Glorification of the deeds of the emperor Augustus and his successor, Tiberius, was the purpose of the most important antique cameo in Vienna’s Collectionof Greek and Roman Antiquities, the Gemma Augustea. It is cut from a double layered piece of Arabian sardonyx (onyx with parallel layers of sard) and without a doubt a masterpiece from the imperial cameo workshop founded by Dioscurides in Rome. Apart from the Grand Camée in Paris, the Gemma Augustea is the largest surviving cameo from antiquity; its artistic quality makes it the most precious cameo ever created. In the upper image, Augustus is dressed and posed as Jupiter, holding in his hands the sceptre and augur’s staff. On the emperor’s right sits Roma, the protectress of the city. Between the heads of the two figures is a Capricorn, the natal sign of Augustus, and at their feet is an eagle. On the emperor’s left is a group of allegorical figures: Thea-Cybele (the inhabited world), who is holding a wreath of oak leaves over the emperor’s head, Kronos-Saturnus, as well as Saturnia Tellus with a cornucopia, and two boys. Next to Roma stands the great-nephew of Augustus, Germanicus, dressed as an officer. On the left side, the crown prince and stepson of the emperor, Tiberius, is getting down from a chariot that is driven by Victoria. He wears a laurel wreath and holds a long sceptre. In the lower image, gods who have taken barbarians captive are erecting a memorial of victory (tropaion).The scenes glorify a victory that was won by Tiberius at the behest of Augustus and the subsequent pacification of the earth; perhaps the specific event referred to Tiberius’s victory over the Dalmatians. On 16 January in the year 10 AD, the commander of the Roman troops arrived in Rome and was welcomed as a victor by the emperor. © Kurt Gschwantler, Alfred Bernhard-Walcher, Manuela Laubenberger, Georg Plattner, Karoline Zhuber-Okrog, Masterpieces in the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2011


  • Title: Gemma Augustea
  • Creator: Dioskourides
  • Creator Lifespan: active 65–30 BC
  • Creator Nationality: greek
  • Creator Gender: male
  • Creator Death Place: Aigeai in Asia Minor, present-day Turkey (?)
  • Creator Birth Place: unknown
  • Date Created: 9 AD - 12 AD
  • Style: Roman
  • Setting: gold, silver gold-plated,reverse side inornamented open-work,Vienna (?),1st quarter of the 17th century
  • Provenance: First mentioned in 1246 in an inventory of the abbey of Saint-Sernin in Toulouse. In the early 17th century its acquisition by the emperor Rudolf II brought it into Habsburg possession.
  • Physical Dimensions: w230 x h190 cm (entire)
  • Inventory Number: ANSA IXa 79
  • Artist Biography: Dioskourides is one of the few gem carvers recorded in ancient literature. He is mentioned by several Roman authors as the carver of the personal seal of the emperor Augustus (ruled 27 B.C.–A.D. 14). Dioskourides' fame led later carvers to copy his works and forge his signature. ©J. Paul Getty Trust
  • Type: glyptics
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/collection-of-greek-and-roman-antiquities
  • Medium: Double-layered sardonyx

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