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Roman, Julio-Claudian
Imperial Portrait of the Emperor Caligula, God and Ruler
AD 37–41
Gilt Bronze

15 x 8 7/8 x 10 1/8 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase with funds provided by the Alice Pratt Brown Museum Fund

Department of Antiquities


Roman literature has established that Emperor Caligula proclaimed himself a god and erected a golden statue of himself in a temple in the Capitolium in Rome. According to his personal correspondence, he also intended to place his golden image in the great temple of Jerusalem. Ancient inscriptions provide evidence that cults worshipped Caligula as a god in eastern parts of the Roman Empire.

This magnificent gilt bronze head was probably the focal point of a temple. It combines the classic good looks of portraits of this ruler's dynasty with his own well-known features. In this way, Caligula distinguished himself as a descendent of gods and rulers as well as a god/ruler in his own right. Coins minted during his brief and turbulent reign do so as well. This bronze sestertius, an ancient Roman coin, clearly shows the likeness.  

Sestertius with image of Caligula
Gift of Isabel B. Wilson