Archaeologists Discover "Birthday Surprise" For Roman Emperor Augustus

September 16, 1997

Cincinnati -- A birthday "surprise" of sorts for Augustus, the first emperor of Rome -- known for his defeat of Egyptian queen Cleopatra and her lover, Marc Antony has been uncovered at Troy by an excavation team led by University of Cincinnati archaeologist Brian Rose.

This Tuesday, Sept. 23, marks the 2,060th anniversary of Augustus' birth. Just in time to celebrate this ancient milestone, Rose's team has uncovered a sculpted head of the emperor, measuring slightly larger than life. Still in near-perfect condition, the marble Augustan had lain buried for 1,500 years until members of Rose's team, Cem Aslan, a former UC graduate student from Turkey, and William Aylward, UC graduate student in classics, unearthed it in late July.

"Too bad we didn't find it in August, the month named after Augustus," said Rose, who is a native of Marietta, Ohio. "That would have been a nice touch."

Rose, author of a book on Roman imperial portraiture published in 1996, recognized the marble face as Augustus immediately because of "his hairstyle, which almost always has two pincer shaped locks over his right eye, plus the shape of his nose and the lines of his forehead," Rose said. The head of what probably was once a more complete statue or bust looked like it was carefully buried outside a Roman theater called the Odeion. Rose, UC associate professor of classics, speculates that the statue once adorned the theater.

Troy is most famous as the fabled site of the Trojan War, which, according to legend, took place centuries earlier, during the Bronze Age, but Rose and his team concentrate most of their energy on the Greek and Roman periods at Troy, which the Romans called "Ilion."

Since 1988, Rose has worked at the site, which is located in modern-day western Turkey, in partnership with Troy excavation director Manfred Korfmann of the University of Tubingen (Germany).

Augustus (63 B.C.-A.D. 14) was a great-nephew of Julius Caesar, who adopted him. He was born Gauis Octavius or as modern historians call him, Octavian. Octavian's reign as Roman emperor began in 27 B.C., and he took the name Augustus ("the Exalted"). His reign was regarded as a Golden Age of Latin literature and an era of civil peace and prosperity.

He is known to have visited Troy in 20 B.C., probably to strengthen his claims that he was descended from Troy through Aeneas, who was said to have fled the burning city of Troy and made his new home in Italy. Rome considered its roots to be Trojan.

Following Caesar's assassination in 44 B.C., Octavian's mother had urged him to flee further east, but he returned to Rome, gaining support from Caesar's old soldiers. He, Marc Antony and Marcus Lepidus formed a ruling triumvirate, but eventually Mark Antony and Octavian divided the empire between the two of them. Octavian defeated Antony at Actium in 31 B.C. and Egypt in 30 B.C.; afterward Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide.

In the popular film, "Cleopatra," Augustus was played by Roddy McDowall. Augustus also showed up briefly in the well-known television series, "I, Claudius."

The sculpted image found by Rose will be exhibited in the Canakkale Museum about a 30-minute drive from the site of Troy. The Turkish government has announced plans to construct a new museum near the entrance, which Rose said will allow the antiquities discovered at Troy to be viewed in their original context. The area around the site of Troy also has been designated as a national park, Rose learned this summer. "This will help to ensure that the archaeological remains in the vicinity will be preserved for generations to come. Otherwise, there would be rampant construction of vacation homes along the coast and this construction certainly would have destroyed many antiquities before they could be discovered and studied."

Among other significant finds this summer at Troy, according to Rose, are:


University of Cincinnati

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