Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz/Art Resource, NY

SMEAR TACTICS. As an important provincial town of Roman Egypt, Oxyrhynchus was certainly not immune to the partisan politics of the Roman Empire. In 211 C.E., with the death of Emperor Septimius Severus, the Roman Empire was handed over to Severus’s two sons, Geta and Caracalla. Within a year of their joint rule, however, Caracalla double-crossed and murdered his brother and, after assuming the throne himself, had all references to and images of Geta—even those made in the provinces—unceremoniously scratched out or destroyed.

In this intimate painted portrait of the royal family found at Oxyrhynchus (above), Severus and his wife Julia Domna stand proudly over their two sons, Caracalla on the right and presumably Geta on the left, the brother’s face having been scratched and blotted out during Caracalla’s campaign of damnatio memoriae. Adding insult to injury, recent studies have identified the brown smudge as the remains of errant feces smeared over the one-time ruler’s face.