June 2017

Octavian August, the first Roman Emperor

The statue of Augustus, the first Roman emperor (24 BC – AD 14), is the best preserved statue in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. It reproduces a popular statuary type, known as Prima Porta. It was named after one of the most famous copies, found in the villa of his wife Livia, on a site of the same name, a few kilometres north of Rome.

It depicts a handsome and idealised man, at the prime of his youth. His rendition as semi-nude with a himation wrapped around his waist, holding a sceptre or a spear, elevates him to the status of a god. His youthful face and hair with carefully arranged locks point towards athletes or heroes of the 5th c. BC, resembling a famous Greek statue, the Doryphoros by the sculptor Polykleitos. This idealised rendition gives to the statue the prestige and superiority of classical artworks.

The sculpture is possibly a posthumus statue and was probably created in a workshop of Thessaloniki. It was found in 1939 along with a headless statue that is attributed to emperor Claudius. Perhaps they were on display in the same building, possibly a temple of the Imperial cult.