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5. Conclusions

The formal identification of the fifth emperor Nero from three fragmentary portraits recovered from British contexts demonstrates that the province of Britannia was not totally devoid of imperial stone imagery, at least in the 1st century AD.

Portraits of the Roman emperor were works of art that swiftly transmitted the official likeness in a uniform manner to all provinces and major centres of population. The image of the princeps was spread primarily throughout the empire via coins, although official portraits in stone are likely to have been established in key public and official locales, ensuring that the physical presence of the head of state was both a familiar and essential element of provincial life. Here, as cult images, portraits could provide the focus of obedience and devotion to the State. For the native population, especially members of the indigenous elite, very public worship of the emperor underlined fidelity to Rome, a key condition in the process of acceptance and naturalisation.

The newly identified portraits of Nero recovered from London, Hinckley and Fishbourne highlight the relative need of elements within the native and local administration of Britain to be seen as being 'Roman', even if the greater population may have remained largely unaffected by Mediterranean cultural contact, and further emphasises the position of the emperor, the first citizen of Rome, at the heart of all things.

The pilot study has served to highlight the importance of 3D laser scanning to produce an objective record of badly damaged portraiture that can be analysed and compared with positively identified portraits throughout the empire and beyond. In addition, the pilot survey has, we hope, helped to focus attention upon the need to re-examine museum-held artefacts carefully, whatever their condition, preservation or state of knowledge concerning original context and associations. At last, these three important, yet largely neglected, sculptures are able to contribute in a meaningful way to the archaeological debate concerning Britannia, the representation of the emperor and the treatment of the imperial image in the outlying provinces of the Roman Empire.


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