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A ROMAN BASALT PORTRAIT HEAD OF THE EMPEROR PHILIP THE ARAB
Property from an Austrian Private Collection
A ROMAN BASALT PORTRAIT HEAD OF THE EMPEROR PHILIP THE ARAB

REIGN 244-249 A.D.

Details
A ROMAN BASALT PORTRAIT HEAD OF THE EMPEROR PHILIP THE ARAB
REIGN 244-249 A.D.
Lifesized, depicted as a mature man of middle age, his oval face tapering to his broad rounded chin, his small almond-shaped eyes drilled at their inner canthi, his heavy upper lids partially covering his heart-shaped pupils, with thick lower lids, all beneath his furrowed brow, with two deep horizontal creases on his forehead, his aquiline nose with the naso-labial folds descending from the corners, his straight mouth with full parted lips, his fine wavy hair closely cropped, fringing his forehead and descending into the beard and mustache, with prominent ears, crowned with a massive deeply-drilled wreath of laurel and berries, centered by a medallion, tied at the back with the ribbon ends falling behind
13¾ in. (34.9 cm.) high
Provenance
with Herbert Cahn, Basel, 1998.

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Lot Essay

Philip the Arab ruled the Roman Empire during what is known as the "Crisis of the Third Century." It was a period of unprecedented political uncertainty, with the Empire ruled by a string of military leaders whose short reigns were ended by assassinations at the hands of usurpers with similar political aspirations. Philip's brief, yet effective, reign came in the middle of this 49-year crisis, and while it followed the pattern of quick ascendance and murderous downfall, he was able to establish a lasting legacy in his five short years on the throne.
Philip the Arab was born at Bosra, Syria circa 204 A.D. to Julius Marinus, a local leader of the Hauran, Trachonitis to the Romans. At the age of 39, Philip rose to power under Emperor Gordian III and was proclaimed his successor after his death. While scholars are uncertain as to the cause of Gordian's death, it has been hypothesized that Philip orchestrated the assassination (see p. 318 in S. Cluzan, et al., Syria: Mémoire et Civilisation). His notable accomplishments as Emperor include both foreign and domestic policies. He brokered a peace agreement with Shapur I of Persia, ending a war begun by Gordian. Domestically, he was viewed as a gentle and understanding leader, responsible for stopping the policy of using informants and spies established by Maximinus Thrax, granting amnesty to prisoners and exiles as well as ending the persecution of Christians.
While contemporary literature on Philip the Arab is either lost or minimal, we have a visual record as his portraits are reserved on coins (see, for example, the sestertius, now in London, no. 456, pl. 125 in J.P.C. Kent and M. & A. Hirmer, Roman Coins). For a nearly identical portrait head but in marble, discovered in 1974 at an excavation of the Bath of Shahba, see pp. 318-319, op. cit. The portrait presented here is sculpted from a stone indigenous to the Hauran, Philip's birthplace.

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