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February 12, 2011

Amelia, Umbria: Bronze Germanicus Home in Museo Archeologico di Amelia

By Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Of the most important and complete bronze statues of the first century A.D. ever found in Italy resides in Amelia.

In 1963, outside the walls of Amelia’s historic center, a group of workers digging a mill found the broken remains of a first century bronze statue. Over the town’s objections, the fragments were transferred to Perugia, restored, and then decades later returned to Amelia to an archaeological museum built to display the bronze of Germanicus Julius Caesar.

Francesca Rossi, an Amelian and daughter of Luciano Rossi of Punto Di Vino, a local wine bistro, recalled seeing the restored head of Germanicus on display in the old town hall when she was a little girl. “I fell in love with him,” she said. “I told my mother I wanted to marry him.”

The charisma of the bronze head likely belonged to a statue created to commemorate the early death of one of the Roman Empire’s most beloved commanders. Germanicus, adopted younger son of Julius Augustus, would have followed his brother Tiberius as Roman emperor if he had not been poisoned in Antioch.

Austrialian-born writer Stephen Dando-Collins claims in his book “Blood of the Caesars: How the Murder of Germanicus Led to the Fall of Rome” (John Wiley and Sons, 2008), that the death of Germanicus in A. D. 19 predated the fall of the Roman Empire. But Germanicus’ fame catapulted his son Caligula and his grandson Nero to the throne. It was his wife Agrippina the Elder, the granddaughter of Augustus, who used her husband’s good name and affection of the people of the Roman Empire to further her family’s political ambitions. Yet, it was Germanicus’ lack of political ambition, his unwillingness to use his popularity to unseat Tiberius, that may have motivated his wife and her reputed lover and one of Rome’s greatest philosophers, Seneca, to poison her husband, according to Dando-Collins’ book.

Ruthless women characterized Germanicus’ family. His paternal grandmother had been six months pregnant when she divorced her husband and married his political rival, the future Roman Emperor, bestowing upon her great wealth and ultimately the title of Roman deity. Women used marriage and motherhood as the only available political tools. Although his grandmother’s mother had been the daughter of a magistrate, her father was from two patrician families, Gens Julia and Gens Claudia, of Ancient Rome.

At the age of 14, Livia Drusilla married her cousin Tiberius Claudius Nero, an ally of Mark Antony and Julius Caesar. For years she lived in exile before a peace agreement between Antony and Octavian in 40 BC allowed her family to return to Rome. Apparently, Octavian, her husband’s rival, fell in love with the pregnant 20-year-old Livia, divorced his wife Scribonia the day after she gave birth to her daughter Julia, and then married Germanicus’ paternal grandmother. Three months later, Livia gave birth to Germanicus’ father, Drusus. She allowed her first husband to raise her sons until his death and then they went to live with their mother and her husband who was elevated to Augustus, first Roman Emperor.

Germanicus’ maternal grandmother was Augustus’ sister, Octavia, and his maternal grandfather was Augustus' rival Mark Antony. When Antony took up with Cleopatra, then committed suicide, one of the nine children he left behind was Germanicus’ mother, Antonia the Younger. Thus, Germanicus’ grandparents were the second wife of the first Roman Emperor, the sister of the first Roman Emperor, and two political rivals of the first Roman Emperor.

Germanicus’ wife, Agrippina the Elder, was the granddaughter of the First Roman Emperor through his daughter Julia who had been abandoned by her father Octavian when he married Germanicus’ maternal grandmother Livia. Agrippina’s father, of course, was Agrippa, a political ally of Julia’s father. After her father died, her mother married Tiberius Caesar, Germanicus’ uncle and the ruler to succeed Augustus.

Germanicus, adopted by Tiberius at the will of Augustus, was patiently waiting his turn when his wife, the direct descendant of Augustus, grew impatient and plotted to poison her husband at the age of 34 so as to undermine Tiberius and raise her son to the imperial throne.

When the pieces of a bronze statue were dug up outside the city walls along the “Via Ortana”, probably the ancient road that follows the route of the Via Amerina, likely on the grounds for the old campus for ancient games and gymnastic competitions. (Archaeological Museum of Amelia, website). The statue was erected in honor of Amelia and in memory of Germanicus, also known as Nero Claudius Drusus, born in 15 BC. Germanicus, the son of a famed and beloved commander who succeeded in the Germany territories and also died young, on his horse, also earned adulation of the Roman people.

The bronze fragments were reconstructed with the use of steel frame that was anchored to a wooden structure to support the basis for the bronze fragments.

The statue, more than two meters tall, is of a “Young Germanicus” triumphant as a victorious general, with armor and the arm resting on a spear, the head turned to the right, in the direction of the raised arm.

The artistic decoration of his armor shows the scene of the attack of Achilles in Troy, perhaps linking this memory with Germanicus’ military operations in the East.

The archaeological museum is located in the Boccarini Palazzo built between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. In 1410, it was the seat of the papal government whose jurisdiction included Amelia, Orvieto, and Terni.
Museo Archeologico di Amelia
Piazza Augusto Vera, 10 - Amelia (Tr)


It is worth noting that we know where this statue was found. But imagine if it had been removed from its context illicitly and then been sold to a North American museum or private collector.
Compare Germanicus' history with that for the imperial statues apparently from Bubon in Turkey.