emperor Marcus Aurelius would have to deal with the deadly Antonine Plague and two major wars. The first war he sent his co-emperor (though not his equal) Lucius Verus to deal with, this war occurred right at the start of the reign of Marcus in AD 161 and lasted until AD 166. The second war was the Marcomannic War and lasted from AD 166-180 when Aurelius died, leaving his son Commodus as sole heir and to finish the campaign.
Aside from his philosophical writings, the two most famous legacies of Marcus Aurelius are the bronze equestrian statue in Musei Capitolini, and the Column of Marcus Aurelius in Piazza Colonna in Rome.
An End Note
So, there we have it, twelve statues or busts of people connected with the imperial era of Roman history, from its early stages under the Julio-Claudians (27 BC – AD 69) through to the 3rd Century Crisis (AD 268). Some more common ones, like Hadrian and Antinous, through to rarer depictions like Valerian II (or Saloninus) and Clodius Albinus.
There are other ancient items within the collection at Petowrth House, including two (presumably) grave reliefs, several vases, plenty of anonymous Roman busts and portraits, and statues of gods. These mostly reside in the Carved Room or the North Gallery. You can find the results of a search for ‘marble’ and ‘Roman’ at Petworth House on the National Trust Collections website at https://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/results?SearchTerms=roman&Places=ea0b150 7fffffe0702132e041e55528b&MaterialTechnique=marble&Page=1 or head to my Flickr.
- Beard, Mary, Twelve Caesars, 10, citing Pfanner ‘Über das Herstellen von Porträts’, 178-79.
- Vout, Caroline, Antinous, Archaeology, History”. The Journal of Roman Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. 95: 80–96.
- Herodian 5.8, translated at https://www.livius.org/sources/content/herodian-s-roman- history/herodian-6.5/
- Anthony Birley, Restless Emperor, 16–17
- Mumblerjamie’s Flickr Photo
- https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/emperor-clodius-albinus/994cfb91- 4ceb-427a-8c10-50d07bcae713
- Madrid Archaeological Museum Clodius Albinu
- Cordoba Archaeological Museum Clodius Albinus
- Cassius Dio, Roman History, Book 50.32 – translated at https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/61*.html
- Fronto ad Antoninum Pium 2, translated at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Correspondence_of_Marcus_Cornelius_Fronto/Volume_1/The_ Correspondence#cite_note-157“That part of your speech, which you most kindly devoted to honouring my Faustina, seemed to me as true as it was eloquent. For this is the plain fact: By heaven, I would sooner live with her in Gyara than in the palace without her.”
- Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius