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Face-to-Face with Rome’s Emperors: Artist Reconstructs the Caesars
A digital portrait of Emperor Augustus created by Daniel Voshart based on historical research.
Courtesy of Daniel Voshart, voshart.com
Zita Ballinger Fletcher
September 8, 2020
Military History’s exclusive interview sheds light on a groundbreaking digital history project
The faces of men who commanded Rome’s legions in battle and lorded over gladiatorial combat have been digitally reconstructed by Canadian artist Daniel Voshart. The project began in quarantine due to the coronavirus, according to Voshart, who works in the film industry. An online forum sparked his interest in Artbreeder, machine-learning software that builds composites from images.
“I happened across this software in an online community that shares images of colorized statues,” Voshart told Military History in a phone interview. “I had some interest in Roman architecture, but not very much interest in Roman history.”
Voshart began experimenting with restoring the faces of Rome’s emperors. He created photorealistic images of 54 Caesars who dominated the world’s foremost military power during a three-century span known as the Principate, overseeing wars and political intrigues. Voshart’s detailed work gives a crystal-clear glimpse of what each emperor might have looked like face-to-face.
“Each one took a really long day, including finding images of busts, doing Photoshop to repair them, and doing a paint-over for colorization in some circumstances,” Voshart said. “Overall each emperor took about 12-hours to complete.”
To ensure his portrayals were as realistic as possible, Voshart used historical research about each emperor’s appearance compiled from Latin and Greek sources. He also referenced artifacts, especially ancient coin depictions when no busts or statues were available.
Voshart’s reconstruction of Maximinus Thrax
“Some emperors like Aemilian had no busts. So the reconstruction was entirely based off coin profiles,” Voshart said. “In these cases, I did a Photoshop sketch to create a composite-type image. Then I examined several hundreds of images of people who would have been born in those regions, looking for facial traits to arrive at a depiction that best matched the emperor’s description.”
Voshart most enjoyed recreating emperors with distinctive features, such as Maximinus Thrax. “I think the most fun was Maximinus Thrax,” he said. “Some faces, like Claudius Gothicus, looked very regular and some busts did not have much information or character. The less normal-looking the face, the more odd the depiction, the more interesting it was for me.”
Aside from his unique face, Maximinus Thrax had a distinctive career as a Roman soldier who seized power during the later stages of the Empire, ruling Rome from 235 to 238. He led a campaign against the Alemanni tribe and later marched on Rome itself.
Voshart’s project also brought him into close proximity not only with the faces, but with the lives of men he described as “highly flawed dictators.” Due to their legacy of violence and corruption, Voshart didn’t really take a liking to his subjects. “It’s not the most pleasant cast of characters,” he said.
Voshart's photorealistic reconstruction of the notorious emperor Caligula.
Some of the many notorious personalities whose visages he recreated include Tiberius, Nero and Caligula, the latter of whom he found particularly shocking.
“When I began this project, I knew the name Caligula was often thrown around as representing an evil, depraved emperor,” he said. “Yet the more I read about him, the more that came into vivid detail. I’d say Caligula was especially cruel.”
Despite having a full-time job, Voshart plans to continue working on the project due to the outpouring of public enthusiasm for his work.
“On my website, I said I’d continue the project if people supported it and bought the posters. And tons of people have,” he said. “I now have a budget to hire an illustrator to help me with the later Roman Empire.”
Rome’s later empire, known as Dominate or Tetrarchy, will be challenging due to the lack of marble sculptures to provide information about the emperors’ facial features. “There are a lot more missing busts during that era. I’d say about 80% of them are missing,” Voshart said.
Aside from Roman rulers, Voshart has other ideas for future projects, including long and short lists of possible subjects in need of his digital artistry. “Honestly, it’s probably about a two-year list to get through!” he said.
Visual Reconstruction Of 12 Well-Known Historical Figures
Historical reconstructions provide us with a glimpse into the visual scope of the past – more so, when such recreations pertain to famous historical personalities. However, one should also note that these reconstructions – fueled by archaeology, detailed analysis of subjects, and technology, are supposed to be credible estimations of the facial structures at the end of the day (as opposed to precise representations). Keeping that in mind, let us take a gander at the visual reconstruction of twelve well-known historical figures, with the time period ranging from the ancient times till the 18th century.
1) Nefertiti (circa 14th century BC) –
More than 1,300-years before the birth of Cleopatra, there was Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (‘the beauty has come’) – a powerful queen from ancient Egypt associated with beauty and royalty. However, as opposed to Cleopatra, Nefertiti’s life and history are still shrouded in relative ambiguity, in spite of her living during one of the opulent periods of ancient Egypt.
The reason for such a contradictory turn of affairs probably had to do with the intentional disassembling and expunging of the legacy of Nefertiti’s family (by successive Pharaohs) because of their controversial association with a religious cult that prescribed the relegation of the older Egyptian pantheon. Fortunately for us history enthusiasts, in spite of such rigorous actions, some fragments of Nefertiti’s historical legacy survived through various extant portrayals, with the most famous one pertaining to her bust made by Thutmose in circa 1345 BC.‘Nefertiti’ Reconstruction By Sven Geruschkat
The bust with its bevy of intricate facial features favorably depicts the ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, possibly at the age of 25. In terms of the visual look, what we do know about Nefertiti, also comes from the royal portrayals on the numerous walls and temples built during the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV. In fact, the depiction styles (and prevalence) of Nefertiti were almost unprecedented in Egyptian history till that point, with the portrayals quite often representing the queen in positions of power and authority. These ranged from depicting her as one of the central figures in the worship of Aten to even representing her as a warrior elite riding the chariot (as presented inside the tomb of Meryre) and smiting her enemies.
