In 1963, just outside the main entrance to the Italian city of Ameria, work had started on creating an open space for the hilltop town to have a level area for a civic park and space for crowds to enjoy outdoor activities. Work started. Earth was turned and, to the amazement of a group of workmen, they saw a metal hand, then an arm almost gesticulating towards them across the centuries. The town authorities were summoned, the chief of police as well. Word spread. Crowds gathered. They were not to be disappointed. The town’s archaeologist arranged for the site to be cordoned off and excavated. Gradually all the separate pieces of a large statue were gathered and, helped by the images on the armour breast-piece, the young man was recognised to be Germanicus.
During the years of meticulous restoration, the statue’s history was also pieced together. Ancient Romans frequently adopted members of the same family, in this case, the Julius Claudian one, as their heirs, probably because of high infant mortality. Germanicus was born in Rome in 15 BC. His father, Drusius the Elder, died in 9 BC, bequeathing the seven-year-old child the honorific title of Germanicus which had been awarded to him by Emperor Tiberius after the success of Drusius’s campaign in Germany. A few years later, aged eleven, he was adopted by Tiberius and married to Agrippina the Elder to secure the succession. His dynastic marriage produced six children, one of whom being the future emperor of dubious fame – Caligula. Young Germanicus was awarded numerous other titles as a result of his military campaigns, the first one in 7 AD to quell the rebellions in Dalmatia before starting his campaign against the Germans in 14 AD. Because of these successes, he was recalled to Rome where he was awarded a triumphant procession to celebrate his victories. In May 17 AD he was sent to the East, but he fell ill and died at Antioch where his body was cremated in the Forum. His ashes were brought back to Rome and interred in the imposing Mausoleum of Augustus. He was already a young hero in the Roman world before his death, and even afterwards he was awarded many more honours for his military prowess and, in particular, because he had died fighting to extend Rome’s dominance in foreign fields. He was even called the new Alexander because he had gained similar fame on the battlefield, but also because of his personality, his youth and the place where he had died. All this is confirmed by the find of the larger than life-size statue near the ceremonial entrance gate to the town of Amelia, situated on an important route to the north. This finely wrought statue would have impressed the local population, placed as it was on the flat area outside the main gate to the walled city and probably where young men practised sports and performed military exercises.
The scenes depicted on Germanicus’s breastplate had been popular since the fourth century AD and were traditionally held to have been devised by the great Greek sculptor Phidias. The presence of another hero who died young, Troilus from Troy, probably stresses Germanicus’s untimely death, and subtlety links him with the famous Greek hero Alexander the Great. Achilles, also depicted on the breastplate, was Alexander the Great’s favourite hero. The suggestion that Germanicus is descended from someone of Trojan royal blood would enhance his stature. In Virgil’s Aeneid, the Trojans founded Rome. This would as well provide another link with the powerful figure of Alexander the Great. The high quality of workmanship indicates the importance of this statue.