Ritual Experience

After stepping down from the chariot, Honorius with Stilicho made their way onto the rostra at the west end of the Forum to address the populace.  To mark the transition from the Sacred Way into the paved Forum, a modified triumphal arch featuring inscriptions and reused Trajanic sculptural reliefs provided a relatively low and narrow passageway through which honored members of the cortege marched.  The monument continued the trajectory of the street known as the Argiletum that intersects with the Sacred Way, suggesting a significant pathway connecting the Forum with the entrance to the Senate House.[1]

The Senate sponsored the arch-like monument with an inscription praising Honorius together with his brother Arcadius, who ruled from Constantinople.  The colossal epigraphic text can be reconstructed to have been fitted above one of the reused sculptural reliefs.   During late antiquity the Trajanic reliefs had been placed upon travertine supports that remain to this day in the Forum pavement.  Excavations at the turn of the twentieth century revealed the parallel foundations at this spot where the reliefs had been set up during late antiquity.  With their depictions rendering Trajanic events in the Roman Forum, the two reliefs plausibly had been relocated from their original display location which remains unidentified but presumably was relatively close to where they appeared in 404.[2]  After their integration into the late antique monument, the two recontextualized imperial reliefs set forth Trajan as Honorius’ esteemed predecessor.  The large-scale inscription that must have belonged to the monument, the text of which was copied during the Renaissance, correlates with the poem delivered by Claudian.  On the main marble panel, the inscription celebrated both emperors, Honorius and Arcadius; a smaller architrave states:  “mighty Honorius defended Libya” ((a)RMIPOTENS LIBY(c)UM DEFENDIT HONORIUS).[3]

In one section of his panegyric, Claudian has the personified Rome speak directly to Honorius, stating that the city’s inhabitants had “built an arch that featured your name through which you, in your radiant toga might walk, and [Rome] was busy consecrating monuments to your battles with inscriptions honoring Libya’s defense”  (VI Cons. 367-373: . . . . defensam titulo Libyam testata perenni).  Claudian’s description of an inscribed memorial in Rome commemorating Honorius for the defense of Libya and repeating terms documented in the actual epigraphic record offers powerful testimony to the reconstruction of Honorius’ arch in the Forum.  Given the large format of the inscription, its presumed original dimensions suggest a panel large enough to have been configured above one of the Trajanic reliefs and thus forming one face of the arch monument.

One of the reused imperial sculptural reliefs integrated into the arch illustrates Trajan seated upon the rostra offering clemency to debtors, since the books of tax registers are depicted burning to eliminate records of the debt in the foreground.  The relief illustrates the event within the Forum, where a statue of Marsyas together with the historic fig tree are shown to the left.  In the Trajanic relief, Marsyas is represented on top of a statue base and the fig tree is also show to rest up a plinth.  It can be assumed, therefore, that the relief records a sculpted version of a fig tree that ornamented the Forum.

Claudian describes Honorius seated on top of the rostra and captures that how spectators of the procession recalled the emperor’s father, Theodosius I.  “This is the very boy, he who now summons the Romans of Rome to the rostra and seated on his sire’s throne of ivory reports in due order to the conscript fathers the causes and the outcomes of his deeds.”[4] When looking at the rostra, audiences witnessed Honorius in person flanked by one statue depicting the emperor and another representing Stilicho, both of silver plated bronze.[5] The public, who knew fully well that unprecedented honors were extended to Stilicho, tolerated the ambitious rise of the half-Vandal general for earning military victories on behalf of Honorius.


  1. [1] The foundations on the ground for the arch still remain in the Forum pavement and were analyzed extensively by Cairoli Fulvio Giuliani and Patrizia Verduchi, L’area centrale del Foro Romano (Florence:  Leo Olschki Editore, 1987), 79-82.  See also Franz Alto Bauer, Stadt, Platz und Denkmal, 39-42; Paolo Liverani, “Arco di Onorio, Arco di Portogallo,” Bullettino della Commissione Archeologica Comunale di Roma 105 (2004): 351-370; idem, “Osservazioni sui rostri del Foro Romano,” in Res bene gestae: ricerche di storia urbana su Roma antica in onore di Eva Margareta Steinby, Anna Leone et al. eds. (Rome:  Edizioni Quasar, 2007), 169-193.
  2. [2] The installation of the reliefs had to have occurred after the early third century, when the Forum was repaved and after which the travertine supports holding up the Trajanic reliefs were produced; see Giuliani and Verduchi, L’area centrale del Foro Romano, 79-82.
  3. [3] CIL.VI.1187.
  4. [4] Claudian, VI Cons. 587-590: “hic est ille puer, qui nunc ad rostra Quirites / evocat et solio fultus genitoris eburno / gestarum patribus causas ex ordine rerum.”  Trans. M. Dewar (1996) 41.
  5. [5] Only the statue base for Stilicho, CIL.VI.1731, remains; it is now on display in the gardens of the Villa Medici in Rome; the inscription for the Honorius base, CIL.VI.1195, has been recorded but does not survive.