August 18, 2018

A new look at Julius Caesar

The world-renowned general Julius Caesar may have been rather less heroic than we imagine, in terms of victories as well as physique. Caesar was largely bald and had a deformed skull, resulting from difficulties during his birth.

As for military campaigns, he suffered his greatest defeat in the Low Countries, possibly near the Dutch city of Maastricht, according to new research suggesting that he fought a substantial proportion of the Gallic Wars in the northern part of Gaul. These findings emerged from the research conducted by the archaeologist and author Tom Buijtendorp on Caesar’s activities in the Low Countries, in response to the mounting pile of clues for his presence here.

Buijtendorp’s research was recently published in the book Caesar in de Lage Landen (Caesar in the Low Countries). His findings about Caesar’s countenance in combination with one of the oldest portraits of Caesar from the collection of the Dutch national museum of antiquities (the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden), were the basis for an alternative ’new’ face. The reconstruction of this face is currently on show in the museum. www.rmo.nl

The face of Julius Caesar

Recently, on 22 June 2018, a lifelike interpretation of the general’s ‘new’ face was presented at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, in which the asymmetric shape of the skull and the receding hairline differ significantly from the traditional images. According to Buijtendorp, Caesar’s head displays clear signs of a difficult birth – a new fact in Caesar’s biography.

The specific skull abnormality enabled Buijtendorp to identify the so called Tusculum bust (Museo Archeologico, Turin) as the most authentic portrait of Caesar, which differs markedly from the marble posthumous busts that are most commonly displayed, and fits well with Caesars contemporary coin portrait.

Subsequently archaeologist and physical anthropologist Maja d’Hollosy was asked to make an alternative, more lifelike ‘Caesar of the Low Countries’, so to speak, based on one of the Caesar portraits from the collection in Leiden. Sources as the Tusculum bust and the coin portrait were used to add the missing features. Furthermore Buijtendorp’s research gave instructions about skin and eye colour, and hair.

The result is a mix between the three sources, with the museum bust as base. Since a 100 percent reliable sources were lacking, a major aim was to make Caesar more alive, not creating the ultimate Ceasar bust. According to Buijtendorp, this reconstruction of Caesar’s portrait reminds us that the traditional image of Caesar is unrealistic, but also shows the remaining uncertainties about details like the eyes: ‘Though the new version likewise does not represent an absolute truth, it does provide a more credible alternative to the existing picture, rejecting the symmetric head of hair image we got used to’.

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