Talking about depictions, reconstruction specialist M.A. Ludwig has taken a shot at recreating the facial features of the famed Queen Nefertiti with the aid of photoshop (presented above). Based on the renowned limestone Nefertiti Bust, Ludwig makes this point clear about the facial reconstruction (presented above) –
I’ve seen artists try to bring out the living likeness of Queen Nefertiti many times, and some of the most famous attempts, though good in and of themselves, always seem to adjust her facial features to match certain contemporary standards of beauty in some way, which really isn’t necessary because the original bust of Nefertiti is already so beautiful and lifelike. I took the chance of leaving the bust’s features entirely as they are, only replacing the paint and plaster with flesh and bone. The result is absolutely stunning.
Courtesy of University of Bristol
2) Tutankhamen (circa 14th century BC) –Credit: Supreme Council of Antiquities
Tutankhamun (‘the living image of Amun’), also known by his original name Tutankhaten (‘the living image of Aten’) was a pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty – who only ruled for around a decade from circa 1332-1323 BC. Yet his short reign was important in the grander scheme of things since this era not only coincided with Egypt’s rise as a world power but also corresponded to the return of the realm’s religious system to the more traditional scope (as opposed to the radical changes made by Tutankhamun’s father and predecessor Akhenaten – the husband of Nefertiti). The legacy of King Tut also has its fair share of mysteries, with a pertinent one relating to his still-unidentified mother, often only referred to as the Younger Lady.
Credit: Supreme Council of Antiquities
Reverting to his own reconstruction, back in 2005, a group of forensic artists and physical anthropologists, headed by famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, created the first known reconstructed bust of the renowned boy king from the ancient times. The 3D CT scans of the actual mummy of the young Pharaoh yielded a whopping 1,700 digital cross-sectional images, and these were then utilized for state-of-the-art forensic techniques usually reserved for high-profile violent crime cases. According to Hawass –
In my opinion, the shape of the face and skull are remarkably similar to a famous image of Tutankhamun as a child, where he is shown as the sun god at dawn rising from a lotus blossom.
Controversially enough, in 2014, King Tut once again went through what can be termed as a virtual autopsy, with a bevy of CT scans, genetic analysis, and over 2,000 digital scans. The resulting reconstruction was not favorable to the physical attributes of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh, with emerging details like a prominent overbite, slightly malformed hips, and even a club foot.
3) Ramesses II (circa 13th century BC) –
Ramesses II (also called Ramses, Ancient Egyptian: rꜥ-ms-sw or riʕmīsisu, meaning ‘Ra is the one who bore him’) is considered as one of the most powerful and influential ancient Egyptian Pharaohs – known for both his military and domestic achievements during the New Kingdom era. Born in circa 1303 BC (or 1302 BC), as the royal member of the Nineteenth Dynasty, he ascended the throne in 1279 BC and reigned for 67 years. Ramesses II was also known as Ozymandias in Greek sources, with the first part of the moniker derived from Ramesses’ regnal name, Usermaatre Setepenre, meaning – ‘The Maat of Ra is powerful, Chosen of Ra’.
As for his reconstruction scope, after 67 years of long and undisputed reign, Ramesses II, who already outlived many of his wives and sons, breathed his last in circa 1213 BC, probably at the age of 90. Forensic analysis suggests that by this time, the old Pharaoh suffered from arthritis, dental problems, and possibly even hardening of the arteries. Interestingly enough, while his mummified remains were originally interred at the Valley of the Kings, they were later shifted to the mortuary complex at Deir el-Bahari (part of the Theban necropolis), so as to prevent the tomb from being looted by the ancient robbers.
Discovered back in 1881, the remains revealed some facial characteristics of Ramesses II, like his aquiline (hooked) nose, strong jaw, and sparse red hair. YouTube channel JudeMaris has reconstructed the face of Ramesses II at his prime, taking into account the aforementioned characteristics – and the video is presented above. A painting by Winifred Mabel Brunton also provides an estimation of the side profile of the Pharaoh at a slightly advanced age.
4) Philip II of Macedon (circa 4th century BC) –
While often overshadowed by his son Alexander the Great, Philip II was a crucial figure in Greek history, given his enormous contributions to the stability and military rise of the Macedonian kingdom. In fact when Philip II assumed the reign of the nascent Macedon, the state’s army was all but vanquished – with their earlier king and many of the hetairoi (king’s companions) meeting their gruesome deaths in a battle against the invading Illyrians. However, impressed by Theban hoplites, the new king initiated military reforms that led to the momentous adoption of Macedonian phalanx as an effective military formation – that was the lynchpin of the army of Alexander and his Hellenistic successors.
As for the reconstruction, the images are based on the bones that were originally found inside Tomb II, one of the three Great Tombs of the Royal Tumulus at Vergina. Unfortunately, there is an ongoing academic debate over the actual identity of this tomb’s occupant. One of the accepted hypotheses since the 70s related to how the tomb belonged to Philip. However, recent analysis has shed light on the possibility that the tomb actually belonged to Philip’s son (and Alexander’s half-brother) Arrhidaeus. On the other hand, the bones recovered from Tomb I might have belonged to the actual Philip. JudeMaris has also reconstructed the face of the King of Macedon, as presented in the video below.
5) Cleopatra (circa Ist century BC) –
Cleopatra – the very name brings forth reveries of beauty, sensuality, and extravagance, all set amidst the political furor of the ancient world. But does historicity really comply with these popular notions about the famous female Egyptian pharaoh, who had her roots in a Greek dynasty? Well, the answer to that is more complex, especially considering the various parameters of history, including cultural inclinations, political propaganda and downright misinterpretations. For example, some of our Hollywood-inspired popular notions tend to project Cleopatra as the quintessential Egyptian queen of ancient times.
