RENHAM, ENGLAND
(RIVER ALDE)
1907
BRONZE
LIFE-SIZE
BRITISH MUSEUM, LONDON

A young boy on the bed of the river Alde found this bronze head of the Roman Emperor Claudius in 1907. The eyes are typically Romano-Celtic in that they are quite large- serving as a window to the soul. While the eyes today are nothing more than dark, void holes in the skull, at one point in time one must imagine that they were filled with enamel or decorative glass. The jagged neck, as well as the blow to the back of the head indicates that the head was ruthlessly hacked off a larger bust or full-bodied representation of the Emperor by Boudicca and her followers after sacking Colchester.

The head was first exhibited on December 3, 1908 at the Society of Antiquaries of London by the Victorian Academian Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema; a scholar who studied primarily classical human forms. Since then archaeologists and historians have speculated the possible origins of the head, as well as the reasons for its final resting place in the river bed. Some say that the head was looted from the controversial Temple of Claudius in Colchester, and a returning Iceni or Trinovante tribesman threw it in the river out of fear of getting caught with such a valuable piece. If the statue were actually from the Temple of the Emperor, however, chances are it would have been more idealized, refined and grandiose. The second, more probable theory was that the statue was displayed outside of a public building in the town of Colchester, and after the Celts took the city it was thrown into the river Alde as a votive offering to the gods. This practice of depositing valuables into the river as an act of offering is believed to have been customary of the Celts.

 

Dudley and Webster, pl. VIII

Dunnett, 51

Webster, 126