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Puella

Physical appearance of a famous Roman

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Hello, people:

This question may sound superfluous to some, but I had to make it anyway.

 

I have already a fairly approximate idea of how many of the famous Romas looked/could have looked, such as Caesar, Sulla, Octavian, the Julio-Claudians... either by surviving busts or descriptions by historians of the time.While my interest isn't focused in their appearances, having an idea of it allows me to picture them in my mind as real-life people, breathing, feeling, etc, and not just some distant chaps lost in a nebulous past, the same way looking at old photos or paintings makes your great-great-great-grandpapa seem more real to you. You get my idea, hopefully?

Now that I have explained, here goes my question for all of you who are knowledgeable about the subject: How did Scipio Africanus look like?

 

Yes, I have seen his bust. It helps, but not much, unfortunately.

I'm aware of the lack of data on this, so my expectations are modest. i don't expect to get a detailed description, even though it would be wonderful. Just a single characteristic, as eye colour, hair colour, height, whatever tiny snippet of data there is, would be enough to me.

 

I hope you can help,

Thanks in advance.

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I'm not entirely sure what you need, but here goes. Forgive me if I am suggesting points you are already aware of, or ideas you have already tried.

 

Eye Colour: Chances are that, being from central Italy, this would be brown.

Hair Colour: This would almost certainly be black.

Skin colour: 'Olive' complexion common to many people of mediterranean origin.

 

Perhaps if these physical attributes are artistically added to an image of Skipio's bust, a reasonable human likeness can be obtained? I know that artists have done this with other Roman figures, with quite convincing results. Of course, the eye/hair colour and complexion are educated guesses. After all, He could have been blond and blue - eyed. But I doubt it!

 

otf7l1.jpg

4j7lw.jpg

 

In this example, I would say that Caligula looks fairly typically Italian.

 

Hope this helps.

Edited by Northern Neil

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Ah, yes. I had thought of the same things you point out in your reply, that's why I said I had already gotten some idea of how many of the famous Romans looked like. I have seen photoshopped busts similar to the one you posted, but not of Africanus. I suppose I could do the same, there is software to do such things, yet I'm terrible at it...

About your thoughts on how he might have looked like, taking racial traits into account. Yes, you are right, he might have looked like a typical Mediterranean, i.e. dark hair, brown eyes, olive skin... But, and it's a big but, that doesn't mean it would neccesarily be so, as you admit correctly, he could have looked quite different. Take for example what is known of members of other branches of the Cornelii, such as the Rufus branch, who had red hair. Or even dictator Sulla, a Cornelius, who is far from a 'typically Italian complexion'. Who can say if the Scipio branch shared any of the same physical traits.

 

The only thing I have found is a passing mention on his having long hair a la Alexander as a youth (circa Ticinus), and that he looked tall (circa the interview with Hannibal before Zama) in an old 19th century book purported to quote from earlier works (which I lost :( ) but nothing else. maybe I missed other such paragraphs from the Classics.

About the famous bust, I ignore from which year/century it is. If its authenticity is also as disputed as that of Hannibal's bust, that would mean I am left with nigh a clue.

 

Well, I hope I haven't gone on too long. *Sigh* I wish his memoirs or at least Plutarch's bio hadn't been lost...

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Eye Colour: Chances are that, being from central Italy, this would be brown.

Hair Colour: This would almost certainly be black.

Skin colour: 'Olive' complexion common to many people of mediterranean origin.

 

Not necessarily so.

 

This is extrapolating from the appearance of many southern Italians of today. (And there are many blond Italians even now.)

 

The contemporary 'Mediterranean' complexion comes from the dominant gene on the south side of the sea. These got about a lot less in antiquity, and if the original Italians came from the north (as is quite possible) then they might have had typical European colouration.

 

A number of Romans are described as 'blond', and since they were familiar with Gauls, the Romans knew what blond means. Sulla himself is explicitly said by Plutarch to have had grey eyes and golden hair,and he was a thoroughbred Roman.

 

Likewise names like Ahenobarbus (bronze beard) suggest a non-Mediterranean appearance. Both Caesar and Pompey are described as having 'fair' complexions (in Caesar's case making a striking contrast with his dark eyes).

 

Just to make things worse for you, many busts now bearing the names of famous Romans were given them by romanticising Victorian archaeologists.

 

On the bright side - there are a set of coins in the bourgos catalogue which may well be images of Scipio Africanus. How near they are to life is anyone's guess.

 

In the wildwinds catalogue (which I find generally reliable) you can find examples here

 

http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/greece/spain/carthago_nova/i.html

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You got it, Maty!

