Ritual Experience

Honorius marched through the Roman Forum as if on a military parade.  The entire retinue wore armor, clearly maintaining the tradition of processing triumphantly and causing spectators, according to Claudian, to react to the performance with awe tinged by fear.  One young woman “saw the horsemen clad in steel and the stallions hidden beneath their covering of bronze.”  She asked aloud:  “`From what race have these men of iron come?  What land fashions horses born of metal?’”[1] The surprised response to the metallic glimmer of the armor resulted from the prohibition against armed troops inside the city but for the occasions celebrating victories.  Fourth-century rulers had turned the Forum’s central area into a place where bronze imperial portraits also showcased the military victories for which emperors received credit.  Numerous statues were elevated on top of columns, since Diocletian together with Maximian in 303 had installed two column monuments on top of the rostra; seven additional columns supporting statues lined the south edge of the Forum square advertising the rulership by co-reigning emperors.  Diocletian had introduced the Tetrarchy as a system of collegial rule that distributed members of the imperial college throughout the vast empire who were united as members of a divine family aligned with either Jupiter or Hercules.  The tradition of representing imperial ideals had been advanced exponentially by Diocletian.  Indeed, the columns featuring lofty statues lining three sides of the Forum allowed the ideologies pioneered by Diocletian to frame the space of the urban square.  Yet, Honorius, the son of the first Orthodox Christian emperor Theodosius I, was honored in monuments that marked a distinction with the images representing the nearly divine Tetrarchs.

  1. [1] Claudian, VI. cons.569-573: “ut chalybe indutos equites et in aere latentes / vidit cornipedes, ‘quanam de gente’ rogabat / ‘ferrati venere viri? quae terra metallo / nascentes informat equos?’”