Headless Roman Statues: A Co-incidence or an intentional feature

Looking at pictures from Roman sculptures, I noticed how most of it has either a missing head or a crack around the neck. Thinking about this, a lot of things come in my mind. Maybe it is simply because the statues have been transported in other places and was miscarried, or maybe it was destroyed for a purpose, or maybe it was just really old that it wears out and gets easily broken.Image

But when I think of it, looking back at Romans, they were good collectors and enthusiast fan of art, Greek art to be precise.  I can view Romans as brilliantly organize and ordered. Their sculptures would definitely be carried properly and with utmost care, and it is not reasonable enough to destroy such sculptures, and they will surely tend to create significant sculptures with the best quality material.

Headless sculptures of the Romans must surely be created for a reason. And it certainly is, Romans intentionally made statues with detachable heads.  For this, they specially commission for statues with detachable heads. Practically if a sculpture (of a hero, a well known person, or a ruler) loses fame, honor, or die, the head could easily be removed and be replaced by the head of a new hero, a more well known person, or a new ruler. In these case sculptures with detachable heads have a typical and ideal body of no character, mostly wearing a toga. Romans may specify to have detachable hands, limbs or other body parts as well, but since Romans believed that it is greatly the head that carries the identity of the person, statues with detachable heads were mostly done.

One of the famous was sculptures of Antinous; by Emperor Hadrian’s command, thee detached Apollo’s head from his statue and put on the portrait bust Antinous.  Atinous came from the town of Bithynion-Claudiopolis, now known as north-west Turkey. Assumed that he was taken during Hadrian’s tour in province of Claudiopolis, Antinous came to in the house of the emperor and later became his favorite. It would be dominate today, but in the ancient Greece and Roman Empire obscenity, the relationship between the Emperor and Antinous was common and excepted part of ancient society. No one knows when exactly Hadrian became attracted to Antinous until he died in Nile River in Egypt, either by drowning into the or having been offered to sacrifice. Image

Another detachable head of Roman woman was stolen and sold at Christie’s in London. It was described by Christie’s as “ a Roman Marble portrait head of a woman, circa first century AD” and has been made in “ an eastern workshop”. The Italian buyer voluntarily surrendered the sculpture.Image

Another example that exemplifies this feature is the statue at the Roman Theatre of Orange 3. The statue stands for a Roman Emperor and it is said that every time there is a new emperor, a head is to be molded to replace the existing one. The old is then discarded and eventually gets lost.


It is really fascinating how Romans came to the idea of this. And I must say, headless Roman statues was an intentional genius craft..