This paper presents the results of applying neutron imaging methods to the gold bust of Marcus Aurelius, an analytical procedure that was carried out in 2006 at the Paul Scherrer Institut in Villigen (Switzerland). The results have produced a better understanding of the gold repoussé manufacturing techniques for large pieces.
Given the number of gold statues that existed at Rome and in its provinces, the preserved pieces represent only a tiny fraction; to recover the precious metal, most gold objects were eventually melted down, with the result that only a very small number of pieces are left. That scarcity explains our difficulties in studying the characteristics of this category. Just 6 gold busts of the Roman period have been documented. The bust of Marcus Aurelius was found in a sewer running beneath a sanctuary of Aventicum (figs. 1, 6a and 16). Then there is the bust of Septimius Severus discovered at Didymoteichon (NE Greece), a small fragment from the shoulder pteriges of a breastplated bust of the 2nd c. A.D. found at the fort of Dambach (Germany), the Late Roman head inserted into the 9th-10th c. statue of St. Fides in the Abbeye of Conques (France), and the much smaller busts of (possibly) Licinius I and of Licinius II probably of the early 4th c.