This unknown head is slightly larger than life. The original marble originates from The British Museum and was formerly part of the Townley Collection. The characteristic portrait has a considerable quantity of hair on the head, but has no beard, except for some fine carving on the upper lip.
The head was found in Trajan's forum, and has evidently belonged to the statue of some barbarian chief, perhaps to a figure that had formed one of the ornaments of a triumphal arch.
The head is described by a Mr. Combe for The British Museum:
"This head has generally been supposed to represent Decebalus, the formidable leader of the Dacians who, after he had baffled the power of the Romans under Domitian and Nerva, was funally subdued by Trajan, and forced to submit to the galling conditions of peace imposed upon him by that emperor. The feelings of rage, disappointment, and revenge, which may be conceived to have agitated Decebalus at the moment of his submission, are strngly marked i nthe expression of this head; yet we are nevertheless of opinion that it was never intended to represent Decebalus. The only undoubted portraits of this spirited prince ar eto be seen in the bas-reliefs that adorn Trajan's Column; and in all these portraits Decebalus is invariably represented with a beard; and indeed the custom of wearing the beard appears to have been general among the Dacians in his time. The precise age of Decebalus, at the period of his overthrow, is not known; but when we consider that he had been engaged in hostilities against the Romans for a term of nineteen years, it is highly probably that he was considerably more advance din age than the person whose portrait is here preserved. We may remark, also, that the excellence of the sculpture, and the bold style in which the head is executed, evince an era in the art anterior of the time of Trajan.
If we were included to hazard a conjecture with respect to this marble, we should think it more probable that the head was intended to represent Arminius, the German chieftain, wh owas conquered by Germanicus. We at least know that for this victory Germanicus obtained the honours of a triumph, and that his conquest was commemorated at Rome by the erection of a triumphal arch. The importance which the Romans attached to the success of their arms against Arminius may be inferred from the high terms in which Tacitus speaks of his millitary talents, when he calls him the defender of the liberties of his country, adn the only German who had contended wit hthe Romans in the plenitude of their power. The strongly-marked expression in the features of this head agrees with the description which Velleius Paterculus has given of the counternance of Arminius; and the period of life indicated in the marble also perfectly coincides with that of Arminius, who was about thirty-four years of age at the time of his defeat".
The write of a short account of this head, in the second volume of the "Dilettanti Specimens of Ancient Sculpture" considers it to be a portrait of Caractacus. It is unquestionably the head of some barbarian chief or king, who was a captive at Rome.
The original marble head was brought to England by Mr. Lyde Browne, and formed a part of his collection.