However, in terms of history, it is a well-known fact that Cleopatra or Cleopatra VII Philopator (Romanized: Kleopátrā Philopátōr), born in 69 BC, was of (mostly) Greek ethnicity. To that end, being the daughter of Ptolemy XII, she was the last (active) ruler of the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty that held its major domains in Egypt. In essence, as a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, Cleopatra was a descendant of Ptolemy I Soter, a Macedonian Greek general, companion (hetairoi), and bodyguard of Alexander the Great, who took control of Egypt (after Alexander’s death), thereby founding the Ptolemaic Kingdom. On the other hand, the identity of Cleopatra’s grandmother and mother is still unknown to historians.
As for her reconstruction, one particular sculpture, thought to be of Cleopatra VII, is currently displayed at the Altes Museum in Berlin. Reconstruction specialist/artist M.A. Ludwig made her project based on that actual bust (except the last video). And please note that the following recreations are just ‘educated’ hypotheses at the end of the day (like most historical reconstructions), with no definite evidence that establishes their complete accuracy when it comes to actual historicity.
And while the animation will undoubtedly confuse many a reader and history enthusiast, actual written records of Cleopatra vary in their tone from a profusion of appreciation (like Cassius Dio’s account) to practical assessments (like Plutarch’s account). Pertaining to the latter, Plutarch wrote a century before Dio and thus should be considered more credible with his documentation being closer to the actual lifetime of Cleopatra. This is what the ancient biographer had to say about the female pharaoh – “Her beauty was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her.” Reconstruction by John Mendez
Even beyond ancient accounts, there are extant pieces of evidence of Cleopatra portraiture to consider. To that end, around ten ancient coinage specimens showcase the female pharaoh in a rather modest light. Oscillating between what can be considered ‘average’ looking to representing downright masculine features with the hooked nose, Cleopatra’s renowned comeliness seems to be oddly missing from these portraits. Now since we are talking about history, some of the masculine-looking depictions were possibly part of political machinations that intentionally equated Cleopatra’s power to her male Ptolemaic ancestors, thus legitimizing her rule.
6) Nero (circa 1st century AD) –
Historically, the last emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Nero is probably famous in the popular culture for his bouts of tyranny, extravagance, and even eccentricity. To that end, one of the episodes often associated with Nero pertains to how he facilitated the Great Fire of Rome – supposedly so that he could build his ritzy palace, the Domus Aurea (Golden House), in place of the burned down structures. And while this account is mentioned by Suetonius, there is no actual evidence to corroborate the ancient claim. Furthermore, while Nero was (probably) perceived as an erratic personality who raised the taxes and preferred participation in public performances (including as a pregnant woman), he was also seen in a positive light by the poor masses of Rome.
Coming to the reconstruction, it is entirely based on the bust of Nero kept at the Musei Capitolini, Rome. The recreation was undertaken by a young Spanish sculptor, with a focus on the ‘ginger’ hair of the emperor (ancient sources mention Nero’s hair to be either ginger or blonde). His project ‘Césares de Roma’ covers the facial reconstruction of three famous Roman personalities – Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, and Nero. Another distinct reconstruction, made by JudeMaris is presented below, and it showcases the blonde and rather plump side of Nero.
7) Lord of Sipan (circa 1st – 2nd century AD) –
Credit: Caters News
Often heralded as one of the significant archaeological finds of the 20th century, the Lord of Sipán was the first of the famous Moche mummies found (in 1987) at the site of Huaca Rajada, northern Peru. The almost 2,000-year-old mummy was accompanied by a plethora of treasures inside a tomb complex, thereby fueling the importance of the discovery. And researchers have now built upon the historicity of this fascinating figure, by digitally reconstructing how the ‘lord’ might have looked like in real-life.Credit: Caters News
Of course, this was no easy feat, especially since the skull of the Lord of Sipán was actually broken into 96 fragments during the time of its discovery (due to the pressure of the soil sediments over the millenniums). So as a result, the researchers from the Brazilian Team of Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Odontology had to painstakingly arrange together these numerous pieces in a virtual manner. The reassembled skull was then photographed from various angles (with a technique known as photogrammetry) for precise digital mapping of the organic object.
8) St. Nicholas (circa 270 – 343 AD) –
From the historical perspective, there is no denying that the primary basis for Santa Claus was derived from the figure of St. Nicholas, a 4th-century Christian saint of Greek origin, who was the Bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor (present-day Demre in Turkey). Suffice it to say, like his jolly (though somewhat commercialized) counterpart, St. Nicholas or Nikolaos of Myra was also known for numerous deeds, with many of them being even considered ‘miraculous’. Indeed he was known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker (Νικόλαος ὁ Θαυματουργός), and thus his reputation and legacy were preserved by many an early Christian saint, thus ultimately aiding in the characterization of latter-day Santa.
As for the recreation, aided by software simulation and 3D interactive technology by Liverpool John Moores University’s Face Lab, the above-pictured 3D model, was the result of detailed analysis – though it is still subject to various interpretations. According to renowned facial anthropologist, Caroline Wilkinson, the project was based on “all the skeletal and historical material”.
Interestingly enough, back in 2004, researchers had made another reconstruction effort, based on the study of St. Nicholas’ skull in detail from a series of X-ray photographs and measurements that were originally compiled in 1950. And we can comprehend from this image, St. Nicholas was possibly an olive-toned man past his prime years, but still maintaining an affable glow that is strikingly similar to the much later depicted Santa. His broken nose may have been the effect of the persecution of Christians under Diocletian’s rule during Nicholas’ early life. And interestingly enough, this facial scope is also pretty similar to the depictions of the saint in medieval Eastern Orthodox murals.