Every time I have asked, I get the same vague and general answer: 'Oh, he surely looked like a typical Italian'. Which is irritating sometimes (no offense meant for the amiable poster who first answered) because it doesn't help at all. Being of Mediterranean ancestry myself, I know this ethnicity is anything but uniform and constant. My grandpapa, a thoroughbred Mediterranean was blond and blue eyed, as are most of his family still living there.

 

Of course, the Romans knew what 'blond' and 'tall' meant, Maty, you are right again, how could they not if they were familiar with Gauls and Germans. That is another reiterative sort of a 'correction' I get every time I mention in class that this or that Roman is described as blond ('Surely you mean light brown, you know, they were Italians and they are dark-complexioned') or tall ('Tall for that period, you mean, ancient people were very short, so tall must be around 1.72'). That's why I usually don't bring up a 'typically italian' image to my mind when trying to figure out how a certain Roman looked like.

When I began wondering about Scipio Africanus' traits, I didn't just imagine him with a modern compatriot's appearance and left it at that. I first looked in books, that's where the 'long hair and tall' statement came from. But my books are very old, and probably outdated, for they mostly re-quote Polybius and Livy, whom i read a long time ago and am unable to remember if they did ever describe Africanus however briefly. I haven't gotten the more recent books on him, the History section at the local library is pitifully small, and doesn't have Liddell-Hart, Gabriel, Scullard and Goldsworthy, :blink: whose works i'm told are the authorities on the subject. I was hoping someone who had read them or was expert on the Punic Wars would be as kind as to provide me with the info I missed.

Another reason why I wasn't satisfied with the 'Typical Italian' image was, as I said before, other members of his gens are described as blondes or redheads, so who's to say he couldn't have been as well?

I hadn't seen the coins before, thanks for that, maty. About the bust, I have no info on it. I'll have to find out when it was found, identified and by whom. If it really is him, then great, at least we'd have a idea of his face's shape. I personally think that, if it's really him, he's 'round 50 years old and the bust probably copied from a wax image. If it's not him... brrr, brrr, brr.

Ah, I almost forgot: In some novels and Renaissance art, he's either portrayed as a blond hunk sporting a general's garment from the Empire era, or an elegant dark-haired man with a pallid face. I just discarded these portrayals. Pure romanticism...

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Well, after borrowing the books by Gabriel, Liddell-Hart, Scullard, Goldsworthy et al. from the library and re-reading the primary sources, Polybius and Livy, I concluded that:

1) Neither Polybius (the closest one in time and with access to the Cornelii) nor Livy provide a detailed description of his appearance.

2) Same with later sources, excepting some passing mentions of his long hair and intense gaze in the Punica, which is the only case. Plutarch may have made a description, but we

Edited by Puella

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The contemporary 'Mediterranean' complexion comes from the dominant gene on the south side of the sea. These got about a lot less in antiquity, and if the original Italians came from the north (as is quite possible) then they might have had typical European colouration.

 

Interesting, I did not know this. Did this shift come about due to the Arab invasions?

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Hello, people:

This question may sound superfluous to some, but I had to make it anyway.

 

I have already a fairly approximate idea of how many of the famous Romas looked/could have looked, such as Caesar, Sulla, Octavian, the Julio-Claudians... either by surviving busts or descriptions by historians of the time.While my interest isn't focused in their appearances, having an idea of it allows me to picture them in my mind as real-life people, breathing, feeling, etc, and not just some distant chaps lost in a nebulous past, the same way looking at old photos or paintings makes your great-great-great-grandpapa seem more real to you. You get my idea, hopefully?

Now that I have explained, here goes my question for all of you who are knowledgeable about the subject: How did Scipio Africanus look like?

 

Yes, I have seen his bust. It helps, but not much, unfortunately.

I'm aware of the lack of data on this, so my expectations are modest. i don't expect to get a detailed description, even though it would be wonderful. Just a single characteristic, as eye colour, hair colour, height, whatever tiny snippet of data there is, would be enough to me.

 

I hope you can help,

Thanks in advance.

 

 

 

Perhaps I

Edited by beginner

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This is extrapolating from the appearance of many southern Italians of today. (And there are many blond Italians even now.)

Yet the appearance of germans in Rome inspired a fashion for blonde wigs, suggesting that blonde hair is mostly an imperial import both real or imitation. Also women are known to have dyed their hair - there's a letter from one Roman husband giving his wife the benefit of his opinion after frequent re-colouring caused her to go bald.

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This is extrapolating from the appearance of many southern Italians of today. (And there are many blond Italians even now.)

Yet the appearance of germans in Rome inspired a fashion for blonde wigs, suggesting that blonde hair is mostly an imperial import both real or imitation. Also women are known to have dyed their hair - there's a letter from one Roman husband giving his wife the benefit of his opinion after frequent re-colouring caused her to go bald.

 

 

I

Edited by beginner

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Lots of red-heads in Britain, although many would have whitened and spiked their hair.

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