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Portraits of Caligula in Cameo Iconography

by Joe Geranio

This wonderful Caligula Onyx cameo is an important piece due to the propaganda regarding the military.  As the Met's description and D. Boschung's exhaustive work tells us, Caligula is represented here as a victorious general—the triumphant “imperator,” but in fact, he did not win any wars for Rome. His lack of military success and prowess alienated him from the army, and without its support, his rule became increasingly insecure. He was assassinated in Rome when aged only twenty-eight.   (Photo from my friend Peter Jr.)  

See:  New York Metropolitan of Art-  http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/130009049
         D. Boschung, "Die Bildnisse des Caligula", (Gebr. Mann 1989)  plate 29

Circa 37-41 A.D.

The idealized portrait sensitively sculpted, the emperor in profile to the left, with a broad forehead capped with typical Julio-Claudian short curly locks but with a noticeable and characteristic hollow at the temple, the face with a deep-set eye, slender nose, characteristic protruding upper lip, and narrow chin; mounted in a modern gold finger ring

1 1/16 in. (2.7 cm) long   Private Hands Christies Auction Sale

Caligula Seated and Roma Cameo (Photo courtesy John Pollini)

Caligula and Roma Cameo in color- Photo courtesy of CristianChirita

 Great Cameo of France. Five-layered sardonyx cameo, Roman artwork, second quarter of the 1st century AD.  Courtesy Marie-Lan Nguyen

The Grand Camée de France (Great cameo of France), the largest cameo sculpture to survive from the ancient world, contains 24 engraved figures arrayed in three registers. The general meaning and the political goals of this commissioned work are clear: its aim is to assert the dynastic continuity and legitimacy of the Julio-Claudian emperors of the Roman Empire (the first five emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero). The dead are placed in the upper part, while the middle register represents the world of the living. In the lowest register are Parthian and Germanic captives. Emperor Augustus can be recognized in the upper register, with his head veiled and encircled by a radiant crown; he is surrounded by Germanicus, mounted on a winged horse, and the son of the Emperor Tiberius, Drusus Julius Caesar. The floating figure with Eastern-style dress, carrying a globe in his hands, could be Aeneas. The center of the gem is reserved for Tiberius, sitting on his throne with his mother Livia. He presides over a solemn ceremony that is believed to be the appointment of Nero (standing armed before him) as Prince of Youth in 23 AD. This five-layered sardonyx cameo was made at around that date.


The young Gaius Caesar, third son of Germanicus, and future emperor Caligula portrayed with Livilla.

Sardonyx cameo in five layers 
Roman art, about 23 AD.
Paris, Department of Coins, Medals and Antiquities- photo by Egisto Sani

Caligula at 12-13 years of age.