Ancient bust of Julius Caesar found in river

Last night I was thinking about the tearing down of statues of disgraced people and began thinking about the Romans. The slave trade was very much a part of Roman society and there must be thousands of artifacts that would fail the “Coulston” test. I started searching and stumbled across this fascinating story of a bust of Julius Caesar.

The ancient bust was discovered in 2008 at the bottom of the river Rhône in France. They think it was made between 49 and 46BC and is possibly the only bust made of Caesar while he was alive. Although, I should add, there is some dispute that it really is Caesar. No one knows how it ended up at the botttom of the river but it’s entirely possible that if it is Caesar, it was thrown into the river after his assassination.

Let’s assume that we know for certain this is Julius Caesar. We know he traded slaves. Once he sold an entire population, some 53,000 people, of a region he’d conquered to slave traders. Is it right to put a marble statue of a man like that on display? The sculpture is so detailed. The skin on his neck looks pliable despite being made from marble. He looks like a man in his 40s or 50s with a receding hairline and more interestingly, a haircut not so dissimilar from men today. There are no pupils in the eyes and the nose looks a little unsymmetrical. Whoever made it was truly talented.

1024px-Presumed_bust_of_caesar-RHO.2007.05.1939-IMG_9292-gradient
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arles_bust

We rob future generations of this type of history, art, and culture from our past when we dispose of relics like this. We don’t have to approve of what he did to want to preserve the bust.

I understand that the crimes of people like Coulston have left scars that are still raw today and that these trigger our emotions in ways that Julius Caesar no longer can. But time will pass and heal those wounds. We can’t change people like Caesar and Coulston and what they did but we can educate ourselves about shameful aspects of history and change our own society and future for the better.

The only statues we should be throwing in the river are The Weeping Angels from Doctor Who … if they ever turn out to be real.

10 Replies to “Ancient bust of Julius Caesar found in river”

  1. Completely agree with this. I’m growing increasingly weary of the drive to divide, and destroy everything. If the snowball keeps rolling, it WILL be Winston Churchill next – because of his connections with eugenics. Follow that, perhaps Oppenheimer, and Einstein – for discovering the science that lead to the atomic bomb ? I suppose following the statues it will be books… it’s a slippery slope.

    1. Yes, where does it stop? The pyramids were built by slaves for slave-owners but it would be tragic if people tore them down.

      There may also be things we do today which we think are acceptable that people in the future will object to.

  2. Would you argue the same if it was a statue of Hitler or Stalin?

      1. You don’t have to destroy the statue. You can put it in a museum where you can provide context.

        A statue in a public place says: “This is a person that we honour. We find this person admirable. ”

        People like Washington and Churchill we admire despite of their racism, but people like Coulston and confederate generals have statue because of their racism. I think the latter group can be moved to a museum or depot and not stand their as a constant F.Y. to the descendants of the people they enslaved, tortured and murdered.

      2. But in many instances these people that are being “honored” helped put that town or city on the map. It was money derived from their trade that helped fuel these centers into thriving financial communities. That’s the history of Bristol and Liverpool whether you like it or not.

        If people are against them, put in a planning application with the council to get them moved or removed.

        And lastly, just about every statue that exists and is in public view will have detractors – people find fault in everything. Should they also come tumbling down?

    1. Looking into the face of men like Hitler or Stalin could be a very powerful experience in connecting historical events to actual humans. I think statues of people like this could be displayed in appropriate museums dedicated to educating us on the atrocities of history. They don’t need to be displayed in public squares as celebrations, but they don’t need to be destroyed or hidden entirely either, in my opinion.

      1. Yes, I agree that many of these statues would work better in a museum. Certainly Hitler is probably best there since his crimes are still so recent. Some of the oldest ones, like the Julius Caesar bust are probably best in a musuem too just to protect them.

        At the same time I love street art and many of these statues, are in a way, art for the public. When I see an old statue on my travels around Scotland and have no idea who the person is it usually prompts me to look them up and find out about them. I’m much more likely to do this than if they were in a museum that I may not visit.

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