9) Robert the Bruce (circa 1274 – 1329 AD) –
An incredible collaborative effort from the historians from the University of Glasgow and craniofacial experts from Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) resulted in what might be the credible reconstruction of Robert’s actual face. The consequent image in question (derived from the cast of a human skull held by the Hunterian Museum) presents a male subject in his prime with heavy-set, robust characteristics, complemented aptly by a muscular neck and a rather stocky frame. In essence, the impressive physique of Robert the Bruce alludes to a protein-rich diet, which would have made him ‘conducive’ to the rigors of brutal medieval fighting and riding.
Now historicity does support such a perspective, with Robert the Bruce (Medieval Gaelic: Roibert a Briuis) often being counted among the great warrior-leaders of his generation, who successfully led Scotland during the First War of Scottish Independence against England, culminating in the pivotal Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 AD and later invasion of northern England. In fact, Robert was already crowned as the King of Scots in 1306 AD, after which he was engaged in a series of guerrilla warfare against the English crown, thus illustrating the need for physical capacity for the throne-contenders in medieval times.
Reverting to the reconstruction in question, the ambit of physical strength was ironically also accompanied by frailty, with the skull analysis showing probable signs of leprosy which would have disfigured parts of the face, like the upper jaw and the nose. Once again bringing history into the mix, scholars have long hypothesized that Robert suffered some ailment (possibly leprosy) that significantly affected the Scottish king’s health in the latter stages of his life. During one particular incident in 1327 AD, it is said that the king was so weak that he could barely move his tongue in Ulster and only two years later Robert met his demise at the age of 54.
However, as with most historical reconstructions, the experts have admitted that the recreated scope has some percentage of imbued hypothetical data – especially when it comes to the color of Robert’s eyes and hair. As Professor Wilkinson herself stated –
Using the skull cast, we could accurately establish the muscle formation from the positions of the skull bones to determine the shape and structure of the face. But what the reconstruction cannot show is the color of his eyes, his skin tones and the color of his hair. We produced two versions – one without leprosy and one with a mild representation of leprosy. He may have had leprosy, but if he did it is likely that it did not manifest strongly on his face, as this is not documented.
Now, these facial factors could be established by using the original DNA of the individual. But in the case of the Hunterian skull, the object is just one of the very few casts of the actual head of Robert (pictured above). In that regard, the original skull was excavated way back in 1818-19 from a grave in Dunfermline Abbey but was later sealed and reburied (after some casts were made). However, in spite of the ‘drawback’, the researchers tried their best at recreating the presumably authentic features of the medieval Scottish warrior-king.
10) Richard III (1452 – 1485 AD) –
The last king of the House of York and also the last of the Plantagenet dynasty, Richard III’s demise at the climactic Battle of Bosworth Field usually marks the end of ‘Middle Ages’ in England. And yet, even after his death, the young English monarch had continued to baffle historians, with his remains eluding scholars and researchers for over five centuries. And it was momentously in 2012 when the University of Leicester identified the skeleton inside a city council car park, which was the site of Greyfriars Priory Church (the final resting place of Richard III that was dissolved in 1538 AD). Coincidentally, the remains of the king were found almost directly underneath a roughly painted ‘R’ on the bitumen, which basically marked a reserved spot inside the car park since the 2000s.
As for the recreation part, it was once again Professor Caroline Wilkinson who was instrumental in completing a forensic facial reconstruction of Richard III based on the 3D mappings of the skull. Interestingly enough, the reconstruction was ‘modified’ a bit in 2015 – with lighter eyes and hair (pictured above), following newer DNA-based evidence deduced by the University of Leicester. And additionally, research at the University of Leicester had also dealt with the presumed accent in which the English king would have talked during his lifetime.
11) Henry IV of France (1553 – 1610 AD) –
Henry IV of France (or Henri IV), also sometimes known by his epithet ‘Good King Henry’, was a pivotal political figure in late 16th century France. Being the first French monarch from the House of Bourbon, Henry IV was also known for his Protestant inclinations (he considered himself a Huguenot in the initial years), which brought him at loggerheads with the Catholic royal army. In fact, this clash later translated into a full-fledged military conflict known as the Wars of Religion, which in spite of its name, was not just determined by religious affiliations but also political motivations.
Given such a chaotic scope strewn with military, religious, and political upheavals in 16th century France, it does come as a surprise that Henry IV of France is also known as ‘Good King Henry’ (le bon roi Henri). The moniker possibly comes from his perceived geniality and thought of welfare for his subjects, in spite of their initial religious differences. Impressed by such ideals of enlightenment in the late medieval period, researchers headed by the famed facial reconstruction specialist Philippe Froesch have successfully recreated the face of the French monarch with state-of-the-art visual techniques.
12) Maximilien de Robespierre (1758 – 1794 AD) –
Back in 2013, forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier and facial reconstruction specialist Philippe Froesch (who also participated in the recreation of Henry IV) created what they termed as a realistic 3D facial reconstruction of Maximilien de Robespierre, the infamous ‘poster boy’ of the French Revolution. But as one can gather from the actual outcome of their reconstruction, contemporary portraits of Robespierre were possibly flattering to the leader.
Originally published as one of the letters in the Lancet medical journal, the reconstruction was made with the aid of various sources. Some of them pertain to the contemporary portraits and accounts of Robespierre, in spite of their ‘compliant’ visualization of the revolutionary. But one of the primary objects that helped the researchers, pertain to the famous death mask of Robespierre, made by none other than Madame Tussaud. Interestingly enough, Tussaud (possibly) claimed that the death mask was directly made with the help of Robespierre’s decapitated head after he was guillotined on July 28th, 1794.
