A Pre-Principate Portrait of Gaius Caligula The La Spezia Head ? Joe Geranio

The Only pre-accession Portrait of Gaius Caligula?

Gaius Caligula?

I believe this portrait represents emperor Gaius Caligula before he asscended to power in 37 A.D.

The only known pre-principate portraits of Caligula known are numismatics (coins) from Carthago Nova.

There are no accepted pre-principate portraits of Caligula by scholars and art historians of portraits in the round.

This head fron the La Spezia Musuem shows a young Julio Claudian prince and it is not identified as any member of the imperial household.  I believe and this is subjective and first brought to light by prof. John Pollini as a possible candidate for the young princeps as Gaius Caligula?  The physiognomy and hair are so close to all of Caligula’s other portraits that it has to be the young princeps.  Usually we can look at coins to give us a better idea of what the individual looked like, in this case the only coins minted of Caligula prior to his accession to power are from Carthago Nova Spain.  These coins that are extant are so crude and badly struck, in most cases gives us little evidence and the dating of these coins has also come into debate, all of the coins were dated under the reign of Tiberius, but not to exact months or years, therfore this will be subjective.  After looking at all the extant portraits of Caligula, I have found that this is so close in hairstyle, forehead, lips and hair length on the nape of the neck, that I see the La Spezia portrait as a strong candidate to be name a portrait done of Caligula prior to 37 A.D.?  I know some will be sceptical, but the portrait has all the necessary traits of Caligula and therefore must be strongly considered.  All art historians that I have read regarding this portrait dismiss it as a private individual or a young member of the Julio Claudian family.       

The Pre-Principate Coinage of Caligula only from Cartago Nova, Spain

SPAIN, Terraconensis. Carthago Nova. Tiberius, with Gaius (Caligula) as Caesar. AD 14-37. Æ 18mm (4.46 g). Laureate head of Tiberius left / Bare head of Gaius Caligula left. RPC I 184.
RPC 184 Tiberius and Caligula pre-principate
 For problems with the dating of Tiberian Coinage see RPC and A. Banti and L. Simonetti, Corpus Nummorum Romanorum (XIII Florence: 1977 pp. 141-50 deal with dating to 34 A.D. (PolliniJWAG, note 28 for more explanation.  Also:  “Aspects of the Principate of Tiberius”, Historical comments on the Colonial coinage issued outside Spain, Michael Grant- The American Numismatic Society – Numismatic Notes and Monographs(1950)  There are some issues with inscriptions and dating in Banti Simonetti.
These are the only coins that show a portrait of Caligula pre-principate!  The coin is dated to maybe 32-33?   RPC 182.  The importance of this coin is invaluable towards any study of Caligulan pre-principate portraiture.  There are no pre-principate portraits (sculpted) of Caligula excepted by Art historians.   C · CAESAR · TI · N · QVINQ · IN · V · I · N · K ·

Pre-Principate Coin of Caligula

Pre-Principate Coin of Caligula

From Carthago Nova, Spain

End Notes

+ I should like to thank Mr. John Pollini, Dean of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California, for his help in locating many materials on the portraiture of Caligula.  I should also like to thank Brooks Levy at the Princeton Umiversity Library for insightful views on Caligula’s radiate crown.  Many thanks to the Classics Department at the University of California at Berkeley for their scholarly seminars on numismatics, especially Prof. R. Stroud and Prof. R. Knapp.  I am also thankful to the San Francisco Ancient Numismatic Society, and thanks to Susan Wood for her help in in finding material on the portraiture of Caligula.  Lastly I would like to thank Miriam Griffin for her encouragement and the first book she suggested on the Julio Claudians.  For Full Bibliography get: SAN Index by Issue, Volumes XI – XXI
Index of the Coins Illustrated on the Covers of SAN (1969-1984) – William
Portraits of Caligula: The Seated Figure? – Joe B. Geranio Book Reviews

1.  Suetonius, Cal 8.1: Fasti Vallenses and Fasti Pighiani; also see Dio 59.61. A Barrett, CaligulaThe Corruption of Power, Yale University Press, 1989 (Barrett 1989), while not rejecting Suetonius, raises questions, pp.6-7, Also see J.P.V.D. Balsdon, The Emperor Gaius, Oxford, 1934 (Balsdon 1934), p.4.  

2.  Seneca, De Constantia Sapientis, p.18.  See also Suetonius, Calig. p. 50.

3.  BMC I 160/88-92: RIC I 56; AE dupondiusObverseAugustus radiate head left.  Reverse:  seated figure on curule chair holding branch and globe.  Attribution to the reign of Caligula now seems certain.  See H. Chantraine, Die Antiken Fundmuzen Von Neuss, Novaesium VIII, 1982.  pp. 20-21.

