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Work Juba I

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Roman Art

Juba I

© 1988 RMN / Pierre et Maurice Chuzeville

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Roman Art

Lepetoukha C.

This face with its impressive head of hair is that of the Numidian king Juba I. The idealization of the features suggests the influence of Hellenistic royal portraits, indicating that this was a posthumous portrait made during the reign of the king's son Juba II (reputed for his Greco-Roman culture). Juba I appears to be deified in this portrait by a likening to Jupiter.

A striking countenance

This imperious face is that of a middle-aged man, whose most striking feature is his abundant hair, which forms a heavy mass of twisted curls, arranged in rows. He is wearing a headband, which was a sign of royalty. A splendid beard also frames his face, whose discreet signs of age contribute to the impression of authority that emanates from the figure.

King Juba I

When this head was discovered in 1895, it was immediately identified as a portrait of King Juba I. This suggestion was confirmed after comparison with coins, on which portraits of the king display the same thick hair (which had made a great an impression on Cicero).
Juba I, king of Numidia (a North African kingdom corresponding to the eastern part of modern Algeria), went down in Roman history when he sided with Pompey's partisans in the conflict between the consul and Caesar. The latter's victory in Thapsus in 46 BC sounded the knell for Pompey's party in Africa; Juba I committed suicide, and his kingdom became a Roman province called Africa Nova. His son, the future Juba II, was taken to Rome where he was raised and educated.

A posthumous representation

The wrinkles on the sovereign's brow and the hollowed cheeks that accentuate his prominent cheekbones indicate his age, yet this portrait remains largely idealized. The noble features (those of a man in the prime of life) and headband around the hair come from the tradition of Hellenistic royal portraiture.
This ideal character, strongly indebted to Greek art, suggests that the work was produced after the reign of Juba I. The portrait in the Louvre was probably a posthumous one, produced during the reign of Juba II, the sovereign whose Roman education left him steeped in Greco-Latin culture. He may therefore have honored his father by perhaps likening him to Jupiter.


K. de Kersauson, Catalogue des portraits romains, I, Paris, 1986, n 54, p. 120.
Exposition L'Algérie au temps des royaumes numides, Musée départemental des Antiquités, Rouen, 16 mai-27 octobre 2003 et Musée national Cirta, Constantine, 18 février-18 mai 2004, n 130.

Technical description

  • Juba I

    Around the Christian era

    Provenance: Cherchell, Algeria (ancient Caesarea)

  • Marble

    H. 45 cm

  • Waille expedition, 1895 , 1895

    King of Mauretania (acceded to the throne in 60 BC)

    N° d'entrée MNC 1920 (n° usuel Ma 1885)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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