See the face of a man from the last gasps of the Roman Empire
Adelasius Ebalchus lived in Switzerland 1,300 years ago—and his expression sports a very unusual feature not seen in most facial reconstructions.
Adelasius Ebalchus has a decidedly Latin name for a man who lived in Switzerland around 700 A.D., centuries after the western Roman Empire fell apart. That choice of name was deliberate, explains Mirjam Wullschleger of the Solothurn state archaeology department. It was at this time that Germanic peoples were moving into the Swiss Plateau in the country’s north, changing the language and culture of the remnant Roman empire to that of the German-speaking Alemanni tribe.
Adelasius’ name, and most of what we think we know about him, however, is speculation. His face was reconstructed from a skeleton discovered in 2014, recovered from one of 47 early medieval graves excavated ahead of building construction in the town of Grenchen in northern Switzerland. He was interred in a Roman-style burial, in a grave lined and covered with rocks and his feet pointing north.
Based on his remains, researchers determined Adelasius was between 19 and 22 years old and about 5 feet, 6 inches tall. He suffered from chronic osteomyelitis, a bone infection, and vitamin deficiencies—the combination of which likely led to his early death. His rock-lined grave may indicate a higher social status than other people living in Grenchen at the time.
Einstein vs. Bohr, Redux
Two books — one authored by Sean Carroll and published last fall and another published very recently and authored by Carlo Rovelli — perfectly illustrate how current leading physicists still cannot come to terms with the nature of quantum reality. The opposing positions still echo, albeit with many modern twists and experimental updates, the original Einstein-Bohr debate.
I summarized the ongoing dispute in my book The Island of Knowledge: Are the equations of quantum physics a computational tool that we use to make sense of the results of experiments (Bohr), or are they supposed to be a realistic representation of quantum reality (Einstein)? In other words, are the equations of quantum theory the way things really are or just a useful map?
Einstein believed that quantum theory, as it stood in the 1930s and 1940s, was an incomplete description of the world of the very small. There had to be an underlying level of reality, still unknown to us, that made sense of all its weirdness. De Broglie and, later, David Bohm, proposed an extension of the quantum theory known as hidden variable theory that tried to fill in the gap. It was a brilliant attempt to appease the urge Einstein and his followers had for an orderly natural world, predictable and reasonable. The price — and every attempt to deal with the problem of figuring out quantum theory has a price tag — was that the entire universe had to participate in determining the behavior of every single electron and all other quantum particles, implicating the existence of a strange cosmic order.
Later, in the 1960s, physicist John Bell proved a theorem that put such ideas to the test. A series of remarkable experiments starting in the 1970s and still ongoing have essentially disproved the de Broglie-Bohm hypothesis, at least if we restrict their ideas to what one would call "reasonable," that is, theories that have local interactions and causes. Omnipresence — what physicists call nonlocality — is a hard pill to swallow in physics.
Credit: Public domain
Yet, the quantum phenomenon of superposition insists on keeping things weird. Here's one way to picture quantum superposition. In a kind of psychedelic dream state, imagine that you had a magical walk-in closet filled with identical shirts, the only difference between them being their color. What's magical about this closet? Well, as you enter this closet, you split into identical copies of yourself, each wearing a shirt of a different color. There is a you wearing a blue shirt, another a red, another a white, etc., all happily coexisting. But as soon as you step out of the closet or someone or something opens the door, only one you emerges, wearing a single shirt. Inside the closet, you are in a superposition state with your other selves. But in the "real" world, the one where others see you, only one copy of you exists, wearing a single shirt. The question is whether the inside superposition of the many yous is as real as the one you that emerges outside.
The (modern version of the) Einstein team would say yes. The equations of quantum physics must be taken as the real description of what's going on, and if they predict superposition, so be it. The so-called wave function that describes this superposition is an essential part of physical reality. This point is most dramatically exposed by the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, espoused in Carroll's book. For this interpretation, reality is even weirder: the closet has many doors, each to a different universe. Once you step out, all of your copies step out together, each into a parallel universe. So, if I happen to see you wearing a blue shirt in this universe, in another, I'll see you wearing a red one. The price tag for the many-worlds interpretation is to accept the existence of an uncountable number of non-communicating parallel universes that enact all possibilities from a superstition state. In a parallel universe, there was no COVID-19 pandemic. Not too comforting.
Bohm's team would say take things as they are. If you stepped out of the closet and someone saw you wearing a shirt of a given color, then this is the one. Period. The weirdness of your many superposing selves remains hidden in the quantum closet. Rovelli defends his version of this worldview, called relational interpretation, in which events are defined by the interactions between the objects involved, be them observers or not. In this example, the color of your shirt is the property at stake, and when I see it, I am entangled with this specific shirt of yours. It could have been another color, but it wasn't. As Rovelli puts it, "Entanglement… is the manifestation of one object to another, in the course of an interaction, in which the properties of the objects become actual." The price to pay here is to give up the hope of ever truly understanding what goes on in the quantum world. What we measure is what we get and all we can say about it.
The Scythian Empire King And Queen Were “Covered” In Gold
Moscow-based anthropologists Elizaveta Veselovskaya and Ravil Galeev published an article in the Russian Journal of Archeology, Anthropology and Ethnography . They say the radiocarbon dating of the king’s and queen’s remains proved that they lived at the end of the 9th century BC or in the early years of the 8th century BC, and that perhaps they had ruled vast regions of the steppes at that time
The rulers were found wearing gold-encrusted clothing and this too has been recreated in all it’s glory and is reconstructed at the Hermitage Museum with some of the Arzhan 2 collection. The rest of the extraordinarily valuable collection is held in Kyzyl, a Tuvan regional capital.
