The years around the turn of the first century were a time of great change in Roman society. After a period of political upheaval, Augustus established the Roman Empire in 27 B.C. bringing enormous shifts in all aspects of Roman life and art.
In a time when Augustus's court artists were creating sculpture carved in an ageless, classicizing style, this portrait of an old man harks back to the style of portraiture popular in the earlier Republican period. The man's close-cropped hair, furrowed brow, the bags under his eyes, and his sagging cheeks convey a sense of austerity and a sort of "warts and all" realism. Such Roman portraits were intended to embody societal values, such as gravitas (dedication to civic duty) and virtus (excellence of character), rather than reproduce an individual's exact appearance.
Although now broken at the edges of the base, the head originally formed part of a small bust. It may have been sculpted for insertion in a burial niche in a family tomb.