4.  (supra n. 3 ); The seated figure has been accepted by most scholars as Augustus, the description of it as an honorific statue apparently goes back to I. Eckhel, Doctrina Numorum Veterum VI, 1828, p. 126.  Also see B.E. Levy, “Caligula’s Radiate Crown,“Schweitzer Munzblatter, 38/152, 1988 (Levy 1988), pp. 101-107, Also see H.M. von Kaenel, “Augustus, Caligula oder Claudius,” Gazette Numismatique Suisse 28, 1978, pp. 39-44. 

5.  Swift, F.H., “Imagines in Imperial Portraiture,” AJA 28, 1923, pp. 286-301.  M. Stewart, “How Were Imperial Portraits Distributed Throughout The Roman Empire?” AJA 43, 1939, pp. 601-617.  J. Pollini, The Portraiture of Gaius and Lucius Caesar“, New York, 1987 (Pollini 1987), pp. 2-3 for a photo of a terracotta head in the Louvre, see Kiss, L’iconographie, figs. 312-13, p. 99.

6.  Fullerton, M.D., Rev. of Pollini 1987, AJA 92, 1988, pp. 615-17, probably the most difficult of the Julio-Claudians to attribute; an insightful review.  Also see R. Brilliant, “An Early Imperial Portrait of Caligula,” AAAH 4, 1969, pp. 13-17.  Also see J. Pollini, “A Pre-Principate Portrait of Gaius (Caligula)?” JWAG, Vol. 40, 1982 (Pollini 1982), pp.3-4.  I believe this portrait that Pollini speaks of is indeed the only pre-principate likeness, which is similiar to the Dresden and La Spezia Portraits.

7.  DioLX22.  Also see M. Bergemann and P. Zanker, “Damnatio Memoriae’-Umgearbeitete Nero und Domitians Portrats:  Zur Ikonographie der Flavischen Kaiser und des Nerva,” jdI 96, 1981, pp. 317-42.  See also J. Pollini, “Damnatio Memoriae in Stone:  Two Portraits of Nero Recut to Vespasianin American Museums,” AJA 88, 1984, pp. 547-66.  For a photo of a mutilated small bronze of Caligula, see F. Johansen, ” The Sculpted Portraits of Caligula,” Ancient Portraits in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Vol. 1, 1987 (Johansen 1987), figs 19a-19b.  For a portrait of Germanicus mutilated in late antiquity, See S. Walker, Roman Art in the British Museum, 1991, fig. 33, p. 31. For the greatest work to date on Caligula in the round.  See D. Boschung, Die Bildnisse des Caligula”, Das Romische Herrscherbild, Vol. 4, part 1, Berlin 1989 (Boschung 1989), no 30, pls. 27, 1-4, 45.1. 

8.  Jonas, E., ” A Damanatio Memoriae alkalmazasa egyik duponiusan Caligula, Numizm Kozlony, 1937-38, pp. 89-91.   

9.  Barrett 1989, pp. 179-80.  D.W. Mcdowall, ” THe Economic Context of the Roman Imperial Countermark NCAPR,”  Acta Numismatica I, 1971, p. 87.

10.  Callu, J.P. and F. Rosati, “Les Depot monetaire du Posarello,” MEFR, 1964, pp. 51-90.

11.  Carson, R.A.G., “The Bredgar Treasure of Roman Coins”, NC, 1959. pp.17-22.

12.  Seminar held at the University of California-Berkeley.  April 1995, Berkeley Classics Department.

13.  Barrett 1989, p. 180.

14.  Stewart, M. (supra n. 5), pp. 601-17.

15.   IGR IV, 1022.

16.  CIL XII, 1848, 1849.

17.  Dio LIX.4 IG VII, 2711.

18.  IG, 2nd ed., vols 2-3, 3266-67.  Athens together with Drusilla; Graindor, BCH 38, 1914, no. 18, p. 401. Seyrig, RA, 1929, p. 90.  See also T. Pekary, Monumentum Chiloniense, Amsterdam, 1975, p. 107.  E. Koberlein, Caligula und die agyptische Kulte, Meisenheim am glau, 1962, p. 54. 

19.  Poulsen, V., “Portraits of Caligula,” A Arch 29, 1958, pp. 175-90.  On the Worcester head, Poulsen speaks about “an unmistackable nervous tension,”  For a description of the so-called “crazy Caligula portrait,” see D. Kleiner, Roman Sculpture, New haven, 1992, p. 128.  See also J. Pollini, Roman Portraiture:  Images of Character and Virtue, Los Angeles 1990, pp. 8-12.  

20.  For more on the Fulda head, see Johansen 1987, p. 95. Poulsen (supra n. 19), pp. 178-79.  See also H. Heintze, Die antiken Portrats in SchloB Fasanerie bei Fulda, Mainz, 1968, no. 21.

