Cameo of the Emperor Augustus. Artist: Unknown
Cameo of the Emperor Augustus. This cameo was carved from a three-layered sardonyx. It is a fragment of a larger portrait of the first Roman emperor, Augustus (27 BC-14 AD). He is shown in a majestic pose, and wears a sword-belt, symbolizing his military authority, and the aegis usually associated with the goddess Minerva. The jewelled headband was added in the medieval period. Such a depiction of the emperor, one that openly assumes a divine attribute, was probably only intended to be seen by a few. It could have proved controversial for such an image to have been spread widely, since Roman society was still very mistrustful of monarchy, with many hoping for a return to the Republic. The Roman Republic, a system whereby Rome and its territories were governed by the people without a single fixed head of state, had been swept away in a series of bloody civil wars from which Augustus emerged as the sole ruler. Nevertheless, images of Augustus that were intended for a wider audience, such as those on coins and statues, were necessarily quite modest during his lifetime. Located in the British Museum, London.
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