|Portraiture of Diadumenian||Home
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Son and co-emperor with Macrinus
Succeeded by Elagabalus
|Text by Bill
Photos by Bill Storage and Laura Maish
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Marcus Opellius Antoninus Diadumenianus, son of Macrinus, was given the titles of Caesar and Augustus some time during his father's brief reign. The Historia Augusta reports that he was destined to imitate his cruel and ruthless father. Its judgments on both rulers are virtually useless. The section of the HA covering this period between is full of contradictions and fabrications; and its author had a clear motive for a negative report on Macrinus. Cassius Dio, the most reliable ancient source to cover Diadumenian, knows almost nothing about him. Herodian mentions him only in passing. Eutropius and Aurelius Victor, who was probably the source of the material in the HA, disagree on the life of Macrinus, and hence on Diadumenian.
The ancient documents seem to argue over whether, when or by whom, both Macrinus and Diadumenian acquired certain titles, including Antoninus, Pius and Felix. An inscription at Ostia shows us at least that Diadumenian used the title Antoninus and that his father used Pius and Felix (photos 2, 3). In this inscription, Diadumenian appears only as Caesar, not Augustus, showing that the title of Augustus was not bestowed on him (by senate, soldiers, or Macrinus) at the same time as Caesar, proving (a rare thing for Roman history studes) Eutropius wrong and Victor right on at least this count.
It reads and expands as follows:
The inscription, found at the firehouse
at Ostia (Inv. 19787), is interesting in its own right. The appearance
of the words Marcus, Antonino, and Severus, along
with the the obliteration of a short word before Severi has led
many scholars to conclude that this is evidence of the damnatio of Geta
by Caracalla. However, close inspection reveals that it it is instead
Diadumenian and Macrinus who got the chisel here.
The primary sources disagree on whether Macrinus and Diadumenian were executed together or in different places at slightly different times. More significant to identification of any existing portraits of Diadumenian, they disagree on his age. Analysis of the text favors Dio, who says Diadumenian was eight years old in April, 217. Thus an imperial portrait could show a boy no older than nine.
A wise museum curator once noted that the identification of subjects of Roman portraits, an old and and harmless sport, is incurably unscientific and downright silly. Even more so for portraits of children, who have not yet developed facial features that can be emphasized or exaggerated by sculptors aiming to create memorable imagery. Two portrait busts in the Vatican have variously been accepted and rejected as portraying Diadumenian. One has been mutilated to the point that facial features can barely be discerned (Vatican inv. 10075). The other, shown below (photos 1, 2 - inv. 648/Sala dei Busti 345), seems to show a slightly younger boy with longer hair. Most scholars see this as an imperial portrait based on dress; he wears a military cuirass, paludamentum, and sash of an officer. This bust was identified by B.M. Felleti-Maj as Saloninus, by Helga von Heintze as Gordian III, and by others Diadumenian. The boy shown here is far too young to be Saloninus, who was old enough to perform political duties for Gallienus in Gaul. Von Heintze, who is particularly reckless in her identifications, seems to ignore the fact that in addition to radically different face shapes, none of the characteristic Gordian markers, e.g., beaked upper lip, bulbous forehead, hair style, and extremely steep nasofrontal angle (although the restorer may have not had sufficient basis to accurately assess the original nose shape), are present in this portrait. Readers can assess similarities between this sculpture and coins showing Diadumenian for themselves (photos 5-7).
Both Klaus Fittschen and Frederik Poulsen
argue for this portrait's being Diadumenian by process of elimination.
Who else could it be, in the early third century period that its
artistic styling indicates? Susan Wood proposes a simple solution - no
one of importance. She notes that in funerary contexts, young boys of
non-imperial status are occasionally seen wearing military uniforms,
perhaps indicating hopes the parents once had for the child. True, but
there is little here to indicate funerary context, though one can't rule
it out. Given the poor match between numismatic images and other
emperors where portrait identifications are secure, along with poor
matches between coin images of the same emperor, I'll offer that the
likeness between the coins shown here and the sculpture is good enough
to support a tentative identification with the young emperor,
considering the other features of the sculpture.
|Copyright 2007 Bill Storage and Laura Maish. Updated 10/27/2007||