Some of the beautiful adornments found inside the Scythian Empire Arzhan-2 burial mound in the Tuva Republic. (Vera Salnitskaya / The Siberian Times )
The restoration-reconstruction project was carried out with sculptural clay and hard polyurethane foam. Only half of the “Tsar’s’ skull” was preserved and the researchers said they faced “great difficulties” restoring his facial area. The lower jaw was found to be preserved, however, and with this the 3D artists were able to reconstruct the destroyed upper jaw. Their two skulls were found dislocated from their bodies, as they had fallen from their long-decayed burial pillows. One theory suggests the woman might have been the “King's” favorite concubine, who had been sacrificed to accompany him to the afterlife.
The reconstruction of the female Scythian Empire “Queen’s” face from her skull. ( E. V. Veselovskaya )
3-D Reconstruction Reveals the Face of an Ancient Egyptian Toddler
European researchers have unveiled a 3-D facial reconstruction of an Egyptian boy who was mummified during the first century A.D., reports Laura Geggel for Live Science. The digital likeness bears a startling resemblance to a lifelike portrait of the deceased buried alongside his remains.
Between the first and third centuries A.D., attaching so-called “mummy portraits” to the front of mummified corpses was a popular practice among certain strata of Roman Egyptian society, wrote Brigit Katz for Smithsonian magazine in 2017.
Compared with the ancient funerary artwork, the modern reconstruction shows “considerable similarities”—albeit with one notable exception, as the team notes in the journal PLOS One.
Analysis of the skeleton’s bones and teeth suggests the boy was roughly 3 to 4 years old at the time of his death. But the researchers point out that “on a subjective level, the portrait appears slightly ‘older,’” likely due to its lithe depiction of the child’s nose and mouth.
A roughly 2,000-year-old mummy undergoes a CT scan to reveal the structure of the skeleton wrapped within. (Nerlich AG, et al. PLOS One 2020)
This more mature representation “may have been the results of an artistic convention of that time,” lead author Andreas Nerlich, a pathologist at the Academic Clinic Munich-Bogenhausen in Germany, tells Live Science.
Similarities between the boy’s portrait and the digital reconstruction may help answer a question that has lingered since British archaeologist W.M. Flinders Petrie discovered a trove of mummy portraits in Egypt’s Fayum region in the late 1880s: Who do the artworks represent?
Per the paper, the new findings, as well as previous research on the subject, suggest the portraits portray the mummies buried alongside them. Still, the authors note that the paintings don’t always depict their subject at the time of death.
“One of the portraits shows a young man while the mummy is that of an elderly man with a white beard,” the researchers write, adding that some adults may have commissioned a portrait earlier in life and stored it for later use.
During his lifetime, Petrie uncovered around 150 mummy portraits—also called “Fayum portraits” after the region where they were first discovered. Today, approximately 1,000 are housed in collections across the world.
As Alexxa Gotthardt reported for Artsy in 2019, the portraits meld aspects of both Egyptian and Greco-Roman culture. Realistic portraiture served an array of public and private functions throughout Roman history, while mummification is famously Egyptian.
The Egyptian boy's reconstructed face alongside a 3-D scan of his skull (Nerlich AG, et al. PLOS One 2020)
To create the 3-D reconstruction, the researchers took computerized tomography (CT) scans of the 30-inch-long skeleton encased in the linen mummy wrappings. Their analysis suggested the boy likely succumbed to pneumonia, and that his brain and certain internal organs had been removed as part of mummification, according to Live Science.
Nerlich and his colleagues made sure to keep the artist working on the reconstruction from coming into contact with the mummy’s portrait, per the paper.
Instead, the artist’s reconstruction relied on the Egyptian boy’s bone structure, as well as studies that tracked the average development of soft tissues in the faces of young children. The researchers only revealed details of the portrait toward the end of the process, when the artist was given information on the boy’s eye color and hairstyle.
Overall, the researchers conclude that the similarities between the reconstruction and the portrait are so striking that the painting must have been created just before or after the boy’s death.
Marble Heads of Alexander The Great
Head of Alexander, found near the Erechtheion of the Athens Acropolis in 1886.
Thought to be an original work of the sculptor Leochares, made around 330 BC.
Acropolis Museum, Athens.
Marble head of Alexander From Pergamon,Turkey.
First half of 2nd century BC.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
Marble head of Alexander the Great, found in the Kerameikos,
Athens c. 300 BC.
Head of Alexander the Great, made of pentelic marble. It was found in the Kerameikos, Athens. Alexander wears the lion’s pelt, a common iconographic feature in depictions of the young king on coins, which hints at his descent from the mythical hero Herakles. The letters on Alexander’s face were carved at a later period.
Portrait of Alexander, Marble, Pella, 3rd century B.C.
Archaeological Museum of Pella
Alexander was always shown clean-shaven, which was an innovation: all previous portraits of Greek statesmen or rulers had beards. This royal fashion lasted for almost five hundred years and almost all of the Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors until Hadrian were portrayed beardless. Alexander was the first king to wear the all-important royal diadem, a band of cloth tied around the hair that was to become the symbol of Hellenistic kingship.
Earlier portraits of Alexander, in heroic style, look more mature than the portraits made after his death, such as this example. These show a more youthful, though perhaps more god-like character. He has longer hair, a more dynamic tilt of the head and an upward gaze, resembling his description in literary sources.
This head was acquired in Alexandria, the city founded by Alexander in 331 BC, and the location of his tomb. Alexandria was also the capital of the longest surviving Hellenistic dynasty, the Ptolemies. From the time of the reign of Ptolemy I Soter (‘Saviour’) (305-282 BC), Alexander was worshipped as a god and the forefather of the dynasty.
Youthful image of the conqueror king
Hellenistic Greek, 2nd-1st century BC, Said to be from Alexandria, Egypt.
