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The Statuary Group from Beziers

© J.-F. Peiré
© J.-F. Peiré
In April 1844, in the heart of the City of Beziers in the Hérault department, Mr. Gasc’s house, situated in the area of the city’s ancient forum, is the theater of an exceptional archeological discovery. Ten marble heads were excavated in a few days.

The happy owner refuses buying offers from learned institutions in Bezier, Narbonne, and Montpellier and decides to sell them to the young archeological institution of Southwest France, based in Toulouse. That is how the works arrived and in 1845 supplemented the museum’s already very rich collection of portraits in Toulouse. Originally, they were not busts but standing statues. This statuary group would have been even more impressive during this period.
Displayed in the forum, the large public square in ancient Beziers, it was built through successive contributions during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius during the first century CE. The excellent conservation of the marble allows one to imagine the statues in the interior of the building instead of in the square. The backs of heads lack details suggesting that they were displayed in alcoves where one could not see it as a whole.

The portrait of Octavius Augustus is the oldest. Today it is in the center of the group like it probably was originally. By making himself displayed surrounded by those close to him, in Rome and in provincial cities’ forums, Augustus wants to affirm his desire to see his descendants reign. This desire will be perpetuated by his heirs. But the conspiracies, assassination, duplicities, and schemes gave the Julio-Claudian family a bad reputation. Around 12 or 11 BCE, the portrait of Octavius-Augustus arrives in the forum joining the effigy of Agrippa, his general, son-in-law, and closest companion.  Today this effigy is to his right.
At the same time, Julia, Agrippa’s wife and the emperor’s daughter, is associated with this group. Her hair is styled with a knot above her forehead, a typical hairstyle during the last third of the first century BCE.

Next to Julia is Agrippa Postumus, Julia and Agrippa’s son. As his name indicates, Agrippa Postumus was born after his father’s death. In Beziers, one must certainly see Emperor Augustus’s four other grand-children. Therefore, Agrippa Postumus must be next to his brothers, Caius and Lucius, nicknamed the “Princes of Youth.” Augustus had chosen them as well as their two sisters, Agrippine the Elder and Julia II, as his successors but they died prematurely.
Julia II may not be present; however, the portrait of a young girl on the far right may be Agrippine the Elder who will marry Germanicus who appears in the second portrait from the left of the group.
The girl’s hairstyle is similar to her mother Julia’s with a knot in the front coming from a braid.

© J.-F. Peiré
© J.-F. Peiré
A quarter of a century later, between 14 and 23 BCE, another series of portraits appears in which one sees the new emperor Tiberius, Livia’s son born during her first marriage.  In 14 CE, Tiberius let Julia, whom he had married by force after Agrippa’s death, die of hunger. In the same year, Agrippa Postumus, son of Julia and Agrippa, was exiled and assassinated. In Beziers, Tiberius is accompanied by new princes, heirs of the Empire. Immediately to his left is his nephew Germanicus.

Beginning in 4 CE, the year of the death of Augustus’s last grandson Caius Cesar, Germanicus and Tiberius are adopted by Augustus who makes them his potential successors. Germanicus is also adopted by Tiberius, and he would have succeeded him if he had not died before Tiberius.
Tiberius’s son, Drusus the Younger, is on the far left. Born from his father’s first marriage, he was the only successor designated by his father as the head of the Empire after Germanicus’s death. Yet, he was found assassinated before his father’s death.

At the same epic, two other statues probably joined the group: those of Livia and her daughter-in-law Antonia Minor.
Livia, Augustus’s third wife and Tiberius’s mother, is depicted with her hair divided in two waves drawn together in a low bun. This hairstyle is reminiscent of the Greek goddesses’.  The empress does not appear in portraits until after Augustus’s death when Livia became priestess of the cult of Augustus, deified so that he was venerated as were the divinities of the Pantheon. Antonia Minor is Augustus’ grand-neice and wife of Drusus the Elder, Livia’s second son. The back of Antonia’s head seems to have been veiled. She would have thus been represented as the priestess of deified Augustus’s cult, a responsibility that she took after Livia’s death in 29 CE.

© J.-F. Peiré
© J.-F. Peiré
This head is one of the most ancient depictions of Octavius, grand-nephew and heir of Julius Cesar. He will be the instigator of the old Roman Republic’s transformation into an imperial regime and will take the name Augustus.
This sobriquet promoted the notion of eminency, model, and authority. His physical type is that of a man who imposes his military and political power after having revenged the death of his ancestor Julius Cesar.

He is young, and his long sweeping bangs bring to mind Greek representations of Alexander the Great. If one observes the head on profile closely, one notices that the head was first represented veiled with the toga drawn over the head. They covered the head during religious ceremonies; consequently, the sculpture would be linked to the ceremony for the founding of Beziers which would have been attributed to Octavius around 36-35 BCE.
En 27 BCE, Octavius becomes Augustus, emperor. A few years later, his representation in Beziers’s forum no longer needs to be covered perhaps because from now on he appears as the founder of a dynasty and not just the creator of a colonial city. Thus the back of the head is maladroitly reworked to depict hair and to give the new emperor not only a religious representation but also a civil and political representation.
Lu 1432 fois

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