Ritual Experience

Emperor Honorius’ triumphant arrival into Rome in 404 CE was a day-long event with lasting reverberations.  Throughout most of the fourth century, Rome was no longer a city of emperors.  During long absences when the imperial court resided in provincial cities, statues maintained memories of the emperors in Rome’s significant open areas, including the Roman Forum.  Statues dominating political space fostered illusions that itinerant emperors instigated the revived preeminence of Rome, since most installations featured imperial portraits.  The names of Rome’s elite benefactors inscribed on statue bases advertised their allegiances with emperors so as to record for posterity those who exemplified civic virtues.[1] Honorific celebrations provided opportunities for emperors to return to the ancient capital, where the rulers processed along avenues lined by crowds of citizens interspersed with what one author referred to as Rome’s “almost crowded population of statues.[2] Imperial statues lining the pathways and on top of the rostra in the Forum’s central area imply that audiences during the age of Honorius remebered the emperor even after the brief visit.  On January 1, 404 CE Emperor Honorius (ruled 393-423) arrived in Rome to stage the procession that inaugurated his year-long consulship (for the sixth time) and marked a triumph over foreign adversaries.  The celebrations culminated in the Roman Forum.  While proceeding through the Forum, Honorius targeted specific locations, each marked by at least one statue with an inscribed base that preserved historical memories in the city’s landscape.[3]

Even though the city of Rome had been displaced from its role as the unequivocal capital of the Roman Empire during the fourth century, statues of emperors and their accompanying inscriptions marked off the Forum’s central area and the adjacent piazza in front of the Senate House (Curia Senatus) as imperial zones.  Historians have rightly emphasized that the senators of fourth-century Rome inscribed their own names on monuments to proclaim allegiances with emperors residing in the alternate capitals.[4] Almost one-hundred inscriptions associated with honorific displays originating from the Roman Forum and with dates from the beginning of Diocletian’s reign in 284 CE to the death of Theoderic, the Ostrogothic king of Italy, in 526 CE provide evidence of the installations; unfortunately, no securely attributed late antique statue from the Forum survives.  In conjunction with the procession of 404 in Rome, aristocratic patrons received a high level of honor by dedicating monuments to Honorius and the military commander, Stilicho.[5]


  1. [1] Werner Eck, “Senatorial Self-Representation:  Developments in the Augustan Period,” in Caesar Augustus:  Seven Aspects, Fergus Millar and Erich Segal eds. (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1984), 129-167..”
  2. [2] Cassiodorus, Variae 7.13:  “nam quidam populus copiosissimus statuarum.”
  3. [3] For Honorius’ procession, see the text with an introduction and commentary in Claudian, Panegyricus de sexto consulatu Honorii Augusti, Michael Dewar ed. and trans. (Oxford:  Clarendon Pres, 1996); Alan Cameron, Poetry and Propaganda at the Court of Honorius (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1970), 349-389; Michael McCormick, Eternal Victory, 51-54; 88-89.
  4. [4] Géza Alföldy, “Individualität und Kollektivnorm in der Epigraphik des römischen Senatorenstandes,” in Silvio Panciera ed., Epigrafia e ordine senatorio, Tituli 4 (Rome:  Edizioni di storia e letteratura), 37-53; Heike Niquet, Monumenta virtutum titulique.  For an assessment of statue displays in the late antique Roman Forum, see Carlos Machado, “Building the Past:  Monuments and Memory in the Late Antique Roman Forum,” in Social and Political Life in Late Antiquity,William Bowden et al. eds.(Leiden:  Brill, 2006), 157-192.
  5. [5] Senators reinforced their elevated status by forging links with the powerful aura of the emperor, Dirk Schlinkert, ‘Ordo Senatorius’ und ‘Nobilitas’:  Die Konstitution des Senatsadels in der Spätantike (Stuttgart:  F. Steiner, 1996), 229.   The formation of elite status through inscribed statue bases has been explored in depth by Heike Niquet, Monumenta virtutum titulique.  The orations read before emperors during jubilees or other ritual events have been assembled and translated in C.E.V. Nixon and Barbara Saylor Rodgers eds. and trans.,  In Praise of Later Roman Emperors:  The Panegyrici Latini (Berkeley and Los Angeles:  University of California Press, 1996).