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October 17, 2011

The Collecting History of Stolen Art: Amelia’s Bronze Germanicus

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

One of my reasons for writing about art crime is the history behind the objects stolen; artifacts in galleries and museums that physically tie us to the past. The collecting history of an object brings a historical context and a relevancy, a narrative from which we can differentiate some objects from the other hundreds or thousands on display. In this series on The Collecting History of Stolen Art, all of these objects can be found on display or in the collections of art or archaeological institutions. We can start with the bronze statue of Germanicus found in Amelia, the home of ARCA’s International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies program.

Amelia’s bronze Germanicus is the combination of different parts, according to scholar Giulia Rocco, author of La Statua Bronzea con Rittratto di Germanico da Ameria (Umbria) (Roma 2008, Bardi Editore Commerciale). Rocco’s book is a detailed examination of the restoration of the bronze statue found outside the historical center of Amelia in 1964 while workers were excavating a mill.

In the English translation of her abstract, Rocco writes:
The thorax belongs to the Hellenistic Age, around the beginning of the first century BC and can be attributed to a Greek, perhaps Pergamene workshop…. The statue, which the cuirassed torso belonged to could represent Mithradates VI, king of Pontus, because of the myth on the chest of the breastplate, which Achilles killing Troilus, perhaps an allegory of the wished destruction of the Romans as descendants from the Troians. It could be one of the numerous objects brought to Rome as booty in the age of the Mithridatic wars.
Adrienne Mayor, an independent scholar, published a new biography of Mithradates under the title, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadlinest Enemy (Princeton, 2011).

Mithradates the Great, of Greco-Macedonian-Persian descent and culture, objected to the Roman presence and subsequent onerous taxation policies in Asia Minor and Anatolia (now present day Turkey). In 88 BC, Mithradates organized the slaughter of 80,000 to 150,000 Romans and Italians living in the region. Then he established his headquarters in Pergamon, the kingdom bequeathed to the Romans in 133 BC and delivered a speech decrying his unification of the region against the Romans. Shortly thereafter, in the Theatre of Dionysus in Pergamon, he oversaw the execution of his Roman nemesis Aquillius, by melting gold and pouring it into the general’s mouth in front of an audience of 10,000 people.

It is probably at this time that the workshop in Pergamon made the cuirass that is now part of the Germanicus statue in Amelia. A cuirass is a piece of armor consisting of a breastplate and backplate fastened together.

Sulla, a ruthless Roman patrician commander dispatched to avenge Mithradates massacre of Romans and to recover Greece, according to Mayor in The Poison King, looted art from Greece to Asian Minor. It is possible that after the First Mithradatic War that he obtained the thorax that is now part of Amelia’s bronze Germanicas.

Rocco continues in her abstract:
It was subsequently transformed as an image of a Roman general speaking to his troops, probably one of the imperatores who fought against the king of Pontus. The provenance of the cuirassed bust and the chronology of the added parts, so as the fact that it has been found in Ameria, suggests that the bronze was transformed into a statue probably representing L. Cornelius Sulla, in whose honour monuments were erected in several municipia. 
Many years later, wishing to commemorate Germanicus, the monument was reused as iconic statue of the young prince, with a new head. This probably happened in the age of Caligula.
Germanicus was the father of the Roman Emperor Caligula.

The next post in this series will discuss more objects stolen by Sulla, including the krater on display in the archaeological museum in Amelia while Germanicus was displayed in Rome this year.


Excellent article tracing the fate of this statue and the cuirass created in Pergamon!