The marble statue, complete with identifying lion skin headwear and club, was discovered during the cleaning of a 100-year-old sewer pipe which had triggered mudslides in the Italian city.
It apparently dates back to the Roman imperial period (27BC to AD476) and was found along the ancient Appian Way, a famed historic road, now buried underneath Scott Park.
Archaeologists believe it could depict a private character dressed as the Greek god who was worshipped as a god of merchants and traders, although others also prayed to him for his gifts of good luck or rescue from danger.
Of the discovery, Parco Archeologico dell’Appia Antica wrote on Facebook: “Today, after weeks of reporting land movements completely devoid of archaeological interest, Scott Park gave us a big surprise: a life-size marble statue that, due to the presence of the club and the lioness – lion skin covering its head. We can certainly identify with a character dressed as Hercules.”
Now work began using toothbrushes to clear the mud off the statue and provide an accurate date for its construction.
“The discovery of this statue gives us yet another proof that our cultural heritage is immense but above all it is still to be discovered,” said Minister of Culture Gennaro Sangiuliano.
The archaeologists added: “During these very first analyses we found a decent resemblance between the portrait of our character in the costume of Ercoles and Emperor Gaius Messius Quintus Traianus Decius, better known as Decio Traiano, who reigned from 249 to 251, when he was killed, along with his son Erennio Etrusco, in the battle of Abrittus between Goths and Romans.
“The face of ‘our Hercules’, although corroded, seems to share with the official portraits of Decio the ‘wrinkles of anxiety’, which recall Republican Roman portraitism and were aimed at representing the concern for the fate of the State, a virtue evaluated very positively in the high ranks of the empire. Other characteristic features are the treatment of the beard razor and the morphology of the eyes, nose and lips
“This is a very first guesswork: after cleaning additional elements will emerge that can confirm it or direct to other identifications. We are indeed examining all possibilities, including private portrait, always considering that our character, portrayed as Ercoles, was most likely to be a prominent figure.”
Some commenters were disturbed by the loss of the leg in the extraction but the museum extended special praise to the workers and archaeologists on the basin site.
One said: “If we weren’t careful only a bag of arms came out of there and not a statue.”
Son of Zeus and a demi-god with superhuman strength, Hercules became the ultimate symbol of masculine power and bravery.