Roman Bronze Priest of the Late Empire or the Emperor Gordian II

Roman · ca. 230 – 250 A.D.




H: 33 cm





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This head has a rounded neck so as to be inserted into a bust or a statue. The man has a pronounced, aquiline nose. His eyes, carved in a crescent-moon shape, have a calm and in-tense expression. His fl at hairstyle, with thin feather-like locks, is parted in three sections above the forehead. On the crown, the hair is disheveled. The eyebrows are rendered by herringbone-shaped incisions. The figure is characterized by a headband, thinner at the back of the head where it is fastened in a “Heracles knot”. Thin lines suggest that it was prepared for gilding. Two holes in the skull were used to attach another ornament. Ancient repairs are still visible on the left ear and on the neck. The style of this head, somewhat rough in workmanship, cannot be easily determined. It should likely be dated to the mid-3rd century A.D., considering especially the treatment of the short, thin hair, with the locks indicated by small irregular incisions. As for the identity of the figure, one thinks of a priest because of the type of headband: he was committed to the service of a particular deity, currently impossible to identify, perhaps originating from the East. In Latin, a priest is a sacerdos, “a person who makes holy”. In Rome, like in pagan societies in general, priests did not have a specific spiritual mission. They simply were the guarantors of the worship in which they officiated. They did not belong to a caste and their role was not incompatible with participation in civil life: many of them also served in the judiciary court or in other public office. For instance, the orator Cicero was an augur and Julius Caesar a great Pontiff. It is also worth noting a typological similarity of the profile of the head with the monetary portraits of Gordian II, who reigned as an emperor only three weeks between March and April 238 A.D.: unfortunately, this figure, the son of the senator and Emperor Gordian I (both reigned at the same time, the father, too old, having associated his son to his principality), has no official and unanimously attested portraits.


Complete, in excellent condition; small rectangular plaques attest of ancient cold-worked fi nishings or repairs. Beautiful uniform green patina.


Art market, prior to 1960s;

Formerly, Ambassadorial collection, early 1960s;

thence by descent to the Mrs. Pilate collection, Vienna, Austria;

Ex- H. K. collection, Vienna, Austria, acquired in 1976;

European private collection, acquired in Switzerland in 2000.


Imago: Four Centuries of Roman Portraiture, Geneva-New York, 2007, no. 12.


Frieze Masters, London, 2016


JOHANSEN, F., Roman Portrait III, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, 1995, nos. 50, 51, 57, pp.123-126, 136-137.
INAN, J. – ROSENBAUM E., Roman and early Byzantine Portrait Sculpture in Asia Minor, London, 1966, no. 252, pl. 139; no. 291, pl. 165 and no. 292 (for the pictures of the head no. 292 cf. INAN J.-ROSENBAUM E., Römische und frühbyzantinische Porträtplastik aus der Türkei, Neue Funde, Mainz/Rhine, 1979, pl. 189).
On Gordian and his portraits, see:
Histoire Auguste, Les trois Gordiens, VI, 1-2.
VON HEINTZE H., Studien zu den Porträts des 3. Jahrhunderts n. Chr., in Mitteilungen des deutschen archäologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung 63, 1956, pp. 62 ff, pl. 31-32.
WIGGERS H.B. – VON WEGNER M., Das römische Herrscherbild, Band 3, vol. 1, Caracalla bis Balbinus, Berlin, 1971, pp. 236 ff., pl. 73.

Museum Parallels

Museo Arqueológico de Granada

Granada, Spain

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek


Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek