Ritual Experience

After processing through the Roman Forum along the Sacred Way, Honorius and Stilicho stepped down from the chariot at a point where they could witness their portrait statues standing upon repurposed old bases.[1] Upturned plinths originating from equestrian monuments supported both of the statues in an overt appropriation of imperial history.  Reusing statue bases was not unprecedented, but the vertical prominence of the statues highlighted the message that those represented there had superseded old ideologies.  Neither insufficient funds nor a lack of artistic experience explains the reuse of statue bases, since they supported highly expensive bronze statues produced by skilled artists under the sponsorship of impressively wealthy patrons. Audiences linked the monuments pairing Honorius and Stilicho with the nearby monuments illustrating two emperors on horseback flanking the passageway through the Arch of Septimius Severus.  These equestrian statues, depicting Constantine to the south and his son Constantius II to the north, emphasized that each emperor had separately consolidated the divided empire under a single emperor.  By exhibiting the dowel holes into which the bronze hoofs had once been inserted, Honorius explicitly disavowed the equestrian format used by his predecessors in a clear rejection of the lapsed imperial iconography.  Pisidius Romulus, a senator serving as urban prefect, set up Honorius’ statue in 404 with an inscription referring to the western emperor together with the emperor’s brother and eastern ruler Arcadius, specifying that their deceased father Theodosius was a member of the imperial college.[2] As a result, Honorius’ monument explicitly celebrated collegial rule by family members during the Theodosian dynasty.  The adjacent statue of Stilicho was completed on the general’s own initiative for which he claimed to have received senatorial approval.  Stilicho justified the inclusion of his image at a location reserved mostly for emperors by his marriage alliance of his daughter to Honorius, with the inscription praising him as the “father-in-law of our Lord Honorius Augustus.”[3] All of Stilicho’s quasi-imperial authority originated from pretending he was appointed into the position by Theodosius I.  To make this claim, Stilicho’s installation exploited a sight line leading toward the statue monuments produced a century earlier for Diocletian’s Tetrarchic college of co-reigning emperors.  By their verticality, the statues of Honorius and Stilicho presented smaller counterpoints to the towering column monuments advertising Tetrarchic joint rulership.  In the distance behind the installation depicting Honorius and Stilicho, some of the seven column monuments featured statues of junior emperors about to be appointed as senior emperors.  Similarly, Stilicho presented himself as a stand-in for Honorius. Claudian’s poem about the ritual in 404 presented an answer to complaints of Romans who lamented Honorius’ long absences.  Claudian allows Honorius to voice his own reply, stating: “I sent you Stilicho, so that as consul in his Emperor’s place and as father-in-law for his son-in-law, he might, Roma, fill my part for you.”[4] Craftily honoring past examples of collegial rulership while condemning the earlier Tetrarchs as aloof, Stilicho’s revisionist history turned fourth-century emperors prior to Theodosius I into tyrants.  Stilicho must have asked Claudian to characterize Honorius with the following statement.  “This man has come as fellow-citizen, but those before had come as the masters of slaves.”[5]

  1. [1] CIL.VI.1730; CIL.VI.31987.  Franz Alto Bauer, Stadt, Platz und Denkmal, 20-21; Brigitte Ruck, Die Grossen dieser Welt : Kolossalporträts im antiken Rom (Heidelberg:  Verlag Archäologie und Geschichte, 2007), 264-265.
  2. [2] CIL.VI.31987.
  3. [3] CIL.VI.1730: . . . SOCERO D(omini) N(ostri) / HONORI AUGUSTI . . .
  4. [4] Claudian, VI. Cons. 431-433: “advectae misso Stilichone curules, / ut nostras tibi, Roma, vices pro principe consul / inpleret generoque socer.”  Trans. M. Dewar (1996) 31.
  5. [5] Claudian, VI. Cons. 558-559: “hunc civem, dominos venisse priores.”  Trans. M. Dewar (1996) 39.