Roman busts

My favorite Roman busts are the ones that emphasize the individuality of the subject, not the idealized ones.  So, while visiting Rome and Vienna, I photographed a few exceptionally high-quality busts.  “These are realistic enough”, I thought, “that surely they can be put to good use.”
Then I remembered that a while ago I had cited a study that lent credence to our gut feelings about strangers based on their faces.  Now I am going to ask you, dear readers, to give your first impressions of the likely personalities of the following Romans. I photographed them in the Vatican Museum and in the Vien Museum in Vienna.   They are numbered for your convenience:


















For me, the underlying personality theme in the above portraits is pride/confidence/arrogance.  I am currently reading John Derbyshire’s book “We Are Doomed” and I came across this quote from Kenneth Clark, from his book “Civilization“:

Civilization requires a modicum of material prosperity – enough to provide a little leisure.  But, far more, it requires confidence – confidence in the society in which one lives, belief in its philosophy, belief in its laws, and confidence in one’s own mental powers… So if one asks why the civilisation of Greece and Rome collapsed, the real answer is that it was exhausted.

I would add that the classical Romans were convinced of their own superiority over other peoples.  Over time they came to doubt this superiority and as their arrogance was compromised, so too was their civilization.

Click here for more Roman busts.

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15 Responses to Roman busts

  1. ski says:

    I’ve long thought that the ultimate root of the problem, that so many people try to avoid is indeed a catastrophic loss of confidence. It’s understandable that folks want to avoid dealing with it of course, since it seems insoluble at this point.
    As to this busts, number 14 doesn’t look very confident to me (and btw, sorry to be nitpicky but Roman 14 is XIV and 4 is IV). I would also say that the way you write “pride/confidence/arrogance” with slashes makes it seem like you consider them virtual synonyms, which is perhaps true enough with confidence and pride, but not so much with arrogance.
    I would add that another feeling we see is serenity, particularly in numbers V and I. Perhaps that serenity is an offshoot of confidence.

    • jewamongyou says:

      The Roman XIV for 14, and IV for 4 were late innovations. The ancients used the system I posted. We see this on the Colosseum in Rome.
      True, not all of them are confident. But most of them are.
      I included “arrogance” because, even though it is a negative trait for the individual, it goes hand in hand with pride and confidence in helping a civilization survive. My feeling is that arrogance was, in the case of the Romans, often synonymous with pride – though I may be wrong.

      • ski says:

        Interesting, I didn’t know that about the numerals.
        I agree that most seem confident, except XIV/XIIII, and a lot of them seem arrogant.

  2. says:

    Sanguine – outgoing
    Choleric – dominating
    Melancholic – depressed
    Phlegmatic – centered
    I – Sanguine
    II – Melancholic
    III – Melancholic
    IIII – Phlegmatic
    V – Phlegmatic
    VI – Choleric
    VII – Melancholic
    VIII – Sanguine
    VIIII – Melancholic
    X – Choleric
    XI – Phlegmatic
    XII – Phlegmatic
    XIII – Choleric
    XIIII – Melancholic
    XV – Melancholic
    XVI – Phlegmatic
    XVII – Phlegmatic

  3. Septen says:

    Well, the fact of the matter was that they were right to doubt their ‘superiority’.
    Romans did actually not invent a great deal, they mostly stole the best ideas from others and improved them.
    Also, they weren’t ‘superior’ to the Germanic hordes up north. Europe is definitely superior in every way to the Southern rabble below us.
    Our crisis is internal, but external at the same time. Those who undercut us from within are seldom one of ours.

    • ski says:

      Well you gotta wonder, if that’s the case, why the Greeks they stole from came to think of themselves as Romans, came to like Roman rule, and thought of themselves as Romans centuries after the Western Roman empire collapsed. In fact, I’ve read that even today some Greeks occasionally call themselves Rhomaios.
      Also why have the superior Northerners tried to emulate Romans throughout most of their recorded history? Even the Turks have tried to claim themselves as heirs to the Roman empire.
      Are all these people just brainwashed into buying a silly myth of Roman greatness?

    • jewamongyou says:

      What Ski said. Also, part of their greatness was in recognizing a good thing, adopting it and improving upon it. To a large extent, Rome defined Western culture up to this day.

  4. countenance says:

    1: Concerned
    2: Furious
    3: Deliberative
    4: In Pain
    5: About to issue a dictate
    6: Machiavellian
    7: Infatuated
    8: Reckless
    9: Melancholy
    10: Covetous
    11: Schizophrenic
    12: Stalking
    13: Tenacious
    14: About to break out in tears
    15: Carefree
    16: She better consent to about what she’s about to get, for his sake
    17: Enemy fell on his sword

  5. jewamongyou says:

    Re: Foxsnooze and countenance,

  6. Reactionary_Konkvistador says:

    Sometimes I wonder how many of the men represented by these busts will be considered Black in 50 or 100 years. Such silly details like all known depictions being clearly European (and a few middle Easterners) will not pose a great barrier to such a drift.
    Cleopatra, Hannibal, Socratese and Bach have already been converted and Da Vinci will probably be upgraded from part-Arab (which is already silly) to full Black. Its so fascinating they manage these twists by basically doing nothing more than saying: “You can’t prove they weren’t Black, and surely there where Blacks in XYZlandia, and if there where Blacks how can you think they didn’t leave a legacy of outstanding individuals.”

  7. Lars says:

    Can anyone please name them all?

    • jewamongyou says:

      I can’t remember for sure, but I don’t think they were labeled by name at the museums where I saw them. Even if they were, I had no practical way to record them at associate them with each photo; it would have been very time-consuming.

  8. Pingback: More Roman busts « Jewamongyou's Blog

  9. San says:

    Everything about bust Xll, the nose, the eyes, the shape of his head, remind me of Ramses.
    Like Greco-Romanism, Judaism, via biblical guidance, has contributed to the shaping of Western civilization for well over 2000 years. The many great cathedrals and churches of Europe, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and the world over speak of this contribution as they were not only built as places of worship and tribute to the God of Israel, they were and still are places where people gather to read and to learn the teachings of what many believe to be divinely inspired men, all of whom were Jewish. Many of these churches and cathedrals are filled with religious iconography, such as stained glass windows, statues, pictures, etc., all of which feature Jewish people or were inspired by Jewish teachings. For example, Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam would not exist had Moses not written the Torah. In fact, none of the glorious works of art found at the Vatican, and the Vatican itself, would not exist were it not for Biblical inspiration. More Westerners know the philosophies of the prophets and the apostles than those of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc., and their teachings have greatly influenced the shaping of our societies. Without Jewish contribution, modern Western Civilization would be much like ancient Greece or Rome, if it ever came into existence at all.

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