Lost bust of Gaius Caesar to go up for auction

Bust of Gaius Caesar - copyright Bonhams Antiquities

A Roman marble portrait bust of Gaius Caesar, the adopted son of Augustus Caesar, is expected to fetch up to £150,000 when it goes under the hammer this week.

Created just months before Gaius’s death in AD 4 and restored in the late 18th century, the bust is one of a small number that features Gaius with long sideburns and a short beard.

The bust, which is to go up for auction on Wednesday at Bonhams Antiquities, was acquired from an American collector.

Gaius Caesar and his brother Lucius Caesar were the sons of the Emperor Augustus's only child, Julia, and his close confidant Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa.

With no sons of his own the emperor adopted the brothers in 17 BC, and they were intended as his successors. However, both died young, predeceasing Augustus who died in AD 14.

Gaius died aged 23, months after sustaining a wound at the fall of Artagira in Armenia in AD 3.

Madeleine Perridge, head of antiquities at Bonhams, told historyextra: “The bust is a beautiful piece with a very sad history.

“It was created just after the death of Lucius, when Gaius was the last grandson and heir remaining.

“It shows a young man with everything ahead of him, but who tragically dies aged just 23, only two years after the death of his younger brother.

“His death was a real destruction of everything Augustus had been working towards, trying to preserve his heritage.

“It tells the story of two lost princes, once presented as heirs who would firm up the dynasty, but then all of a sudden die.”

Describing the bust, Perridge said: “Gaius looks idealised. The beard and sideburns are quite unusual, and give the bust a ‘rarity factor’.

“The facial hair had a military connection – it made Gaius look like a military leader.

“The bust was part of a propaganda campaign – it presented Gaius the way Augustus wanted him to look.

“Busts were scattered all over the empire, but bearded busts such as this one were more rare. It was probably made in a Roman workshop.

“It’s a very impressive size and of beautiful quality.

“It tells of Roman history but also has a lot to say about the history of collecting classical marbles.

“It was created during the heyday of these pieces. It’s a great reminder of how we became interested in the classical world.”

The bust was acquired from an American collector who purchased it in Los Angeles. The history of who owned the bust before this collector is unknown.

“Somewhere out there is the history of this piece,” said Perridge.

“Hopefully an academic will one day do some detective work and fill in the gaps.”

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