Ritual Experience

The installation produced for the Theodosian dynasty has left traces on the ground with a remarkably large footprint adjacent to the black paving stones surrounded by a parapet of the monument called the Niger Lapis.  In the early fourth century the emperor Maxentius installed a statue depicting Mars together with the she-wolf to reinforce memories Rome’s foundation at the Niger Lapis, which some legends characterize as marking the tomb of Romulus.[1] Due to the juxtaposition between the Niger Lapis and the Theodosian monument, the piazza in front of the Senate House featured the Orthodox emperor Theodosius creating a dynasty as an act of refoundation that displaced the myth of Romulus’ descent from Mars.  Memories of Rome’s origins became a foil for the fourth-century statues of the Theodosian family; the display in front of the Senate House suggested that Christian viewers rejected the traditional narrative of the city’s foundation.  In a panegyric praising Theodosius, the author Pacatus fashioned a literary conceit that directly addressed sculptors.  In words envisioning a new claim for statues produced for Theodosius, Pacatus states:  “You artists, scorn those hackneyed themes of ancient fables.  Turn your skillful hands to these historic exploits . . . With these let the forums be decorated.”[2]

  1. [1] CIL.VI.33856.  For an assessment of legends associated with the Niger Lapis, see Augusto Fraschetti, Foundation of Rome, M. Hill and K. Windle trans. (Edinburgh:  University of Edinburgh Press, 2005).
  2. [2] Pacatus, Pan. Lat. II (XII)  44.5:  “Vos . . . artifices, vulgata illa veterum fabularum argumenta despicite . . .   Haec potius, haec gesta sollertes manus ducant; his fora . . . decorentur.”  Trans. C.E.V. Nixon and Barbara Saylor Rodgers, In Praise of Later Roman Emperors (1994), 511.