Septimius Severus

Imperial Period
A.D. 203–235

Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 369; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 115 (additional published references).


Height: 38.5 cm (15 3/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Marble from the Greek island of Paros

On View

Roman Art Gallery (Gallery 213)


The Ancient World



This portrait of the Emperor Septimius Severus (A.D. 193-211) was fashioned either in the last decade of the emperor’s rule or posthumously. The four corkscrew locks hanging over the forehead and the parted beard are an imitation of a famous cult statue of the Graeco-Egyptian god Sarapis in his temple in Alexandria. Both Septimius Severus and his older son Emperor Caracalla worshipped Sarapis, a god of death and renewal popular in their native North Africa.

The drill has been used freely in the locks and curls, typical of third century A.D. carving style. The neck was worked for insertion in a draped statue or bust. The nose has been mostly knocked off; the hair and beard have suffered some damages; and the surfaces are somewhat corroded, abraded, and otherwise deteriorated. The neck and face once had a high polish, traces of which are still visible.

Scientific Analysis:

University of South Florida Lab No. 8437: Isotope ratios - delta13C +4.7 / delta18O -3.5,

Attribution - Paros 1, Lychnites. Justification - C and O isotopes, medium grain, hints of gray.


Said to be from Ostia or the Portus; by 1958: with Hesperia Art, 2219 St. James Place, Philadelphia; by 1960: with Ars Antiqua AG, Haldenstrasse 5, Lucerne, Switzerland (auction 2, Hotel Schweizerhof, Lucerne, lot 64); bought in at the auction by Hesperia Art (Bulletin 4, no. 36); September 21, 1960: purchased by MFA from Hesperia Art for $ 1,200.00

Credit Line

Harriet Otis Cruft Fund