The Novium's mysterious Roman head is Emperor Trajan say Archaeologists

By Culture24 Reporter | 09 October 2013

A mysterious stone head found in a Chichester flowerbed 200 years ago has finally been identified by archaeologists as the head of Roman Emperor Trajan.


a large stone head with worn features
A side view of the Bosham Head, now revealed to be Roman Emperor Trajan.© Courtesy The Novium
Thanks to the latest laser scanning technology archaeologists from Bournemouth University have dated the Bosham Head, as it is known, to AD 122.

Little had previously been known about the 170 kg (26 stone), twice life-size stone head – including who it was meant to represent or how it ended up in a flower bed in the vicarage garden in Bosham, where it was discovered around 1800.

Speculation as to the identity of the mysterious Roman had been rife with some staff at the Novium museum where it is kept pinning their money on Emperor Nero. But now Dr Miles Russell and Harry Manley from the University’s School of Applied Sciences have used the latest in 3D laser scanning technology to put the identity beyond doubt.

The pair used the laser scans to pick out facial features and a distinctive hairstyle, which led them to conclude that the statue was of Emperor Trajan.

“The problem is because the face has been so battered by weathering - possibly because it was in the sea at one point - people have felt for the last 200 years that there’s not enough left of the face to be that precise on its identification,” said Dr Russel.

“It is a shame that it has been ignored and overlooked for so long, but now that laser scanning has helped resolve its identity.”

Dr Russell believes the statue, made of Italian marble, was set up by Trajan’s successor, Hadrian, on a visit to Britain in AD 121-122 and would have greeted visitors as they entered Chichester Harbour.

Trajan was Roman Emperor from AD98 – AD117 and is renowned for his public building programmes in Rome and for the expansion of the Roman Empire.

A similar statue of Emperor Trajan was also erected by Hadrian, who was Trajan’s adopted son, at Ostia Harbour, in Rome.

“The fact that it was on the harbour and mirrors what’s happening in Ostia suggests that this would have been a real monumental greeting not just to Sussex but to the whole of Southern England,” added Dr Russell.

“There would have been this immense statue of the Emperor facing you as you came in to the harbour, so it’s a real welcome to Britain statue but reminding you that Britain is part of the Roman Empire.”

Dr Russell will be at the Novium in Chichester to deliver a lecture: Finding Nero (and other Roman Emperors) – on Thursday October 24 from 6.30-8pm.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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I would like to think that this is so.
Trajan was recognised for his building works by his people and regarded as a good Emperor. Hadrian an adopted son would have felt honoured to bequeath a head/statue of Trajan to the British people, and no doubt all those Roman soldiers and merchants arriving in Britannia at that time would have paid homage to his statue.
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