Ptolemy and Augustus in Oxford

Last week I visited the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford to see if I could find any exhibits relating to Alexander. I didn’t find any, although I have to admit my visit was a very quick one as I was in town for another reason. Much to my delight and surprise, however, I did find the following relief of Ptolemy I Soter.

Pharaoh Ptolemy I Soter sacrificing

Pharaoh Ptolemy I Soter sacrificing

Here is what the caption accompanying the relief says of it.
Please excuse the crookedness of the photographs – I was one part over-excited by this discovery (images of the Successors are very rare compared to those of Alexander, at least in my experience), and one part disadvantaged by the fact that the relief was quite high up on the wall, so I had to hold my arms up to get the snap.
Here are two close up photos of Ptolemy and the hieroglyphs. I can’t read hieroglyphs so am presuming they spell Ptolemy’s Egyptian name? If you know, please do correct me if I am wrong.

Close up of Pharaoh Ptolemy

Close up of Pharaoh Ptolemy


Hieroglyphs. Ptolemy's name?

Hieroglyphs. Ptolemy’s name?

The Second Achilles is concerned primarily with Alexander, secondarily with his Successors, and thirdly with Greece in general; Rome is slightly beyond the blog’s remit; however, I could not but share the following, Here we have a statue (a copy, I think, of the original which is in the Vatican?) of Augustus looking very august.

Augustus Caesar. Boffo chap.

Augustus Caesar. Boffo chap.

And here is a reconstruction of how the museum thinks the statue would have looked 2,000 years ago.
I have to admit I prefer the unpainted version of the statue over this one; the colours don’t seem quite at home for me, especially in respect of Augustus’ armour. That is probably just my modern sensibility coming out, though. Having said that, I have to admit, I really liked the painted toga. When I saw it at the museum, it looked very lifelike. That is not only a tribute to the painter but the man who sculpted the work in the first place. On that theme, there is a statue of a pope at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican – I can’t remember which one, but it is to the left of the high altar as you walk towards it from the front of the church – which also has a billowing robe; it’s made of marble but looks for all the world like it is a real robe.
I’ve never seen a painted version of any of Alexander’s busts or statues. I would love to do so.

Categories: Of The Moment | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Ptolemy and Augustus in Oxford

  1. Fascinating how the statue looks more imposing and regal without the colors. No doubt, the austerity of it contributes to this.


  2. No, this isn’t Ptolemy’s name. The name of a Pharaoh was always enclosed in a sort of frame, called cartouche. I’m not able to draw a picture here of Ptolemy’s name in hieroglyphic fashion, but if you are eager to know it, you may click the link ‘ cartouche of Ptolemy ‘: there is a whole collection of hieroglyphs with the transliteration of Ptolemy’s name. It’s pretty famous, because it was one of the first to be recognised by Champollion, along with Cleopatra’s name.
    As for August, yes it is the copy of the one in Vatican Museum, found near Rome. I agree with you I like more the statue without colours; but the sculptor wanted to show at best the restitution of Roman insigna by the Parthi, so red and blue stress very well this part, framed by the red cloak, proper to a general, that was called ‘paludamentum’ in Latin.


  3. Pete Laberge

    Cool pictures!
    I liked the painted statue, and also felt the armour was odd. I thought the armour would have been a brassy golden colour with some Roman standard on it. But considering the statue is a Ceasar one, should not the cloak have been purple? ….

    In case you are interested in a cool video of Rome, see here:
    Viva Roma No. V (“Mambo #5” by Lou Bega)

    There are a number of other interesting ones, here:


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