Ancient Statue of Emperor Dressed as Hercules Discovered During Roman Sewer Repairs

The life-size statue was likely buried along the Appian Way in the early 20th century

Ancient Marble Statue of Emperor Dressed as Hercules
Construction workers in Rome were surprised when they discovered an ancient marble statue. Appia Antica Archaeological Park

Construction workers unearthed a life-size marble statue of a Roman emperor dressed as Hercules while repairing a Roman sewer. 

“I doubt anyone was expecting a find like this under these circumstances,” Jane Draycott, an archaeologist and historian at the University of Glasgow, told the Miami Herald’s Brendan Rascius. “A nice surprise amongst the sewage!”

The statue was discovered near the famous Appian Way, one of earliest roads in ancient Rome, during efforts to repair a century-old old sewage pipeline beneath Scott Park, according to a Facebook post from the Appia Antica Archaeological Park. The pipe’s collapse had caused dangerous sinkholes to appear in the area.

In January—several months into the repair project—the statue surfaced.

“It emerged, face first, as a bulldozer was tearing through [the old pipelines],” writes Reuters’ Alvise Armellini. “An archaeologist overseeing the work immediately intervened.”

The statue’s origins are a mystery. It was likely buried beneath Scott Park when the sewer was being built in the early 20th century, says Francesca Romana Paolillo, a park archaeologist, to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera’s Alessandro Vinci.

“At the time, there was no archaeological control, so it could happen,” she tells the publication, per Google Translate. “We have now moved the find to one of our deposits and are examining various hypotheses to reconstruct its provenance and dating.”

According to the archaeological park’s official statement, the statue likely depicts a man dressed as Hercules, the hero from Greco-Roman mythology, due to the presence of a club and a lion skin headdress. 

The statue’s face doesn’t resemble Hercules, but experts say it looks like someone else: Decius, the Roman emperor who ruled from 249 to 251 C.E. 

“Certainly the face does not look like standard depictions of Hercules, and it would make some sense for Decius to be interested in this sort of representation because of his religious policy, stressing the importance of Rome’s relationship with the traditional worship of the gods,” says David Potter, a historian at the University of Michigan who isn’t involved in the find, to Live Science’s Owen Jarus. 

Due to its sparse beard and wrinkles, the statue appears similar to official portraits of Decius, who was known for instituting the first organized persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire.

The statue has been fractured, and it needs to be restored and analyzed, park director Simone Quilici tells Corriere della Sera. After that, the park hopes to display it in one of its exhibition spaces.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.