Marble portrait bust of the emperor Gaius, known as Caligula

Period: Early Imperial, Julio-Claudian

Date: A.D. 37–41

Culture: Roman

Medium: Marble

Dimensions: H. 20 in. (50.8 cm)
length 7 1/16 in. (18 cm)

Classification: Stone Sculpture

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1914

Accession Number: 14.37


The dissemination of imperial portraiture in sculpture, gems, and coins was the chief means of political propaganda in the Roman empire. All of the Julio-Claudians subscribed to the basic imperial image established by Augustus in order to stress the unity and continuity of their line. Even Caligula, who was obsessed with his own appearance, adhered to this formula.
This fine marble bust of the emperor has the characteristically Augustan triangular face, projecting ears, and carefully designed locks of hair, especially over the forehead; however, the artist has also conveyed something of Caligula's own personality in the proud turn of the head. The portrait's individuality finds echoes in the Hellenistic depictions of Alexander the Great, and may have something to do with Caligula's own predisposition toward a monarchy of Hellenistic type. He accepted opulent honors in Rome and in the provinces, and his reign of extravagance, oppression, and treason trials ended in his assassination in 41 A.D.