The Face of Alexander the Great (Photoshop Reconstruction)
There are a few copies of Lysippus’ sculptures, including the one below, which shows a pretty standard Mediterranean visage.
A Roman copy of a bronze made by Lysippus
Roman, Imperial (1st-2nd century AD) Location: Sully wing, Ground floor, Athena gallery (also called the Melpomene gallery), Room 344
Location: Sully wing, Ground floor, Athena gallery (also called the Melpomene gallery), Room 344
Modern Latin inscription: “This effigy of Alexander the Great, discovered in 1779 (in the Piso villa) at Tivoli, was restored by Joseph Nicolas Azara.”
*Alexander's physical description is variously reported as of him having curly, dark blonde hair, a prominent forehead, a short, jutting chin, fair to reddish skin, an intense gaze, and a short, stocky, tough figure. It has been commented upon more than once that Alexander had one dark brown eye and one blue eye! Such a phenomenon does exist, so it is not too much to suppose that Alexander could also have exhibited this trait.
Video: The Face of Alexander the Great (Photoshop Reconstruction)
But these statues are not our only image sources. The Alexander Mosaic, a recovered floor decoration, depicts Alexander with distinctly Middle Eastern features, although as a Roman-era image it should be taken with a grain of salt.
The Alexander Mosaic, dating from circa 100 BC, is a Roman floor mosaic originally from the House of the Faun in Pompeii, that is allegedly an imitation of Apelles' painting. It depicts a battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia and measures 2.72 by 5.13 metres (8 ft 11 in × 16 ft 10 in). The original is preserved in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. The mosaic is believed to be a copy of an early 3rd-century BC Hellenistic painting.
Ultimately, however, most people would have seen Alexander as the stylised depictions on his silver coins. Or rather, what they assumed was Alexander. In fact, the face on the obverse is that of Heracles, and erroneously assumed by the creator of the Alexander Sarcophagus at Sidon to depict Alexander himself. Note the lion pelt headgear, a standard Herculean feature, and the lack of a ram’s horn, a symbol of Zeus Ammon appropriated by Alexander on imagery to suggest his own divinity.
In fact, it is post-Alexandrian coinage that actually depicts him, such as this example by Lysimachus.
So, we don’t know for absolute certain. All primary images are gone, so we must rely on what we do have. His facial structure is likely a mixture of those depicted on his statues, Successor-era coins and the Alexander Mosaic, probably closer to the former two than the latter one. Being of mainly Greek heritage, Alexander was almost certainly of Mediterranean complexion and hair colour.
Beachy Head Lady: Facial reconstruction of 3rd Century African Briton
The featured picture is that of the first ever known female African Briton in history. Earlier Africans came as Roman soldiers to pacify Britons. Her remains were found at Beachy Head, Eastbourne in South Sussex, and accordingly, she was given the name “Beachy Head Lady“. It has been identified that she originated from Sub-Saharan Africa and that she lived somewhere between 200 and 245 AD in the middle of the Roman British era.
During an excavation in the Anglo-Saxon cemetery in 1953, the remains of Beachy Head Lady were discovered in perfectly good condition along with around 300 sets of human remains. Nothing was done about the remains until recent times when Archaeologist Jo Seamen decided to re-examine the excavated remains. The Eastbourne museum collaborated with the University of Dundee and large amounts of money were invested in finding out as much information as possible about those human remains. An osteoarchaeologist performed a thorough inspection of the skeletons. Radio carbon dating, radio-isotope analysis and other scientific tests were performed on the remains of 12 individuals to examine their bones and teeth for trace elements absorbed from water and food during the individuals’ lifetime. These examinations gave information on their place of origin, their age, gender, diet, state of health and in some cases, the method by which they died.
Through examination, Beachy Head Lady was found to be about five feet tall, ate a good diet of fish and vegetables, her bones were healthy and her teeth were still in excellent condition, but when her jaw was X-rayed, it was found that she was missing her wisdom teeth. It is believed that she grew up in the region that is now East Sussex and that she died when she was around 30 years old but there was no evidence of disease or wounds or any indicators to help determine the cause of death. A DNA analysis could give more information about how she died.
The reconstruction of Beachy Head Lady’s face was done by one of Britain’s best reconstructors, Caroline Wilkinson from the University of Dundee. Upon seeing the girl’s structure and remains, she immediately identified her as a sub-Saharan African, which was later confirmed by two other experts. As they were recreating her face using craniofacial reconstruction techniques, features of her skull clearly displayed her African origins. Then, with 75% accuracy to a couple of millimeters provided by the latest 3D reconstruction technology, they finally managed to recreate the face of a woman who lived about 2,000 years ago.
The radio carbon dating confirmed that the period she lived in was a Roman period around 250 AD, but this was rather rare and unusual. North Africa was part of the Roman Empire, the Beachy Head Lady however, was sub-Saharan African which means that she was from the south, beyond the Roman Empire. It is thought that she could have been born in Africa then brought over to south-east England at a young age, but it is more likely that she was born in England.
Speculations and theories around her social status and whether or not she was a slave remain unconfirmed since neither her grave nor articles buried with her were seen. She could have been a slave or a servant, but her skeleton was very well preserved and she her remains were virtually complete and in good condition which shows that she was treated well in the grave. She could have been a wife of an official or the mistress of a powerful Roman British. It could also be that she was the daughter of a successful sub-Saharan African trader who settled in Europe. One thing is sure though, her presence at a time dating as far back as 1800 years ago indicates the presence of Africans in England centuries before slavery, which debunks the first theory that she could have been a slave.
