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Roman Imperial Statue Bases: From Augustus to Commodus

Roman Imperial Statue Bases: From Augustus to Commodus

By Jakob Munk Højte (Aarhus Studies in Mediterranean Antiquity 7). Pp. 658, figs. 56, tables 96. Aarhus University Press, Aarhus 2005. $59.95. ISBN 87-7934-146-2 (cloth).

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Study of the Roman emperor’s portrait, Højte remarks in his important new book, has focused on the statues themselves (mostly made of stone). Yet, the extant images, many of which come from Italy, often are unable to answer important questions: Where was the emperor’s statue set up? When? By whom? For what reason? A complement to landmark studies by Pekáry and Lahusen, this work assembles 2,300 inscribed statue bases (including arches) that held representations, life-sized or larger, of emperors, and subjects them to statistical analysis. Because they often have an archaeological context, are precisely dated, and record the name of the dedicator, and because they form a large sample, Højte can fully document an empire in which even average-sized towns and their residents year after year on their own initiative erected statues of their often distant rulers in marble, bronze, and sometimes precious metals in an array of settings. While portrait catalogues highlight the importance of official types produced in Rome, the statue bases suggest that emperors played little active role in the dissemination of their life-sized images; portraits went up to serve local needs.

The study is organized into three parts. Preliminary sections (13–84) discuss the monuments, the contents of their inscriptions, and their relation to extant portraits. Later sections (85–194), frequently relying on statistical analysis (see also 591–658), scrutinize patterns of commemoration. The evidence reveals frequent dedications in areas beyond Rome. Greece and Asia Minor, for instance, appear to have produced a massive number of now missing bronzes. The site of installation could vary with region, though the forum or agora was everywhere popular. Some emperors received numerous statues before accession (e.g., Tiberius, but mostly in the east), while some (e.g., Claudius) received virtually none. This could influence how many statues were erected on an emperor’s accession. Some emperors (including Claudius) have a peak in the second year of their reign. But after accession, dedications tended to remain stable through a reign. They were motivated by testamentary bequests or an imperial benefaction, for instance, rather than by events in the court at Rome. Bases could be discarded or modified after an emperor’s death, but the evidence suggests that memory sanctions were carried out with various degrees of enthusiasm.

The backbone of the study is the catalogue of bases (229–589), organized geographically within each reign. Entries provide what is known about each monument: provenance, type, dimensions, date, and the name(s) of its dedicator. These are largely derived from published sources, with Højte repeating verbatim the best description available (sometimes very inadequate CIL entries, for instance). Because of space limits, the full text of inscriptions is not given. The lack of an epigraphic concordance is regrettable; anyone interested in a particular inscription will have to wade through a long list of entries.

The effort devoted to this undertaking must have been massive, and for it we should all be grateful. To assess it fully would require commensurate labor. I limit myself here to the entries on Claudius, whose reign is the subject of my current research and was also explored in the pioneering dissertation of Meriwether Stuart, (Portraiture of Claudius [New York 1938]). On the whole, these entries inspired confidence that the author’s conclusions rest on a secure body of data. Perhaps inevitably I had queries about some of the identifications and also reservations about presentation. What follows is a sample of comments.

  1. Claudius 2: A cross-reference to Tiberius 1 (part of the same context) would be welcome.
  2. Claudius 4: Højte gives one entry for what are in fact two separate statue bases (CIL 6 40414–415), both dedicated by the same collegium in Rome. One was probably erected in 47 (not 45) and the other certainly in 52, in the rebuilding of a shrine (perhaps damaged by an earthquake).
  3. Claudius 5: In discussing Claudius’ Britannic victory arch, Højte cites Stuart for the view that CIL 6 921 proves that there were on the same arch statues of Germanicus, Antonia, and others. A reference should be included to the convincing refutation by Rose (Dynastic Commemoration [Cambridge 1997] 113–15).
  4. Claudius 8: It should be made clear that this statue went up with one of Divus Augustus.
  5. Claudius 25: The extant titulature in this fragmentary inscription from Reggio Emilia (L’Année Epigraphique [1996] no. 669) makes it impossible to accept as a dedication to Claudius without further argument.
  6. Claudius 34: Following Stuart, CIL 5 7150 (from Torino) is admitted despite its unusual formula in honorem because CIL 3 6983 also had the same formula and apparently a statue, yet Højte himself excludes the latter.
  7. Claudius 73: There should be cross-references to Augustus 114 and Tiberius 76, part of the same group (and the entry for Tiberius 76 should have noted that the portrait is extant).
  8. Claudius 150: There should be a reference to IGRR 3 578, which gives the context of this dedication.

Several monuments accepted by Højte in a previous study (in P.G. Bilde et al., eds. The Cauldron of Ariantas [Aarhus 2003] 365–88) have disappeared without explanation (e.g., CIL 8 26517, CIL 10 7281, L’Année Epigraphique [1998] no. 1393 and [1944] no. 131). Also, I do not see why IGRR 4 1332 has been excluded. Finally, SEG 50 1350 should be added.

Disagreements that may arise over particular cases, however, should not detract from the value of Højte’s study. Even though it is bound to change through reexamination of old material and accumulation of new, the evidence here is substantial enough to be of real interest to art historians, archaeologists, and historians. Portrait studies should take more account of statue bases, as Bartman did in Portraits of Livia (Cambridge 1999), a study ignored by Højte, though he mentions studies of other empresses (a group whose bases also deserve a full study, along with other members of the imperial family). The traditional emphasis on court models may then need modifying, however useful it is for explaining the extant portraits. Others might want to study more fully the role inscriptions played in the viewing of ancient portraits. Scholars interested in the symbolic practices that held the Roman empire together will be able to trace more precisely the changing role of imperial statues (cf. Ando, Imperial Ideology [Ann Arbor 2000] 206–73). Although not a single fully preserved portrait is illustrated, this ambitious study allows us to see far more clearly those that do survive.

Josiah Osgood
Department of Classics
320 Healy Hall
Georgetown University
Washington, D.C. 20057

Book Review of Roman Imperial Statue Bases: From Augustus to Commodus, by Jakob Munk Højte

Reviewed by Josiah Osgood

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 110, No. 4 (October 2006)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1104.Osgood

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