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Marble head, Philippopolis, Plovdiv Archaeological MuseumMarble head, Philippopolis, Plovdiv Archaeological Museum

Reclined on his dining couch, a silver cup of wine in his hand, Publius Virdius Iulianus looked around the party. Here they were, his two sons, already grown up; and his friends and colleagues. They were all celebrating an important event. Earlier that day they - along with many others - were at the theatre to see the inauguration of the statue of Publius Virdius Iulianus.

Publius Virdius Iulianus, the descendant of a wealthy Thracian family, was very happy. The Virdii had been doing well for at least a century, earning from trade, production and agriculture. Publius Virdius Iulianus's life, however, was different. He went into the army, was promoted as an officer, and when he returned to his native Philippopolis, he launched a public career. His diligence paid off. Publius Virdius Iulianus became agonothetes, an official responsible for the organization of the games in the honor of Emperor Caracalla (198-217). The event was one of the most popular in the city's calendar, and for his service Publius Virdius Iulianus was presented with the statue at the theatre. And if Publius Virdius Iulianus was asked – and he was asked a lot this day - the sculptor had done his job well, chiseling into perfection the minutest curl of his hair, the tiniest plait of his toga.

The inscription was also good. Written in Greek, it began with the greatest achievement in Publius Virdius Iulianus's life, his sons: "A statue to Publius Virdius Iulianus, a father of two tribunes..." Indeed, it was fit for a boast. Publius Virdius Iulianus Son and Publius Virdius Bassus had excelled in the army, gaining the tribune rank, the highest one achievable for people of their class, the equites. Only senators could become generals.

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