Q& A and quiz
AIn general, the Romans certainly
regarded portrait statues and busts as true to life, and those portraits that pay a lot of attention to individualistic details like wrinkles and facial irregularities are very plausible. Perhaps we should work on the assumption that images of famous Romans were accurate except when there is a good reason to doubt it.
On the other hand, many Roman portraits are highly idealised. For example, the youthful image of the first Roman emperor, Augustus, which owes a lot to the tradition of classical Greek sculpture, continued to be used even when he was in his seventies. There’s no doubt that the artists who designed such portraits had an agenda: they wanted to present as positive an image as possible, sometimes alluding to earlier rulers, so a degree of artifice was involved.
Can ancient descriptions help us? For example, the second-century AD writer Suetonius mentions the appearances of earlier emperors (his account of Augustus is a good deal less flattering than the sculptures). Perhaps, but such authors are not objective either. In ancient thought, physical appearance was linked to character, so even an apparently truthful description is loaded with significance.