Bust of the Emperor Trajan

This is a bust of Marcus Ulpius Traianus (Italica, 53 AD - Selinus, 117 AD), known popularly as Trajan, the 13th Roman Emperor and the first to have been born outside Rome, due to the fact that his family came from the province of Baetica in Hispania. The facial features of this figure make it easy for us to recognise him as the emperor: the prominent forehead, the marked supraorbital arch, the long, straight shape of the nose, the thin lips, the filtrum or incised naso-labial groove, and the small and not very prominent chin.

The size of the head, almost life-size, could indicate that it was part of an official sculpture: the thick strong neck is finished in a conical form as it would have been designed to fit into an already sculpted body or bust. In this case, the head is part of a bust, but if the piece is examined closely, one can observe that the shoulders are of a slightly different size to the head and neck. Therefore, this suggests that at some time, most probably in the 18th or 19th century when restoration was carried out, the bust was adapted to appear in its present state. The representation of the emperor in Roman statues was used as yet another form of political propaganda and of reaffirmation of authority, both in the metropolis as well as in the capitals of the provinces. Among the most widely known versions, we find the emperor represented as a priest (with toga and veil introduced as Augustus: see the sculpture conserved in the Museo Nazionale Romano di Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome), as Thoracutus, the high commander of the army (with military or cavalry breastplate: see the sculpture of Trajan in the Antalya Archaeological Museum inv. 11.13.79.) or depicted as a hero (naked, emulating Greek heroes: see the bust of Trajan in the Musée du Louvre Ma1250).

Although the state of preservation of the piece could be better, it is still possible to appreciate without doubt that this figure is the emperor of Hispanic origin, given his serious and stoic expression. The sculpting gives prominence to the bulging supraorbital arch, the large rounded eyes and the sunken chin. The execution of the back of the piece has not been carried out with such care: The locks of hair at the nape of the neck are lacking in volume. They seem to be indicated by slight lines chiselled in the neck.

In the middle of the last century the expert H.W. Gross devised a method of cataloguing the 125 representations of Trajan known at that time. These were classified in seven categories with special attention given to the facial features already mentioned and the hairstyle of the emperor. More recent historiography, however, prefers to deal with the imperial iconography in relation to the events that could have led to a new political message and led to changes in the artistic representations.

The earliest ones of Trajan, soon after he came to power, highlight his hair “au natural”, simply following the way in which it would have grown, with locks falling over his forehead in an almost continuous line, only broken by two of them forming a point in the centre (Malaga Museum inv. A/CE04992). This type of hairstyle, inherited from Augustus, was also characteristic of small boys (Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid, inv. 2756.) and of old men. Some experts have also interpreted it as typical of the type of soldier who spends his life in camps, or also as a manifestation of provincial simplicity as opposed to the excessive styling of the elaborate hairstyles seen in the urbs. Moreover, Pliny, in a eulogy to Trajan as the ideal governor (Panegyric to the Emperor Trajan c. 100 AD) characterised him on various occasions as antiquus (ancient) due to his wisdom and virtues, and these were given the plastic form of a natural hairstyle, simple and austere without any adornment.

While it is difficult to identify a drastic change in the depictions of Trajan, it is possible to observe some change from the year 108 AD, the Decennalia, when the first decade of his reign was celebrated. A greater dynamism was introduced into the representations: the forehead appears bulkier, the bifurcated locks in the centre are more separated, while the fringe seems less even over the forehead, falling with greater accent above the right eyebrow, as can be seen in this representation. These characteristics can also be observed in the bust in the British Museum (1805, 0703.93), in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (s/n inv.) and in the Vatican Museums (inv. 2269).