21.  Copenhagen head 637a :  Th pupils, eylashes and irises were added in paint; only those on the left of the Copenhagen head are still preserved.  See Kleiner (supra n. 19), p. 127.  J. Pollini told me in conversation that the Docents at the NY Glyptotek like to scare the children with the so called “Crazy looking Caligula”   

22.  Pollini 1982, pp. 2-4.

23.  Poulsen (supra n. 19), p. 186. Johansen 1987, p. 106.  Kleiner (supra n. 19), p. 126. All agree that the Worcester head is as possible postumous issue from Neronian times.

24.  A very controversial issue.  See Strabo, 4.3.2; CIL Xiii (supra n. 10), pp. 1820, 1799.

25.  Mattingly, BMC cxiii-iii.

26.  C.H.V. Sutherland, ” The Mints of Lugdunum and Rome under Caligula: an unsolved problem,”NAC 10, 1981, pp. 297-99.

27.  Girard, J.B., “les emmisons d’or et d’ argent de Caligula dans l’atelier de Lyon,” RN, 1976, pp. 69-81.  There is a danger that these were forgers’s does.  See also H.M. von Kaenel, ” Die Organasation der Munzparagung Caligulas,” SNR 66, 1987, pp. 42-43.  H.B. Mattingly, NC 145, 1985, p. 256; Barrett 1989, pp. 244-54. 

28.  Balsdon 1934, p. 146.

29.  On the other imagery of Caligula, see locally produced glass medallions thought to bear Caligula’s image from the Rhine area, see D. Boschung, Romische Glasphalerae mit Portratbusten,” BJ 187, 1987, nos. 2,7, 27.  For convincing identification of the seated male figure on a gem in the Vienna Kunsthistoriches Museum, as Caligula and not Augustus, see H. Kyrieleis, “Zu einem Kameo in Wien,” Archaologischer Anzeiger, 1970, figs. 1,3, pp. 492-98.  Pollini 1982, p. 3.  For pre-accession portrait of Caligula on colonial issues from Carthago Nova in Spain (usually crude portraits), see A. Banti and Simonetti, Corpus Nummorum Romanorum 13, Florence, 1977, pp. 141-50.; M Grant, Aspects of the Principate of Tiberius, New York, 1950, 35, 101, pl. 6.3. 
30.  RIC, 36.

31.  Breglia, L., Roman Imperial Coins:  Their Art and Techniques, 1968, pp. 44-50.  Also see Kleiner (supra n. 19), pp. 141-63; Boschung 1989, p. 18.

32.  RIC I, 110, no. 32.

33.  Ritter, H.W., Adlocutio und Corona Civica unter Caligula und Tiberius,” JNG, 1971, pp. 81-96.

34.  This identification was already made in the auction catalouge, Munzen und Medaillen, AG Basel 43 (12-13.11.1970), no. 289.

35.  Boschung 1989, pl D, Figs. 1-8.

36.  Boschung 1989, pp. 24-25; H.M. von Kaenel (supra n. 4), pp.39-44.

37.  Poulsen, V. (supra n. 19), p. 185; Johansen 1989, p. 104.

38.  For discussion for the typology in identification of Caligula. See Pollini 1982, pp. 1-12.

39.  Johansen 1987, p. 97.  Probably made shortly after Caligula’s accession, this head I have seen personally at the J. Paul Getty Museum.  A most impressive head from Asia Minor.  See Pollini 1982, p. 6.

40.  Dio 59.6.1; Suet Calig. 14.1.  Also see A Jackobson and H. Cotton, Caligula’s Rescusatio Imperii, Historia 34, 1985, pp. 497-503.

41.  Grenade, P., Essai sur les origines du principat, 1961, p. 283. 

42.  Kuthmann, H., “Claudius, Germanicus und divus Augustus,” JNG 10, 1959/60, pp. 56-57.   

43.  Smallwood, E.M., Documents illustrating the reigns of Gaius, Claudius and Nero, 1967, no. 126.  Also see M. Charlesworth, CAH X, 1952, p. 654, nt. 1; G.J.D Aalders,”Helios Gaios,” Mnemosyne 13, 1960, pp. 242-43.

44.  BMC 145/ 49-51.

45.  After thourough and close examination, I have come across at least three pieces that I see as a spikey attribution?  

46.  Levy, B.E., ” Portraits of the Heir Apparent:  Geta or Caracalla,” AJA, 1992, p. 350; B.E. Levy, Calpurnius Siculus/ I 84-88: The Iconograhy of Imperial Succession,” APA, 1989, p. 15.  47. 

  • Main Author:
      Geranio, Joe.
  • Title:
      Portraits of Caligula : the seated figure? / Joe Geranio.
  • Host Publication:
      In: The Celator Vol. 21, no. 9 (Sep 2007), p. 6-26 : ill.
  • Year:



About joegeranio1

Our group studies all aspects of Julio Claudian iconography in coinage and portraits in the round. All for non-profit and educational use only. Joe Geranio Julio Claudian Iconographic Association
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