• r2-93-10
    Head of a priest, fontal view. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)
  • r2-93-20
    Head of priest, right profile view. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)
  • r2-93-30
    Head of priest, left profile view. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)
  • r2-93-40
    Head of priest, detail of crown. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Head of Priest

Tetrarchic, Roman
Manisa, Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum, 2238
Museum Inventory No.
Sardis or Museum Inv. No.
Marble, Stone
Object Type
Sculpture Type
PC, Roman mausoleum (pit 1, LVC).

A man with beard and moustache, and a heavy crown of hair, wears a diadem with twelve heads on it, indicating that he is a priest. The heads are attached to a fillet bound around the man’s head. The hair is brushed forward onto the forehead. On his l. side and on the top these bangs are clearly carved in two layers. On the r. side they are more crudely indicated in one layer. In fact the entire r. side is less carefully sculpted, as can be seen for instance in the ear, which is in the wrong position and only roughly indicated. The back of the head is shaped, but no details have been carved. The forehead is lined by furrows. The brows are high, the lids are heavy. The nose is largely missing. Moustache and beard have been made with short chiseled lines. The cheeks have been well modeled, with a strong cheekbone and a heavy fold above the nostril.

The carving of the beard and hair indicates that the piece belongs in the Tetrarchic period. Similarities to the head of Diocletian, particularly in the hair, beard, and overall shape of the head, point to a Diocletianic priest, or possibly even the Emperor himself.



Entire head preserved. Some surface damage.

H. 0.17; W. 0.14

Cf. L. Robert, Eriza, 262ff. and 351 for crowns of priests and priestesses. Some of these crowns are decorated with heads of the divinities being worshipped. On crowned priests of the Imperial cults, cf. Chr. Blinkenberg, Archaeologische Studien, 111; also Mendel II no. 582. I am grateful to H. Jucker for these references. He wonders if there was a cult of the 12 gods at Sardis (letter to Hanfmann, Oct. 24, 1959). Cf. also an early 4th C. A.D. head of a priest with heads on the crown, Brinkerhoff, Antioch, pl. 31. For an earlier head of a priestess, a fragment with tiny heads on the crown, see İnan-Rosenbaum, Portraits Asia Minor, no. 169, pl. 98:4. Also G.F. Hill, Priester-Diademe. He suggests the crowns were of gold.

For a wreathed head of Diocletian from Nicomedia, similar to our head, see Brinkerhoff, Antioch, pl. 33 and also İnan-Rosenbaum, Portraits Asia Minor, pl. 39:3-4. Two further parallels: Berkeley, Museum of Anthropology, inv. no. 8/4266, a priest with 6 (?) ornaments on his crown which could have been human protomes (thanks to C.C. Vermeule for this information); and the University Museum, Philadelphia, inv. no. MS/215, a 4th C. A.D. head from Kayseri, head of a priest with 11 little heads on his crown.

See Also
Published: BASOR157, 16, fig. 4; Hanfmann-Detweiler, Sardis, Capital, 62, fig. 9; Hanfmann, Late Portraits, 290; Hanfmann, Letters, 65, fig. 43.