Beachy Head Lady was not the first African to be found in England. In fact, in 1901 the remains of another African woman, the Ivory Bangle Lady, was discovered in the city of Sycamore Terrace in York. She is thought to be a mixed-race lady of a high-status from Roman York. The Ivory Bangle Lady was found buried in a lavish stone coffin with some articles of jewelry and expensive grave goods including jet and elephant ivory earrings, pendants, beads, a glass mirror, a blue glass jug and elephant ivory bracelets after which she was given the name, the Ivory Bangle Lady. Examination of her remains concluded that she lived in the 4 th century, which is one century after the Beachy Head Lady. Her skeleton and the articles found in her grave are displayed in The Yorkshire Museum, the section of “Meet the People of The Empire“.
Articles found in the grave of the Ivory Bangle Lady
Apart from both ladies being of African descent, they were both found in prestigious British towns, which proves that not only did Sub-Saharan Africans travel extensively through trade, but that they were also living more prosperous lives than many others in their time.
Beachy Head Lady’s reconstructed face was featured in the Eastbourne Ancestors exhibition by the Eastbourne Borough Council’s museum along with a display of all her bones and a number of other reconstructions. The exhibition was open to the general public.
The Heritage Lottery Fund granted the museum £72,000 for the Eastbourne Ancestors project. The project aims to identify the human remains found in the Anglo-Saxon cemetery -of which most are Anglo-Saxon from about 1500 years ago, while some are Neolithic from about 4000 years ago- and to gather up enough information on them to be able to tell their stories that date back to prehistory giving insights on their age, gender and culture just as they did with Beachy Head Lady.
Peer Into the Past With Photorealistic Portraits of Roman Emperors
Caligula, the Roman emperor best known for his profligacy, sadism, rumored incestuous relationships and unhealthy obsession with a horse, wasn’t exactly handsome. Contemporary accounts are filled with descriptions of the infamous ruler’s misshapen head, ill-proportioned body, enormous feet and thinning hair. Fully aware of his “naturally frightful and hideous” countenance, according to historian H.V. Canter, Caligula—whose favorite phrase was reportedly “Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody”—often accentuated his off-putting visage by making faces “intended to inspire horror and fright.”
Millennia after the emperor’s assassination in 41 A.D., two-dimensional depictions and colorless marble busts offer some sense of his appearance. But a new portrait by Toronto-based designer Daniel Voshart takes the experience of staring into Caligula’s eyes to the next level, bringing his piercing gaze to life through a combination of machine learning and photo editing.
As Voshart explains in a Medium blog post, he drew on 800 images of classical busts, as well as historical texts and coinage, to create photorealistic portraits of the 54 emperors who ruled Rome between 27 B.C. and 285 A.D. Among the men included are Caligula’s nephew Nero, Augustus, Hadrian, Tacitus and Marcus Aurelius. (A poster version of the project is available for purchase on Etsy.)
Composite portrait of Caligula (Courtesy of Daniel Voshart) Composite portrait of Nero (Courtesy of Daniel Voshart) Poster featuring 54 Roman emperors (Courtesy of Daniel Voshart)
Per artnet News’ Tanner West, Voshart uploaded his snapshots of stone sculptures to Artbreeder, a generative adversarial network (GAN) that blends images to produce composite creations—in other words, “[T]he tool will combine them together in a sophisticated way to create something that looks … like the two images had a baby.” After several rounds of refining, the artist fine-tuned the likenesses in Photoshop, adding color, texture and other details designed to make the portraits as lifelike as possible.
Crucially, Voshart tells Smithsonian, the project doesn’t claim to offer definitive portrayals of what the emperors actually looked like.
“These are all, in the end, … my artistic interpretation where I am forced to make decisions about skin tone where none [are] available,” he says.
Writing on Twitter, the designer adds, “[E]ach step towards realism is likely a step away from ground-truth.”
To determine the Roman rulers’ likely skin tone and hair color, Voshart studied historical records and looked to the men’s birthplaces and lineages, ultimately making an educated guess. But as Italian researcher Davide Cocci pointed out in a Medium blog post last month, one of the sources cited in Voshart’s original list of references was actually a neo-Nazi site that suggested certain emperors had blonde hair and similarly fair features. Though Cocci acknowledged that some emperors may have been blonde, he emphasized the source’s “clearly politically motivated” nature and reliance on earlier propaganda accounts.
Composite portrait of Hadrian (Courtesy of Daniel Voshart) Composite portrait of Augustus (Courtesy of Daniel Voshart) Composite portrait of Diadumenian (Courtesy of Daniel Voshart)
In response to Cocci’s findings, Voshart removed all mentions of the site and revised several portraits to better reflect their subjects’ probable complexions, reports Riccardo Luna for Italian newspaper la Repubblica.
“It is now clear to me [the sources] have distorted primary and secondary sources to push a pernicious white supremacist agenda,” Voshart writes on Medium.
Jane Fejfer, a classical archaeologist at the University of Copenhagen, identifies another potential obstacle in accurately capturing the emperors’ appearances: As she tells Jeppe Kyhne Knudsen of Danish broadcast station DR, classical sculptures and busts often present idealized depictions of their subjects.
Likenesses of Augustus, for example, tend to show him as a young man despite the fact that he reigned for 41 years, while those of Hadrian—who had a well-known penchant for ancient Greece—cast him in the role of a Greek philosopher, complete with long hair and a beard. Portraiture, notes DR, served as a strategic tool for communicating rulers’ “values, ideology and ideals” across their vast kingdoms.
Voshart’s goal “was not to romanticize emperors or make them seem heroic,” he says on Medium. Instead, “my approach was to favor the bust that was made when the emperor was alive. Otherwise, I favored the bust made with the greatest craftsmanship and where the emperor was stereotypically uglier—my pet theory being that artists were likely trying to flatter their subjects.”