Ritual Experience

The rhythm of the parade slowed down once the emperor’s retinue reached the Sacred Way in the Roman Forum.  A poem read aloud by its author, Claudian, characterizes Honorius’ procession as attracting the masses, with women craning their necks to view the youthful emperor from the upper stories of buildings as throngs of men lined the streets.[1] With literary skill, Claudian casts the procession through Rome as the emperor’s triumph by likening Honorius to the earlier rulers of Rome.  The poet also remarked that the emperor retraced his steps down the route for a victory procession leading toward his residence.  “From here the Sacred Way, now truly named, brings you back to your ancestral home.”[2]  Claudian’s poem invites speculation concerning the appearance of the Sacred Way during late antiquity, where numerous statue bases have been excavated and their inscriptions by far indicate that the images were portraits depicting emperors.[3] Viewers contemplating the parallel between emperors and their representations in statues found dignity tinged with aloof qualities reinforced in the works.  For example, the emperor Constantius II, who paraded through Rome in 357, was deemed as inert as his statues by the historian Ammianus Marcellinus.  “Looking straight before him, as though he (Constantius II) had his neck in a vice, he turned his eyes neither to the right nor left; as if he had been a statue:  nor when the carriage shook him did he nod or spit, or rub his face or his nose, nor was he ever seen to move a hand.[4] Statues lining one side of the Sacred Way illustrated the accomplishments of Honorius’ predecessors, since imperial portraits marked off the north edge of the paved Roman Forum facing the triumphal pathway.  The Sacred Way opened up views into the Forum’s central area and served as the trajectory along which Honorius presented himself as the fulfillment of Rome’s imperial past.[5]

Under the arcades of the Basilica Aemilia and facing the Sacred Way in a distinct sector of the Forum stood a series of statues, including those that the senator Fabius Titianus had elevated on top of plinths inscribed with his name without any indication of the subjects; presumably they were not imperial portraits.[6] The strict separation between the site for imperial representation in the Forum’s central area and the space for senatorial honors at the Basilica Aemilia on the other side of the Sacred Way allowed the emperor on procession to bridge the gap.[7]

  1. [1] Claudian, VI Cons. 545-547.
  2. [2] Claudian, VI Cons. 603-6-4: “hinc te iam patriis laribus Via nomine vero / Sacra refert.”  Trans. M. Dewar (1996) 41.
  3. [3] Carlos Machado, “Building the Past,” 164-173; Franz Alto Bauer, Stadt, Platz und Denkmal in der Spätantike:  Untersuchungen zur Ausstattung des öffentlichen Raums in den spätantiken Städten Rom, Konstantinopel und Ephesos (Mainz:  Philipp von Zabern, 1996), 401-408.
  4. [4] Ammianus Marcellinus,  Rerum gestarum libri 16.10.10:  “nam et corpus perhumile curvabat portas ingrediens celsas, et velut collo munito rectam aciem luminum tendens nec dextra vultum nec laeva flectebat tamquam figmentum hominis: non cum rota concuteret nutans, nec spuens aut os aut nasum tergens vel fricans, manumve agitans visus est umquam.”  Trans. J.C. Rolfe ed. and trans. Ammianus Marcellinus (Cambridge MA:  Harvard University Press, 1935) vol. 1, 246-247.
  5. [5] The itinerary of the triumph in late antiquity adhered to much of the traditional path without the final climb to the top of the Capitoline Hill for sacrifice.  For recent investigations of the late antique developments concerning the adventus in Rome, see:  Stéphane Benoist, Rome, le prince et la cité (Paris:  Presses universitaires de France, 2005), 61-101; Pierre Dufraigne, Adventus Augusti, Adventus Christi:  Recherche sur l’exploitation idéologique et littéraire d’un cérémonial dans l’antiquité tardive (Paris:  Institute d’Études Augustiniennes, 1994), 217-221; Augusto Fraschetti, “‘Veniunt modo reges Romam,’” in Transformations of the Urbs Roma in Late Antiquity, William V. Harris ed. (Portsmouth, NH:  Journal of Roman Archaeology, 1999), 240-244; Mark Humphries, “From Emperor to Pope?  Ceremonial, Space, and Authority at Rome from Constantine to Gregory the Great,” in Religion, Dynasty, and Patronage in Early Christian Rome, 300-900, Kate Cooper and Julia Hillner eds. (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2007), 30-37.  The path and location of the Sacred Way as the main processional route through the Forum after 300 is specified in Filippo Coarelli, “L’edilizia pubblica a Roma in età tetrarchica,” in Transformations of the Urbs Roma in Late Antiquity, 31.  After the construction of the Arch of Septimius Severus in the early third century CE, it appears clear that the Sacred Way was indeed the processional route leading through the arch’s central passageway.
  6. [6] CIL.VI.1653a-c.  Franz Alto Bauer, “Beatitudo Temporum:  Die Gegenwart der Vergangenheit im Stadtbild des spätantiken Rom,” in Franz Alto Bauer and Norbert Zimmermann eds., Epochenwandel?  Kunst und Kultur zwischen Antike und Mittelalter (Mainz:  Philipp von Zabern, 2001), 80-90.
  7. [7] For the spatial division between the Forum’s central area, mostly reserved for images of emperors, and the opposite side of the Sacred Way, where images of senators and magistrates were displayed, see Franz Alto Bauer, Stadt, Platz und Denkmal in der Spätantike, 72-77.