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Bust of Roman Emperor Caracalla for Sale at Bonhams
Bust of Caracalla. Estimate: 150,000 - 250,000. Photo: Bonhams.
LONDON.- A bust of Caracalla, the notorious Roman Emperor who reigned from 211-217 and is remembered as one of the worst and cruelest rulers in the history of the Empire, will be auctioned at Bonhams Antiquities sale on October 28 in New Bond Street. It is estimated to sell for 150,000 - 250,000.

Edward Gibbon described him thus: 'Caracalla was the common enemy of mankind," his reign characterized by "rapine and cruelty." (E. Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter VI).

Caracalla (A.D. 212-217) executed his brother (and co-emperor) Geta, and massacred thousands of his brother's supporters; as well as his own wife and his brother-in-law (amongst other family members) in an effort to take sole control of the Empire.

'Caracalla' was born Lucius Septimius Bassianus, and as Roman emperor he became Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus. The nickname, 'Caracalla' is thought to derive from the Gallic hooded cloak that he made popular.

His official portraiture (lot 224) is distinctive: His depiction as a soldier wearing a military cloak, with short cropped hair, beard, and aggressive expression, can be seen to reflect his close association with the Roman army, on whose support he depended. He was murdered in A.D. 217 by one of his own bodyguard, apparently whilst urinating!

The Roman marble bust of the Emperor Caracalla depicts him turning sharply to his left, his face contorted in a characteristic forbidding frown, his creased forehead with curving eyebrows drawn together, the eyes deep-set with articulated pupils. The nose is broad with a short moustache above his downturned mouth, his strong chin cleft and covered with a short curling beard, his hair composed of tight curls with drilling, the thick sideburns joining his beard. He wears a paludamentum draped around his shoulders.

This bust is of the 'Sole-Ruler' type, dating to the period after he murdered his brother and co-emperor Geta. Other examples of this type are in the Museo Capitolino Montemartini, (inv. 2310), the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, the Vatican Museum and the British Museum. A head in the Acropolis Museum, Athens has some of the closest stylistic similarities.



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