Caesar in Gaul

In 2007, divers led by archaeologist Luc Long found a bust of Julius Caesar tentatively dated to 46 BC. That would be eight years after he put his finishing touches on the conquest of Gaul, and around the same time that the city of Arles (or Arelate) was established. The statue was found in the Rhone River in France, near Arles, which would put the find in the Rhone’s delta. The area had been Romanized long before Caesar’s march into Gaul–it’s part of Provence, and Provence got its name because it was a Roman Province for about 75 years before Caesar.

If it’s Caesar,  the white marble statue is the oldest known representation of him. The bust had been thrown into the river with other items, including a bronze satyr about 27 inches high, and a marble Neptune, 5′ 9″. These items were found under other trash: “a heap of wrecked cars, rotting tires and more than 20 centuries of silt,” according to the New York Times.

The AP picture upper right is copied from the CBS story, about the only one still up after four years. Below left is a picture from Wikipedia of the same statue.

The French authorities seemed positive that it was Caesar, and pointed out that if it was created in 46 BC, that was only two years before Caesar’s assassination. At that point, city leaders might have decided it was expedient to dump the bust of the suddenly unpopular founder. Their theory.

But here’s a wrinkle–other archaeologists are saying the French were too quick to label the bust Caesar. One historian, Paul Zanker–an expert in Caesar’s life–disputes that it’s from 46 BC, and would put it in the Augustan period. Much too late to be dumped in a river because Caesar was unpopular.

However, the supporters of the Bust-of-Caesar school point out that to imagine that some guy in Arles sent to Rome for a bust of himself of the finest marble is a bit silly. They’re sure it’s Caesar, and have been certain since its discovery.

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