This typology can be seen in the monument called Trajan’s Column, one of the most extraordinary in antiquity and which has survived up until the present time. Erected on the order of the emperor in the Imperial Fora in the year 113 AD, the work commemorates his victory over the Dacians (natives of what is today Romania). The ascending spiral bas relief winds for more than 200 metres around the column. This was a totally novel expedient in the art of the period. The column constitutes a truly graphic document of the Dacian Wars (101-2 and 105-6 AD) in which Trajan is seen as the emperor at the head of army, in battle against his enemies, and also making libations, etc. Fifty-nine representations of the emperor have been counted on the column, an authentic testimony to the importance of his figure and his authority.

The portrait has been considered by the most traditional school of historiography as a genre which was typically Roman, either in its prototype in the form of a statue or relief. It must be remembered, however, that both in its idealised and realist facet, the portrait appeared in Rome under late Classical Greek and Hellenistic influence. The commemorative aspect of a Roman representation was intimately connected to funerary practices, as the busts of ancestors were to be found in the interiors of homes, so that they could be paid homage in a private and domestic atmosphere.


As well as the various conserved portraits, the most stylistically similar are:

- Bust of Trajan, Vatican Museums, Vatican City, inv.2269.
- Bust of Trajan, 108-115 AD, British Museum, London, inv.1805,0703.93.


- BEARD, M., HENDERSON, J. Classical Art. From Greece to Rome. Oxford. 2001.
- BELTRÁN, J., LOZA, M. L. «Apuntes sobre la iconografía del retrato de Trajano», Imp. Caes. Nerva Traianus Aug. González, J. Sevilla. 1993. Págs. 9-33. - BERGMANN, M. «Zu de Porträts des Trajan und Hadrian». Italica, MMCC. 1997.
- BOSCHUNG, D. «Ein Kaiser in vielen Rollen. Bildnisse des Traian», Traian: Ein Kaiser der Superlative am Beginn einer Umbruchzeit. Mainz. Págs. 163-171. 2002.
- GARRIGUET, J. A. «Retratos imperiales de Hispania», Escultura romana en Hispania V, Murcia. 2008. p. 115-147.
- GROSS, W. H. Bildnisse Traians Das römische Herrscherbild, 2nd div., vol. 2. Berlín. 1940.
- HABICHT, M.E. Trajan. Das Dezenalienbildnis, Das römische Portrait .Universität Zürich. Págs. 1-18. 1998.
- JUCKER, H. Trajansstudien. Zu einem Chalzedonbüstschen im Antikenmuseum. JbBerlMus, n.s., 26, 17-78. 1984.
- LEÓN, P. Retratos romanos en la Bética, Sevilla. 2001.
- OJEDA, D. «Las representaciones estatuarias y los retratos de Trajano en Hispania: una revisión», AEArq, 83, págs. 267-280. 2010.
- REBECCHI, F. «l ritratto di età Traianea della Galleria Estense di Moden». Miscellanea di Studi Archeologici e di Antichità 3. 1989. Págs. 221-258.
- SEELENTAG, G. «Imperial Representation and Reciprocation. The Case of Trajan». The Classical Journal, 107. 2011. Págs. 73-97.
- TOYNBEE, J. Roman Historical Portraits, London. 1978.
- TOYNBEE, J. The Art of the Romans, London. 1965.
- TRILLMICH, W. «El Optimus Princeps, retratado por Plinio, y el retrato de Trajano». Págs. 491-508.

Related works of art

egyptian goddess maat diosa egipcia maat justicia
Harpocrates helenistic griego bronce lar j bagot arqueologia
amazon muerta romano guerra j bagot arqueoloia
pasarriendas roma bronce j bagot arqueologia

Consell de Cent, 278
08007 Barcelona SPAIN
(+34) 93 140 53 26

Monday - Saturday
10h to 14h
16:30h to 20:00h

Uso de cookies

Este sitio web utiliza cookies para que usted tenga la mejor experiencia de usuario. Si continúa navegando está dando su consentimiento para la aceptación de las mencionadas cookies y la aceptación de nuestra política de cookies, pinche el enlace para mayor información.plugin cookies

Aviso de cookies