Ritual Experience

The images of emperors dominating the piazza in front of the Senate House attested to local allegiances with emperors.  For example, the senator Ceionius Rufius Albinus, serving as urban prefect of Rome from 389-391, inscribed his own name as the donor on the base specifying that he sponsored statues depicted all of the collegially ruling emperors at that moment during the reign of Theodosius I.[1] The three imperial statues united on a single platform further marked off spatial distinctions, establishing that the piazza reinforced social hierarchies with the emperors honored above all others.  Theodosius I conducted an important procession at Rome in 389 and the statues perpetuated the memories of the triumphant emperor.[2]

Claudian characterizes the young emperor Honorius processing through Rome as having the opportunity to reflect upon the accomplishments of earlier rulers.  When he was a child of five, Honorius accompanied his father, Theodosius I, on the triumphal procession through Rome in 389.  Though Honorius’ own recollections of the event must have been faint, Claudian documented the emperor’s childhood memory.  The poet addresses Honorius directly, stating, “with you at his side, when adding his name to the roll-call of the nobler princes, he [Theodosius I] played the part of citizen.[3] Claudian alludes to the tradition that emperors, accustomed to receiving adulation in the provinces, had to remain as citizens in Rome.  Honorius, according to Claudian, further dispensed with formalities during the procession by allowing senators to forego their obligation to walk in front of the emperor’s chariot.[4] Military insignia on display, including banners carried as emblems of triumph, prompted questions.  Women asked, according to Claudian, “what do the dragons attached to their standards signify?  Are they only fluttering in the wind, or, is this menacing hissing real, ready as they are to seize some enemy in their jaws?”[5] Such curiosity also led audiences to ponder the publicly displayed inscriptions in which the imperial names joined with those of aristocrats.

  1. [1] CIL.VI.36959 honors Theodosius I; two additional imperial inscriptions belonged to the monument (CIL.VI.3791a; 3791b) and an inscription to Thermantia was part of this installation as well (CIL.VI.36960).   For Ceionius Rufius Albinus, see Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire (hereafter, PLRE), A.M.H. Jones et al. eds. (Cambridge, 1971-1992), vol. I, 37-38.
  2. [2] Jörg Rüpke, “Triumphator and Ancestor Rituals between Symbolic Anthropology and Magic,” Numen 53 (2006), 251-289.
  3. [3] Claudian, VI. Cons. 57-59: “te consorte dies, cum se melioribus addens / exemplis civem gereret.” Trans. M. Dewar (1996) 7.
  4. [4] Claudian, VI. Cons. 551.
  5. [5] Claudian, VI. Cons. 566-569: “quid fixa draconum / ora velint, ventis fluitent an vera minentur / sibilia suspensum rapturi faucibus hostem.”  Trans. M. Dewar (1996) 39.