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.
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.