Ritual Experience

Outdoor exhibitions of portrait statues displayed the power structure of late ancient Rome.  In dedicatory inscriptions for the plinths, senators lavished praise on emperors and affirmed the coalitions that linked local aristocrats with imperial authorities at key spots in the city.  During the rare imperial processions moving through late antique Rome, emperors passed alongside the open-air monuments.  For instance, a procession in 357 CE parading in front of an equestrian statue of emperor Constantius II set up by Neratius Cerealis, the senator serving as urban prefect of Rome from 352-353, illustrated that the proper governance of the city reflected the legitimate emperor’s control of the empire.  The statue was displayed facing the Sacred Way, the street along which emperors traveled during processions, and praised Constantius II as “the restorer of the city of Rome and the world” in the inscription (CIL 6.1158:  RESTITUTORI URBIS ROMAE ADQUE ORB[is]).  The open-air display of portrait statues at strategic points in the late antique Roman Forum raises questions about how audiences perceived the past in light of the arrangement.  The particularly close link between monuments and an imperial ceremony in the case of emperor Honorius’ procession at Rome in 404 CE sheds light on viewers’ reactions.   During the event, Honorius progressed through the Forum along a path so that the topographical associations of many statues triggered memories of esteemed individuals whose names were written in inscriptions.

The three-dimensional simulation of the late antique Forum presented here has facilitated an in-depth analysis concerning the original spatial disposition of many precisely localized artworks in the Forum and focuses on examples traced to Honorius’ ritual.  Based on sequencing, viewsheds, and the adjacent display of related statues, the reconstruction models have revealed that a parallel between the statues set up in the Roman Forum just before 404 and the ritual activities celebrating Honorius’ sixth consulship brought unprecedented authority to the topmost military commander, Stilicho.  Not only did Honorius’ highest ranking general play an unusually prominent role in the ritual, but also Stilicho’s portraits stood at spots previously reserved for emperors.  A sequential series of linked “views” are set to advance the argument that Stilicho sought imperial status alongside Honorius; yet the reader may also navigate freely through the model of the Roman Forum in order to experience the late antique statues installed there.  A catalogue of all the inscriptions from the late antique Roman Forum is available with their original display locations marked using icons indicating either the securely attested display spots or the hypothetically reconstructed sites.   Evidence for the argument is reinforced by the texts of Claudian, the poet whose panegyric articulated that the celebrations of 404 commemorated the victory over two enemies of Rome, Alaric and Gildo.  The interactive website highlights the statues honoring both Honorius and Stilicho as exhibited in the late antique Roman Forum so that the viewer can experience the works as they were arranged during the last securely documented triumphant procession of an emperor in Rome.


Statue Map