The reworking of portraits was a very widespread practice in the Roman world. During the imperial age this phenomenon often had political implications. When damnatio memoriae was decreed for a deceased emperor – the cancellation of his public memory – the images that concerned him were removed. Those which survived could be reused to portray other sovereigns. The bust displayed in the room shows evident signs of this practice: a portrait of Nero likely provided the basis for the portrait of the emperor Gallienus, who lived about two hundred years later.
Guide to the museum rooms
Re-use in the Roman world and beyond
Re-purposing materials in order to adapt them to a new use was a widespread practice in the Roman world, both in construction and the artistic production of effigies and portraits.
The tabulae lusoriae were boards used to play some very popular games such as latrunculi (game of soldiers) or duodecim scripta (twelve rows). Although the rules are often unknown, they were similar to today's board games and involved the use of counters or balls. In late antiquity, interest in this kind of amusement faded, so a large number of marble or stone tabulae lusoriae were reused as building material, especially in the catacombs, as slabs to close the loculi. The exhibits in the room had been reused for paving a staircase.
The reworked portraits, especially those portraying the emperor, offer particularly interesting evidence. The fall into disgrace of an emperor was one of the most frequent causes of the decision to erase the traces for posterity (damnatio memoriae), leading to the removal of all his depictions from public places upon his death. After time, whenever economic reasons called for ready for use artefacts, any items that had escaped destruction were reused for new portraits by reworking the facial features. In the Middle Ages, the reuse of more ancient artefacts became widespread and characterized the relationship between medieval Christianity and the ancient pagan culture.