August 14, 2008

Marble Head Of Roman Empress Discovered In Turkey

Archaeologists at the ancient site of Sagalassos in Turkey, came across a marble head of what they believe is sculpted in the image of Faustina the Elder.

Excavators first believed they had discovered a statue belonging to Hadrian's wife, because the head of Faustina was lying face down in the rubble that filled the ruins of a bath house just 6m from the spot where the Hadrian statue was uncovered.

The marble head of Faustina, wife of Roman emperor Antonius Pius, was discovered in Sagalassos, which was once an important urban center before a series of strong earthquakes forced many residents to abandon the area.

A team of archaeologists led by Marc Waelkens of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium has been working at the site since 1990.

They discovered what was first thought to have been the marble head of Vibia Sabina, the wife of Hadrian, who was forced to marry the homosexual emperor at the age of 14.

But when researchers turned the head over, they noticed that the face was strikingly different than traditional depictions of Sabina.

Experts said most of the features of the head identify the woman as Faustina the Elder. She married Hadrian's successor as emperor and adopted son, Antoninus Pius.

Faustina was well respected, especially for her charity work. She enjoyed a happy marriage to Antoninus which lasted 31 years until her death in AD 141. In her memory, Antoninus formally deified her as a goddess.

The statues were found in what archaeologists believe was an ancient "frigidarium" "“ a room with a cold pool which Romans could dip into after a hot bath.

The fragments were found not on the floor of the frigidarium - beneath the rubble from the earthquake - but higher up in the debris pile.

This suggests they did not originally stand in this room, but were hauled there from elsewhere in the bath complex - probably from the "Kaisersaal", or emperor's room, researchers said.

Archaeologists believe the Kaisersaal was once home to statues of Hadrian, Faustina the Elder and other members of Rome's so-called Antonine dynasty.

The Hadrian statue was probably brought to the frigidarium either to remove its gilded armor or to be burned to cement in a nearby kiln.

But the frigidarium did have colossal statues of its own. On the floor of the room, experts have found the front parts of two huge female feet, surrounded by mosaics that follow the contours of the statue's long dress.


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